By Rich Heidorn Jr.
President Trump announced Wednesday that he has appointed FERC Commissioner Neil Chatterjee to replace Chair Kevin McIntyre, who stepped down citing a “serious setback” in his battle with a brain tumor.
McIntyre said he would remain on the commission but would relinquish the chair’s role “and its additional duties so that I can commit myself fully to my work as commissioner, while undergoing the treatment necessary to address my health issues.”
McIntyre’s status became the subject of increasing speculation after the chairman missed the commission’s open meeting Oct. 18, the second he has missed since a fall that left him visibly uncomfortable at the meeting in July.
In March, McIntyre issued a statement saying he had undergone “successful surgery” for a “relatively small” brain tumor that was discovered in summer 2017. At the July meeting, he wore a sling after disclosing he had injured his arm and suffered compression fractures in two of his vertebrae in a fall.
‘Full Attention and Vigor’
In a letter to the president, dated Oct. 22, McIntyre said that since taking office in December 2017, he has “pushed full steam ahead with all of the important work of the agency … with full attention and vigor, despite facing some health challenges along the way, including compression fractures in multiple vertebrae this summer.”
“However, I very recently experienced a more serious health setback, 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.”
Chatterjee, a Republican like McIntyre, had served as chair for several months last year before McIntyre’s arrival. In a statement Wednesday, he said he took the chairmanship “with a heavy heart … while my friend and colleague, Kevin McIntyre, focuses on what’s most important: his recovery and his family.”
“I am confident that the commission will continue to benefit from his consummate knowledge of the law and of energy policy through his service as commissioner. On behalf of the entire FERC community, I wish Kevin and the McIntyre family continued strength and resolve at this challenging time.”
Chatterjee praised McIntyre for his “steadfast leadership.”
“Although this is a difficult period for the commission, I want to assure my fellow commissioners, staff within the building and stakeholders outside it that it’s my full intention to build upon Kevin’s hard work. But above all, I look forward to the day when my friend is back at full capacity.”
Commissioners Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick also issued statements on the transition.
“I am very sorry to hear about Chairman McIntyre’s decision to step down as chairman. I want to extend my warm wishes to him for his recovery, and I look forward to continuing to work with him. He and his family are very much in my thoughts during this time,” LaFleur said. “I also look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Chatterjee in his new role. This is a time for close cooperation among everyone at the commission, and I will work as hard as I can to keep our work moving forward.
“We have experienced a lot of change and transition during my time at the commission,” she continued. “I know that our wonderful employees will stay strongly focused on their important work and the mission of the organization during leadership changes, as they have in the past. We are very lucky to have such a strong team in place across the commission.”
“It is far more important that Kevin focuses his efforts on recovery than on the additional executive responsibilities of the FERC chairman,” Glick said. “I look forward to continuing our close working relationship. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the commission’s important responsibilities. FERC rightly has a reputation and tradition of being a nonpartisan decision-making body. In the coming weeks, let us reaffirm our commitment to consensus building and to maintaining the agency’s independence as we engage the nation’s energy business.”
“I thank Chairman McIntyre for his leadership at the agency and pray for his swift recovery and return to good health as he continues as a commissioner,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I’m confident that Chairman Chatterjee will once again effectively lead the agency, and I will work with my Senate colleagues to restore a full complement of commissioners as quickly as possible.”
McIntyre told Trump he “will forever be grateful for the opportunity to serve as chairman and for the trust and confidence you placed in me to lead FERC at such a critical time in its history.”
2-2 Split Maintained
By stepping down from the chairmanship but remaining on the commission, McIntyre is ensuring that the panel maintains the 2-2 Republican-Democrat split it has had since the resignation of Republican Commissioner Robert Powelson in August.
The 2-2 split could threaten pending gas pipeline certificate cases. Democrats LaFleur and Glick have insisted the commission’s analyses include consideration of downstream greenhouse gas emissions, which McIntyre and Chatterjee have opposed.
Earlier this month, Trump nominated the Department of Energy’s Bernard McNamee as Powelson’s replacement. McNamee is scheduled for a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Nov. 15. (See Trump Nominates DOE’s McNamee to FERC.)
ClearView Energy Partners predicted in a message to clients Thursday that McNamee will be confirmed during the lame duck session following the mid-term elections.
“However, if the Senate focuses on other business, the White House might nominate a Democrat to take over from Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, whose term expires on June 30, potentially early in the new year,” ClearView said. “It is often (but not always) easier for a narrowly divided Senate to more expeditiously confirm nominees in bipartisan pairs, as both sides are theoretically motivated to approve both nominees in order to ensure the ascension of their preferred candidate.”