FERC Commissioner Rob Powelson Spent Much of His First Months in Office Meeting With the Fossil Fuel Industry

Read time: 6 mins
Rob Powelson

In his first few months at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), commissioner Rob Powelson scheduled the great majority of his meetings with fossil fuel energy companies and utilities, his work calendar shows. The calendar, obtained by DeSmog through an open records request, can be viewed below.

Nominated to FERC by President Trump, Powelson began serving on the commission last August. He previously served on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

A review of his FERC calendar shows that between September 4 and December 10 2017, Powelson had a total 76 work meetings scheduled with various stakeholders. Of those meetings, 62 (82 percent) were with fossil fuel and pipeline companies, utilities, and trade groups predominantly representing those industries. The remaining 14 meetings were with regional transmission organizations (RTOs), government agencies, public utilities, and renewable energy companies and their trade groups.

According to his calendar, Powelson did not have scheduled meetings with representatives of other stakeholders potentially affected by FERC’s decisions, such as environmental organizations, public interest groups, and everyday citizens.

From the calendar, meetings with major fossil fuel companies and utilities include:

  • September 6: Williams Companies, Talen Energy, Tellurian/Driftwood LNG
  • September 12: Jordan Cove LNG
  • September 21: Exelon, PG&E
  • September 26: Colonial Pipeline Company, Excel Energy
  • October 3: Invenergy, NextEra
  • October 12: TransCanada, Southern California Edison, Eversource
  • October 18: NRG
  • October 19: Convata Energy, Southwestern Energy
  • October 23: New Jersey Resources, LS Power
  • October 24: Calpine Corporation
  • October 25: Avangrid
  • November 7: Shell Pipeline Company
  • November 30: Con Edison
  • December 5: LNG Limited
  • December 7: Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG)

These are all FERC-regulated entities, several of which currently have projects pending the commission’s approval. For example, when New Jersey Resources met with Powelson, it was seeking FERC’s authorization for the PennEast pipeline, of which the company owns a 20 percent stake. FERC went on to approve the controversial 115-mile gas pipeline in January this year.

Powelson also met with FirstEnergy, a coal-based utility which at the time was trying to convince FERC to adopt Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s industry-led proposal to support coal and nuclear power plants. FERC has since objected to the plan.

In addition, one of the only projects FERC has rejected is Oregon’s Jordan Cove LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal and Pacific Connector gas pipeline. However, after the CEO of the company behind Jordan Cove met with the Trump administration in early 2017, the project was resurrected, despite local and state resistance. Powelson met with Jordan Cove on September 12 and roughly a week later, on September 21, the company announced it was filing new FERC applications for the export terminal and pipeline.

The commissioner’s calendar also shows meetings scheduled with a number of industry and utilities trade groups, including:

  • September 21: Electric Power Supply Association
  • September 26: Edison Electric Institute  
  • September 27 and December 4: Natural Gas Supply Association
  • October 5: Utilities Technology Association, Advanced Energy Management Alliance
  • October 19: New England Power Generators Association
  • October 24: Association of Oil Pipelines
  • October 26: American Forest & Paper Association
  • October 30: Retail Energy Supply Association
  • November 1: Energy Storage Association
  • November 6: Americans for a Clean Energy Grid
  • December 5: Process Gas Consumers Group
  • December 7: Nuclear Energy Institute

Additionally, during this period, Powelson had 20 scheduled one-on-one meetings and lunches (excluding those with FERC personnel). Of these, 13 meetings were with fossil fuel company representatives and lobbyists. They include:

  • September 18: Marty Durbin, executive vice president at the American Petroleum Institute. Durbin is lobbying FERC on a slew of energy-related issues, including legislation for infrastructure projects.
  • September 18: Lunch with Mike Krancer, former head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection who is currently a lobbyist with Blank Rome LLP and his own lobbying shop, Silent Majority Strategies
  • September 26: Kevin Sunday, lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry
  • October 2: Martin Silverstein, attorney for the legal and lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig
  • October 10: Colin Hayes, until recently staff director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources who co-founded his own lobbying shop, Lot Sixteen, which lobbies for NRG.
  • October 18 and November 6: Joe McGinn, former lobbyist with Energy Transfer Partners who recently opened his own lobbying company, McGinn Public Strategies
  • October 25: Larry Gasteiger, a former FERC official who is now director of federal regulatory policy at PSEG
  • November 16: Lunch with David Lynch, lobbyist for the Texas-based utility Energy Future Holdings
  • November 29: David Urban, a senior operative during the Trump presidential campaign and a lobbyist for American Continental Group. Urban lobbies for CONSOL Energy.
  • December 4: Jeffrey Kupfer, former Chevron executive and current director for Atlas Energy     

The other seven one-one-one meetings were with state utility commissioners, former RTO chiefs, an academic, and members of congress or their staff.

Powelson’s calendar also displayed several scheduled industry conferences and events, including:

  • September 13: The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce event at the Washington, D.C. restaurant Bullfeathers
  • October 3: Filming a video for the Midstream PA oil and gas conference
  • October 26: American Gas Association’s annual Energy Market Regulation Conference in Washington, D.C.
  • October 31: The Communications and Energy Committee of the Southern New Jersey’s Chamber of Commerce event at the Westin Mount Laurel Hotel
  • November 2: Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry event at the Longwood Gardens in Kenneth Square, Pennsylvania
  • November 4: Edison Electric Institute’s Financial Conference in the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort near Orlando, Florida
  • November 7: Speaking at the Industrial Energy Consumers of America meeting at the Le Méridien Hotel in Arlington, Virginia. The IECA is a fossil fuel advocacy group run by the energy lobbying company Carbonleaf LLC  
  • November 9: Speaking at the Blank Rome LLP conference in Pittsburgh
  • November 15: Speaking at the Association of Oil Pipelines meetings at the Madison Hilton in Washington, D.C.
  • November 20: Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce event
  • December 1: The Pennsylvania Society’s Blank Rome LLP/GT Power Energy Summit in New York City
  • December 6: Southern Company’s Holiday Reception in Union Station in Washington. A FERC spokesperson said Commissioner Powelson did not attend this event. Southern Company did not provide comment.              

DeSmog asked FERC why Commissioner Powelson does not balance his meetings to include a greater variety of stakeholders affected by FERC’s decisions. Craig Cano, a spokesperson for the commission, said: “Commissioner Powelson’s office takes meetings with anyone who requests them, subject to availability and ex parte concerns.”

Powelson also had a cozy relationship with the energy industry during his days at the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission. As DeSmog previously reported, this included receiving from NRG two tickets to an NFL game.

Yet calendars for other past and present FERC commissioners show that Powelson is certainly not alone in taking a majority of meetings with the industry he regulates. As E&E News recently reported, commissioner Neil Chatterjee’s work calendar reveals a similar trend.

Environmental organizations opposing the extensive oil and gas pipeline buildup around the country have in recent years targeted FERC for what they see as a clear industry bias within the agency. Activists, who call for reforming FERC, point out that in its 40 years of existence, FERC has rejected only two projects while approving countless others.   

Main image: FERC Commissioner Rob Powelson Credit: U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, public domain

Get DeSmog News and Alerts