Regulators Revolve: FERC Says Hello to Honorable, Ciao to Norris

Earlier this week, the White House officially nominated Collette Honorable to become the next Commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”). Ms. Honorable is currently Chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission and President of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Ms. Honorable would fill the term of Commissioner John Norris, who left FERC in August to become minister-counseler for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. Ms. Honorable would serve the remaining three years of Commissioner Norris’s term, which expires in 2017.

Ms. Honorable would bring considerable expertise in natural gas matters, especially pipeline safety, to the Commission. FERC’s focus in recent years has been on electricity matters such as demand response, integration of renewable resources, and improving transmission planning. Ms. Honorable’s nomination may bring a greater focus back to natural gas issues, and may also help the Commission resolve issues straddling the natural gas and electricity markets, such as the coordination of gas and electric trading days and the expansion of gas pipeline capacity to accommodate the nation’s expanding natural gas generation fleet.

On the eve of her nomination by the White House, Ms. Honorable’s husband unexpectedly died of kidney disease. In addition to pain of this loss, the untimely death has also created unexpected wrinkles for the nomination process. Press reports indicate that Ms. Honorable still intends to proceed with the nomination process, but the process now is likely to be delayed until after the mid-term elections in November. In recent years, the nation’s highly polarized political climate has crept into FERC confirmation hearings, which had in earlier years rarely raised a political eyebrow. To head off partisan rancor, many insiders are now speculating that the nomination of Ms. Honorable, who is a Democrat, will be paired with the nomination of Republican Commissioner Philip Moeller (or his replacement), whose term will expire in June of 2015.