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FERC's Chatterjee remembers previous chair, his advice during tumultuous time

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Jan. 17 held its first open monthly meeting following the passing of former Chairman Kevin McIntyre earlier in the month due to illness. FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee opened that meeting by offering a lengthy, heartfelt eulogy to his former colleague and announcing that he will be naming the agency's meeting room in McIntyre's honor.

McIntyre's "leadership, impartiality, and respect for this institution made such a profound impact on me," Chatterjee said.

Chatterjee, who led the commission on an interim basis for roughly four months in 2017 while waiting for McIntyre to be confirmed as chairman, acknowledged feeling overwhelmed by the many complex decisions awaiting action when he first took the agency's helm. He further recalled inviting McIntyre to dinner seeking guidance during that time, as well as the advice McIntyre offered: "Just do what you think is right, put country over party, and the public good over politics."

That advice hit home, Chatterjee said. He had come under fire for promoting a proposal crafted by the U.S. Department of Energy and advocated by the Trump administration — along with an interim one he drew up himself — to provide out-of-market financial support to struggling coal-fired power plants. That support led some to fear that the independent agency was being politicized.

During the Jan. 17 FERC meeting, Chatterjee said, "I am self aware enough to know that I made a number of mistakes and threw up all over myself" at various times while serving as interim chairman.

However, only a month after McIntyre took over as chairman, the agency's five members unanimously rejected the DOE's proposal. That same night, Chatterjee recalled, McIntyre took him out to dinner and thanked him for the way he had handled himself as interim chair.

"I said, Kevin, that's ridiculous," Chatterjee recalled. But even after Chatterjee acknowledged making mistakes, McIntyre pointed out that he had "tried to do the right thing" in the face of the DOE secretary's "very complex and important question." Although the commission ultimately found that the record did not support the proposed action, McIntyre said Chatterjee's work on the issue laid the foundation for the commission to take a deeper look at grid resilience issues in a new proceeding (FERC docket AD18-7) that remains open to this day, Chatterjee added.

"What I took away from that experience was in a multi-member commission, where collegiality is essential, that is the mark of a strong leader," Chatterjee said. "Someone who recognized that his colleague was feeling down and went and bucked me up and said hold your head up high and let's continue to move forward together."

Chatterjee further recalled McIntyre's great respect for the rule of law and appreciation for FERC's independence and professionalism, and he announced that the commission's meeting room would be named after McIntyre in recognition of the former chairman's service to the agency.

McIntyre's other colleagues also took turns remembering the former chairman, noting his legal judgment and commitment to rule of law as well as more personal attributes, including his love of family and his faith, wit and vocabulary.

McIntyre led the commission from Dec. 7, 2017, until Oct. 24, 2018, when Chatterjee took over as chairman after McIntyre stepped aside due to health issues that followed a diagnosis of a brain tumor in 2017. McIntyre stayed on at the commission, but his participation was limited, and he died Jan. 2.