By Chris White
August 6, 2017 - Senate lawmakers confirmed President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday, despite environmentalists’ complaints about the nominee’s history of accusing anti-oil activists of engaging in jihad against energy projects.
Former Pennsylvania energy regulator Robert Powelson was confirmed Thursday night to the FERC, which has floundered since the beginning of the Trump administration because it lacks enough members for a quorum.
Powelson, who is a former member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, was scrutinized earlier this year for suggesting that anti-oil activists are engaging in a religious war against energy regulators.
“The jihad has begun,” Powelson told an audience in March while speaking to industry representatives at a conference in Pennsylvania. “At the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, groups actually show up at commissioners’ homes to make sure we don’t get this gas to market. How irresponsible is that?”
The FERC currently has only one commissioner, Cheryl LaFleur, and has been without a quorum since former chairman Norman Bay resigned in early February. The lack of a quorum has left the agency unable to move forward on highly contested oil and gas projects. Environmentalists criticized the Senate’s decision to unanimously confirm Powelson, as well as Neil Chatterjee, a policy adviser for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“The Senate just gave about as much attention to pushing through these FERC nominees as FERC gives to the impacts of fossil fuel projects they approve: Zero. This is a shameful day in shameful times for the U.S. Senate,” David Turnbull, an activist for Oil Change International, said in a statement following the Senate’s confirmation.
President Donald Trump touted overhauling barriers to oil projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, but the lack of a quorum may well be hurting the president’s ability to move forward on $13 billion worth of energy projects, according to a Friday report from Politico.
Celebrity environmentalist announced a campaign earlier this year to stop the FERC from gaining new members needed for approving new natural gas pipelines and other projects. One of the activists spearheading the coalition is well-known anti-fracking campaigner, Josh Fox.
He and other activists want to “spotlight the growing national opposition” to new FERC appointments by the Trump administration, according to a media advisory in March explaining the move to target the benign agency.
Much of the anger came Trump elevated LaFleur to head the FERC, which caused the demoted member to retire and leave the committee with only two panelists.
The Trump administration has filed paperwork necessary to nominate Richard Glick, who serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Kevin McIntyre, a Republican and energy industry attorney.