FERC's McIntyre Dies, Leaving Second Vacancy on Energy Regulator

(Bloomberg) -- Kevin McIntyre, a commissioner and former chairman of the top U.S. energy regulator, has died.

President Donald Trump tapped McIntyre to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2017. He shepherded the agency until October, even as he underwent treatment for brain cancer, before stepping down as chairman due to ongoing health issues. He stayed on as a commissioner.

“During his tenure at the Commission, Kevin exhibited strong leadership and an unmatched knowledge of energy policy and the rule of law," Chairman Neil Chatterjee said in a statement. "He exemplified what it means to be a true public servant each and every day, no matter the challenges that lie ahead of him."

His death increases the odds of policy gridlock at the agency, which oversees the U.S. power grid, approves utility mergers and permits natural gas pipelines.

The agency’s four remaining commissioners -- two Republicans and two Democrats -- may be split on matters that require a vote.

"Such partisan divides appear most relevant in the case of commission approvals for LNG terminals and natural gas pipelines, and potentially on orders that impact the fuel mix of the electric generation sector," Washington-based ClearView Energy Partners LLC said in a note Thursday.

Uncertain Replacement

The Trump administration may choose to delay appointing a replacement until Democratic Commissioner Cheryl Lafleur’s five-year term runs out in June. That would allow the Senate to pair a Republican nomination with that of a Democrat, streamlining the confirmation process.

McIntyre is the second Trump appointee the commission has lost in the past year. Republican Rob Powelson, the panel’s most vocal Republican critic of President Donald Trump’s efforts to subsidize nuclear and coal plants, left in August.

The person that replaces McIntyre likely will have to navigate an increasingly politicized landscape and contend with the administration’s ongoing bid to bail out struggling plants.

“I don’t think the issue is dead just yet,” Democratic Commissioner Richard Glick recently said of the administration’s efforts.

Coal Bailout?

The White House is said to be weighing one proposal to extend the life of money-losing power plants deemed to be essential to national security. The issue emerged as a point of contention during the December confirmation of Republican Commissioner Bernard McNamee, who played a role in a 2017 bailout plan that was ultimately rejected by the energy commission.

The Senate approved his nomination by a single vote, but Senate Democrats led by Senator Maria Cantwell have since called on McNamee to recuse himself from any related matters. So far, he’s only agreed to consult with ethics officials.

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