Washington — A vote on the nomination of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission General Counsel James Danly to become a member of the commission is slated for Tuesday in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Recent statements from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he plans to focus on advancing nominees amid impeachment proceedings suggest a favorable committee vote could position Danly's confirmation for Senate floor action soon afterward, said a spokeswoman for Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat-West Virginia.
Manchin, the ranking member on the Senate energy committee, and other Senate Democrats have expressed irritation with the White House for failing to also nominate a Democrat to bring the commission to its full complement of five members. Democrats have accused the president of bucking tradition by not pairing nominations to fill such vacancies, but Republicans have countered that the practice is not a hard rule nor has it always been followed by past administrations.
It is not clear whether Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Democrat-New York, will press for a Democratic FERC nominee by threatening to hold up energy legislation. Manchin earlier in the week mentioned that as a potential sticking point for a slate of energy bills moving through the committee.
Despite Democrats' process concerns, Danly emerged relatively unscathed from a November 5 confirmation hearing before the Senate energy panel. Manchin said he would not oppose his nomination over the pairing issue.
Danly's expected rise from general counsel to commissioner could also be a near-term positive for natural gas infrastructure projects, by bringing the commission's majority favoring gas projects up to three, though some analysts have expressed concerns that increased polarization at FERC could become a problem in the future if the presidency returns to Democratic hands.
Danly is viewed as more of a wildcard by the power sector as his views on many topics in that space have yet to come to light. He did little to change that narrative at his confirmation hearing, steering a cautious route when pressed by senators to weigh in on contentious debates.
Other than sharing that he would have joined the commission's unanimous vote in January 2018 to reject a Department of Energy proposal that was seen by many as a bailout for uneconomic coal and nuclear plants, Danly did not cast much light on his positions on wholesale power market design, grid resilience or support for "baseload" generation.
He repeatedly cast FERC's role as striving toward "the most accurate price signal possible," and advocated for an iterative process of continuous market refinements rather than a complete overhaul of the wholesale power market regime.
He also pushed back on criticism that his conservative approach would be so narrow as to hinder efforts to lift barriers to market access for new technologies.
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