State commissioners urge White House to name one of their own to FERC

Source: Rod Kuckro, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2018

The message to the Trump administration couldn’t be clearer from the nation’s utility regulators: Fill the upcoming vacancy at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with another person with experience as a state official.

A resolution to that effect is expected to be approved today by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners as it wraps up its summer policy meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., said NARUC President Jack Betkoski, also a member of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.

The heightened concern about the next FERC commissioner is prompted by the recent unexpected announcement by FERC Commissioner Robert Powelson that he will be leaving the agency to become the president and CEO of the National Association of Water Companies, the lobby for the nation’s private water utilities. He will leave FERC in mid-August.

Powelson is the only person on FERC with experience as a state regulator. He was formerly chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and has been an outspoken defender of states’ interests on the commission.

Since 1990, 12 of 21 members of FERC have previously served as state utility regulators, Betkoski said.

The resolution proposed by Iowa regulator Nick Wagner urges the Trump administration to appoint state commissioners to open vacancies at FERC as well as the Federal Communications Commission, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy.

“There’s no doubt that with short tenure of Commissioner Powelson, we thought it was important that we take a stand on this as an advocacy group representing commissions throughout the country [and] encourage the administration to replace him with somebody from the states,” Betkoski said.

“Our plan is to do everything we can to deal with our legislative contacts” in Congress, such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who leads the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which would have to approve a replacement for Powelson.

The resolution “urges current and future Administrations to appoint individuals with service experience as state commissioners to vacancies on the FERC and to related posts in other federal agencies to assure that the Administration’s policies can benefit from that well of recognized practical experience, as well as seize opportunities for federal and state cooperation, and ensure that federal agency decisions consider the often overlooked (and frequently unintended) impact of federal rulings.”

NARUC may be facing an uphill climb, as Powelson was FERC’s leading critic of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to direct financial subsidies to select nuclear and coal-fired power plants even if states and grid operators found such support unnecessary and costly.

“Rob’s appointment may be one the White House regrets and is why they may be averse to another state regulator who would have similar sympathies,” said a Southern state regulator.

Asim Haque, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, serves on NARUC’s Executive Committee.

“[It is] important to have a state commissioner not only on the FERC, but I think it’s important to have state regulators, state experts, appointed to all federal agencies. And a primary driver behind that is we are the closest to the actual human beings and businesses within the states that we regulate,” Haque said.