Senate nominee vote ‘not the outcome’ Reid had hoped for

Source: By Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2014

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) didn’t get exactly what he wanted in the highly anticipated Senate committee vote yesterday on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s next chairman, but that’s not stopping him from cooperating to advance the agency’s nominees.

Reid, who has repeatedly expressed his deepening interest in the powerful energy agency, had pushed hard for presidential nominee Norman Bay to be immediately installed as FERC’s next chairman. But the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee yesterday voted to approve Bay as a commissioner only after the White House agreed he would remain a commissioner for at least nine months before taking the agency’s helm.

“This is not the outcome Senator Reid would have preferred, but he accepts the compromise negotiated by [Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.)] and he will move forward with confirming the nominees,” said Kristen Orthman, a spokeswoman for Reid.

Following a high-stakes and at times confusing back and forth, the committee’s 12 Democrats and Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada voted in favor of Bay to lead the agency, while the committee’s remaining nine Republicans all voted against him (Greenwire, June 18).

The Senate panel also voted to approve Cheryl LaFleur, the agency’s current acting chairwoman, to another five-year term as a commissioner, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) casting the lone dissenting vote. LaFleur, under the agreement, will continue to lead the agency until Bay ascends to the role of chairman.

Earlier this month, Reid told The Wall Street Journal that he wants to see FERC operate in a way likely to benefit his home state’s growing renewable energy industry. Reid also said he would block LaFleur as chairwoman and support Bay — a position that pitted the senator against some colleagues in his own party.

John Norris, a Democratic member of FERC, has raised concerns that Reid’s decision to get involved in the process is creating “dysfunction” at the agency and threatening its ability to function properly.

Landrieu told reporters yesterday following the vote that her office, the White House and other Democrats including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia in past weeks negotiated a deal for LaFleur to keep “full powers as chair” for nine months that begins once she and Bay are confirmed on the Senate floor.

“I’m hoping that the confirmation could probably be done in September; it could be earlier, it could be later, depending on the politics of the Senate floor,” she said. “As chair, my strong recommendation would be for that confirmation to move in September, giving people plenty of time between now and then.”

But that timing, Landrieu added, hinges on Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Energy and Natural Resources’ top Republican, said she couldn’t support Bay because the White House had not given her assurances that he would serve only as a commissioner for nine months, noting that the president has the authority to tap a new chairman at any time. Murkowski said LaFleur needs to be given full authority as chairwoman as she is currently limited in what she can do.

But Landrieu said the White House did indeed confirm the deal.

“[Murkowski] just didn’t get the call, she refused to take my word or Senator Manchin’s word,” Landrieu said. “I have no criticism of my ranking member, it’s been a very tough negotiation, but that’s the arrangement that’s been made and I think it’s OK with most people.”