The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is not the country’s most well-known or controversial government agency. But if you care about building natural gas and oil pipelines or expanding the American power grid, it’s pretty important.
FERC consists of five members who can approve or reject plans for major energy-infrastructure projects. The Trump administration has been slow to nominate candidates to some of the 600 or so significant positions in the executive branch, including the three empty spots on FERC, which has been short of a quorum since President Obama’s appointed chairman, Norman Bay, resigned on February 3.
This doesn’t mean FERC shuts down entirely; inspections, safety reviews, audits, and all the traditional duties of its staff continue even when it lacks enough commissioners for a quorum. The legalese determining what staff may do is complicated, but the upshot is simple: The less controversial a decision, the more likely that the staff can legally make it.
FERC does need a quorum of commissioners to vote on bigger matters, however, including new rules, applications for infrastructure projects such as natural-gas pipelines and liquid natural-gas facilities, petitions for rehearing or appeal of previous commission orders, and appeal of initial decisions by an administrative law judge.
The lack of a quorum thus puts an indefinite delay on some vital projects as they await the final green light from FERC.
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