WASHINGTON — The Senate approved two Republicans nominated by President Donald Trump to serve on the federal commission that oversees the nation’s power grid and natural gas pipelines, including the $2 million NEXUS Gas Transmission project that would run through Lorain and Medina counties.
Senators’ unanimous votes Thursday approving Senate aide Neil Chatterjee and Pennsylvania utility regulator Robert Powelson restore a voting quorum on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Chatterjee, of Kentucky, is an energy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., while Powelson serves on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and is president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.
Only one commissioner, Democrat Cheryl LaFleur, had been serving on the panel, leaving it without a quorum and unable to make decisions on interstate pipelines and other projects worth billions of dollars.
More than a dozen major projects and utility mergers have been in regulatory limbo for months. The projects include the $2 billion NEXUS pipeline in Ohio and Michigan; the $1 billion PennEast pipeline in Pennsylvania and New
Jersey; and the $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.
The NEXUS project, proposed in August 2014, has been awaiting final action from FERC since Nov. 30.
In the interim, NEXUS gas pipeline opponents have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Akron that argues the federal government acted illegally during the approval process for the project and, specifically, failed to ascertain its safety.
On May 12, more than
60 people from Medina, Summit and Stark counties joined in a 50-page complaint naming both NEXUS and FERC as defendants.
In June 20, attorneys for the commission asked that the case be dismissed.
A Final Environmental Impact Statement, or FEIS, was submitted to FERC on Nov. 30 approving the project’s original route that includes Lorain and Medina counties.
The lawsuit asks that the court “vacate and overturn” the impact statement. It also asks that FERC be prohibited from approving the project and that NEXUS be ordered to stop attempting to access properties and communicate with owners and not to reach any legal agreements with them. It also asks for attorney fees.
Judge John Adams, of the Akron unit of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, has been assigned the case.
NEXUS is a business consortium made up of Houston-based Spectra Energy, DTE Energy of Detroit, and Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc.
Trump has promised to boost energy production and exports as part of a bid to establish “energy dominance” for the United States, but the FERC vacancies have hobbled the agency’s ability to make decisions.
Don Santa, president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, hailed the Senate votes, which business groups and lawmakers have been urging for months. FERC has been without a quorum since February.
“The commission now can get back to work thoroughly reviewing the many energy infrastructure projects of national importance that have been sidelined in recent months,” Santa said.
He and other business leaders said they also were encouraged that Trump formally has nominated Republican Kevin McIntyre to be FERC chairman and Democrat Richard Glick to round out the five-member panel. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a hearing on the two nominees in September.
Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, said Chatterjee and Powelson are “exceptionally well-qualified and will serve with distinction.”
The Senate’s action “will now allow American energy companies the ability to move forward with projects that will create jobs and improve our security,” Harbert said.