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Trump switches out energy commission chairman

Trump switches out energy commission chairman
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE named Neil ChatterjeeNeil ChatterjeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats push Biden to pick Haaland as next Interior secretary | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | Wasserman Schultz pitches climate plan in race to chair Appropriations Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump takes major step toward Alaska wildlife refuge drilling opposed by Biden | Grijalva backs Haaland for Interior Secretary | Obama alumni considered top picks for Biden Energy secretary 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 McConnellMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Biden and reproductive health rights Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls 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 PerryChip Roy fends off challenge from Wendy Davis to win reelection in Texas The Memo: Texas could deliver political earthquake The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, Biden blitz battleground states 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.