Biden Names Phillips Acting FERC Chairman
Commission to be Led by a Black Person for the 1st Time
FERC Commissioner Willie Phillips
FERC Commissioner Willie Phillips | © RTO Insider LLC
President Biden named Willie Phillips as acting FERC chairman, replacing Richard Glick.

President Biden on Tuesday named Commissioner Willie Phillips as the acting chairman of FERC, replacing Richard Glick after he departed at noon.

“It is an honor to be chosen by President Biden to lead FERC at such a pivotal moment,” Phillips said in a statement. “The work we do here at FERC is crucial to ensuring consumers have access to reliable, safe, secure and efficient energy services at reasonable cost. I look forward to continuing to work with my fellow commissioners and the FERC staff, as well as to prioritize public engagement, in pursuit of our important mission.”

Glick’s chairmanship officially ended at noon Tuesday, when the 117th Congress adjourned. Biden had nominated him for a second term, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) refused to hold a confirmation hearing for him. Manchin, however, approved of Phillips’ appointment.

“Willie Phillips is a supremely qualified and reasonable person, and he understands the need to balance affordability and reliability,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to working with acting Chairman Phillips in his new position as we pursue an all-of-the-above energy policy that will enhance our national and economic security.”

The congratulations from Phillips’ colleagues flowed on Twitter after the news broke.

“The commission is in good hands as our nation continues the transition to the clean energy future,” Glick tweeted.

Allison Clements 2022-11-15 (RTO Insider LLC) FI.jpgFERC Commissioner Allison Clements | © RTO Insider LLC

FERC Commissioner Mark Christie said his former colleague in the Organization of PJM States Inc. would “do a great job.” Commissioner Allison Clements chimed in with her own congratulations, saying she hoped the commission would move forward on the many proposed rulemakings issued under Glick. (See FERC’s Work in 2022 Left in Doubt by Manchin.)

Biden was able to make the move, which was first reported by Bloomberg, because the president has the unilateral authority to name a commissioner already confirmed by the Senate as chair.

Phillips becomes the first Black person to helm the regulatory agency and was elevated to the top spot a little over a year after becoming commissioner. He was previously chairman of the D.C. Public Service Commission and has a 20-year legal career that includes working as assistant general counsel to NERC. He holds a law degree from the Howard University School of Law and a bachelor’s from the University of Montevallo.

Phillips is also the first former state regulator to run FERC since Pat Wood III ran the agency in early 2000s under President George W. Bush.

The “acting” designation means Biden is waiting until he nominates a person to fill Glick’s seat to name the permanent chairman. But ClearView Energy Partners said it is likely Phillips will be named the permanent chairman, and that “dealing with FERC gavel on an acting basis may simply be a matter of administrative expediency.”

In addition to Glick’s seat, Commissioner James Danly’s term is set to expire on June 30. Whomever is chosen for the two seats “could change the outlook for policy direction at FERC over the balance of Biden’s term,” ClearView said. “We therefore acknowledge that it is possible but not necessarily probable that a yet-to-be-identified individual may yet be nominated to FERC as chairman.”

Though Clements has been with the commission for a year longer than Phillips, ClearView said Phillips is likely to “draw less direct fire from GOP legislators in both chambers” given his experience and Clements’ more vocal support for the commission’s proposals to review natural gas infrastructure’s impact on climate change as part of its approval process.

The Electric Power Supply Association welcomed the designation, with its CEO, Todd Snitchler, urging Phillips to increase the commission’s focus on reliability as the grid transforms.

“While we recognize the need to address climate change, power outages and cost spikes have devastating consequences; reliability cannot be taken for granted in pursuit of aggressive policy aspirations not aligned with operational realities of the power system,” Snitchler said.

Phillips should “renew a commitment” to FERC’s core mission of ensuring adequate infrastructure, reliable power and well functioning competitive markets, he added.

FERC & FederalPublic Policy

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