Cantwell & Pallone Question FERC Chairman Over Chief of Staff’s Recent Concerning Comments

Washington, D.C. – Today, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Kevin McIntyre requesting an explanation for recent statements made by his Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese.  In the letter the lawmakers express concern that Pugliese’s recent statements indicate FERC is working with Trump administration officials at the Department of Energy and National Security Council on a plan to interfere with the operation of the nation’s wholesale electric markets.

Congress established FERC as an independent regulatory entity to ensure the Commission’s independence from political influence and to safeguard FERC’s autonomous authority to regulate energy rates. 

“We are deeply troubled by recent statements attributed to your Chief of Staff, Anthony Pugliese, that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is working with Trump administration officials at the Department of Energy and National Security Council on an ill-conceived plan to interfere with the operation of the nation’s wholesale electric markets,” Cantwell and Pallone wrote to FERC Chairman McIntyre.

“We believe this action would violate the requirement that FERC remain a neutral and unbiased decisionmaker.  We are equally concerned by highly partisan political remarks reportedly made by Mr. Pugliese in the media and at a recent industry conference that are highly inappropriate and undermine the Commission’s independence,” continue the lawmakers. 

Earlier this month, Mr. Pugliese made a series of statements that raised the top Democrats’ concerns. On August 7, 2018, Mr. Pugliese reportedly made remarks at a nuclear industry conference stating that FERC is actively looking for ways to "value resilience" and ensure that "baseload" 24-hour-a-day generators are kept in business. Given that FERC unanimously rejected the Trump administration’s 2017 proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear plants in competitive electric markets this January; these remarks are inappropriate and call into question Pugliese’s impartiality.

“We are deeply concerned that your chief of staff, for whom you bear special responsibility, has been making public statements that call into question his impartiality and independence from political pressure.  Left unchecked, we believe such statements must ultimately call into question the impartiality and independence of the Commission itself,” the lawmakers write.  “Moreover, we believe that you have the responsibility, as Chairman, to safeguard the Commission’s independence, its neutrality, and its impartiality, and to uphold the professional conduct of the Commission’s employees, and most especially those on your own personal staff.”

In light of Pugliese’s troubling remarks and Chairman McIntyre’s statutory responsibility as the Commission’s Chairman, Pallone and Cantwell are requesting answers to a series of questions, including: 

  • Do Pugliese’s remarks represent the views of the Commission or any of its members?
  • What policies, protocols and procedures does the Commission have in place to ensure that its staff does not engage in partisan political activity in violation of the Hatch Act?
  • What, if any, contact has the Commission or its staff had with the Department of Energy officials or any other executive branch officials in connection with the Administration’s widely reported consideration of emergency orders to require public utilities to give preference or advantage?

The full letter can be found here.