Senate Approves Colette Honorable as FERC Commissioner—Finally!

Jennie Chen headshotDec 17, 2014 by Jennie Chen

In the waning hours of Congress this year, the Senate by voice vote approved the president’s nomination of Colette Honorable to be a commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency regulating America’s transmission grid, wholesale sales of electricity, and gas pipeline infrastructure. FERC can now tackle the important work before it with a full slate of five commissioners.

Last week the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee endorsed Honorable’s nomination in a bipartisan voice vote. Full Senate approval of her nomination this year was in some doubt, however, as Congress rushed to finish some long-delayed matters and approve many other nominations before the end of the term this week.

Honorable, whom President Obama nominated in August for the position, replaces John Norris, who stepped down in mid-August to take a honorableU.S. Department of Agriculture position in Italy.

Honorable’s reputation

Honorable’s position as a moderate, reputation as a thought leader and consensus builder, and ability to recognize diverse state interests served her well throughout the confirmation process. Every senator questioning her at her confirmation hearing praised her experience, abilities, and reputation, while also asking her some very politically charged and detailed questions.

Honorable had been a member of the Arkansas Public Service Commission since 2007 and chair since 2011, and made important strides in promoting electric and gas energy efficiency during her time on the commission.

FERC at full strength

Honorable’s confirmation last night caps a dizzying period of departures, nominations and confirmations at FERC, and it restores the commission to a full complement of five commissioners for the first time in nearly four months, with no new imminent departures evident.

After Chairman Jon Wellinghoff announced his intention to leave the Commission last year, the president nominated former Colorado utility commissioner Ron Binz to replace him. Binz withdrew, however, after a prolonged and contentious consideration period. The president then nominated FERC enforcement chief Norman Bay to the post and announced his intention to make Bay chair. That triggered another prolonged confirmation process that resulted in an unusual arrangement: Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur would become full chair but Bay would assume the post in April 2015.

Then, this past August, just days after Bay was sworn in as a new commissioner, Norris announced his departure.

With such important work ahead, it’s good to see every FERC commission chair filled again. The agency needs a full slate to continue to reform grid rules which continue to block use of clean energy resources—like wind and solar power, energy storage, and energy efficiency—as 21st century energy solutions.

Written by Jennifer Chen