Senate Vote Looms for FERC Nominees

A Senate committee heard from White House nominees for two vacant seats on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would restore a quorum to the hobbled agency.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she intends to schedule a committee vote on reporting the nominations to the full Senate soon after lawmakers return June 5 from the Memorial Day break. 

Murkowski called the committee's May 25 hearing "a significant step towards restoring a crucial independent commission to functionality." 

With only two of FERC's five seats currently occupied since February, the commission has been unable to muster a quorum to transact business.

The nominees, both Republicans, are Neil Chatterjee, a top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and a former NRECA government relations staffer, and Robert Powelson, a Pennsylvania regulator and president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Murkowski expressed strong support for the nominees, saying they are "well-qualified, and deserve to move quickly through the process to confirmation."

Powelson has been nominated to complete the balance of a five-year term that expires June 30, 2020, while Chatterjee would fill the remainder of a term ending June 30, 2021.

While the nominees declined to answer questions on projects now before FERC, they emphasized their backgrounds' value to their prospective duties. 

Chatterjee told senators that he sought to be "pragmatic, fair and transparent... in an effort to gain majority support on key legislative priorities." He also underscored his reputation as a consensus builder.

Powelson said his work at NARUC gives him an appreciation of the diversity that exists across the country. "What works in Pennsylvania does not necessarily work in other markets," he said. "Should I be confirmed, I will continue to value the variety of perspectives that the states bring to an issue."  

Both nominees expressed support for an energy policy that relies on a diverse fuel mix.

Chatterjee told Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that "overseeing reliability is at the core of the commission's mission," and that coal must remain a part of the diversified energy mix going forward. 

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, expressed concern over the backlog of infrastructure projects awaiting FERC action. 

Chatterjee acknowledged FERC's critical role in project review and said the relationships he has developed across agencies and on Capitol Hill will help address the backlog.

However, he cautioned against streamlining that could create "legal liability on the back end." 

If confirmed, Powelson said he would meet with regional transmission organizations to find out where bottlenecks are.

The commission will have another vacancy in coming months, as Colette Honorable's term expires June 30. She has indicated she will not seek another term.