By Catherine Traywick, Bloomberg News
President Donald Trump named attorney Kevin McIntyre as his pick for chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, paving the way for the agency to regain its authority to rule on natural gas pipelines and contested utility mergers.
McIntyre, co-head of Jones Day’s global energy practice, would take the reins from acting chairman Cheryl LaFleur and is the third Republican Trump has named to the committee, according to a statement from the White House on Thursday. In May, Trump named Neil Chatterjee, senior energy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Robert Powelson, former chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, to fill the remaining two seats on the commission.
Trump has been under pressure to fill three vacancies on the panel following the February resignation of former chairman Norman Bay, whose departure left the commission without the quorum it needs to make major decisions. Until new commissioners are confirmed, the agency can’t approve multibillion-dollar natural gas pipelines, potentially stalling a massive expansion of the U.S. gas pipeline network brought on by the shale boom.
More than $50 billion worth of project applications are pending before the commission, including an application for the $2 billion Nexus gas line in the Midwest, which is scheduled to start by year-end. Other issues awaiting agency action are a proposed rule on commercial battery storage, and a decision on the commission’s income tax allowance policy for pipelines run by master limited partnerships.
“They’ve got a hell of a mess to clean up,” former commission member Marc Spitzer said of the candidates. “There’s several months of backlog. They’ll be drinking from a fire hose.”
At Jones Day in Washington, McIntyre represents companies in cases involving energy markets, utilities and oil and gas pipeline regulations. His global energy practice focuses on compliance and enforcement, and energy marketing and trading among other issues, according to the firm’s website.
Chatterjee and Powelson are still waiting for a Senate floor vote to confirm their nominations. During a committee hearing, both nominees expressed limited support of state subsidies for ailing nuclear plants, an issue that has drawn controversy across the power industry. Once confirmed, the commissioners would have to rule on cases challenging those subsidies, as well as determine whether the agency should issue new rules addressing their impact on wholesale markets.
The commission normally consists of five members who serve five-year terms. Right now, it’s made up of one. LaFleur, a Democrat and former utility executive, has been on the commission since 2010. The term of another commissioner, Colette Honorable, a Democrat who previously served as chair of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, ended in June.
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