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What we learned from FERC noms

Mar 21, 2024
Illustration of two power line towers angling away from each other with lines snapping

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden's FERC nominees avoided big partisan fireworks during the first step in their confirmation process.

Why it matters: Thursday's Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing for Judy Chang, David Rosner and Lindsay See probably bodes well for their nominations.

  • But we could still see some politicking over See and Chang ahead of a committee markup. Here's what we learned:

1. GOP grilling: Chang took the most heat, with Republicans probing her background as a top climate and energy official in Massachusetts.

  • In his opening remarks, John Barrasso framed Chang as anti-natural gas, setting the tone for GOP questioning.
  • Chang sought a middle ground, emphasizing that the Natural Gas Act "does not specify greenhouse gas emissions as a criteria for denying any pipeline projects."
  • "If I had my magic wand, I would love to have more gas infrastructure and gas supply to New England, but the issues are complicated," she said in response to a Barrasso question.

2. LNG politics: Natural gas is clearly the biggest political minefield for these nominees, and Republicans are very interested in ensuring that FERC keeps approving LNG infrastructure.

  • All three nominees generally indicated they would support FERC continuing to process natural gas export projects during the Biden administration's permitting pause.
  • Rosner said he identifies "strongly with the all-of-the-above philosophy," and both See and Chang agreed.
  • And the nominees agreed, in response to GOP questions, that FERC is an economic, not an environmental, regulator.

3. Who pays: The hearing showed that cost allocation is the stickiest single issue facing transmission policy reform, both at FERC and on the Hill.

  • Sen. Mike Lee cautioned the nominees not to let FERC "socialize the costs" of transmission lines that pull renewable power into population centers and states with renewable portfolio standards.
  • "I agree that only those who benefit should pay for transmission, and that is consistent with long-standing commission precedent, as well as judicial precedent," Rosner said.
  • Everyone — nominees and lawmakers — agreed in broad terms that more interregional power lines and better planning is needed. But that doesn't say a lot about the specific transmission-related issues Congress and the commission are considering.

What's next: Committee Chair Joe Manchin is likely to schedule a markup soon, with the nominees expected to move to the floor in some kind of package deal.

Go deeper: The current FERC commissioners also had an open meeting this morning, at which they affirmed the interconnection reforms the agency finalized last summer.

  • Chair Willie Phillips indicated the commission would take more action on transmission this spring.
  • Depending on the timing of confirmation for these nominees, that could be one of the first things they work on at FERC.
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