The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds the fate of electric transmission infrastructure and natural gas pipelines in its hands. But it is powerless to act. Since the abrupt departure of its Democratic chairman on Feb. 3, it has only two of five commissioners and therefore lacks a quorum. FERC cannot currently conduct business. While deregulation purists might delight in regulators unable to regulate, this unprecedented interruption in the business of this small but effective agency creates enormous business risk and uncertainty and threatens the survival of pipelines, transmission lines, and other projects for which prompt regulatory approvals are matters of life and death.
While we come from different parts of the industry and have found ourselves on opposite sides of issues in the past, we now come together to urge the White House in the strongest terms to nominate new commissioners to fill the empty seats at FERC.
FERC's broad mission is to regulate the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. That means approving new transmission lines and pipelines, regulating the transport of oil by pipeline, setting just and reasonable rates, reviewing certain mergers and acquisitions as well as proposals to build new energy infrastructure projects, such as liquefied natural gas terminals, and licensing and inspecting hydropower projects.
In other words, if it involves moving virtually any type of energy across state lines, FERC plays a role. It cannot be relegated to the sidelines while the country's energy needs go unfulfilled. While some work can continue at the agency's staff level, every residential, commercial and industrial consumer of energy is going to have to rely on the nation's existing energy supply network until at least one more commissioner is nominated, vetted and confirmed.
The president has placed job creation and infrastructure investment at the top of his agenda. FERC's unusual problem negatively affects both. If FERC is unable to incent the development of a robust transmission network or approve new pipelines, those critical infrastructures won't get built. Jobs won't be created. A critical portion of the nation's infrastructure will languish, unable to support this swiftly changing economy. The impact on consumers will be both immediate, in the form of high home heating costs and electricity prices, and in the long term in the form of anemic growth and a failure to deploy new technology.
Even if President Trump nominates one or more new commissioners today, it would likely take at least two months to vet them, hold hearings, and bring the nominees to the Senate floor for a vote. We urge the White House and the Senate to move quickly to fill the three empty FERC seats so that the commission can return to consideration of the energy infrastructure projects this country so desperately needs.
James Hoecker, senior counsel and energy strategist at Husch Blackwell LLC, served on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for eight years, including four as chairman from 1997-2001. He is the founder of and Counsel to WIRES, a non-profit industry association that promotes infrastructure investment.
Dena Wiggins has practiced law and been involved in all of FERC's significant natural gas rulemakings for over the past 25 years. She is president and CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA). NGSA's members are the major producers and marketers of natural gas in the United States and represent more than a third of all the natural gas consumed here.
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions.