After deal, senators advance energy agency nominees

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to confirm the nominations of Norman Bay and Cheryl LaFleur to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) after the White House promised to delay appointing Bay as chairman.

Many of the senators had expressed reservations after President Obama said he would make Bay chairman after he is confirmed. While the Senate must confirm nominations to FERC, the White House can independently decide its chairman.

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LaFleur is currently acting chairwoman, and the panel approved her for a new five-year term. Under the deal with the White House, LaFleur will continue to lead the commission for nine months before Bay steps up.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and others had pushed for the deal amid concerns that Bay, who has never been a commissioner before, lacked experience. He is currently on FERC’s staff, leading its enforcement efforts.

“I understand that there’s a nine-month time period, that Cheryl LaFleur will stay, that she be the chairman, with the full privileges of the chairmanship,” Manchin said. “That gives Mr. Bay, who’s a good man, a chance to get the experience needed on that commission.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) confirmed the deal with the White House, as did a White House aide.

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee’s ranking member, said that she did not get a similar assurance from the White House.

“The president has made very clear that it is his intention to place Mr. Bay as chairman of the commission … without having served on the commission, without having a deep background in the policy areas that FERC is charged with regulating,” she said.

“I do not have that assurance from the White House that I have asked to be confirmed,” Murkowski added.

The vote to confirm Bay was 13-9.

LaFleur’s confirmation was far easier and received broad, nearly unanimous support.

The contention between Murkowski and the White House may boil down to the details of LaFleur’s nine-month stint leading the commission after her final confirmation in the Senate.

Manchin and Landrieu both said LaFleur would have the full powers of a chairwoman and none of the limitations of an acting chairwoman she now has. But Murkowski did not agree.

“Right now, as acting chair, she has limitations on her authority,” Murkowski said. “If she is going to remain in place, we have discussed a period of nine months, and I want to have the assurance that she has the full authority to act. “

Murkowski acknowledged that she had been in discussions with the White House in recent weeks over the nominations. 

“I haven’t gotten what I need, but I believe we can get there if given a little more time,” she said.