Interview with Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur

Interview with Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur


Mary O’Driscoll: Welcome to Open Access,
the podcast series of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. I’m Mary O’Driscoll, your host. Our goal here is to have a conversation about
FERC, what it does, and how that can affect you. FERC can get very legal and very technical,
so we will strive to keep it simple. FERC is an independent regulatory agency that
oversees the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil. FERC’s authority also includes review of
proposals to build interstate natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas terminals
and licensing of nonfederal hydropower projects. FERC protects the reliability of the high-voltage
interstate transmission system through mandatory reliability standards, and monitors interstate
energy markets to ensure that everyone in those markets is playing by the rules. Craig Cano: Welcome to our podcast, I’m
Craig Cano. And today, I’ll be speaking with Cheryl LeFleur,
who was appointed Acting Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by President
Donald Trump on January 23, 2017. She was first nominated to the commission
by President Barack Obama in 2010 and was confirmed for a second term by the Senate
in 2014. She previously served as Acting Chairman of
the Commission, from November 2013 to July 2014 and as Chairman from July 2014 until
April 2015. Chairman LaFleur, thanks for taking the time
to speak with us today. Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur: I’m happy
to do so, Craig. When you suggested that we do this podcast,
I thought it would be a great way to communicate, especially with FERC employees who might have
questions right now. Craig Cano: I want to ask you some questions
that people will have on their minds. First of all, congratulations. Cheryl LaFleur: Thank you. Craig Cano: How are you doing? Cheryl LaFleur: Pretty good. It’s been kind of a strange week. When I first read the rumors in the trade
press that I might be made Acting Chairman, I didn’t know whether to believe them. But my FERC stint has been pretty nonstandard,
I think that’s a good word. And that certainly has continued. I had a boss in my law firm who used to say,
“This will add a line to my obituary, and hasten its appearance.” And that is definitely true of this job, I
think. But in all seriousness, it’s an honor to
lead the employees of this Commission and our work, under any circumstances. Craig Cano: Why did the Trump administration
pick you? Cheryl LaFleur: Well, obviously, you’d have
to ask them. Maybe send them a tweet. But I’ve been at this Commission for seven
years. I’m the longest-serving Commissioner, right
now. I’m a past Acting Chairman, I’m a past
Chairman, and before that I was in energy for more than 20 years, so I’ll certainly
try my best to do the job. Craig Cano: And, why did you say yes? Cheryl LaFleur: Well, I thought about it,
to be honest. And I reasoned, I’d already decided to serve
out my term. I’ve been part of the Democratic majority
ever since I’ve been here, and I knew that going forward I would be part of a Democratic
minority. And if I was going to be here, and asked to
lead, I thought I should. Craig Cano: Does this mean you’re aligned
with the President’s agenda? Cheryl LaFleur: FERC is an independent agency,
and we try very hard to decide all the cases by applying the law that governs us and the
facts on the record. That’s what I’ve done ever since I’ve
been here, that’s what I’ll continue to do. Craig Cano: Norman Bay will be leaving the
Commission within the week, leaving you with just two members. How will that affect Commission operations? Cheryl LaFleur: Let me unpack that a little
bit. First of all, we’re very focused on the
next week and trying to get as much work done while we have a quorum. But beyond that, we have already confirmed
that all of the existing staff delegations that are in place, including such actions
as hydro inspections, LNG safety reviews, audits and all the other things that staff
does, will continue during a period of no quorum. And, I’m not sure that everyone knows that
five times as many orders are issued in a year by staff than by the commissioners. We’re already working on a potential expansion
of staff’s delegated authority during the period of non-quorum. We’re basing that on past Commission orders
on the subject and the experience of other agencies. So, people should stay tuned for that. I’ve already spent some time with Commissioner
Honorable, and we’re both committed to working really closely to move the work of the Commission
forward. Some of the things we’ll be able to do,
this isn’t a complete list, but review and consider filings that are pending or come
before the Commission; coordinate staff delegated actions, existing and increased; proceed with
environmental review of projects; hold Commission meetings, tech conferences, workshops; prepare
orders for future voting and that happy day when we get a new commissioner; and just conduct
other business. Craig Cano: Can you tell us what your priorities
will be as Chairman? Cheryl LaFleur: On my website from when I
got to the Commission, it said that my priorities were reliability and grid security – which
has been one of my major focuses – transmission, and ensuring a clean and diverse energy supply. And, those haven’t changed. I’ve never changed them. Over the past several years, a lot of our
