Trump picks FERC general counsel for commission seat

Source: By Rod Kuckro, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 1, 2019

President Trump last night nominated James Danly to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a widely expected move.

If confirmed by the Senate, Danly would give the five-seat commission a 3-1 Republican majority. He is currently general counsel of the agency.

Trump did not name a Democrat to fill FERC’s last remaining vacancy, throwing aside a Senate tradition of pairing nominees at the independent energy regulator with individuals of both political parties.

Danly, 43, has been described as a “very bright” attorney by those who have worked with him, but he would bring less legal experience to the job than many of his predecessors at FERC.

He came to the legal profession in 2013 when, after law school, he was a clerk for Reagan appointee Judge Danny Boggs in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2014, Danly joined the Washington office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP as an associate in its energy practice.

Three years later, he was picked by the White House to be the top lawyer at FERC, an agency with hundreds of lawyers.

E&E News reported last month that Trump intended to nominate Danly, who was described by a former FERC colleague as “excited and ready to go” (Energywire, Sept. 19).

FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee, a Republican, tweeted his support for Trump’s choice last night, writing, “Congratulations to my friend and @FERC General Counsel, James Danly!”

Danly’s nomination and confirmation would give Chatterjee another Republican vote on the commission.

In a recent interview with E&E News, Chatterjee declined comment on whether he knew about whom the White House might nominate to the commission, though he acknowledged working “very closely” with Danly.

“I did not know him beforehand. He was recommended to me when I initially was sworn into the commission as somebody who would make [an] outstanding general counsel. And I brought him on as general counsel,” Chatterjee said (Energywire, Sept. 17).

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed to block any energy legislation out of the Senate if Trump were to nominate just a Republican to FERC (E&E News PM, Sept. 20).

Democrats favor nominating Allison Clements, an energy lawyer who heads the clean energy markets program at the Energy Foundation. She would have filled the slot left vacant upon the departure of Cheryl LaFleur.

Danly would fill the vacancy left by former FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre, who died early this year.

‘Humble regulator’

If confirmed, Danly would bring his unique point of view regarding the role of the ‘humble regulator’ to the commission.

While not a well-established legal term of art, it is a philosophy that Danly has espoused, most recently in a keynote address at an April 30 event hosted by Skadden’s Energy Regulation and Litigation Group (Energywire, June 10).

Danly’s stint as an associate with Skadden two years prior to working at FERC was his first job with a law firm.

Danly declined several requests to be interviewed to explain how his theory of the humble regulator might be applied generally to the natural gas and electricity issues that regularly come before FERC.

But it seems to hinge on a laissez faire approach to FERC’s using its discretion to interpret the statutes under which it operates, according to several people who were in attendance at the Skadden event.