FERC to be further politicized with Chatterjee as chair

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One of the hallmarks of the Trump Administration has been a move towards a highly personal style of governance, and the appointment of officials on what appears to be more adherence to the political perspective of the administration more than relevant technical experience.

See former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, current EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and of course Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

However, for the first two years of the Trump Administration the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had retained some of its reputation as an independent, technocratic manager and arbiter of the nation’s power and gas markets. FERC notably rejected Secretary Perry’s request for a coal and nuclear bailout.

However, that was FERC before Commissioner Robert Powelson (R) decided to step down in July, and before the appointment of pro-fossil ideologue Bernard McNamee (R) earlier this month to fill his place. And while McNamee has yet to be approved by a Republican-controlled Senate, the decisive move towards politicizing FERC appears to have come late yesterday.

President Trump has appointed Neil Chatterjee (R) to replace Kevin McIntyre (R) in his role as FERC Chair. McIntyre resigned three days ago, via a letter to President Trump which expresses that he has a medical condition even more serious than the brain tumor with which he was diagnosed last summer.

Chatterjee has publicly declared that he plans to be impartial and professional in his position at FERC, including in a speech at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Future of Energy Summit this spring, after being ribbed by fellow commissioners for his pro-coal bias.

This came after Chatterjee joined a unanimous vote to reject the coal and nuclear bailout pushed by Secretary Perry – and which he had supported – and since has additionally called for grid operators to design markets for storage – a process which already started with FERC Order 841. However, his other actions show a mixed record.

Chief among these is his bringing Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese to the Administration. Pugliese targeted New York Democrats on right-wing propaganda outlet Brietbart, and has praised far-right Italian politicians and attempted to set up a meeting with fringe right-wing British politician Nigel Farage.

Such behavior is unusual for a FERC Chief of Staff.

There is also Chatterjee’s egging on a fight with pipeline protestor and Actor James Cromwell, where he told Cromwell to “Come at me, bro.”

These moves come as FERC is set to consider a number of high profile items including not only moves to reform capacity markets in the PJM Interconnection and ISO New England, but also as the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has called on FERC to move to allow state-level exemptions from PURPA.