Wellinghoff Departs FERC

July 2013, Vol. 68, No. 7

There probably will be neither tears nor jeers from the pipeline community over the departure of FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff. He announced his exit in late May and is staying on until President Obama nominates a successor.

[Editor's note: This article went to press before President Obama announced the nomination of Ron Binz, the chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission from 2007 to 2011. The comments on other possible nominees below are left for the reader's consideration.]

At the top of the list of possible replacements are the two Democratic FERC commissioners, John Norris and Cheryl LaFleur. Norris might have the edge since his term extends to 2017 while LaFleur's ends next year. Also Norris was a public utility commissioner; LaFleur was an electric industry executive. Another possibility is Colette Honorable, chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission. An African-American woman, she would give President Obama a diversity bonus at a time when he has been criticized for the white maleness of appointees in his second term administration. She also has a substantial gas pipeline background, and serves on the PHMSA Technical Pipeline Safety Standards Committee as well as the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Pipeline Safety Task Force.

Wellinghoff has shown very little interest in gas issues. He delegated the issue first to Marc Spitzer, who was a commissioner until 2011, for five and a half years, paralleling Wellinghoff's tenure.

Spitzer, now a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, says, "The fact that he didn't go to Houston and make speeches on natural gas doesn't mean he did not care about the issue." Spitzer points to the new pipeline miles sited during Wellinghoff's term, as well as some liquid natural gas facilities and the smooth working of the FERC office of energy projects, which Spitzer calls one of the best offices in the entire federal government. Spitzer adds, however, "We didn't always see eye-to-eye on natural gas issues."

Commissioner Philip Moeller has lately picked up the natural gas mantel, to the extent anyone at FERC has, particularly with regard to gas/electric coordination issues. However, on that latter, important issue, FERC has made very little progress. At a recent House committee hearing, Moeller and LaFleur testified. Wellinghoff was absent. In fact, the last time he testified before any congressional committee was in October 2011.

DOI Makes Industry Concessions With New Fracing Proposal