President Trump has named Neil Chatterjee as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a move that will shift leadership of the agency but will not change its political balance.
Wednesday’s move by the White House comes after months of speculation over the ailing health of former FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre, who has missed the commission's past two monthly meetings.
In a Monday resignation letter, McIntyre stated that, despite his successful recovery from a brain tumor surgery last year, he has “very recently experienced a more serious health setback, leaving me currently unable to perform the duties of Chairman.”
But McIntyre wrote that he plans to remain as a commissioner at FERC “while undergoing the treatment necessary to address my health issues,” a decision that will retain the political balance of the five-member commission. Both Chatterjee and McIntyre are Republicans appointed by Trump.
Chatterjee, a former energy adviser for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), has been a more vocal advocate of protecting coal and nuclear “baseload” power plants than the three remaining commissioners on the board, which include McIntyre and Democrats Richard Glick and Cheryl LaFleur.
But Chatterjee joined the rest of FERC in a unanimous decision rejecting a Department of Energy proposal to provide out-of-market payments to economically struggling coal and nuclear plants to keep them running, ostensibly to maintain the resilience of the country’s power grid.
That makes his appointment as chairman less controversial than the Trump administration’s nomination of Bernard McNamee, one of the architects of DOE’s failed coal and nuclear bailout plan, to replace retired Commissioner Robert Powelson. McNamee’s nomination has largely been seen as the Trump administration’s efforts to get a reliable pro-coal and nuclear vote on FERC, in advance of further Trump administration efforts to bail out those industries.
The nomination process for a new FERC commissioner is a long one — McIntyre saw five months pass between his nomination and officially being sworn in as chairman last year. By contrast, the White House can appoint a current FERC commissioner as chairman without Senate approval. In fact, Chatterjee served as interim FERC chairman last year before McIntyre was confirmed.
In a Wednesday statement, Cheryl LaFleur, one of two Democratic commissioners at FERC, expressed her sympathies for McIntyre and his family, and said she looks forward to working with Chatterjee in his new role. “This is a time for close cooperation among everyone at the Commission, and I will work as hard as I can to keep our work moving forward.”
This summer, LaFleur and Glick voted against FERC’s Republican commissioners in a controversial 3-2 decision ordering mid-Atlantic grid operator PJM to reconfigure its capacity markets in ways that could undermine state subsidies for renewable energy and nuclear power.