Obama Pick to Head Energy Regulator Advances With Compromise

Jun 18, 2014 3:04 pm ET

June 18 (Bloomberg) -- Norman Bay and Cheryl LaFleur won Senate committee approval to be members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of a compromise with the Obama administration on who would lead the agency.

The Democratic-led Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-9 today for Bay, FERC’s enforcement director who led probes of banks including Barclays Plc and JPMorgan Chase & Co. for alleged energy-market manipulation. The panel voted 21-1 for LaFleur, acting chairman and a commissioner since 2010.

Chairman Mary Landrieu said she reached a deal with the administration and Senate leaders under which Bay, President Barack Obama’s pick for chairman, would take over the agency after nine months. LaFleur will remain acting chairman.

“That nine months will start at the point of confirmation on the Senate floor,” Landrieu said. She is recommending Bay’s nomination be considered by the full Senate in September.

The nominations created a Senate turf battle, leaving in question leadership of the FERC, which oversees U.S. electric grid reliability. Landrieu of Louisiana and top Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska had sought to keep LaFleur as agency head, citing Bay’s lack of experience as a utility regulator.

Murkowski said White House officials never gave her assurance the terms would be met, and she also said she wanted to give LaFleur full authority as chairman. Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said he would support Bay’s nomination with a provision that his chairmanship begin in nine months.

Landrieu voted to support Bay. Murkowski didn’t. A spokesman for the White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Knows ‘Stuff’

“I want to make sure that whoever is chairing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission knows their stuff,” Murkowski said at the hearing.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, backs Bay, a former federal prosecutor from New Mexico, to lead the FERC. Reid controls Senate floor votes.

Former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff stepped down in November, after his term had expired. The agency has operated with four commissioners since then.

Obama’s previous nominee to lead the agency, former Colorado energy regulator Ron Binz, withdrew in September after failing to win enough votes on the Senate energy panel.

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

--With assistance from Laura Litvan in Washington.