Trump switches out energy commission chairman

Trump switches out energy commission chairman
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE named Neil ChatterjeeIndranil (Neil) ChatterjeeExtend solar tax credits, but end costly Carter-era subsidies Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Watchdog: Energy Department not doing enough to protect grid against cyber attacks MORE to be the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Wednesday, replacing previous chairman Kevin McIntyreKevin J. McIntyreWe cannot allow FERC to ignore our climate crisis GOP commissioner on federal energy panel dies Senate should reject Trump’s radical nominee to key energy panel MORE, who cited unspecified “health issues” in stepping aside.

The move, announced by the White House, came after McIntyre did not attend two consecutive monthly meetings of the commission, which oversees wholesale electricity markets, natural gas pipelines and other major energy policy areas.

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McIntyre previously announced in March that he had undergone treatment for a cancerous brain tumor last year. In July, he said in a FERC podcast that he suffered compression fractures in two vertebrae and injured his arm.

But in a resignation letter to Trump released Wednesday but dated Monday, McIntyre said he “very recently experienced a more serious health setback” than the cancer and back fractures, “leaving me currently unable to perform the duties of chairman with the level of focus that the position demands and that FERC and the American people deserve.” 

He said he plans to remain as a commissioner at FERC “while undergoing the treatment necessary to address my health issues.” 

Trump has the authority to name a new chairman without Senate approval, as long as the chairman is a current commissioner.

McIntyre and Chatterjee are both Republicans, nominated and confirmed to the commission last year. McIntyre was previously an attorney representing energy companies, including in dealings with FERC. Chatterjee was the top energy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Deal on defense bill proves elusive | Hill, Holmes offer damaging testimony | Trump vows to block Navy from ousting officer from SEALs Trump steps up GOP charm offensive as impeachment looms Congressional authority in a time of Trump executive overreach MORE (R-Ky.).

Chatterjee is seen as an advocate for coal, owing in part to the fact that he hails from Kentucky. But he has also repeatedly stated his commitment to FERC’s neutrality and its mandate not to favor any energy source over others.

Both commissioners were part of the unanimous FERC decision earlier this year to reject Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryFox's Napolitano says after Sondland testimony that Democrats have a case for impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Sondland stuns; Dems pull punches in fifth debate Sondland brings impeachment inquiry to White House doorstep MORE’s landmark proposal to prop up coal and nuclear plants.

FERC is meant to have five commissioners. But it is currently one short; Trump has nominated Republican Bernard McNamee for the fifth spot.

If McIntyre were to step down from the commission completely, it would have a Democratic majority, with Democrats Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick outweighing Chatterjee.

-Updated 7:20 p.m.