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Washington Notebook: Senate panel OKs 2 New Mexicans

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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 Wednesday in his bid to become chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but not without objections from committee members.

And he’s going to have to wait nine months to start the job. Bay’s nomination by President Barack Obama ran into trouble when several members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., raised concerns about his lack of regulatory experience. The committee approved Bay with a 13-9 vote, but required that he serve nine months as a regular commissioner first.

Cheryl LaFleur, currently acting chairman of FERC, will remain in that post in the interim, then become a regular commissioner when she cedes the job to Bay, whose nine month waiting period will begin when the full Senate confirms him.

“I want to make sure that whoever is chairing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission knows their stuff,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking Republican, said at the hearing. “We need the best of the best of the best. He’s (Bay) 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.”

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.”

Also Tuesday, the committee voted unanimously to confirm the nomination of Estevan López, director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and a New Mexico native, as the next director of the federal Bureau of Reclamation. The bureau is the nation’s primary water management agency, the largest water wholesaler in the U.S. and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power.

The committee also voted 12-10 to bypass President Obama’s objections and approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas. Two Democrats – Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia – voted with Republicans to approve the measure. Heinrich opposed it, but vowed to support some other bipartisan energy production bills before the committee.

“I believe that the goal of our nation’s energy policy should be to produce as much of our energy domestically as possible and to move over time from high carbon pollution sources to those that emit less and less carbon pollution,” Heinrich told the Journal in a statement. “Foreign tar sands fail both these tests and represent a step backward.”

Michael Coleman can be reached at mcoleman@abqjournal.com.

 

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