Rarely has a FERC monthly agenda meeting prompted as much speculation about what did not occur as the September 20 gathering, where the absence of Chairman Kevin McIntyre was addressed briefly in an opening statement by Commissioner Neil Chatterjee.
Unlike almost every monthly meeting, there was no media briefing after the September 20 meeting, where reporters can ask questions about items on the agenda, and chairmen have fielded questions.
Thus, there was little information from official channels on McIntyre’s health concerns and some of the questions surrounding FERC Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese.
McIntyre has experienced significant health challenges since he was tapped by the White House to be FERC chairman, overcoming a brain tumor and surgery, with post-operative treatment, and then a fall in July where he broke several vertebrae in his back. At the last open meeting in July, he had an arm in a sling, but in a recent podcast posted on the FERC website McIntyre said he is “well on the mend and feeling better every day.”
In his prepared statement read by Chatterjee at the meeting, McIntyre apologized for not being there “as I had fully intended to be present. However, my ongoing recovery prevents me from being here in person today.”
McIntyre directed the Secretary’s office to record his votes on agenda items in which he participated, with recusals on several electricity orders.
“While my health situation has impacted my mobility, it has not impacted my ability to get the Commission’s work done, and I am proud to report that the commission continues to move full steam ahead on all fronts,” he said in the prepared statement. McIntyre made similar comments in the September 11 podcast, where he said the Commission is gearing up for a busy fall.
“We wish the chairman the best on his continued recovery,” Chatterjee said at the meeting.
None of the agenda items were discussed at the meeting, other than Chatterjee mentioning his dissent on an order denying a declaratory order sought by the Utah Board of Water Resources and the Washington County Water Conservancy District on a hydropower project. Chatterjee was the lone dissenting vote on the order that found FERC only had jurisdiction on the hydroelectric generation facilities, and not a related water delivery pipeline system from Lake Powell in Arizona.
The lone presentation at the meeting was from FERC General Counsel James Danly and Howard “Skip” Elliot, administrator at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, regarding a memorandum of understanding on reviews of LNG export facilities announced in July.
Danly explained that since 2010, when FERC’s reviews were mainly on LNG import terminals, it has seen increasing applications for LNG export terminals. “LNG export terminals, when compared to LNG import terminals, are far more complex and can raise significantly different issues. As a result, FERC’s review of applications for LNG export terminals has become far more time consuming than it was for LNG import terminals. FERC staff found it necessary to confer with PHMSA staff more often, resulting in multiple requests to the applicant from both FERC and PHMSA for more information. The MOU will put an end to this,” Danly said.
Elliot praised FERC’s partnership with PHMSA to address the increasing pace of LNG infrastructure applications.
At the Commission, the chief of staff position serves within the chairman’s office and McIntyre has been asked by lawmakers and others to address comments from Pugliese. Over the past several months, Pugliese has raised eyebrows and the ire of some lawmakers for making political statements or putting the Commission’s role as an independent agency in question following the Trump administration efforts to support coal and nuclear generation resources. He spoke at the American Nuclear Society in August, indicating that FERC staff is working with DOE, Department of Defense and National Security Council to identify power plants deemed critical for maintaining electricity to military bases and other critical facilities, which did not sit well with some people who follow FERC.
McIntyre defended Pugliese during the podcast. Pugliese is “highly qualified” to serve as chief of staff and works well in coordination with other federal entities, but he does not speak for the Commission, McIntyre said. “FERC speaks through its orders, and not through speeches, Tweets” or other venues, McIntyre said.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who asked McIntyre to address questions on Pugliese’s remarks, said they were encouraged by McIntyre’s response, but asserted that a staffer’s partisan political statements can undermine FERC’s impartiality. “While I appreciate Chairman McIntyre’s assurance of FERC’s continued independence, I am disappointed that he failed to acknowledge that the partisan comments of his Chief of Staff, Anthony Pugliese, were wholly inappropriate, unhelpful and distasteful,” Pallone said in a statement.
Others have been more blunt, stating that Pugliese should resign because he is putting the impartiality of the Commission at risk, including statements made during an interview with conservative media firm Breitbart. Media outlets have quoted former FERC staffers making such statements, including Republicans, and E&E News reported on e-mails from Pugliese obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.
In the e-mails reported on by E&E News, some of which were redacted, Pugliese tried to meet with right-wing British politician Nigel Farage during a trip to London and he praised Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister of Italy, who is an ally of Stephen Bannon, an advisor to President Donald Trump who served as Chief Strategist in the White House in 2017.
By Tom Tiernan TTiernan@fosterreport.com