work of course has been driven by changes in the nation’s energy supply, particularly
the growth of renewables and gas. And that’s driving a lot of work both in
market and infrastructure. When I look at a couple of the things that
I think are really important right now, I think an issue that’s going to be prominent
is trying to adapt competitive markets to some of the state initiatives that we’re
seeing. That’s a very important issue to me because
I think that the competitive markets have demonstrated a lot of benefits for customers,
and they’re at a stage where they might need some adaptation to continue to deliver
those benefits. Obviously, I think our pipeline work is also
very high profile right now. Craig Cano: You mentioned competitive markets. What about enforcement? Cheryl LaFleur: Well that’s a very important
part of our work. Both reliability enforcement, and keeping
markets fair. And I would say that I only mentioned a few
aspects of our work, but everything the Commission does and all parts of our organization are
important. Craig Cano: Can you tell us a little bit about
what you foresee for the composition of the Commission in the coming months? Cheryl LaFleur: Well, obviously, Colette and
I are here. And, we hope for nominations to fill the quorum
as soon as possible. Craig Cano: Do you view yourself as a steward,
until the Republicans arrive, or as a chairman who can pursue your own agenda? Cheryl LaFleur: Thinking back to when I was
made Acting Chairman in 2013 – and I only had 45 minutes’ notice before the announcement
– the first thing I said was that I would work with my colleagues and all the employees
to keep the work of the Commission moving forward during a time of transition and uncertainty. I think we’re in another time of transition,
and that will be equally true today. Now, having said that, I’ll confront any
issues that happen to come up during my tenure, working with my colleagues just like any other
chairman would. I’m the Chairman while I’m the Chairman. Craig Cano: One of the issues that the Commission
has faced has been protests, and the Commission has had to close a couple of its meetings. Will you be doing anything like that? Cheryl LaFleur: We closed meetings only a
couple times. And in those instances, Chairman Bay made
that decision in consultation with his colleagues, based on the specific situation at the time. And I think I would do the same thing. Craig Cano: The White House recently issued
a regulatory freeze memo. That memo is similar to those that have been
issued in past transitions of administration, including the 2009 transition to the Obama
administration. How will that affect FERC? Cheryl LaFleur: Well Craig, we reviewed the
memo very carefully, and to the extent it applies to FERC, a triggering event described
in the memo is the designation of a new agency head by the new administration. That happened last week when I was designated
as Acting Chairman. I’ve completed the review of new or pending
regulations described in the memo, and we have now sent to the Federal Register items
previously duly voted out by the Commission that need to be published there. I’d also note that previously set comment
deadlines will remain unchanged. Craig Cano: The White House also announced
a hiring freeze. How will that affect the Commission? Cheryl LaFleur: Well, the hiring freeze does
apply to us. There is an exception for work of significance
to national security, and that could possibly cover some parts of our work. I think the Commission is well-staffed. We have wonderful employees. Depending on how long the freeze lasts, like
all organizations we’ll lose people to retirement or attrition. I certainly hope at some point we’re able
to hire again. Craig Cano: Can you tell us what you’ll
take from your previous experience as Chairman and use this time around? Cheryl LaFleur: Well last time, I had to fairly
quickly adapt to the added responsibilities of Chairman, the management and external responsibilities. I feel ahead of the game this time because
I’ve done it before and it feels very familiar. I think what I learned was just to keep marching
forward. While you’re Chairman, you’re Chairman. But really, I’ve been on a learning curve
the whole time I’ve been here, whether as a Commissioner or Chairman, and I hope I continue
to learn. Craig Cano: One last question for you, Chairman. We all know you’re a New England Patriots
fan, so: The Patriots – Most Amazing Football Team on the Planet, or just The Best Football
Team Ever? Cheryl LaFleur: Well that’s obviously a
trick question, ‘cause both are true. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid, and I
went to a lot of games in the old stadium in the 1970s and the 1980s, when the Patriots
were really terrible. And what they’ve accomplished in the last
15 years, with Bill Belichek and Tom Brady, I think is pretty amazing. Go Pats! Craig Cano: Chairman, thank you very much
for your time. Cheryl LaFleur: You’re welcome. Thank you, Craig. Mary O’Driscoll: Thank you for listening
to Open Access, the podcast series of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Unless otherwise noted, the views expressed
on these podcasts are personal views and do not necessarily express the views of individual
Commissioners or of the Commission as a whole. This podcast is a production of the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission Office of External Affairs, Leonard Tao, Director. We’ll be updating our posts when we’ve
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