Trump Nominates FERC General Counsel for Seat on Regulator

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump has nominated the general counsel of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to one of two open seats on the panel, which oversees the U.S. power grid, approves utility mergers and grants permits for natural gas pipelines.

If confirmed, James Danly, the general counsel, would fill the Republican slot on the commission, which has been vacant since the death of former Chairman Kevin McIntyre at the beginning of the year. His term will last until June 30, 2023, the White House said in a statement on Monday.

The Republicans on the five-member commission have only recently regained their majority following the departure of Democratic Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur. The independent agency has faced mounting criticism that it’s become more political under the leadership of Neil Chatterjee, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. While there’s a longstanding tradition for nominations from both parties to be paired when there’s more than one vacancy, no replacement for LaFleur has been announced so far.

“The administration should not play politics with our national energy policy and instead follow tradition by formally nominating both a Republican and a Democrat as a pair,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

The agency, the top U.S. energy regulator, has been increasingly divided over how far climate change should be factored into its deliberations. It has also yet to rule on new rules for the nation’s biggest power auction as it grapples with hundreds of millions of dollars in out-of-market subsidies that some states are creating to rescue foundering nuclear power plants.

The absence of a Democratic nomination threatens to erode the agency’s reputation for independence, said John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Sierra Club also weighed in, saying the lack of a nominee from each party risks “further denigrating this important commission.”

Quorum Issue

The need for a new commissioner may have taken on an added urgency after Democratic Commissioner Rich Glick said ethics guidelines would prevent him from taking part in certain proceedings for the next few months, meaning the agency lacks a quorum to vote on the controversial PJM capacity auction among others.

“We view Danly’s nomination as an action by the White House to resolve this problem,” ClearView Energy Partners LLC wrote in a note, since a speedy confirmation process could possibly see his nomination reach the Senate floor by the end of October.

Before joining the agency, Danly, a Yale graduate, was a member of the energy regulation and litigation group at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. He was also an officer in the U.S. army, serving two tours in Iraq, and was the managing director of the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank.

“He should be confirmed on his own merits as quickly as possible,” said William Scherman, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in Washington.

McIntyre was the second Republican the commission lost following the departure of Rob Powelson, a staunch critic of Trump’s efforts to subsidize nuclear and coal plants, just over a year ago.

Presidential nominations to the panel must be confirmed by the Senate.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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