March 9, 2017
Trump Nominates Two Republicans for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Note: On Monday night, President Donald Trump announced that he will nominate a utility regulator and a top U.S. Senate staffer to fill two of the three vacant commissioner positions at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC oversees the nation’s electricity and natural gas systems and has a total of five commissioners. Currently, there are two members, both Democrats, although one Democrat announced she is departing. The commission needs three members for a quorum.
After a three-month delay that deprived the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of a quorum, the Trump administration finally has nominees for two open FERC seats: Neil Chatterjee and Rob Powelson. While some are negligently arguing for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to expedite the confirmations to achieve quorum, the committee must not sacrifice its constitutional exercise of oversight and diligence because of the Trump administration’s delay. The nominees must be evaluated, among many other things, in light of the controversial indication of administration policy on wholesale power market regulation as articulated in the April 14 memo by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
There are too many critical issues at stake for household consumers and climate change before FERC now for the Senate to abdicate its authority to determine whether the nominees intend to carry out the dictates laid out in the Perry memo. This includes whether they will address the myriad problems facing consumers and climate change in FERC-jurisdictional markets, fossil fuel infrastructure siting and governance of the private Regional Transmission Organizations that heavily influence electricity policy for nearly two-thirds of the United States.
Importantly, the announced retirement of Commissioner Colette Honorable should require that a new Democratic commissioner be named as a replacement before the Senate Committee can consider the suitability of these two Republican nominees. Balance is required on FERC’s commission, and ensuring that a Democratic nominee is paired with new Republicans is essential.
FERC may be a little-understood agency, but it is an important federal entity for domestic climate change initiatives, interstate fossil fuel infrastructure siting and strengthening consumer protection by ensuring that all rates be just and reasonable. Despite industry pleas to quickly return the commission to quorum, the Senate must accordingly not sacrifice deliberation and diligence for expediency.