On November 15, 2018, Bernard L. McNamee, who has been nominated to fill the vacancy left by former FERC Commissioner Robert Powelson, testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (“Committee”).  Currently, Mr. McNamee heads the Department of Energy’s (“DOE”) Office of Policy.

Mr. McNamee’s hearing mainly focused on whether he could be impartial regarding the DOE’s rulemaking process regarding grid resiliency and compensation for coal and nuclear power plants (see January 17, 2018 edition of the WER), given his role at DOE in that proceeding.  At the outset of the hearing, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska remarked that though Mr. McNamee already serves in a policymaking position at DOE, she stated to Mr. McNamee during closed door meetings before the hearing that FERC is an independent agency and should remain so.  Mr. McNamee told members of the Committee that he would be able to maintain his impartiality, even though he was tasked with facilitating the DOE’s approach to grid resiliency and compensating fuel-secure generation units.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon also questioned Mr. McNamee’s ability to be impartial, should his nomination be approved, and stated that nominating Mr. McNamee was akin to “putting the fox inside the chicken coop.”  Mr. McNamee noted in response that “ultimately [it] is whether I would be an independent arbiter and be able to look at the facts and the law and make an independent choice.  I have no doubt that I can do that and that it won’t be influenced by politics.”  McNamee also maintained at the hearing that FERC’s role in the regulated industry is to be resource-neutral and not to pick and choose which resources carry more weight.

However, when asked if he would commit to recusing himself from any future FERC proceeding to compensate coal or nuclear generating units, Mr. McNamee declined to do so, stating instead that he would consult with an agency ethics attorney.

Mr. McNamee is still awaiting a Committee vote to advance his nomination to the full Senate, where members will decide whether to confirm him for the position.

Mr. McNamee’s opening statement to the Committee can be found here, and an archive video of the hearing can be found here.