Senate approves Obama’s energy nominees 

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Senate last night in a flurry of activity confirmed a handful of President Obama’s energy picks along with more than three dozen noncontroversial nominees, including a few who weren’t expected to cross the finish line.

The upper chamber voted unanimously by voice vote to approve Colette Honorable to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Chris Smith to be the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for fossil energy, Estavan López to lead the Bureau of Reclamation, and John Cruden to be assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

And in a surprise turn of events, the Senate also confirmed Richard Engler and Manuel Ehrlich as members of the Chemical Safety Board. Those nominees weren’t on the original list teed up for Senate votes and faced a potentially long wait time.

The Senate confirmations mark a victory for outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who cannily capitalized on the duration of the lame-duck session to maximize the number of nominations he was able to ram through.

One of the most high-profile nominees was Honorable. Obama tapped the former Arkansas regulator to serve at FERC through June 30, 2017 — the remainder of former FERC Commissioner John Norris’ tenure. Norris, who accused Reid of blocking his bid for chairmanship, is now working with the Department of Agriculture in Rome.

Honorable had attracted strong bipartisan support as she moved through the Senate, as well as backing from fossil and clean energy groups.

Lisa Edgar, president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, in a statement called Honorable a “fair and impartial” regulator, saying her confirmation was “great news for consumers across the country.”

The Senate also cleared Smith for a position at DOE. He’s been on the job in an acting basis for months. Democrats had expressed concerns about the pace of the agency’s approval of natural gas exports to countries that do not have free trade agreements with the United States. DOE has repeatedly maintained it’s moving at a good pace and waiting on FERC to conduct environmental reviews.

Pro-coal lawmakers, notably, have also called on DOE to do more about clean coal research. But in the end, Smith’s nomination did not encounter significant opposition.

Cruden will now fill a vacancy at the Justice Department left open since Ignacia Moreno left the post in June 2013.

Cruden is currently the president of the nonpartisan Environmental Law Institute, and he encountered little opposition in the confirmation process. He has more than 20 years of experience at DOJ, spanning both Democratic and Republican administrations. During the Clinton administration, he led DOJ’s environmental enforcement division.

Cruden will take over a division charged with ongoing litigation stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as prosecuting violations of environmental statutes like the Clean Water and Clean Air acts.

López, who has been helming Reclamation in an acting capacity since the beginning of October, will formally take the reins as the agency grapples with California’s entrenched drought and attempts to lay a path forward in water-stressed river basins across the West before Obama’s term runs out.

An engineer by training, López spent the past decade as director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. That position placed him at the center of water rights disputes, including efforts last summer by a local water agency to force a reprioritization of supplies during a gripping drought.