Energy panel schedules votes on FERC nominees, KXL bill

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, June 13, 2014

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee announced plans today to hold votes Wednesday on the contentious nomination for chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a bill backing the Keystone XL pipeline.

Negotiations between the White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and committee members are continuing on the nomination of Norman Bay to lead FERC and acting Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur, whose term expires this month.

Although Bay appears to have the backing of Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.), other senators have expressed concerns about his lack of regulatory experience and are pushing for LaFleur to remain at the agency’s helm.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said Republicans are pushing to keep LaFleur in place for up to a year or a “meaningful” amount of time, but those details are still being negotiated.

“We’d go for a year,” Hoeven said.

Despite the negotiations, committee members acknowledge Reid is not on board and could ultimately kill the vote.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the panel’s top Republican, blasted Reid for interfering, calling LaFleur “very qualified.” Murkowski said she would not support immediately making Bay chairman.

“We’re going to have to figure out whether [the White House is] willing to come off him being chairman,” she said.

“You’ve got a woman doing a darn good job. Why don’t you let her continue,” the senator added. “If Mr. Bay gets on as a commissioner and proves his stripes over a period of time, then maybe he could be considered.”

The nomination is also bleeding into Landrieu’s re-election battle with Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, who has called on the ENR chairwoman in a letter to oppose Bay. Cassidy expressed concerns about Bay’s lack of experience and said he could serve to “rubber stamp” the White House’s push for renewables over coal and natural gas.

Proponents of Bay say the criticism is misplaced. Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program for Public Citizen, in a statement today said attacks on Bay’s “stellar” performance in holding Wall Street accountable as the head of FERC’s Office of Enforcement are being driven by “vested interests seeking a FERC more permissive of lax enforcement.”

The committee is also expected to easily approve the pro-KXL bill Landrieu and Hoeven offered last month as an amendment to a bipartisan energy efficiency bill that fell apart during floor debate over GOP requests for votes on major energy issues beyond the Canada-to-U.S. pipeline.

However, clearing the energy panel may not improve the KXL legislation’s slim prospects of getting back to the Senate floor.

With Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) already facing industry pressure to change his vote, reflecting his lack of an up-or-down opinion on whether to the build the pipeline, Reid is unlikely to expose other politically vulnerable Democrats to a high-profile vote on KXL that could be used against them on the campaign trail.

“If the Keystone XL pipeline were being routed through our state, Coloradans would want to know the decision was being made on the merits — and not congressional meddling,” Udall spokesman Mike Saccone said via email, affirming that the senator “intends to again reject the notion that lawmakers know better than the engineers, scientists and experts whose responsibility it is to evaluate the pipeline application on its merits.”

The committee’s consideration of the pipeline could help insulate Landrieu against charges from Cassidy that she has not done enough to advance a heavy crude transportation project considered vital to Gulf Coast refineries.