In an effort to resolve the lack of a quorum at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), yesterday President Trump nominated Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to fill Commissioner vacancies. Mr. Chatterjee is the senior energy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and previously worked with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Mr. Powelson is a current member of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission and president of National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. If the nominees are confirmed, FERC will regain a quorum, which it has not had since early February. Reports have also signaled that Trump is expected to nominate Kevin McIntyre, an energy lawyer in private practice, to serve as the Commission Chairman.
Among other things, FERC has oversight of proposals to construct LNG terminals, interstate natural gas pipelines, and hydropower projects. Currently, the Commission which typically consists of 5 Commissioners, has only two, Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur and Colette Honorable, which is insufficient for making any major decisions under FERC regulations. In addition, Honorable recently confirmed that she will be not be seeking another term with the Commission (her term expires in June), but she is expected to remain for transition purposes.
President Trump’s nominations come at a time when FERC has more than $50 billion of project applications pending before it for numerous pipeline projects across the country, but the absence of a quorum has stalled the processing of those applications. Included among the pending applications are DTE Energy and Enbridge’s Nexus Gas Transmission pipeline, the PennEast Pipeline, TransCanada’s WB Express, and Chesapeake Utilities’ Eastern Shore Expansion. Final environmental review for other projects are expected to conclude by mid-year, such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
It is uncertain how long it will take to get confirmations of these nominations, particularly given the inevitable delays in the confirmation hearing process and the likelihood that some Senate members may seek to challenge them. Once President Trump’s nominees are confirmed, however, there should be a flurry of action by FERC to process the pending applications. This is welcoming news not only for those companies with currently pending applications, but also for the industry as a whole, since such activity would signal FERC’s willingness to move forward in the review of other future projects.