President Barack Obama intends to nominate Norman Bay, enforcement director of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to be the agency’s chairman, according to a White House statement.
Bay, a former U.S. attorney from New Mexico, would join the five-member agency as a commissioner, and be designated chairman when he joins the board, according to the statement. He would succeed Cheryl LaFleur, the acting chairman who is also a FERC commissioner.

If confirmed by the Senate, Bay would raise the profile of the agency as an enforcer of market rules. His division at FERC within the last two years has overseen investigations of alleged electricity-market manipulation by companies including Barclays, Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan Chase.

Congress in 2005 gave the FERC additional police powers after traders for Enron drove up electricity prices and triggered rolling power failures in California in 2000 and 2001.

The FERC also oversees the U.S. electric grid, the network that distributes power to electric utilities, and ensures that interstate rates for electricity and natural gas are reasonable.

Its current work includes ensuring that there is a smooth transition as utilities switch more of their power supply to natural gas, due to advances in drilling techniques that have led to a glut of the fuel source.

Binz withdraws

The commission’s leadership was in limbo after Ron Binz, nominated by Obama in June, withdrew his name after losing the support of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republicans. Jon Wellinghoff, the chairman whose term expired last year, left at the end of December.

“It’s curious that they would elevate him to chairman over existing qualified members,” Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said of Bay in a phone interview. Murkowski is the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will consider Bay’s nomination.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who leads the panel, looks forward to meeting Bay and hearing his views on energy policies, Keith Chu, a committee spokesman, said in a phone interview.