Several weeks ago we looked at the problem with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which was the fact that it’s essentially been in limbo since early this year. The five member commission is responsible for the final approval of all pipeline projects (among other tasks) and roughly $14B in new construction work was being held up because they lacked a quorum to meet and process such approvals. In fact, the commission was down to a single member, Democrat Cheryl LaFleur. As of this week, we finally have three members after the Senate confirmed two new Republican nominees submitted by President Trump. (The Hill)
The Senate voted Thursday evening to confirm Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Once the two are sworn in, FERC will have its first quorum since February, when retirements paused action for the five-member board. Chaterjee and Powelson were confirmed by unanimous consent
FERC is responsible for permitting decisions on energy projects like natural gas pipelines and export terminals. The lack of a quorum means FERC has been unable to move such projects forward, inaction that has lead to frustration in the energy, manufacturing and business communities.
This is one of those rare moments of bipartisan cooperation where I have the opportunity to thank and congratulate the Democratic Senate minority. Traditionally the members of this commission are approved in batches, with both Democratic and Republican members being approved at the same time. (The commission must always have three members from one party and two from the other.) President Trump has already submitted the name of the second Democrat to join the FERC, Richard Glick, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold confirmation hearings for him next month. Joining Glick should be the expected new chair of the commission, Republican Kevin McIntrye.
None of these nominations were considered particularly controversial as they all have backgrounds in utility regulation and the energy industry at various levels. And while they are still two people short of full staffing, this was a fair approach to reestablishing the quorum. The commission should represent the current power divide in terms of political parties, and this gives them a 2 -1 split in favor of the Republicans. When fully staffed it will be essentially the same with a 3 -2 margin in favor of the GOP.
Getting the FERC back on its feet is a process which has taken on even greater significance this year. There’s pending legislation which would take the President of the United States out of the loop on final pipeline approvals, leaving the responsibility primarily in the hands of the commission. Given the nearly unprecedented stonewalling we saw from Barack Obama on pipeline approvals over the past eight years that’s probably a good thing in the long run. It’s not as if the GOP is going to hold the White House forever.