Obama Pick to Lead FERC Might Be Phased in Under Compromise

Jun 17, 2014 7:01 pm ET

June 17 (Bloomberg) -- The Senate’s energy panel and the White House are discussing an arrangement in which Federal Energy Regulatory Commission nominee Norman Bay would become chairman after serving for a time as a commission member, according to a Senate aide.

Under such a plan, acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur would remain in that post temporarily, according to the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on Bay, who President Barack Obama nominated in January to lead the FERC, and LaFleur, who has been nominated to return to the agency for a five-year term as a commissioner. She has served on the commission since 2010.

The nominations have created a turf battle in the Senate. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, the committee’s Democratic chairman, and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the panel’s top Republican, have sought to keep LaFleur on as chairman of the five-commissioner FERC. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has supported Bay as chairman.

Asked about the talks, Murkowski told reporters today in Washington that there’s no agreement on the length of time that Bay would serve before becoming chairman.

“We don’t know. That’s the problem,” Murkowski said.

White House spokesman Matthew Lehrich declined to discuss the nomination process.

Utility Regulator

Bay and LaFleur both need to be confirmed by the full Senate, where Reid controls votes.

At the nominees’ confirmation hearing on May 20, Murkowski said she was concerned that Bay, a former federal prosecutor who leads the FERC’s office of enforcement, didn’t have adequate experience as utility regulator. LaFleur is the former acting chief executive of National Grid Plc’s U.S. unit.

Murkowski also said at the time that she was concerned Bay would have to recuse himself from FERC votes that involved cases he was involved with as the agency’s enforcement director.

In addition to overseeing reliability of the electric grid, the FERC’s duties include policing energy markets for possible manipulation, reviewing utility mergers and regulating the transport of oil and natural gas on inter-state pipelines.