Senate confirms Obama pick to lead agency in a close call

Source: Katherine Ling, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It was a tale of two votes as the Senate narrowly voted to confirm Norman Bay to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission while fellow nominee Cheryl LaFleur was approved by a strong majority to serve another five-year term.

The Senate voted 52-45 to confirm Bay, who is currently FERC’s chief enforcement officer. He is the White House choice to lead the agency but will need to wait nine months to ascend to the chairman’s spot under a deal made with some of his critics to answer concerns about his inexperience in energy policy.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller was the lone Republican who supported Bay, as he did in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last month. All Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted for Bay. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, voted against Bay, as he previously had stated he would because of Bay’s inexperience and actions taken as the head of FERC’s Office of Enforcement.

In contrast, LaFleur, who is currently acting FERC chairwoman, was approved 90-7.

The senators voting against LaFleur were both senators from Maryland and New York, as well as Sen. John Walsh of Montana, on the Democratic side, and on the Republican side both senators from Kansas.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he voted against LaFleur because she denied a “simple request” for a 30-day extension for comments on an application for a proposed liquefied natural gas export facility in the Chesapeake Bay at Cove Point, Md. “I found it very unsettling the request was not granted,” Cardin said.

President Obama picked Bay earlier this year to not only be a commissioner but take the reins as chairman. The move was heavily criticized in particular by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and it gave some Democrats pause, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

On the other side, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) favored Bay but said he did not support reconfirming LaFleur to the agency.

In response, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Manchin struck a deal with the White House to renominate and keep LaFleur as full chairwoman for nine months, after which Obama could name a different chairman (E&E Daily, July 14).

Landrieu said in remarks on the Senate floor that nine months was a “good compromise” between the full year that some wanted — including Murkowski — versus only three months advocated by other senators.

FERC will have its monthly meeting Thursday, and all five commissioners may be present for the first time in eight months if Bay and LaFleur are sworn in for their new terms in time.