Senate approves FERC nominees, restores voting quorum

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has approved two Republicans nominated by President Donald Trump to serve on the federal commission that oversees the nation's power grid and natural gas pipelines.

Senators' unanimous votes Thursday approving Senate aide Neil Chatterjee and Pennsylvania utility regulator Robert Powelson restore a voting quorum on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Only one commissioner currently serves on the panel, leaving it without a quorum and unable to make decisions on interstate pipelines and other projects worth billions of dollars.

Trump has promised to boost energy production and exports as part of a bid to establish "energy dominance" for the United States, but the FERC vacancies have hobbled the agency's ability to make decisions.

More than a dozen major projects and utility mergers have been in regulatory limbo for months. The projects include the $2 billion Nexus pipeline in Ohio and Michigan; the $1 billion PennEast pipeline in Pennsylvania and New Jersey; and the $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

Don Santa, president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, hailed the Senate votes, which business groups and lawmakers have been urging for months. FERC has been without a quorum since February.

"The commission now can get back to work thoroughly reviewing the many energy infrastructure projects of national importance that have been sidelined in recent months," Santa said.

He and other business leaders said they also were encouraged that Trump has formally nominated Republican Kevin McIntyre to be FERC chairman and Democrat Richard Glick to round out the five-member panel. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a hearing on the two nominees in September.

Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute, said Chatterjee and Powelson are "exceptionally well-qualified and will serve with distinction."

While overdue, the Senate's action "will now allow American energy companies the ability to move forward with projects that will create jobs and improve our security," Harbert said.

Chatterjee, of Kentucky, is an energy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., while Powelson serves on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and is president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, an advocacy group that opposes the massive Atlantic Coast pipeline, urged the new commissioners to use caution in reviewing the three-state pipeline and other projects.

"The Trump administration's lack of organization has caused a backlog of projects waiting for FERC review, but the American people should not have to pay for this mismanagement with hastily approved pipelines," said Greg Buppert, a lawyer for the group. He urged commissioners to grant the law center's request for a hearing on whether the pipeline is needed.

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