The FERC and the furious

Source: By Ben Lefebvre, Politico • Posted: Friday, October 5, 2018

President Donald Trump intends to nominate Bernard McNamee, the head of the Energy Department’s policy office, to take over Rob Powerlson’s seat at FERC, the White House announced Wednesday. McNamee played a crucial role in devising last year’s proposed rule to bail out coal and nuclear plants struggling in the nation’s power markets, which FERC shot down in January. If confirmed, he would also have a crucial vote on whatever DOE puts forward next. FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre welcomed McNamee’s nomination, which would return the commission to full strength. “He is eminently qualified for the job, and I look forward to serving with him,” McIntyre wrote on Twitter.

Industry is jittery : In principle, FERC’s regulated industries prefer a full slate of commissioners to keep the business of the agency moving, but natural gas, renewable, and some electric power groups have spent months battling the Trump administration’s attempts to intervene on behalf of coal and nuclear. “The industry is more than well aware of Bernard McNamee’s rumored ties to helping craft the Department of Energy’s NOPR, which FERC rejected last year,” said one industry source opposed to the bailout. “We look forward to his confirmation hearing to learn more on his views on the role of competitive markets in supporting a level-playing field, and expect members of the Senate Energy Committee to make this a central point in confirming his nomination.” Dena Wiggins, who leads the Natural Gas Supply Association, said her industry is “keenly interested in seeing FERC continue its work to support competitive markets as well provide a timely and thorough review of proposed pipeline projects.”

Green groups concerned: Both Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council were out with negative reviews of McNamee’s nomination. “FERC has a longstanding commitment to fuel-neutral regulation, but Mr. McNamee’s past writings and career track record suggest that he would seek every opportunity possible to support fossil fuels,” John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC Project housed within NRDC, said in a statement. “He even went so far as to state in an op-ed (The Hill) that fossil fuels ‘dramatically improve’ the human condition.”

Start the clock : Once the White House officially sends McNamee’s paperwork to the Senate, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee can schedule his nomination hearing. The math on the committee works in his favor — there’s no obvious reason for Republicans to oppose him, and Sen. Joe Manchin is likely to vote for him too. But, for the moment, McNamee is riding solo when FERC picks typically move in bipartisan packages, leaving the timing around his confirmation uncertain. Democratic Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur’s term ends next year, so the White House could roll out a new Democratic nominee (or renominate LaFleur herself) for that spot. Otherwise, McNamee may be waiting a while before he takes his seat at FERC. Oh, and there’s an election in a few weeks that could throw a wrench into things, too.

Speaking of coal power: The Carbon Utilization Research Council and DOE are sponsoring a discussion on Capitol Hill today on the benefits and challenges of carbon capture utilization and storage. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (D-W.V.) John Barrasso (D-Wyo.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), all of whom sponsored a major CCUS tax credit expansion last year, will deliver opening remarks, and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) will offer his thoughts at lunch time. Squeezed in between will be Steve Winberg, DOE’s assistant secretary of fossil energy, who will discuss the agency’s CCUS initiatives.