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White House moves FERC nominee Danly's paperwork, teeing up confirmation hearing

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James Danly, general counsel for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Source: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

The White House formally sent the U.S. Senate formal paperwork Oct. 15 for the nomination of James Danly to become the newest member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The action paves the way for a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which are generally held after a minimum of seven days' public notice.

Danly, FERC's general counsel, was nominated by President Donald Trump on Sept. 30 to serve a five-year term as commissioner that will expire June 30, 2023. The administration's decision to break with tradition by not announcing a Democratic pick for another open seat on the five-member commission angered Democratic leaders, who urged Trump to pair nominees from both parties.

Over the past 30 years, the Senate has frequently moved GOP and Democratic FERC nominees through the confirmation process together when vacancies existed for both parties. However, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who chairs the Natural Resources Committee, has indicated she plans to move forward with Danly's nomination after receiving the formal paperwork.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer threatened to block legislation from the committee unless the panel simultaneously moves a Democratic FERC candidate, E&E News reported Sept. 20. Schumer's office has yet to confirm those reports, however. And Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the top Democrat on the Senate energy committee, has stopped short of saying he would attempt to block confirmation without a Democratic pairing.

An Oct. 16 note to clients from ClearView Energy Partners cast doubt on Schumer's ability to substantively delay a full Senate floor vote, predicting that Danly's nomination is likely to advance out of committee on partisan lines. Under a change to Senate rules in the current Congress, debate on Danly's nomination would be limited to two hours instead of the traditional 30 hours if the chamber fails to invoke unanimous consent to consider the nomination, ClearView noted.

A simple majority vote by Republicans in the Senate, where the GOP holds a 53-47 advantage, is all that is needed to approve presidential nominations to independent agencies such as FERC. "In other words, assuming the Senate leadership wants his nomination to move we expect it to," ClearView said.

Meanwhile, FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee denied a recent report by Politico that he could step down from the commission before his term expires June 30, 2021, potentially allowing Danly to succeed him as chairman.

Nevertheless, ClearView noted that the White House's decision not to pair Danly with a Democratic pick would avoid a 2-2 split on the commission if Chatterjee were to assume Energy Secretary Rick Perry's job. Perry has denied reports that he is planning to leave the DOE but now faces a congressional subpoena for documents related to his actions in Ukraine as part of House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.