S&P Global: US Senate panel again moves FERC nominee, amid debate over partisanship

Lawmaker warns committee has given up leverage, Murkowski says seats empty for too long

The US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 12-8 to support the nomination of James Danly to join the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, amid continued complaints from Democrats about the White House's failure to pair him with a nominee from the minority side. Advancing the nomination of Danly, who is currently FERC's general counsel, to become a commissioner, would help ensure a quorum needed for major decisions by the key energy market regulator. The five-member commission is currently down to three members and Republican Commissioner Bernard McNamee has announced plans to step down. During the committee meeting Tuesday Senator Angus King, Independent-Maine, questioned the decision by Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, Republican-Alaska, to move to a vote, suggesting the panel had ceded its leverage to the White House.

"The way to get the other nominee is to say no to this one until we get the other nominee," King asserted. "Why didn't we hold and say we as a committee say we want both nominees together, and we're not going to hold hearings and we're not going to move until then."

Murkowski replied: "Our challenge is that we've had empty seats on the commission for far too long." The seat Danly would fill has been vacant for over a year, whereas the Democratic vacancy has been open since early August, she said. Murkowski reiterated her desire to keep a full complement of commissioners to help FERC handle its workload, noting she was ready to move quickly but could only act once a nominee is put forward.


The committee's ranking Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, joined Republicans to voting in favor of Danly, but promised that if there is no pairing of the next nomination when McNamee leaves "we should fight to the nth [degree] to make this committee work again, to make sure FERC is nonpartisan, the way it should be, [with] the pairings that we've always had."

He explained his yes vote Tuesday by saying that he previously made a commitment to Danly because he thought Danly was well-qualified, and he believed at the time there was positive movement on the potential nomination of attorney Allison Clements, a Democrat.

"That didn't happen," Manchin said, calling it "a shame that the politics have entered into it."

Multiple Democrats on the panel lamented what they described as increased partisanship at FERC and urged a return to pairing of Democrat and Republican nominees to restore a more bipartisan approach.


"I think the FERC is not working today," said Senator Martin Heinrich, Democrat-New Mexico. "The FERC has become a political ping pong match like everything else around here. ...If you look at some of the capacity rulings and other things coming out of the FERC today, it is reprehensible and I think that is on all of us."

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat-Oregon, warned that if "you pass this nominee now, you stack the deck at FERC. It will be three Republicans and one Democrat." His state was at the center of needing thoughtful bipartisan work, he added, because the Jordan Cove LNG project is under consideration.


It was not immediately clear when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would schedule a floor vote on Danly, whose confirmation was held up on the floor late last year.

While Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had previously threatened to stall energy legislation to force the White House's hand on a pairing, that threat did not appear to materialize this week.

Murkowski told reporters after the meeting she was optimistic that her broad bipartisan energy bill, S. 2657, the American Energy Innovation Act, would be on the Senate floor this week, and the Senate voted 84-3 on a motion to invoke cloture on Monday. She said she did not know about the timing of action on Danly, as she was focused on the timing of the energy bill.

ClearView Energy Partners in a research note said the timing of Danly's confirmation could be important for action in the FERC dockets related to the transmission rate of returns for the New England Transmission Owners. It suggested FERC lacks a quorum on that issue because Commissioner Richard Glick appears recused from the matter.

During the committee meeting Tuesday, Murkowski noted that with the retirement of McNamee from FERC, there will be another opportunity to pair Democrat with a Republican nominee.

By:  Maya Weber
Source: S&P Global