New FERC Chairman: President Obama Nominates Norman Bay, Director of FERC Office of Enforcement

Today, President Obama announced that he will nominate Norman Bay to become the next Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”). Mr. Bay currently directs FERC’s Office of Enforcement. In that role, he has been the architect of a substantial ratcheting up of FERC’s enforcement role. For example, under his watch, the Office of Enforcement has “grown adult teeth,” aggressively pursued charges of market manipulation, obtaining, among other significant results, a settlement of $410 million against the energy trading arm of JP Morgan Chase.
Prior to his FERC career, Mr. Bay had a long career in the Justice Department, including a stint as the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico in 2000-01. Mr. Bay then taught at the University of New Mexico law school before moving to FERC in 2009.
This is President Obama’s second attempt at replacing recently-departed FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff. The President’s first nomination, of former Colorado PUC Chairman Ron Binz, turned into a political fiasco when, amid charges of pro-renewables “activism,” Mr. Binz failed to achieve majority support in the Senate Energy Committee and was forced to withdraw his nomination. Because Mr. Bay has little track record in this area, his nomination appears calculated to avoid similar controversy.
If confirmed, Mr. Bay will take over the Chairman’s mantle from current Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, who has been acting Chair since Mr. Wellinghoff’s departure. Confirmation is likely to take at least several months and could take longer if, like several recent FERC nominations, it becomes bogged down in partisan disputes and poltical gamesmanship.