United States: President Trump Makes Key Energy Regulatory Appointments

Last Updated: February 20 2017
Article by Daniel J. Bleiberg

President Donald J. Trump has named several individuals to play key roles in advancing the President's "America First" energy plan: (i) former Texas Governor James Richard "Rick" Perry as Secretary of Energy; (ii) FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur as Acting Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC" or "Commission"); and (iii) Nuclear Regulatory Commission ("NRC") Commissioner Kristine Svinicki as Chairman of the NRC. President Trump's energy plan is focused on reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil; reducing or eliminating a number of policies and regulations in the energy industry, such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule; maximizing domestic production of shale gas; and "reviving" the U.S. coal industry.

Secretary of Energy. On December 14, 2016, President Trump announced his intention to appoint Perry to head the Department of Energy. Perry–the 47th Governor of Texas and a two-time Presidential candidate–was widely seen as an unusual pick, given his 2012 campaign promise to abolish the agency he has now been selected to lead, a position he has since renounced. Nonetheless, Perry is familiar with energy issues, having led a state that produces significant amounts of the nation's crude oil and natural gas supply and has a robust wind industry.

At his confirmation hearing on January 19, 2017, Perry outlined his vision for the role of the Department of Energy, which includes continuing efforts to protect and modernize the country's nuclear stockpile, ensuring reliability of the electric power grid against cybersecurity attacks, improving the country's emergency response efforts, and overseeing and developing energy policies that will stimulate economic growth and produce jobs. Perry indicated that he will take an "all of the above" approach to the use of energy resources, ensuring that all resources are used to maximize domestic energy production. Additionally, Perry expressed a commitment to fostering scientific and climate research and protecting the environment. On January 31, 2017, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 16-7 in favor of confirming Perry, clearing the way for an expected confirmation by the full chamber.

Acting FERC Chairman. On January 26, 2017, President Trump named Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur as the Acting Chairman of FERC, replacing then-current Chairman Norman Bay, who, with LaFleur's appointment, was demoted to Commissioner. LaFleur has been a member of the Commission since her appointment in 2010 and served as Acting Chairman from November 2013 to July 2014, as well as Chairman from July 2014 to April 2015. The appointment of LaFleur, a Democrat, as Acting Chairman is only temporary, as President Trump is expected to nominate a Republican Chairman, as well as two other Republicans to fill the Commission's two vacant Commissioner seats. It is not immediately known when, or who, President Trump will nominate to fill the vacant Commissioner positions; however, there is some speculation that Neil Chatterjee, senior adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is among those to be named.

The appointment of LaFleur as Acting Chairman was not without controversy. Mere hours after LaFleur was named Acting Chairman, Commissioner Bay announced his resignation from the Commission, effective February 3, 2017, more than one year before his term was set to expire. With Bay's departure from FERC, the Commission is left with only two sitting members of the Commission, which is one member short of the quorum needed to conduct many facets of Commission business.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman. On January 26, 2017, President Trump appointed Commissioner Kristine Svinicki, a Republican, as Chairman of the NRC. Svinicki, a nuclear engineer, served for more than 10 years as an aide to Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and former Senator John Warner (R-VA) on the Senate Armed Services Committee before she was appointed as a Commissioner on the NRC by President George W. Bush in 2008. President Barack Obama reappointed Svinicki to a second five-year term in 2012. Svinicki replaces Stephen Burns, an Independent, who was nominated to the NRC by President Obama in 2014, and will remain on the NRC alongside Commissioner Jeffery Baran, a Democrat, appointed in 2013. Two other seats are currently vacant on the NRC, which can be composed of no more than three Commissioners from any single political party.

Svinicki's reappointment to the NRC by President Obama in 2012 produced some controversy within the Democratic Party, as Svinicki assisted in the planning of a nuclear waste repository in Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Former Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) has opposed construction of the Yucca Mountain facility, and Congress has not appropriated any new funding to the construction of the Yucca Mountain facility since 2010. However, at his confirmation hearing on January 19, 2017, Perry would not foreclose the possibility of storing nuclear waste in the Yucca Mountain facility in the future.

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