James Danly has been nominated by the Trump administration as the nominee to fill the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) seat vacated by the recently deceased Kevin McIntyre.
At 43 years old, Danly has been viewed as an odd, even inexperienced pick. Danly is a former U.S. Army officer who served two tours of duty in Iraq, a graduate of the law school at Vanderbilt in 2013 and served as an associate attorney with the energy regulation and litigation group at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, before he was ultimately appointed as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s general counsel in 2017.
The appointment has also received criticism for veering away from the traditionally nonpartisan nature of FERC. Danly is only the second FERC general counsel to be a political appointee and the first not to have been chosen by the chairman. Currently, after the passing of McIntyre and departure of Cheryl LaFleur, the commission is made up of two Republican commissioners (Bernard L. McNamee and Neil Chatterjee) and one Democrat (Richard Glick). Traditionally, Republican and Democratic nominees would be paired in an instance of two openings.
All of that means that FERC has never truly been nonpartisan, just close. Traditionally when a Republican is in office, the Commission swings 3-2 towards that party, while it swings back when there’s a Democrat in the White House.
However the nonpartisan appointment is still causing its fair share of drama, with Politico reporting that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer allegedly threatened to block legislation from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee unless the nominations are paired together.
Opponents of the appointment say that the partisanship of the decision, coupled with Danly’s relative inexperience is evidence that the Trump administration nominated a inexperienced candidate intentionally, in hopes of advancing a partisan (read: pro-coal) agenda. This claim is bolstered by the administration’s choice to ignore Senator Schumer’s nomination of Allison Clements, who has since moved into the role of director of clean energy markets at the Energy Foundation. For her qualification, Clements is a former Natural Resources Defense Council attorney specializing in grid and energy market issues.
Oh, and there’s one last very sticky issue playing into this decision. The commission requires a three-member quorum to vote, there are currently just three members. Anything happens to them, and the whole commission is tied up indefinitely. Well, just last month, Glick put out a statement informing the nation that a previous administrative error involving his former employer, Avangrid, has forced him to recuse himself until December and had left FERC without that all-important quorum until that time.