Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Richard Glick hasn’t yet secured Sen.
But if Glick isn’t confirmed during a lame duck session, the regulator faces the prospect of a 2-2 commission deadlock as it’s set to play a pivotal role in shaping energy projects spurred by last year’s infrastructure bill and climate legislation passed in August. The potential for such a situation concerns energy watchers across the political divide.
Manchin, who called a hearing in March to castigate Glick and the Democratic majority’s move to scrutinize gas projects, hasn’t scheduled a confirmation hearing in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that he chairs. The West Virginia Democrat is a key vote in a Senate split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
Manchin told Bloomberg Law last week he was “still working on it” when asked about the timing of a confirmation hearing and his support for advancing the chairman through his committee.
Manchin has left Glick waiting for a hearing since he was renominated by the White House in May—a delay that has led to mounting concern from energy industry watchers across the political spectrum who fear instability on the consequential energy regulator.
“A five-member FERC is really important to the stability of the commission’s decision-making,” said Jeff Dennis, managing director and general counsel for Advanced Energy Economy, a Washington group supporting clean energy technologies.
“When you have a split commission, you have more opportunity for decisions to get stalled or for there to be 2-2 ties,” which results in commission orders automatically taking effect without full majority support, said Dennis, who previously worked for a decade at the commission.
Glick is a steady hand at the helm of the commission and “installing a new chairman right now would be disruptive,” said Neil Chatterjee, a Republican who served as FERC chair in 2017 and again from 2018 to 2020.
Transmission and Renewables
The commission has proposed several rules to better plan electric transmission lines and lower barriers to connecting renewable power generation. It’s also weighing updates to a 1999 natural gas policy statement that frustrated Manchin and his Republican ranking member, Sen.
This month, Barrasso—a frequent FERC critic—sent a letter to the commission demanding status updates on pipeline and liquefied natural gas projects.
Congress is currently focused on a permitting overhaul brokered between Manchin and Democratic leaders that would expedite certain energy projects, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline,a controversial natural gas project that has had federal permits struck down in court.
In August, FERC allowed the pipeline’s developers to extend their certificate by four years—to the outcry of environmental groups who have opposed the project for eight years. Since commissioners were called before Manchin’s committee in March, they have advanced natural gas projects at their monthly meetings.
“To Chairman Glick’s credit, they’ve been moving projects,” Chatterjee said. “I think the chairman’s going to have to explain to the Senate energy committee what the commission’s plan is going forward.”
Glick and his Democratic colleagues have defended the updated gas policy statement—which was finalized in February then pulled back into draft form after Manchin’s hearing—as shoring up the legal durability of project authorizations.
Recent court rulings have struck down FERC assessments of economic need and environmental justice impacts around pipelines and LNG terminals. Glick has supported considering climate change in project reviews.
Natural Gas Projects
At its monthly meeting on Thursday, the commission is expected to vote on several gas certificates, but only one represents new infrastructure—Sempra’s Hackberry Storage facility in Louisiana. Other major developments, including Sempra’s proposed expansion of Port Arthur LNG, remain up in the air.
ClearView Energy Partners, an independent research firm in Washington, “thought the September meeting might include a few more natural gas project approvals, particularly given the pendency of Chairman Rich Glick’s renomination,” it said in a research note to clients this week.
“We think, at the end of the day, a 2-2 FERC could be bad for infrastructure,” said Christi Tezak, managing director of the firm, in an email. Because of that, “exerting pressure on Glick could be more useful than submarining his reconfirmation altogether.”
Allison Clements, a Democratic commissioner, said the committee’s work should be allowed to continue under Glick.
“The chairman has led a lot of important initiatives over the last two years, some of which have moved quite a ways along, some of which are just underway,” Clements said during a meeting with Bloomberg editors and reporters.
—With assistance from Kellie Lunney.