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Trump Names Picks for US Energy Agency Crippled Without Quorum

Trump Names Picks for US Energy Agency Crippled Without Quorum

Tuesday, 09 May 2017 07:52 AM

President Donald Trump has chosen a longtime aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a Pennsylvania utility regulator to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, bringing the agency one step closer to regaining its power to rule on natural gas pipelines and contested utility mergers.

Trump plans to nominate Neil Chatterjee, a senior energy adviser to McConnell who previously worked for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and Robert Powelson, a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, for terms expiring in 2021 and 2020, respectively, an emailed statement from the White House late Monday shows.

Trump was said to be planning to name Kevin McIntyre, co-head of Jones Day's global energy practice, as his pick to lead the agency.

Federal lawmakers and industry groups including Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America have been urging Trump to fill the three vacancies on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission quickly.

The agency lost the quorum it needs to make major decisions when former chairman Norman Bay resigned in February, leaving two Democrats to serve on the panel. His departure has threatened to stall a massive expansion of the U.S. gas pipeline network brought on by the shale boom.

The confirmation process could take two to three months if expedited, cautioned Brandon Barnes, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. The last time a commissioner was confirmed, Bay in 2014, it took six months.

"It's a very political process where there's horse-trading, negotiating," said Martin Edwards, head of government affairs for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. "It means delays in deploying project capital to build infrastructure."

More than $50 billion worth of project applications are pending before the commission, including an application for the $2 billion Nexus gas line in the Midwest, which is scheduled to start by year-end. Other issues awaiting agency action are a proposed rule on commercial battery storage, and a decision on adjusting the commission's disputed income tax allowance policy for pipelines run by master limited partnerships.

Compliance, Enforcement

As an adviser to McConnell, Chatterjee served as an architect of major energy and environmental policy in the Senate, helping to coordinate attacks against Obama's Clean Power Plan that requires power plants to cut carbon dioxide-emissions. 

Powelson has been on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission since June 2008, and also served as its chairman, according to the commission's website. He was elected president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, a Washington-based advocacy group, in November.

The commission normally consists of five members who serve five-year terms. Cheryl LaFleur, a Democrat and former utility executive, has been on the commission since 2010. The only other commissioner right now is Colette Honorable, a Democrat who previously served as chair of the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Honorable's term ends in June, and she has said she won't pursue another one.

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President Donald Trump has chosen a longtime aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a Pennsylvania utility regulator to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission...
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Tuesday, 09 May 2017 07:52 AM
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