We need FERC nominees now

With President Trump off to a lightning-fast start, one action item that might at first appear to be of secondary importance really needs his immediate attention: As of Friday, Feb. 3, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) lacks the number of sitting commissioners needed to form a quorum, preventing it from being able to take action on natural gas infrastructure projects for the first time in recent memory.

Certainly the president has many positions to fill at multiple agencies, but filling the current vacant seats at FERC should be a top priority for the incoming administration. Without swift action to nominate at least one candidate to fill the existing three vacant seats at FERC, action on dozens of major infrastructure projects will languish for months, in some cases causing a year’s delay or more given seasonal restrictions that narrow the construction window for project timelines.

{mosads}Ultimately that will hinder our country’s ability to take greater advantage of our abundant, affordable and clean natural gas resources. While some work can continue at the staff level, a quorum is necessary to vote out new permits for pipelines and other infrastructure necessary to bring new supplies to residential, commercial and industrial consumers. Delays can quickly snowball and place planned projects in jeopardy.

Over the last ten years, the shale gas revolution has spurred many industries to bring manufacturing plants back to the United States, directly and indirectly creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. For example, my organization recently commissioned an independent review of the near-term impact of the shale gas revolution in the manufacturing sector. The consultants found $121 billion in new petrochemical or fertilizer plants either under construction or expected to be constructed between 2015 and 2021, in large part because of affordable domestic natural gas.

The abundant natural gas made possible by the shale revolution has also been good to existing households and businesses by reducing their energy bills, and to the environment by helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to their lowest levels in 25 years.

Underscoring the importance of a quorum at FERC, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chair of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, has announced that she will make it a top priority to work with her Senate colleagues and the White House on the confirmation process.

But to get that process going, Murkowski needs nominees. Even if President Trump were to name them today, it would likely take at least two months to vet them, hold hearings, and move the nominees to the Senate floor for a final confirmation vote. The last time FERC faced the prospect of losing a quorum came during the 1993 presidential transition, and despite relatively quick action then, nevertheless the new commissioners were not sworn in until May 25.

Even four months without a quorum could seriously impede the nation’s ability to take full advantage of the many advantages of natural gas. I urge the White House to move expeditiously to fill at least one of the three current vacant FERC seats so that the commission can return to consideration of the energy infrastructure projects that will benefit our great country.

Dena Wiggins is president and CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA). NGSA’s members are the major producers and marketers of natural gas in the United States and represent more than a third of all the natural gas consumed here.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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