Unorthodox FERC chief of staff speaks out — to Breitbart

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The chief of staff at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a former White House adviser, gave an unusual interview to a Breitbart News Network radio show this weekend.

Anthony Pugliese’s arrival at the agency in August raised eyebrows because of his background in partisan politics and lack of experience in energy policy and law were unusual for a chief of staff pick (Energywire, Dec. 13, 2017).

In the “Breitbart News Sunday” appearance, Pugliese mostly stuck to explaining FERC and its role, but he also bashed Democrats and praised President Trump.

Breitbart is a far-right news outlet that has been accused of racism and xenophobia and was co-founded by Steve Bannon, a former Trump adviser.

It appears to be the first media interview Pugliese has conducted; he has declined interview requests from E&E News and generally has not spoken publicly while at FERC.

The show’s host, Amanda House, introduced Pugliese by referring to FERC as an agency “under Donald Trump … helping to make America great again.” She asked him about whether FERC is working to undo Obama-era regulations and criticized energy policies from the left.

Pugliese explained several times that although FERC commissioners are chosen by the president, it is an independent agency.

But he also did not shy away from political questions, criticizing Democratic governors for blocking pipelines.

“A lot of the politics that we deal with even at FERC is the play between the national and state roles. You still have some parts of the country that are controlled by members of the Democratic Party that are determined to make sure that no infrastructure goes through their states,” Pugliese said.

He was referring at least in part to New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has used his state’s authority under the Clean Water Act to block the Constitution pipeline.

“They want to say no just because the Trump administration is supporting it, or FERC, whose chairman is appointed by the president, for the sole reason of politics. They are putting politics above the best interest of not only consumers in their states but also national security,” Pugliese said.

He also repeatedly praised the Trump administration, where he worked briefly as an adviser within the Department of Transportation.

“The president has done a tremendous job of knocking down barriers to allow the economy to grow and prosper,” Pugliese said. “When you are trying to ensure that the environment is being protected but at the same time ensuring that we are protecting the national security and promoting jobs and the American economy, you can do great things, and I think that’s what we’re seeing in this administration.”

The chief of staff also noted that while FERC as an independent agency is not required to adhere to some executive orders, both Chairman Kevin McIntyre and his predecessor, Neil Chatterjee, spurred the agency to participate, including signing a memorandum of understanding on infrastructure permitting in April (Greenwire, April 9).

Pugliese at times said he was speaking for himself and not the commission but also said at least once — in referring to FERC as an all-of-the-above and fuel-neutral agency — that he was speaking for McIntyre.

McIntyre kept on Pugliese to help lead his office after the Pennsylvanian was first hired by Chatterjee.

FERC has typically been an under-the-radar and largely apolitical agency. But it has landed at the center of several important energy policy debates, including over Trump administration efforts to keep financially struggling coal and nuclear plants running.

Pugliese weighed in on those generation sources in the interview too.

“[Energy Secretary Rick Perry] is often kind of accused of trying to subsidize or bail out coal and nuclear. From my perspective — and I can’t speak for the commission and wouldn’t try — that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said.

“I think those two resources, coal and nuclear specifically, have a lot of resilient attributes that from a national security perspective are hard to deny,” he said.

The conversation even veered to the energy policies of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an upstart progressive Democrat from New York who defeated established New York Rep. Joe Crowley in a primary election in June.

“This push from the left, we see this with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is pushing for a new green deal plan, which calls for 100 percent renewables by 2035. Is this in your opinion at all practical, likely, possible? You work with this stuff all day, every day,” House asked.

Pugliese called it “purely a political talking point that she is trying to use to drum up her base.”

“I think those of us who are in the industry and see this stuff every day realize that this is not in the best interest of our national security, our consumers and the American way of life,” FERC’s chief of staff answered.

Neither Pugliese nor FERC responded to requests for comment.

Reporter Rod Kuckro contributed.