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Inside the Beltway

Washington politics and government with a New Mexico flavor

Senate committee approves NM’s Norman Bay to lead FERC

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Norman Bay, a former U.S. Attorney in New Mexico and University of New Mexico School of Law professor, won support from a key Senate panel today in his bid to become head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but not without some significant objections from committee members.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-9 to approve President Obama’s nomination of Bay to the powerful regulatory post.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking Republican, said Bay doesn’t have enough regulatory experience to do the job. Some members of the committee, including Murkowski, suggested that Cheryl LaFleur, currently the acting chairman of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, would be a better choice for the job.

“I want to make sure that whoever is chairing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission knows their stuff,” Murkowski said. “We need the best of the best of the best.”

“He’s clearly a learned man but does he have the experience in the energy policy and regulatory policy that FERC deals with on a day-to-day basis? I haven’t been convinced he has that,” Murkowski said, noting that she had met personally with Bay to discuss his nomination. “I do understand he’s a smart man and that smart people can learn the ropes, if you will. I’m not interested in the chairman of the FERC being somebody who is doing on the job training.”

FERC is a five-member commission that regulates interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil. Bay has served as the director of the Office of Enforcement at FERC since 2009.

Both of New Mexico’s U.S. senators support Bay’s nomination.

“I believe Mr. Bay will be an outstanding member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, a  member of the energy committee, said in a statement after the vote. “Mr. Bay’s extensive experience will help address our energy challenges in New Mexico and across the country. I am very confident he will judiciously implement the laws focused on FERC’s statutory responsibilities of energy infrastructure, competitive markets, and reliability.”

Heinrich said Bay’s nomination shouldn’t get bogged down in politics.

“Mr. Bay has received strong bipartisan support, including the backing of former senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman,” Heinrich said. “His nomination should not get caught up in politics that have nothing to do with his qualifications for this important post.”

Bay has served as FERC’s enforcement director since 2009. Prior to joining FERC, Bay worked as a law professor at UNM from 2002-09, teaching criminal law, international criminal law, evidence, introduction to constitutional law and national security law.

After five years of prosecuting violent crimes in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Albuquerque, President Bill Clinton nominated him to be a U.S. Attorney, a position he held in New Mexico from 2000-01. He became the first Chinese-American ever to be named to that post.

Bay was serving in that position when Wen Ho Lee, a former nuclear weapons scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, agreed to a negotiated plea deal after being accused of mishandling classified materials. After serving nine months in jail, Lee pleaded guilty to one of 59 counts and was freed.

Bay is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School.

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