Norman Bay new FERC Chair?

The fossil fuel industries that fund FERC also control enough Senate seats to make approving a non-fracking FERC chair very difficult. Did they just do so?

Michael Coleman wrote for the Albequerque Journal 18 June 2014, Senate committee approves NM’s Norman Bay to lead FERC,

Norman Bay, a former U.S. Attorney in New Mexico and University of New Mexico School of Law professor, won support from a key Senate panel today in his bid to become head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but not without some significant objections from committee members.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-9 to approve President Obama’s nomination of Bay to the powerful regulatory post.

That article has various verbiage about how well Bay knows energy. But why did it take so long to find a replacement after former FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff resigned last November? Wellinghoff resigned after allegations of conflict of interest with a legal consulting job he took. Curious how FERC itself is funded by the very industries it regulates but Wellinghoff, who had been recusing himself from the few cases related to that law firm, was considered a problem by some Senators, such as John Barrasso of fracking Wyoming.

So what was really going on? Travis Fisher wrote for Institute for Energy Research (IER) 21 May 2014, Follow-up Questions for FERC’s Norman Bay, after stuff about Senator Barrasso not wanting Bay:

  1. What are Bay’s views on vital energy sources such as coal and nuclear power?

    The last FERC Chair nominee hit a “dead end” when he claimed that natural gas was just that—a “dead end” fuel because it is carbon-based. In his opening statement, Bay said “New Mexico is a real-life example of an all-of-the-above approach to energy.” Notably, Bay mentions New Mexico’s abundance of “sun, wind, oil, and gas.” He left out other vital sources of electric power, including coal, which supplies nearly 70 percent of New Mexico’s electricity, and nuclear power—sources that together produce over half of America’s electricity. Does Bay recognize the role of coal and nuclear power in maintaining grid reliability? Does he recognize the threat to nuclear and coal power caused by predatory pricing enabled by the PTC?

    Near the end of his FERC Chairmanship, Jon Wellinghoff spoke about the “all of the above” approach to energy. As IER documented at the time, Wellinghoff revealed that he never believed in “all of the above” and instead was an advocate for energy efficiency. Wellinghoff stated:

    “I’ve been doing energy efficiency for a long, long time; an advocate of energy efficiency. Although I have to say, ‘No, we’re advocates of all the above,’ all of the above is one of the most overused terms in energy that, hopefully, we can continue to do away with.”

    Wellinghoff recruited Bay for a reason. Is Bay also hiding an anti-energy agenda—as Wellinghoff did—not to be revealed until he is FERC Chairman?

For sure, Wellinghoff has long recommended efficiency, demand response, a smart grid to balance sun and wind power with no nukes needed, and was even holding seminars with academics and utility executives on how distributed generation would transform electric utilities. It’s not a big stretch to guess that what did in Wellinghoff as FERC chair was his prediction that “…at its present growth rate, solar will overtake wind in about ten years. It is going to be the dominant player.” Nevermind that recent data continue to demonstrate he was right.

So, unlike coal- and nuke-pushing IER, some of us look forward to seeing whether Wellinghoff chose wisely in this latest potential successor.

We’ll have to wait awhile to see, because that Committee didn’t actually vote for Bay to immediately become Chair. Rob Nikolewski wrote for CapitolReport New Mexico 18 June 2014, Senate committee offers compromise on NM’s Norman Bay,

In what could lead to the end of a Capitol Hill turf battle, the former New Mexico prosecutor and law professor was part of a compromise hammered out Wednesday by a divided Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It intends to see Bay become the chairman of FERC, but only after serving as a commissioner for nine months.

In the meantime, Cheryl LaFleur will remain acting chairwoman.

In a 13-9 vote, the committee elected to promote Bay from his current position as director of FERC’s Office of Enforcement to become one of its three commissioners. It also voted, 21-1, to keep LaFleur on until next year.

That Committee sure doesn’t make it easy to find out who voted which way. However, its members include nobody from Alabama, Georgia, or Florida, the three states directly affected by the proposed Sabal Trail fracked methane pipeline.

So we’ll need to speak up for ourselves to stop that unnecessary and dangerous land grab. For example July 10th in Leesburg, GA.


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