Week Ending January 24, 2020

McNamee Will Not Seek Another Term at FERC, Adding to Commissioner Turnover

This Article Appears as Published in Foster Report No 3283
McNamee Will Not Seek Another Term at FERC, Adding to Commissioner Turnover

FERC Commissioner Bernard McNamee informed the White House that he will not seek another term at the Commission when his current term expires in June, he announced at the January 23 open meeting.

McNamee said he wants to spend more time in Richmond, Virginia, where his family has stayed while he has been working in Washington for several years. He said he has enjoyed his time at FERC and emphasized that he will stay on at FERC so that there will not be quorum concerns given the minimum of three commissioners currently in place.

His term expires June 30. McNamee was sworn in Dec. 11, 2018, and his upcoming exit adds to the short tenure of several recent commissioners. Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur was the exception to that trend, leaving FERC in the fall of 2019 after nine years.

Chairman Neil Chatterjee said he is optimistic that FERC General Counsel James Danly will be confirmed by the Senate once he is renominated by the White House, since the nomination expired at the end of the congressional session in 2019.

The renomination from the White House is simply a paperwork issue, Chatterjee said, assuring reporters that FERC will not lose a quorum, barring some unforeseen event.

A few sources have said Danly’s renomination from the White House is not a sure thing, though they declined to provide details. The White House has a list of potential nominees for FERC, sources said, but who has gone over that list and when a nomination would be forthcoming is not known.

McNamee’s announcement means that the White House will have two FERC nominees to provide if it keeps the Danly nomination in the Senate. A Democrat seat to replace LaFleur has been vacant and a Republican to replace McNamee. Even though Senate Democrats have forwarded the name of Alison Clements to fill LaFleur’s seat, their suggestions have not resulted in a nomination from the White House, which has added to the political angst in the nomination process.

Chatterjee dismissed talk that commissioners are leaving FERC early for anything other than their own unique circumstances. Commissioner Robert Powelson left in 2018 after a short tenure to take a great opportunity at the National Association of Water Companies and former Chairman Kevin McIntyre would still be at FERC if not for his untimely death. LaFleur wanted to stay at FERC longer, but Senate leaders did not want her to serve another term, Chatterjee said.

The last time FERC had a full quorum of five commissioners was in the summer of 2018, before Powelson left. Chatterjee has said for some policy initiatives, such as the review of FERC’s pipeline certificate policy statement, it is best to have a full roster of five commissioners. That could be quite a while if the White House nomination process does not pick up speed, and that is not expected to happen given other events in Washington this year.

Danly had been nominated to fill the seat of McIntyre, with a term that ends on June 30, 2023. A nomination to replace McNamee would be slotted into a longer term, ending in 2025, which could explain the delay on a renomination of Danly, said Christine Tezak of ClearView Energy Partners. The White House may have been waiting for McNamee to make his announcement so that Danly could fill a longer term, she said.

If the White House renominates Danly, it would retain the 2-1 Republican majority alignment when McNamee exits. For a full complement of five commissioners to be restored, the White House would have to send three nominees to the Senate – Danly, another Republican to fill McIntyre’s seat and a Democrat – which presumably would be Clements.

McNamee has been traveling to Richmond and Chatterjee understands the desire to be closer to family given McNamee’s son will be starting high school in the fall, Chatterjee said. “I intend to complete my term,” which expires June 30, 2021, he said.

He commended McNamee for his service and said he was instrumental in brokering an agreement among commissioners to approve LNG export projects. The negotiations to bring LaFleur to support the majority view was roughly a year ago, when FERC approved Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass LNG export project in Louisiana.

When asked by reporters what he is most proud of or what his legacy might be at FERC, McNamee referred to resolving the deadlock on LNG projects, as FERC had not approved a project for about two years when he arrived at the end of 2018. Since then, FERC has approved 11 such projects, he noted.

He said he has enjoyed working at FERC and found it rewarding and interesting. “I have loved this job; but I love my family more,” he said. He expressed thanks to President Donald Trump for appointing him, the Senate for confirming his, FERC staff and the support of his family.

Speaking with reporters after the meeting, McNamee said he will stay at FERC past the expiration of his term, if needed, to maintain a quorum. “I’ll stay as long as needed,” but “It’s time to go home” after working for a little more than four years in Washington, he said, noting he spent about three years at the Department of Energy (DOE). “I’m not checking out right away” and will be fully engaged on issues while at the Commission, he said.

Commissioner Richard Glick said it has been a pleasure to work with McNamee even though they do not see eye-to-eye on some legal points. McNamee believes everything he says and has strong convictions, Glick said. He commended McNamee for his commitment to public service, and the commitment to his family.

McNamee said he strived to focus on the law and facts of cases for reaching decisions. He has disagreed with Glick on consideration of environmental issues and said, “I think it’s healthy to have debates on issues.”

He did not indicate where he would be working after he leaves FERC.

DOE Secretary Dan Brouillette thanked McNamee for his service at FERC and DOE in a January 23 statement. “His bipartisan work on many important policy issues including successfully streamlining the permitting process for LNG projects at the Commission will have a lasting impact on the energy industry to the benefit of all Americans,” Brouillette said.

By Tom Tiernan ttiernan@fosterreport.com

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