White House taps enforcement guru to lead agency

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, January 31, 2014

President Obama last night nominated Norman Bay, director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Enforcement, to serve as the agency’s next chairman.

Bay, a former U.S. attorney from New Mexico with a lengthy career overseeing high-profile legal cases, has overseen stepped-up FERC investigations into Wall Street giants including Deutsche Bank, Barclays and JPMorgan Chase & Co., which last year was fined a record $410 million for gaming the energy markets.

His nomination represents the White House’s second attempt to fill a seat left empty last year by Democrat Jon Wellinghoff, the agency’s longest-serving chairman. Obama’s subsequent nomination of Ron Binz, a former Colorado regulator who drew the ire of the fossil fuel industry, fizzled before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Wellinghoff’s departure led to Democratic FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur stepping up temporarily to lead the agency. LaFleur last week made it clear to reporters she’s interested in serving another five-year term and did not rule out the possibility of taking the helm as chairwoman (E&ENews PM, Jan. 27).

Bay’s name has for months been mentioned as a possible successor to Wellinghoff, and sources said he is seen as a solid choice — and that his appointment is a possible signal the administration plans to focus more on regulating the energy markets.

Before joining FERC in 2009, Bay was a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law.

He also served in the Department of Justice from 1989 to 2001 and was an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia and New Mexico from 1989 to 2000. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School.

From 2000 to 2001, he was the U.S. attorney for New Mexico, nominated by President Clinton and confirmed by the Senate. Prior to his Justice Department service, Bay was an attorney-adviser in the Office of Legal Adviser at the State Department.

Bay’s confirmation would likely take place before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee after Louisiana’s senior senator, Democrat Mary Landrieu, becomes chairwoman. Landrieu is expected to take the helm of the panel as soon as next month.

But while Bay may be palatable to senators on both sides of the aisle, some questioned why Obama overlooked sitting commissioners.

Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), said it’s noteworthy Obama chose to elevate Bay, a commission employee who has not served on the commission, to the post of chairman over “clearly qualified commissioners.”

“It is also curious that the president has for the second time, this Congress identified someone he believes should jump over the sitting commissioners,” Dillon said.

Mike McKenna, a GOP strategist on energy issues, echoed those comments.

“I am confident that Mr. Bay is a great lawyer and a very good enforcement chief,” McKenna said. “I’m a little surprised that the administration has again decided to nominate someone with limited experience at the commission and no experience as a commissioner to be chairman. I don’t think the chairman’s office at FERC should be a place for on-the-job training.”

On that note, FERC Commissioner John Norris (D) last year said any chance of his being nominated to be chairman was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who believed Norris was too “pro-coal.” (E&E Daily, Sept. 17, 2013).

Conservative groups that Binz accused of taking part in “blood sport” to spoil his nomination signaled they’ll be waiting in the wings (Greenwire, Oct. 1, 2013).

“The American Energy Alliance has monitored developments at [FERC] with increased interest due to the critical role that this bipartisan, independent regulator must play in the execution of President Obama’s agenda,” American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle said in a statement. “The announcement today that the White House will nominate Norman Bay is due the same level of scrutiny that was applied to Mr. Binz, and we are hopeful that his confirmation process will leave no stone unturned.”