By Rich Heidorn Jr.
FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre has defended Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese, saying his controversial remarks did not reflect commission policy or threaten its independence and impartiality.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking members of the House and Senate energy committees, sent McIntyre a letter Aug. 22 complaining of Pugliese’s “highly partisan political remarks” at a conference of the American Nuclear Society in August and in an interview with right-wing media outlet Breitbart in July.
On Thursday, Cantwell released McIntyre’s Aug. 24 response, in which he praised Pugliese’s “outstanding management skills and his unparalleled talent for coordinating the activities of a complex, multi-faceted agency.”
Pallone and Cantwell cited Pugliese’s praise of President Trump and criticism of Democratic governors for blocking pipelines. They also cited his statement to ANS that FERC is working with the Department of Energy and National Security Council on the Trump administration’s proposal to provide price supports for at-risk coal and nuclear generators. (See Democrats Call Out ‘Partisan’ Remarks by FERC Chief.)
Pugliese, a former lobbyist in Pennsylvania’s capital, and an unsuccessful state legislative candidate, joined FERC in August 2017 after a stint at the U.S. Department of Transportation as a member of Trump’s so-called “shadow cabinet.”
McIntyre said he had authorized Pugliese to make the Breitbart and nuclear conference appearances but that “the specific subjects of his remarks were not subject to review and were not identified in advance.”
The chairman said none of Pugliese’s comments reflected FERC policy because “the commission speaks exclusively through its orders. Consequently, neither the public statements of Mr. Pugliese nor those of any other FERC staff member can state the views of the commission, particularly in connection with proceedings on which the commission has not issued an order on the merits.”
“While I understand your concerns, I can assure you that this commission remains independent and impartial,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre joined in a 5-0 vote in January rejecting Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to save at-risk coal and nuclear plants and instead opened a docket to consider resilience concerns (AD18-7). In June, however, Trump ordered Perry to save coal and nuclear plants under an obscure Korean War-era law. (See More Questions than Answers for FERC, RTOs on Bailout.)
In his response to Cantwell, McIntyre said commission staff “has not discussed the merits of any ‘grid resilience’ proposal that would seek to prefer one form of generation over another with executive branch officials. Commission staff does, however, have regular contact with our counterparts in the Department of Energy on a host of matters of shared responsibility including intelligence, personnel and legal process.”
Cantwell said in a statement that she was encouraged “to hear Chairman McIntyre clarify that the commission’s official orders, like the 5-0 rejection of the Trump coal bailout, are what count. However, speeches and interviews by the commission’s top staffer that are laced with bad-faith partisan attacks serve to undermine FERC’s traditional impartiality and neutrality.”
Pallone said he was “disappointed that [McIntyre] failed to acknowledge that the partisan comments of his chief of staff, Anthony Pugliese, were wholly inappropriate, unhelpful and distasteful. To my knowledge, no other FERC chief of staff under either Republican or Democratic administrations has used that position as a platform for partisan attacks.”