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Date: 2024-05-27 Page is: DBtxt003.php txt00008782

Staff Blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council

Senate Approves Colette Honorable as FERC Commissioner—Finally! ... Staff Blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council


Peter Burgess

Senate Approves Colette Honorable as FERC Commissioner—Finally!

in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming Tags: cleanpower, electricity, energyefficiency, FERC, grid, solar, transmission, wind


In the waning hours of Congress this year, the Senate by voice vote approved the president’s nomination of Colette Honorable to be a commissioner on the Federal Energy Commission (FERC), the agency regulating America’s transmission grid, wholesale sales of electricity, and gas pipeline infrastructure. FERC can now tackle the important work before it with a full slate of five commissioners.

Last week the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee endorsed Honorable’s nomination in a bipartisan voice vote. Full Senate approval of her nomination this year was in some doubt, however, as Congress rushed to finish some long-delayed matters and approve many other nominations before the end of the term this week.

Honorable, whom President Obama nominated in August for the position, replaces John Norris, who stepped down in mid-August to take a U.S. Department of Agriculture position in Italy.

Honorable’s reputation

Honorable’s position as a moderate, reputation as a thought leader and consensus builder, and ability to recognize diverse state interests served her well throughout the confirmation process. Every senator questioning her at her confirmation hearing praised her experience, abilities, and reputation, while also asking her some very politically charged and detailed questions.

Honorable had been a member of the Arkansas Public Service Commission since 2007 and chair since 2011, and made important strides in promoting electric and gas energy efficiency during her time on the commission.

FERC at full strength

Honorable’s confirmation last night caps a dizzying period of departures, nominations and confirmations at FERC, and it restores the commission to a full complement of five commissioners for the first time in nearly four months, with no new imminent departures evident.

After Chairman Jon Wellinghoff announced his intention to leave the Commission last year, the president nominated former Colorado utility commissioner Ron Binz to replace him. Binz withdrew, however, after a prolonged and contentious consideration period. The president then nominated FERC enforcement chief Norman Bay to the post and announced his intention to make Bay chair. That triggered another prolonged confirmation process that resulted in an unusual arrangement: Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur would become full chair but Bay would assume the post in April 2015.

Then, this past August, just days after Bay was sworn in as a new commissioner, Norris announced his departure.

With such important work ahead, it’s good to see every FERC commission chair filled again. The agency needs a full slate to continue to reform grid rules which continue to block use of clean energy resources—like wind and solar power, energy storage, and energy efficiency—as 21st century energy solutions.

Allison Clements’s Blog ... FERC Welcomes a New Commissioner, but Another Bids Farewell Allison Clements Posted August 8, 2014 It’s been an exciting week at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). First, the good news: a hearty congratulations goes out to the newly minted Chairman Cheryl LaFleur and Commissioner Norman Bay! President Obama made LaFleur chairman effective July 30, and Bay was sworn in as commissioner this past Monday. Commissioner Bay will become Chairman effective April 15, 2015. Norris.jpg Now for the not-so-good news. Yesterday, we learned that Commissioner John Norris is resigning his post later this month. The Sustainable FERC Project is disappointed to lose a commissioner who has championed removing barriers to getting renewable energy on the grid, who has created market opportunities for clean demand-side resources like energy efficiency and demand response, and who understands the extent of the climate change challenge and the role that FERC must play to eliminate transmission grid barriers to facilitate public policies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to reduce carbon pollution. Always one to stand up for what he believes, Commissioner Norris has dissented in FERC decisions having adverse impacts on renewables and demand-side resources as well as programs or technologies that can improve existing transmission without constructing new lines (also known as non-transmission alternatives). Commissioner Norris’ exit has another important implication. FERC has many important challenges ahead – challenges more easily tackled with a full slate of five commissioners. But the last time around, over a year elapsed after former Chairman Jon Wellinghoff’s resignation announcement before the Senate confirmed a new chairman. Here’s hoping that it’ll be easier to fill the empty seat this time around. Thank you for your service, Commissioner Norris!

Congratulations Commissioners LaFleur and Bay! Moore Headshot 3July 15, 2014 by John Moore The U.S. Senate today approved President Obama’s nominations of Cheryl LaFleur and Norman Bay as commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the independent federal body which oversees the high power electric grid, natural gas pipelines, and hydroelectric dam licensing. Today’s vote means FERC now has a full complement of five commissioners for the first time in nearly eight months. For Acting Chairman LaFleur, this will be her second term; Norman Bay is currently head of FERC’s Office of Enforcement, and under a deal crafted to get the nominations passed, will assume the chairmanship—but not for nine months (more on that below). lafleur bay (photos courtesy of FERC) FERC faces a full plate of work With both nominees now confirmed, the commission can continue to work on what is a very full plate of energy challenges. A convergence of technology advances, policy reforms, and economic pressures is dramatically changing the nation’s electric power grid, and the FERC (along with many state utility commissions), is facing a host of issues. To name just a few: grid security and reliability (including fallout from this past winter’s Polar Vortex that strained grid resources), the evolution of power markets (especially with a major shift to renewable energy and more natural gas), and the siting of natural gas pipelines. FERC is facing more public pressure on the natural gas front, including for example last week’s protest against Dominion’s Cove Point liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Maryland – among its licensing duties for LNG facilities, FERC is responsible for reviewing their potential environmental impacts. 10498132_10152250081937219_4465098308090974833_o (photo courtesy of Chesapeake Climate Action Network) Another top priority for the commission will be working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as it crafts a final rule for the seminal Clean Power Plan to curb climate-warming carbon pollution from existing coal and gas-fired power plants over the next year. FERC should be able to tackle all of these challenges more smoothly with five commissioners on board – although the next nine months will remain a transition period as Bay waits to assume the chairmanship from LaFleur next April. What a long, strange trip it’s been . . . To recap the somewhat tortured history of these nominations over the last year: In May 2013, then-FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff announced his intention to leave office. Soon thereafter, President Obama nominated Colorado utility regulator Ron Binz to replace Wellinghoff on the commission and also to become Chairman. In the meantime he named Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur acting chairman. Last summer the Binz nomination was caught up in a partisan firestorm – not unusual for dysfunctional Washington but strange for engulfing FERC, which usually stays out of the political heat. Following a very public battle over his nomination, Binz withdrew from consideration last fall. This past January, the president tried again, nominating Norman Bay to fill Wellinghoff’s seat and to be chairman. Bay also faced intense scrutiny, and underwent a pretty tough Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee hearing in June. The committee ultimately approved Bay’s nomination largely along party lines, but only because the White House agreed to a side deal with Committee Chair Mary Landrieu which we understood would keep LaFleur as chair for another nine months. LaFleur’s nomination sailed through the committee with only one dissenting vote. The committee then sent both nominees to the full Senate for a vote. About the nominees LaFleur joined the commission in 2010, and we know her well. She is a master of electricity policy issues, and she supports the removal of unfair barriers to integrating wind and solar and energy efficiency into grid operations and markets. While we know less about Bay’s policy priorities beyond his strong enforcement background (he was a U.S. attorney in New Mexico, among other positions), we understand he is a rock of integrity with a strong public interest bent and effective leadership qualities.

PS: A brief Civics lesson . . . . The FERC consists of five commissioners, serving 5-year terms. Bay’s term, however, will be only 4 years, since his term is defined by law to start at the expiration of his predecessor Jon Wellinghoff’s term, which was June 30, 2013. The president appoints commissioners to fill vacant seats, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate and the requirement that no more than three members can be affiliated with the same political party. However, the president chooses which commissioner will be chairman.

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