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Chamber of Commerce prods Senate for quick vote on Trump energy nominees

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The Chamber's letter said the nominees have ample experience and a demonstrated record of advocating policy over partisan wrangling. (iStock)

The largest business group in the country is urging a quick vote on Trump's nominees to serve on the nation's top energy watchdog as soon as the Senate returns from recess next week.

"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce respectfully urges the [Senate Energy and Natural Resources] Committee to promptly report both Robert Powelson and Neil Chatterjee to the full Senate to fill two of the three open commissioner vacancies on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission," read a letter sent Wednesday to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the energy committee, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the committee.

"FERC plays a vital role in ensuring the nation's energy security," the letter added. "Not only does FERC regulate the transmission and wholesale sale of electricity and natural gas in interstate commerce, but of increasingly vital importance, also oversees the permitting and construction of natural gas pipelines, gas storage projects, and liquefied natural gas terminals. FERC also licenses non-federal hydropower projects, the leading source of dispatchable renewable generation."

The agency is seen by industry to be essential to Trump's infrastructure and energy independence plans. But he has slow-walked appointments since the commission lost its quorum in February and ceased to function.

The agency has been without enough members to carry out its core duties as a regulator for nearly four months, and desperately needs new members as soon as possible, the letter underscored. "The lack of a quorum at FERC exposes customers and businesses across the nation to uncertainty as to the rates for the electricity, natural gas, and oil supplies that are essential for their daily lives and future investment decisions," the Chamber explained. "This continued uncertainty hampers, rather than facilitates, the continuing recovery of the nation's economy."

Murkowski held a confirmation hearing for the two FERC nominees last week and urged her Democratic colleagues not to hold up a vote on the appointees in committee. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who was filling in for Cantwell, raised concerns during the hearing about the nominees stalling renewable energy development.

The Chamber's letter said the nominees have ample experience and a demonstrated record of advocating policy over partisan wrangling.

"Mr. Powelson and Mr. Chatterjee have demonstrated a solid grasp on the subject matter within FERC's overview and have a demonstrated record of advocating policy over partisanship," the letter read. "As such, they would each be valuable assets as members of FERC.

"The Chamber encourages a swift, favorable vote on these two nominations and stands ready to work with them as they get FERC back to work promoting fair and equitable energy rates while ensuring America's energy security," the letter read.

Murkowski had given warning to members last week that she plans to hold votes on a four of Trump's nominees when the Senate returns. The nominees include Chatterjee and Powelson for FERC, but also David Bernhardt to be interior deputy secretary, and Dan Brouillette to be energy deputy secretary.