Biden Appoints Democrat Willie Phillips as Head of FERC

(Reuters) — President Joe Biden has promoted Willie Phillips to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the White House said on Friday,as the panel gears up to issue rules to help the power grid distribute more electricity from wind and solar power.

The FERC, an independent panel of the Department of Energy, was mainly known for approving natural gas pipelines and export terminals for liquefied natural gas, or LNG. It is expected to issue rules this year that could help expand or upgrade electricity transmission, getting power from wind and solar renewable projects to cities.

Biden had appointed Phillips as acting FERC chair in early 2023. Before that, he served as chairman of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, starting in 2018, where he championed issues of environmental justice and equity.

Amy Andryszak, president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), issued the following statement regarding the announcement of Phillips’ appointment:

“Over the past year, Chairman Phillips has deployed a pragmatic approach to leading the Commission and has demonstrated his commitment to ensuring a safe, reliable, and affordable energy industry in the United States.”

She added, “Now that there is certainty in its leadership, the President should prioritize nominating two new commissioners to FERC, and the Senate should move quickly in vetting and confirming those nominations. FERC works best when it has a full complement of five commissioners to provide the regulatory certainty necessary for investment in America’s energy infrastructure.”

After the announcement on Phillips, FERC said Allison Clements, the other Democrat on the panel who climate activists had wanted to lead FERC, will not seek a second term. Her term expires June 30, but Clements could stay until the end of 2024. FERC had no comment on whether she plans to stay till the year's end. The Clements news was first reported by Politico.

FERC may have to act fast on transmission rules if Clements decides to leave right after the June 30 expiry of her term leaving the panel without a Democratic majority. Clements did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Biden had named Phillips acting FERC chair in January 2023. "I'm laser focused on securing a reliable, affordable and sustainable energy future for our nation," Phillips said in a post on the X social media network.

In coming months, the FERC may consider Venture Global's Calcasieu Pass 2 (CP2) LNG terminal in Louisiana, which would be the country's biggest.

But Biden has paused approvals at the Department of Energy for LNG exports to conduct an economic and environmental review of the booming business. If FERC approves CP2, that could leave its full federal approval in limbo until sometime after the pause is reversed.

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