FERC down to one commissioner, leaving energy policy undone

Trump has nominated Republicans Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that oversees natural gas pipelines and other energy projects is down to a single commissioner as one of the panel's two remaining members is stepping down.

The departure Friday of Democrat Colette Honorable from FERC leaves Acting Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur as the panel's sole member. The vacancies further hobble the agency's ability to make decisions on pipeline projects and proposed mergers worth billions of dollars and threaten to undermine President Donald Trump's promise of U.S. "energy dominance" in the global market.

"The golden era of American energy is now underway," Trump said Thursday as he outlined a series of initiatives aimed at boosting energy production and exports and creating thousands of jobs.

But amid Trump's boasts is a nagging reality: The agency that oversees energy infrastructure has been without a quorum since February, leaving more than a dozen major projects and utility mergers in limbo.

The projects include the $2 billion Nexus pipeline in Ohio and Michigan; the $1 billion PennEast pipeline in Pennsylvania and New Jersey; and the $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

"There's no doubt that in order to realize the Trump administration's vision of a 'golden age of energy,' it's essential to have a quorum at FERC," said Dena Wiggins, president of the Natural Gas Supply Association, an industry group.

"While we're not there yet ... I think there's widespread recognition at the White House and on the Hill that FERC plays a crucial role in moving virtually every (type of) energy across state lines, and that it's essential to put good people in place at FERC quickly," Wiggins said.

Trump has nominated Republicans Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to the panel and said this week he intends to nominate Democrat Richard Glick. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved the two GOP nominees, but no floor vote has been scheduled in the Senate.

Honorable's departure "again underscores the urgent need to re-establish a quorum at FERC," said Senate Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

"FERC's work is increasingly important. Getting the agency back to the normal course of business remains a top priority for me," Murkowski said

David Holt, president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, an industry-aligned group, said the Senate should move swiftly to approve the FERC nominees.

"For the good of the country, it's time to put aside partisanship and stop stalling action," Holt said.

Any vote will have to wait until next month as the Senate left for its weeklong July 4 recess.

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