By Keith Calder.
The Energy and Natural Resource Committee has a busy week ahead.
In addition to voting on the Keystone XL pipeline—which committee members Mark Udall had been waffling about recently before confirming he remains a no—the committee will vote on two appointments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: Norman Bay, presently nominated to be chairman, and its current acting chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur as a regular commissioner.
Bay is Obama’s second controversial nominee to head the regulatory commission after his first pick—Ron Binz—withdrew over his controversial record of using bureaucratic posts for anti-fossil fuel political activism.
Many in both parties are concerned over Bay’s lack of experience in the FERC, which oversees the nation’s electric grid and is the nation’s top energy regulator.
Members are also skeptical over the decision to replace LaFleur as FERC chair. LaFleur joined the FERC as commissioner in 2010 and was later named acting chairwomen in 2013.
In his past Bay was director of FERC’s Office of Enforcement, but his involvement in the nation’s top regulatory commission ends there. Before joining the FERC in 2009, Bay was a law professor at the University of New Mexico, an assistant U.S. attorney for 11 years, and New Mexico’s U.S. attorney after that. He has no experience leading an agency.
In stark contrast, LaFleur worked in the utility and natural gas industries for more than 20 years. She is a member of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) Committees on Electricity and Critical Infrastructure and was co-chair of the FERC/NARUC Forum on Reliability and the Environment.
If anyone has the experience and the bipartisan support needed in order to fill the role, it is LaFleur. Not Bay.
According to Senator Mary Landrieu—chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resource Committee—there are ongoing negotiations among committee leaders regarding a swap between the nominations of LaFleur and Bay.
This statement was backed up by Democrat Joe Manchin: “I think he needs the experience to have regulatory experience to become an effective chairman. I don’t think anyone has been in that position who hasn’t had regulatory experience.”
However, to make the swap go President Obama must sign off on it. And he hasn’t so far because of the Senate’s chief obstructionist: Harry Reid.
According to recent report in the Wall Street Journal, Harry Reid squashed the nomination of LaFleur because he did not think she would, to his satisfaction, lavish favors on the renewable energy industry. Reid put it simply: “I do not want her as chair.”
Committee Republicans disagreed with Reid and agreed with their Democratic colleagues on the committee.
Senator John Barrasso told reporters “the concern is that there is a very capable individual who is currently acting chair, and she was an Obama nominee…I just don’t see a reason for the president to demote her to put this other guy in the chairman of the FERC. I would rather see her continue as chair.”
Senator Lisa Murkowiski, ranking member echoed the same sentiment, “I have always questioned why the administration would push LaFleur out of the position, she has done a good job.”
There is a wide consensus among Republicans and Democrats that both parties could agree on the nominations if the Obama administration would follow through on the deal to keep LaFleur as chair, and have Bay serve as commissioner.
Barack Obama should make clear that he, not Harry Reid, is the president of the United States, swap the nominations, and allow FERC to go on with its vital responsibility of overseeing the reliability of the country’s electric grid.
By Keith Calder.