Wood expected to replace Hebert as FERC chairman

The White House and Senate Republican leaders were negotiating Wednesday on the terms under which Texas Public Utility Commissioner Pat Wood could become chairman of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, industry and congressional sources said. President George W. Bush reportedly wants Wood to head the agency.


By Maureen Lorenzetti
OGJ Online


WASHINGTON, Mar. 14�The White House and Senate Republican leaders were negotiating Wednesday on the terms under which Texas Public Utility Commissioner Pat Wood could become chairman of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), industry and congressional sources said.

President George W. Bush reportedly wants Wood, a former FERC staff member, to head the agency. FERC, an independent agency, regulates natural gas and power wholesale markets.

The agency has come under increasing criticism for not intervening sooner to stop power resellers from allegedly overcharging California ratepayers $550 million. The agency has so far called on marketers to justify or refund $69 million. However the public and a number of politicians are saying the agency should have policed the state�s overcrowded transmission grid sooner when there were warning signals that California�s deregulatory program was inadequate.

The current FERC chairman, Curtis Hebert, is a Republican from Mississippi who won a seat on the five-member board in 1998 with the backing of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

Hebert, a former state utility commissioner, is a state rights advocate who ran afoul of the powerful chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, Frank Murkowski (R-Alas.), for trying to circumvent Congress on a pipeline right of way issue during the Clinton Administration.

When Bush assumed office, he named Hebert interim FERC chairman. The White House can alter that, provided the US Senate approves the decision.

Industry sources say while Hebert�s views on regulation are philosophically similar to Wood�s, the ongoing bad publicity over the California energy crisis has made the White House rethink Hebert in the top slot.

Meanwhile, Hebert�s advocates on Capitol Hill are asking the White House to let Hebert remain chairman until December 2001; then he would leave the commission and Wood could replace him, subject to Senate confirmation.

There are two vacancies on the commission. Under law, three must be from the President�s political party and two from the opposition party. Both Democratic slots are filled and it is uncertain who might be named to the remaining Republican chair.

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