Despite earlier apparent attempts to dodge the question, Neil Chatterjee, one of President Donald Trump's two nominees to fill empty seats on the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has acknowledged that climate change is real and at least partly a result of human activities.
During his confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate in May, Chatterjee sidestepped queries regarding the role emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from power generation, transportation and other sources play in warming the planet. But in written responses to questions posed by various senators, Chatterjee confirmed that he does "not believe climate change is a hoax."
Specifically, when asked by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., whether he agrees "with the vast majority of scientists that the combustion of fossil fuels contributes to climate change," Chatterjee simply answered "Yes." The FERC nominee nevertheless stressed that any policies aimed at mitigating carbon emissions should originate in Congress and that the commission's responsibility with respect to climate change is simply to ensure that those policies have no "deleterious impact on reliability and affordability of our energy supply."
Chatterjee's answers, which were obtained by Axios, appear to more closely align the nominee's position with that of fellow FERC nominee Robert Powelson, who clarified during the Senate hearing that he is "not a climate change denier." In his responses to the senators' questions, Powelson, a Pennsylvania regulator and president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, acknowledged the need to "develop strategies to address climate change that include energy efficiency, clean technology investment, renewables, new nuclear, clean coal and natural gas."
"If confirmed, I will support the market-based policies that have driven the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions that we are seeing in the power sector today in the United States," Powelson wrote.
The FERC nominees also responded to questions on numerous other topics, including state and federal boundary issues and the importance of keeping energy markets manipulation free.
But their acknowledgment of the existence of climate change is especially significant, given Chatterjee's previous apparent reluctance to do so and the Trump's administration's repeated refusal to confirm whether the president still believes the phenomenon is a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese. Trump recently announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from a global climate accord aimed at mitigating global warming and also has appointed as the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency an individual who some consider to be biased in favor of the coal industry.
While Chatterjee's answers to the questions on climate change posed during the Senate hearings raised some concerns, the confirmation process for the two FERC nominees appears to be moving swiftly, as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to vote June 6 on the nominations. Stakeholders from both sides of the political aisle are anxious for at least one of the vacant FERC seats to be filled given that the agency has been without the three-member quorum it needs to vote out major orders since early February and therefore has been unable to rule on applications for approval of certain infrastructure projects or act on pressing policy challenges and market matters.