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Politically outspoken FERC official resigns

Anthony Pugliese, chief of staff for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, announced on Twitter on March 20 that he had resigned from his position. A separate statement issued by the agency explained that Pugliese's resignation was effective March 15.

Comments made by Pugliese during his stint in the position raised concerns because of their highly political nature and raised questions about whether he was compromising FERC's role as an independent agency.

A former White House adviser under President Donald Trump, Pugliese was appointed chief of staff after Neil Chatterjee became acting FERC chairman in August 2017. Pugliese continued in that role when Kevin McIntyre took over the gavel in December 2017 and remained there even after Chatterjee became chairman once again in October 2018 due to McIntyre's illness.

FERC chiefs of staff historically have eschewed public speeches and media interviews. But Pugliese broke with tradition in July 2018 when he participated in an interview that aired on the conservative Breitbart News Sunday show in which he heavily criticized Democrats for their alleged anti-energy infrastructure stance and accused them of playing politics.

A month later, Pugliese gave a speech to the American Nuclear Society that revealed the commission was working with the U.S. Department of Energy and other federal agencies to identify power plants that are crucial to operating hospitals, defense installations and other critical infrastructure.

The political statements Pugliese made in the Breitbart News interview and revelation that FERC seemingly was working with the DOE on an initiative aimed at providing financial support to struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants stoked concerns that the commission's independence was at risk.

FERC demonstrated that independence in early 2018 when it rejected a DOE proposal that would have required grid operators to ensure full cost recovery for plants that stored at least 90 days of fuel onsite in an effort to bolster grid resilience. However, the administration has continued to seek other ways to prop up vulnerable coal and nuclear plants, most recently by suggesting the establishment of an electricity generation reserve that gives preference to such power plants.

The revelation of Pugliese's remarks forced McIntyre to answer a series of questions posed by Democratic officials who said Pugliese's public statements called into question his impartiality and independence from political pressure.

McIntyre in an Aug. 24, 2018, letter to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., revealed that he authorized the chief of staff to be interviewed by Breitbart News and to speak before the American Nuclear Society, and the chairman suggested that he was justified in doing so. However, McIntyre also recalled that when asking for that authorization, Pugliese said he only planned to discuss matters of general interest. The chairman further acknowledged that the specific topics Pugliese addressed "were not subject to review and were not identified in advance."

However, at 1:39 p.m. on March 20, Pugliese tweeted: "News! grateful for the opportunity to serve @realDonaldTrump @FERC and the American people as Chief of Staff! excited for my next challenge & opportunity — continuing the American model of energy for the world. Stay tuned! but first a little time for a vacation!"

In a subsequent tweet, Pugliese said, "Grateful to Kevin McIntyre and @FERChatterjee for their confidence and friendship. With their support, I think we made a tremendous amount of progress at @ferc that has and will promote the best interest of the American people!"

Before working at FERC, Pugliese served for nine months as senior White House adviser for the U.S. Department of Transportation. He reportedly was active in Trump's Pennsylvania presidential campaign before then.

Neither Pugliese's tweets nor FERC's statement offered any reason for the resignation.