Former Arkansas PSC Chair Colette Honorable to resign from powerful FERC post

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 750 views 

Arkansas native Colette Honorable announced plans Friday (April 28) to step down in two months from her influential position on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a post she has held on the powerful five-person federal regulatory panel for nearly 2-1/2 years.

“After much prayer and consideration I’ve decided not to pursue another term at (FERC). I am especially grateful to President Obama for appointing me to the post. I’m also grateful for the support I’ve received from Minority Leader Sen. (Chuck) Schumer and Ranking Member (Sen. Maria) Cantwell, as well as Chairman (Sen. Lisa) Murkowski and Arkansas Sen. (John) Boozman. I appreciate the strong bipartisan support I’ve enjoyed over the years and look forward to continuing this important work after leaving the commission,” Honorable announced on Twitter.

Honorable, former chair of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, was first confirmed to the powerful federal regulatory body in December 2014. Nominated by Obama, she received praise throughout her confirmation process, clearing the full U.S. Senate in a uncontested voice vote. Her term on the federal agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil expires in June.

As news of Honorable’s resignation echoes through the energy sector, it will likely further concerns about the growing backlog of federal regulatory cases at FERC, which has been without a quorum since President Donald Trump took office. On Jan. 26, less than one week after Trump took office, the incoming Republican president appointed Cheryl LaFleur to the top FERC post, forcing out FERC Chairman Norman Bay almost immediately. That left only LaFleur and Honorable as the remaining commissioners on the five-person regulatory panel.

Honorable, Bay and LaFleur are all appointees of former President Barack Obama. Honorable did not say if she was forced out by the Trump administration, which has pushed out a number of top Obama appointees at federal agencies across the board.

The lack of a FERC quorum has already delayed ongoing dockets and investigations of the supposedly independent federal agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil. FERC also reviews proposals to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and interstate natural gas pipelines as well as licensing hydropower projects.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Colette Honorable

The FERC situation could also complicate a promise by the Trump administration to reduce the burden of regulations and expedite high priority energy and infrastructure projects that will create jobs and increase national security. Although the high-profile, Trump-supported Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects don’t need FERC approvals, permitting for other similar critical energy-related projects that affect the U.S. energy grid are now underway, as well as key investigations for natural gas pipeline projects that ship oil, gas and other refined products across the U.S.

After Trump named LaFleur to replace Bay, the newly appointed FERC chairwoman attempted to allay concerns about ongoing and new cases before the regulatory panel amid fears FERC will be left crippled by the resignation of top agency staffers and commissioners.

“The Commission is working to get as many orders out as we can in the time we have left with a quorum. I am confident that, with the strong team we have here at the Commission, we can continue to do our important work,” LaFleur said in early February. “We are evaluating how best to do the business of (FERC) after Commissioner Bay’s departure. We have already confirmed that all existing staff delegations will continue.”

However, a few weeks later LaFleur and Honorable canceled FERC’s monthly conference and subsequent agency meetings until further notice. FERC said it will continue to announce and schedule future meetings, technical conferences and workshops as appropriate, but has been largely inactive for the past two months.

In recent weeks, industry and congressional officials across the U.S. have begun to press the Trump administration about stalled energy and infrastructure projects. In late February, more than 90 members of Congress wrote a letter to President Trump, asking him to prioritize the nomination and confirmation of FERC commissioners so the standstill at the agency could be resolved.

“Modernizing our energy infrastructure is vitally important to ensuring American families and businesses have access to safe, affordable and reliable energy,” said the bipartisan congressional group that included U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers. Also, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska who heads the Senate Energy Commission, said last month she would guide Trump’s nominees through the confirmation process if he would expedite the process of choosing FERC nominees.