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FERC mourns one of its own as it begins busy year for energy policy


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FERC mourns one of its own as it begins busy year for energy policy

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Kevin McIntyre died Jan. 2, leaving a legacy of independence, a 2-2 political split and a new year's lineup of decisions at the federal agency.

McIntyre was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the summer of 2017. Despite that diagnosis and subsequent surgery to remove the tumor, McIntyre served as FERC's chairman from the time he joined the agency in December 2017 until he stepped aside from that post in October 2018 following what he described in a letter to President Donald Trump as a "serious health setback."

The commission historically has been relatively apolitical, and McIntyre was known during his time as chairman for stressing the importance of the rule of law, adhering to the record and ensuring that politics does not interfere with the work of the agency.

Chairman Neil Chatterjee recently told reporters that he has taken the lessons offered by McIntyre to heart and vowed to leave his political activist pedigree behind him as he leads FERC going forward. And McNamee during his Senate confirmation hearing pledged to be an "independent arbiter" if confirmed to FERC.

McIntyre's death means FERC once again is split 2-2 along political lines, as Chatterjee and newly seated Commissioner Bernard McNamee are Republicans and Commissioners Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick are Democrats.

FERC is set to face 2019 without McIntyre as the agency works through a wide-ranging, politically charged agenda that involves competitive wholesale power markets, taxes, transportation rates and infrastructure permitting.

For the U.S. gas industry, the brightest focus in 2019 likely will be on federal appeals courts that are reviewing FERC certificate orders. Those cases will likely impact not just the individual pipeline projects involved but also the commission's certificate policy.

The way FERC determines that a project is in the public interest, the adequacy of its environmental analysis, potential impact of new infrastructure on global climate change, and exercise of eminent domain authority are among the key issues before the courts and at play in the debate over commission policy.

It will be up to commission leaders to decide whether FERC's review of its pipeline certificate policy will remain on the agenda. McIntyre officially launched the review of the two-decades-old policy in April 2018, not long after he took over as chairman of the commission. Health concerns forced McIntyre to give up the gavel, and observers think Chatterjee is unlikely to move on the review because Republican members are mostly satisfied with the commission's traditional way of measuring an individual project's environmental impacts and its process for determining whether a project is in the public interest.