By Rich Heidorn Jr.
President Trump reportedly has nominated Pennsylvania regulator Robert Powelson and Neil Chatterjee, senior energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), to fill two Republican vacancies on FERC.
Powelson and Chatterjee, who will seek terms expiring in 2020 and 2021, respectively, would restore the commission’s quorum, which was lost in February with the resignation of former Chairman Norman Bay.
Powelson, a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, is the current president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners — a familiar stepping stone for FERC commissioners. Both Commissioner Colette Honorable and former Commissioner Tony Clark served one-year terms as NARUC presidents before their appointments.
Honorable announced last month that she will not seek a new term when hers expires in June, meaning Trump will be able to nominate two additional commissioners to join acting Chair Cheryl LaFleur.
Multiple outlets reported the nominations late Monday night. The White House has not officially announced the nominations as of press time. Numerous reports have also identified Kevin McIntyre, co-head of the energy practice at law firm Jones Day, as the third nominee and likely chairman.
A fixture at NARUC meetings, Powelson is a big, back-slapping man known for his sense of humor. An avid Philadelphia sports fan, he is certain to engage in good-natured trash-talking with LaFleur, who occasionally wears Boston team jerseys to commission meetings.
He was nominated to the Pennsylvania PUC in 2008 and served as chairman between 2011 and 2015. His current term expires in 2019.
Powelson was elected NARUC president last November after serving as president of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners in 2014-15. (See “Powelson Replaces Kavulla as President,” Overheard at NARUC Annual Meeting 2016.)
He is on the Board of Trustees of Drexel University and previously served as the president of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry, in suburban Philadelphia. He joined the Chester County chamber after serving as director of government relations for the neighboring Delaware County Chamber of Commerce and a stint as staff assistant to former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.).
He became the subject of some controversy in March when he told an industry conference that opponents of pipeline projects are engaged in a “jihad.”
He later apologized. “I used the word ‘jihad’ while characterizing the actions of individuals who have engaged in threatening or disruptive behavior: interrupting public meetings, preventing officials from speaking, harassing federal and state regulators along with their families, and otherwise attempting to halt the public discussion about important infrastructure projects,” Powelson wrote in a statement, as reported by State Impact. “In retrospect, that was an inappropriate choice of words.”
In 2014, Powelson resigned from the Greater Philadelphia Energy Action Team — a group dedicated to expanding the energy industry in southeastern Pennsylvania — after critics said it put him in a conflict of interest.
He has a bachelor’s in political science and government from St. Joseph’s University and a Master of Governmental Administration in public finance from the University of Pennsylvania.
Chatterjee, a former lobbyist for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, became McConnell’s energy adviser in 2011 after working for two years as a staff aide for the coal state senator.
A November 2015 interview with Bloomberg Government identified Chatterjee as “the McConnell adviser determined to stop the Clean Power Plan.”
“Leader McConnell promised to do everything he could to fight for the people of Kentucky, who were concerned about the impact the Clean Power Plan would have on their jobs, bills and way of life,” Chatterjee, who said he drives a hybrid car, told Bloomberg. “He is going to continue that fight. It is an honor and a privilege for me to staff him.”
Chatterjee told Bloomberg his mentors include C. Boyden Gray, who as counsel to President George H. W. Bush was involved in drafting the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and a cap-and-trade system for acid rain emissions.
Chatterjee graduated from St. Lawrence University and received a law degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Law. Before joining McConnell’s office, he worked for the House Republican Policy Conference, former Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) and the House Ways and Means Committee.