Senate committee offers compromise on NM’s Norman Bay

NOT SO FAST: It looks like former New Mexico attorney Norman Bay will have to wait until next year to become the new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

Norman Bay is on target to head to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but he’s going to have to wait.

In what could lead to the end of a Capitol Hill turf battle, the former New Mexico prosecutor and law professor was part of a compromise hammered out Wednesday by a divided Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It intends to see Bay become the chairman of FERC, but only after serving as a commissioner for nine months.

In the meantime, Cheryl LaFleur will remain acting chairwoman.

In a 13-9 vote, the committee elected to promote Bay from his current position as director of FERC’s Office of Enforcement to become one of its three commissioners. It also voted, 21-1, to keep LaFleur on until next year.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVa., said there would be “a nine-month time period that Cheryl LaFleur will stay, but she will be the chairman in full, with full privileges of a chairmanship. That gives Mr. Bay, who’s a good man, a chance to get the experience needed on that commission, as far as with regulatory experience.”

“That nine months will start at the point of confirmation on the Senate floor,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who chairs the Senate committee. Landrieu is recommending Bay’s nomination be considered by the Senate in September.

Bay has been the choice of the Obama administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., but he received opposition from some committee members who said he lacked experience in the energy industry.

“I do understand that he’s a smart man, and that smart people can learn the ropes, if you will,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “But I’m not interested in the chairman of the FERC being somebody that is doing on-the-job training, particularly when we have a woman (LaFleur) — the only woman on the Commission — who has been at the helm as the acting head of this commission, and by all reports, from Democrats and Republicans alike, she has been doing a good job.”

Reid is opposed to keeping LaFleur as chairwoman. There’s speculation Reid wants Bay to become chairman of FERC because Bay may be more open promoting renewable energy, an industry with ties to Reid’s home state.

“Norman Bay is a close ally of Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama — and I’m concerned he will serve as a rubberstamp for the president’s new unworkable and-trade rule that will drive up electricity prices and hurt our economy,” Sen. David Vitter, R-La., was quoted as saying to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

But retired Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., himself a former chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, says Bay would be an excellent choice to run the agency that oversees the nation’s electrical grid.

“The job that (Bay) is seeking demands somebody just like him,” Domenici said before the committee last month. “I’m not a great fan of the president of the United States and people know that, but I think this is a great appointment. So I am on his side on this. I don’t see how you can miss.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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