Natural Gas Intelligence: FERC Nominees Tell Senate Public Interest Foremost if Confirmed

The two nominees tapped by President Trump in July to fill vacant FERC positions pledged to be champions for the consumer by ensuring the reliability and fair cost of energy while remaining unbiased in their decision making.

Speaking Tuesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Democratic nominee Allison Clements noted her “tremendous respect” for the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission and “its role as an independent, bipartisan commission.”

The attorney worked for a decade at the National Resources Defense Council in New York and spent years in private practice with the energy regulatory group at Troutman Sanders LLP (now Troutman Pepper). Representing large utilities shed light on the “magnitude of administrative compliance that regulated entities face across the maze that is the U.S. energy regulatory landscape,” Clements told the Senate committee considering the nominees.

As a lawyer representing borrowers and lenders to infrastructure project financings, she “became attuned to the powerful impact that one policy change can have on a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” as well as the “high bar for regulatory certainty” that capital markets expect as a precursor to investment.

“I learned to appreciate the intention, and attention, that should support any regulatory change because the ripple effects can be far-reaching,” Clements said.

Her prior work representing clean energy interests deepened her expertise in electric grid operations, but Clements said her duties as FERC commissioner would require her to approach each decision with “an open mind” and a duty to “consider all the facts.”

Clements’ work on a National Academies of Sciences Committee that focused on grid resilience allowed her to work with “some of the country’s most eminent grid-focused engineers” and taught her to “appreciate the boundaries of FERC’s jurisdiction” as a technology-neutral economic and reliability regulator.

“FERC regulation does not exist in a vacuum,” she said. “Individuals and communities, and in the end, all of us as consumers, are affected by FERC’s decisions. While the issues are often technical and arcane, we must not forget that ultimately, the Commission exists to serve the public interest.”

As chairman of the independent, nonpartisan Virginia State Corporation Commission, Republican Mark Christie said he has learned that among the states, “there are many commonalities,” but also that each state is unique and has different needs and approaches.

“States are the laboratories of democracy and should be respected as such.”

Christie said he recognizes the importance of independence in “making good decisions in the public interest.

“FERC is also independent” and if confirmed to the Commission would “absolutely respect and defend that independence at the federal level as I have done at the state level,” he said.

The former president of the Organization of PJM States Inc. outlined the three essential roles he believes FERC has. The first, he said, is a statutory role to follow the law in each and every case.

“Statutes often contain language that is sometimes very specific and at other times much broader. So where the law does give discretion, my belief is that an agency should be deeply sensitive to the impacts of its decisions on consumers,” Christie said. He noted that with  millions of Americans struggling to pay their bills, FERC “should always be sensitive to costs to consumers as it fulfills its duty to ensure the reliable power supply that is essential to modern life and jobs for Americans.”

FERC also has a duty to inform and advise given its tremendous amount of special expertise that can inform and advise legislators and policymakers about policy choices when asked. The Commission also should inform the public of the “true costs and benefits of public policies.

“The public has a right to know the realistic costs that it will be forced to pay – and the realistic benefits it can expect — of policies within that agency’s area of expertise,” Christie told the Senate committee.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who chaired the hearing, told committee members and nominees that decisions that FERC commissioners make matter, not only to the energy sector but to the nation.

“Approving the siting of natural gas pipelines, investigating energy markets and licensing hydroelectric projects are just a few of the Commission’s duties,” Murkowski said. “FERC’s economic reach has been estimated at roughly three percent of the gross domestic product, but its real impact is likely greater because energy is a fundamental input.”

Christie is nominated for a term expiring June 30, 2025, to replace Commissioner Bernard McNamee, who departed from FERC after the end of his statutory term in June. Clements is nominated for a term expiring June 30, 2024, to replace former Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur.

McNamee’s departure left FERC with only three members, Republicans James Danly and Chairman Neil Chatterjee, and Democrat Richard Glick. Chatterjee’s term concludes on June 30, 2021, while Glick’s term ends June 30, 2022. Danley’s term concludes on June 20, 2023. By law, no more than three seats at FERC may be held by one political party.

By:  Leticia Gonzales
Source: Natural Gas Intelligence

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