Senate approves FERC and DOE picks, sets calendar for others

Source: Sam Mintz and Christa Marshall, E&E News reporters • Posted: Friday, November 3, 2017

The Senate yesterday confirmed a group of nominees to top positions at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy, and advanced the nomination of a controversial pick for U.S. EPA’s air office.

Among those approved by voice vote were FERC nominees Kevin McIntyre and Richard Glick, who will fill the remaining empty seats on the independent agency’s five-person commission once they are sworn in.

McIntyre, a Jones Day energy lawyer, will take over from Neil Chatterjee as chairman at a crucial time for the agency, which is currently working on evaluating a controversial grid pricing proposal from DOE (Energywire, Nov. 2).

“I am very pleased to welcome Kevin and Rich to the Commission, and I look forward to working with them on behalf of the American people,” Chatterjee, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said in a statement.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to know Kevin through the confirmation process and am eager to start working with him, and it will be great to reunite with Rich Glick, my former Senate colleague.”

Glick is currently a Democratic aide for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The chamber confirmed Steven Winberg to be assistant secretary of fossil energy, DOE’s arm overseeing coal, oil and natural gas.

Winberg, a former vice president for research and development at Consol Energy Inc., vowed during the nomination process to support research on carbon capture and sequestration technologies, regardless of budget cuts.

He is a former board chairman at the FutureGen Industrial Alliance Inc., which guided plans to build a low-emissions coal plant in Illinois before financing for the project was pulled in 2015.

Winberg was more supportive of funding research on reducing emissions from coal, telling Congress that DOE should focus on high-concentration streams of carbon dioxide.

Also approved yesterday were Paul Dabbar as DOE’s undersecretary for science and Mark Menezes as undersecretary for energy.

The nominations sparked pushback earlier this year from former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who had merged the two undersecretary positions into one and created an undersecretary of management and performance position to improve defense-waste cleanup initiatives (Greenwire, July 14).

Menezes most recently was the vice president of federal relations at Berkshire Hathaway Energy. He also formerly headed the energy practice at Hunton & Williams LLP, and was a chief counsel on the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 2003 to 2006. He worked on the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

As undersecretary for science, Dabbar would oversee the majority of the national labs and research in areas such as fusion and nuclear physics.

Dabbar comes to DOE from JPMorgan Chase & Co., where he was mergers and acquisitions managing director.

According to the White House, he served in Hawaii and California as a nuclear submarine office and conducted environmental research at the North Pole.

Wehrum vote likely next week

Also yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed for cloture on the nomination of Bill Wehrum to head the EPA’s air office, with a preliminary vote scheduled for next week.

Wehrum, a partner at the law firm Hunton & Williams LLP, saw his nomination clear the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week on a 11-10 party-line vote.

For supporters, confirmation by the full Senate could now be seen as a redemption of sorts. After serving as acting head of the Office of Air and Radiation from 2005 to 2007 during the George W. Bush administration, Wehrum resigned after Senate Democrats stymied his bid to get the job permanently.

President Trump gave him another chance by again nominating him for the OAR job in early September.

Republicans have focused on Wehrum’s reputation as a top Clean Air Act lawyer, with a résumé leavened by a background in engineering.

Democrats and environmental groups have targeted his industry connections and work on major regulations during his previous stint at EPA that were then struck down by federal judges.

But the only serious threat to his candidacy in this round has come from Midwestern senators allied with corn growers and the biofuels industry.

Last month, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) held up a committee vote on the nomination until getting written commitments from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on the renewable fuel standard.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), another RFS backer who pointed to Wehrum’s work on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute, had also put a hold on his nomination with the acknowledgement that the gesture is symbolic.

McConnell, separately, advanced the nomination of Derek Kan, a former Lyft Inc. executive, to be undersecretary of Transportation for policy, by filing cloture.

Kan has met little opposition in his nomination and is expected to bring a tech focus to his role as a key adviser for Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on legislative and regulatory priorities, including autonomous vehicles and infrastructure.

Reporters Sean Reilly and Camille von Kaenel contributed.