Trump switches out energy commission chairman

Trump switches out energy commission chairman
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build Trump Tower in Moscow during 2016 campaign: report DC train system losing 0k per day during government shutdown Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees MORE named Neil ChatterjeeIndranil (Neil) ChatterjeeGOP commissioner on federal energy panel dies Senate should reject Trump’s radical nominee to key energy panel Overnight Energy: Chief energy regulator vows to steer clear of political fights | Zinke was referred to DOJ shortly before watchdog controversy | Groups threaten to sue EPA over paint stripper MORE to be the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Wednesday, replacing previous chairman Kevin McIntyreKevin J. McIntyreGOP commissioner on federal energy panel dies Senate should reject Trump’s radical nominee to key energy panel Overnight Energy: Chief energy regulator vows to steer clear of political fights | Zinke was referred to DOJ shortly before watchdog controversy | Groups threaten to sue EPA over paint stripper 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 McConnellSenate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees McConnell blocks bill to reopen most of government Overnight Health Care: Thousands more migrant children may have been separated | Senate rejects bill to permanently ban federal funds for abortion | Women's March to lobby for 'Medicare for All' 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 PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Pompeo in Iraq for unannounced visit GOP commissioner on federal energy panel dies 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.