Indian American to head top federal energy agency

indica Washington Bureau


Ending weeks of speculation, US President Donald Trump picked Indian American lawyer and former Republican Senate staffer Neil Chatterjee to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Chatterjee, 41, replaces Kevin McIntyre as the Chairman of the prestigious agency that oversees the nation’s bulk power grid, interstate gas pipeline permitting and other key energy sectors.

“President Donald J. Trump designates Neil Chatterjee to be Chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” a White House statement read.

Chatterjee was nominated to the FERC by President Trump in 2017 and confirmed by the US Senate in August 2017. He served as Chairman from August 2017 to December 2017, and was again named Chairman on October 24, 2018.

“It is with a heavy heart that I step into this role while my friend and colleague, Kevin McIntyre, focuses on what’s most important: his recovery and his family,” Chatterjee, who at present is one of the three commissioners of the FERC, said in a statement.

“Although this is a difficult period for the Commission, I want to assure my fellow Commissioners, staff within the building and stakeholders outside it, that it’s my full intention to build upon Kevin’s hard work. But above all, I look forward to the day when my friend is back at full capacity,” Chatterjee, a keen supporter of subsidizing ageing coal and nuclear power plants, said.

McItyre resigned on October 22 citing health issues. For weeks, sources speculated that McIntyre, who suffers from a brain tumor, would relinquish his leadership role. In a letter posted on the FERC website, McIntyre said he will step down to become a commissioner on the five-member panel. Although his term doesn’t end until June 30, 2023, sources say he may decide to leave earlier.

Chatterjee, who was energy policy advisor to US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has played a pivotal role in the passage of major energy, highway and farm legislation.

Before serving McConnell, he worked as a principal in Government Relations for National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and as an aide to House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio.

A Republican from coal-producing Kentucky, Chatterjee is a graduate of St Lawrence University and the University of Cincinnati College of Law. His parents moved to the US from Kolkata some 50 years ago.

With Chatterjee at the helm, FERC now has two Republicans and two Democrats, including Commissioners Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick. The panel has lacked its five-member complement since Robert Powelson left in August.

The FERC has an important role in policymaking, and is responsible for overseeing electricity markets and ensuring just and reasonable rates; approving applications for infrastructure projects; and playing a role in cyber security and defenses.


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