By Michael Brooks
Looks like this will be the last Super Bowl that Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur gets to wear her New England Patriots jersey at FERC headquarters.
LaFleur on Thursday announced she was “no longer seeking” a third term and would leave the commission by the end of the year.
LaFleur, who has served on the commission since July 13, 2010 — longer than all her colleagues’ tenures combined — said she would stay until at least June 30, the end of her current term, “and probably longer, depending on my future plans and the possible appointment of a successor.”
Senate leadership informed the commissioner Tuesday that President Trump would not nominate her for another term, according to Andrew Holleman, LaFleur’s communications and policy analyst. By law, she can stay on the commission past June 30 until a replacement is sworn in or until the end of the current session of Congress.
“She’s said all along it wasn’t her decision, so she figured she would make an announcement as soon as she heard,” Holleman said in an email.
“While this is not the outcome I had hoped for, I feel very lucky to have served on FERC for more than eight years (and counting),” LaFleur said in a statement. “It has been a high honor to serve at the commission, and I love working here. I have many people to thank for the opportunities I’ve had and will certainly have more to say as I get closer to actually leaving.”
LaFleur declined further comment. A FERC spokesperson declined to comment.
With the departure of Robert Powelson in July and the death of Commissioner Kevin McIntyre on Jan. 2, FERC would be left with three commissioners after LaFleur’s departure. A spokeswoman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she has not heard anything from the White House regarding its plan for replacement nominees. Holleman also said he had not heard anything.
A Constant Presence
Nominated by President Barack Obama, LaFleur’s tenure has been marked by frequent upheavals in the commission’s roster.
She came to the commission after more than two decades in the electric and natural gas industry, including a stint as executive vice president and acting CEO of National Grid USA.
LaFleur became acting chair of the commission after the resignation of Jon Wellinghoff in 2013, and she was nominated by Obama for a second term in 2014. The president also nominated Norman Bay, then director of the commission’s Office of Enforcement, as chair, but members of the ENR Committee protested, citing Bay’s lack of regulatory experience and the gender politics of his ascension over LaFleur. This led to an unusual deal between the Senate and the White House, in which LaFleur became the chair for nine months while Bay served as commissioner. (See Senate Confirms Bay, LaFleur.)
Bay took over the chair in April 2015. But he resigned shortly after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, when the new president named LaFleur acting chair again until a Republican could be sworn in. The GOP seats were empty after Philip Moeller and Tony Clark left the commission in October 2015 and September 2016, respectively.
Bay’s resignation also left the commission without a quorum to issue orders and decisions, which would last for six months until the arrival of Republicans Chatterjee and Powelson in August 2017. After the resignation of Colette Honorable in June 2017, LaFleur was briefly the lone commissioner.
The commission has been split along party lines for nearly a year over the consideration of greenhouse gas emissions in gas infrastructure approvals. Following an August 2017 ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that said FERC must consider the impact of greenhouse gas emissions when licensing gas pipelines, LaFleur has sided with fellow Democrat Richard Glick in voting against certain projects. (See Dem Dissents Show FERC Divide on Carbon.)
With the departure of Powelson and the death of McIntyre after months of battling brain cancer that kept him from voting, Chairman Neil Chatterjee has pulled gas items from the consent agenda at open meetings.
LaFleur’s announcement brought accolades on Twitter.
“She epitomizes what public service is all about,” Glick said.
“Her measured, fair and knowledgeable approach at FERC will be missed,” said Theodore Paradise, senior vice president of transmission strategy for Anbaric.
“An exceptional servant and thoughtful leader who withstood what one of the most trying and yo-yoing of any FERC tenure,” said Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association.
“She has been a tremendous role model to me and countless other women in the energy industry,” said Shannon Maher Bañaga, director of federal affairs for TECO Energy. “‘Thank you’ isn’t enough.”