By Rich Heidorn Jr.
WASHINGTON — FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee on Thursday denied a report that he lobbied to block the nomination of Republican David Hill to the commission.
Citing interviews with a dozen industry and political sources who requested anonymity, E&E News reported April 12 that Chatterjee made calls to energy companies and Republican allies to block Hill from replacing him as chairman. E&E quoted Hill, an energy attorney who served in the George W. Bush administration, as confirming that the White House told him he would be appointed FERC chair.
Chatterjee did not respond to E&E’s requests for comment before publication of the article. But in his regular news conference following the commission’s monthly open meeting Thursday, Chatterjee attempted to discredit the report.
Hill was the Department of Energy’s general counsel from 2005 until 2009 and NRG Energy’s general counsel between 2012 and 2018.
E&E said Hill’s nomination was all but official until lobbying efforts by Chatterjee, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and the coal industry caused the White House to abandon him. Hill had publicly criticized DOE’s bids to provide subsidies for struggling coal and nuclear generators.
Chatterjee gave his rebuttal Thursday when E&E reporter Rod Kukro, one of the authors of the article, asked him when he became aware that the White House intended to replace him with Hill.
Chatterjee challenged Kukro’s premise, saying two other reporters had pursued the story and published nothing because they were unable to verify it.
“I know you cited 12 sources that you talked to. I know for a fact that at least two of those sources pushed back aggressively on the story line, yet their statements weren’t reflected anywhere in the article. I also know that at least a couple of those sources directed you towards the actual people that were involved in this process and knew the details of it, and you ran the story without contacting the folks that were actually in the room and knew the circumstances of the story. You had no named sources. No corroboration.”
Chatterjee challenged E&E’s account that the White House and Hill began preliminary discussions in September 2018 about taking over for ailing Chairman Kevin McIntyre.
McIntyre, who was visibly unwell in his last commission meeting in July, relinquished the chairmanship to Chatterjee Oct. 24 after revealing that he had suffered a “serious setback” in his cancer fight. He died Jan. 2.
“David Hill is a good man, and I find it almost impossible to believe that David Hill would have been negotiating in September to be chairman of the commission while Kevin McIntyre was still alive and serving,” Chatterjee said.
“Well [Hill] was the source, and he was named in the story,” Kukro shot back. “Are you saying he’s lying that [National Economic Council Director] Larry Kudlow told him he was going to be chairman?”
“I can’t speak for conversations you had with David Hill,” Chatterjee responded. “I don’t know that that’s ever been corroborated by anybody.”
RTO Insider asked the chairman why he did not respond prior to the article’s publication.
“The story was so baseless that I didn’t think it merited a response,” Chatterjee said.
“So, you’re saying you had no conversations with anyone regarding Hill’s candidacy?” he was asked.
“No reporter has been able to identify a single individual that I contacted or what I talked about,” Chatterjee said.
“That doesn’t sound like a denial,” the reporter said.
“That’s a denial,” Chatterjee said.