Fossil fuel champion Chatterjee to (temporarily) head FERC

In keeping with his pattern of appointing close allies of the fossil fuel industry to run key energy and environmental positions, U.S. President Donald Trump yesterday appointed Neil Chatterjee as chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Chatterjee and former Pennsylvania regulator Rob Powelson were approved by the U.S. Senate as commissioners for the agency on August 3, giving FERC a quorum for the first time since February. In July Trump nominated energy lawyer Kevin McIntyre as FERC chair, but McIntyre has not yet been vetted by the Senate.

Chatterjee says that he will only be staying until McIntyre is appointed chair. “I am honored that President Trump has designated me as Chairman of the Commission until Kevin McIntyre is confirmed, and I am eager to take on this responsibility,” read a brief statement by Chatterjee on the FERC website.

While Chatterjee is not the most ideologically extreme appointment made by Trump to date (EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt comes to mind), like the rest of the Administration he has been a staunch proponent of a 19th-century energy policy. This includes an emphasis on coal, which has been an important and declining part of the economy in his home state of Kentucky.

His outdated perspective on renewables are also in line with the Trump Administration’s consistent promotion of mythology over fact regarding renewable energy. In a 2013 article for a publication of the University of Cincinnati, where Chatterjee got his law degree, he stated that “renewable energy is simply not competitive, affordable, or widely available, even with significant, expensive government support”.1

Such a statement is in sharp contrast with the fact that all forms of electricity generation benefit from subsidies, and that solar and wind have become the least expensive and most widely deployed forms of new generation in the United States.

However, Chatterjee’s first actions are not expected to be on renewable energy. Now that FERC has a quorum and a chair, the agency is expected to begin approving dozens of oil and gas pipeline projects and export facilities. As a strong proponent of the Keystone XL Pipeline and lifting the oil export ban, Chatterjee will no doubt be in his element.

 

  1. Quote taken from Energy and Policy Institute, as the original publication was no longer available.