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Senate panel endorses nominations of LaFleur, Bay to FERC

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In a contentious meeting, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee endorsed June 18 President Obama's nominations of Cheryl LaFleur and Norman C. Bay to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Ranking minority member Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, led most of the committee's Republicans in voting against Bay, who Obama has said he will appoint FERC chairman once his nomination is confirmed by the full Senate. Bay would replace LaFleur as chairman, a post she has held on an acting basis since November in the wake of the withdrawal of Obama's nomination of controversial Colorado consultant Ronald J. Binz to be a member, and chairman, of the commission.

The committee endorsed Bay, 13-9, and LaFleur, 21-1, sending the nominations to the full Senate for further consideration.

Murkowski questioned Bay's lack of experience as a utility regulator and argued that LaFleur should not, in effect, be demoted from the chairmanship.

"I am not interested in the chairman of the FERC doing on-the-job training, particularly when we have a woman – the only woman on the commission – who has been at the helm as the acting chairwoman, and by all reports from both Democrats and Republicans alike, she's been doing a good job," Murkowski said.

In addition to concern about Bay's lack of experience, Murkowski said she is concerned about his possible need to recuse himself from more than 40 cases pending before the commission due to his current position as director of FERC's Office of Enforcement. She also questioned his knowledge of the effect of the Environmental Protection Agency's new carbon regulations on electricity system reliability. She also pointed to criticism of the fairness of the enforcement office under Bay's leadership.

"Bay's responses to my questions on any number of important policy issues facing FERC did not provide the level of clarity needed to win my support," Murkowski said. "Whether it's where he stands on recusals, the cumulative impact of the EPA's recent environmental regulations, or FERC's current and future course, his responses were not forthcoming or worse."

In an attempt to blunt opposition to Bay's nomination, committee Chairman Mary Landrieu, D-La., said the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a Bay supporter, agreed that LaFleur would remain as FERC chairman for nine months after the two nominees are confirmed by the full Senate.

Obama renominated LaFleur to the commission in May. Prior to joining the commission, LaFleur, a Democrat, had more than 20 years' experience as a leader in the electricity and gas industries, retiring in 2007 as executive vice president and acting chief executive of National Grid USA. The former New England Electric System, National Grid USA delivers electricity to 3.4 million customers in the Northeast.

Obama nominated Bay to a commission seat in February, with the intention to name Bay chairman once he is confirmed by the Senate. If confirmed, Bay would succeed FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff whose commission term expired in June 2013.

Since July 2009, Bay has been director of FERC's Office of Enforcement, responsible for protecting energy market consumers from fraud or market manipulation affecting FERC-regulated wholesale natural gas and electric markets. Before joining the commission staff, he was a law professor at the University of New Mexico, teaching criminal law, evidence and constitutional law.

From 2000-2001, Bay, a Democrat, was U.S. attorney for New Mexico. From 1989-2000, he was an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia and in New Mexico. Prior to his Justice Department service, he was attorney-adviser in the Office of Legal Adviser at the State Department.

There are three other sitting FERC members. The other Democrat on the commission is John Norris, whose term expires in 2017. Republicans on the panel are Philip Moeller, whose term expires in 2015, and Anthony Clark, whose term expires in 2016.

No more than three members of the same party may serve on the five-member commission.

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