President Trump's move to fill FERC vacancies is a major step forward

At first glance, President Donald Trump's decision to nominate Republicans Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to fill two of the three vacant commissioner slots at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may not seem like a big deal, at least to those outside of Washington.

Inside the Beltway, however, the move drew a collective sigh of relief from various quarters - because the agency has lacked a quorum since early February. Under federal law, in order to take formal action, FERC must have a minimum of three sitting commissioners, but for several months it had only two: Cheryl LaFleur and Colette Honorable. LaFleur is serving as the agency's acting chair.

Earlier this year, the American Public Power Association and several other groups said that the lack of a quorum at FERC, which occurred with the departure of Commissioner Norman Bay, threatened a state of inaction at the commission that "could have profound negative impacts for the nation's electric, natural gas, and oil customers."

A coalition including our Association, the Large Public Power Council, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the Edison Electric Institute sent a letter to the president in February. The absence of a quorum at FERC "will leave the agency unable to tackle much of its important work promoting energy infrastructure for the benefit of U.S. energy consumers," the coalition said.

In May, Trump announced his intent to nominate Chatterjee and Powelson. If confirmed by the Senate, the two nominees will restore a quorum to the agency. Chatterjee's term would last until June 30, 2021, while Powelson's term would last until June 30, 2020.

Chatterjee is currently the senior energy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Powelson has been a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission since 2008. He is a former chairman of the Pennsylvania PUC and was elected president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in November 2016 for a one-year term.

Honorable, whose term will expire in June 2017, announced on April 28 that she has decided not to seek another term. If her seat has not been filled by the time her term runs out, she could stay on at the commission until a successor comes aboard, up to the end of the current congressional term, should she wish to do that.

The commission is bipartisan: No more than three commissioners can be from the same political party. The president designates one member as chairman.

It has been reported that a third opening at FERC is likely to go to Kevin McIntyre, who co-leads the global energy practice run by the Washington law firm of Jones Day. McIntyre may be Trump's pick to be chairman of FERC.

FERC nominations must be approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. A committee hearing on the nominations of Chatterjee and Powelson occurred on May 25.

As always, the American Public Power Association stands ready to work with FERC to address several issues of importance to the public power community, such as much-needed reforms to centralized capacity markets in the East.