Senate OKs Two Energy Agency Nominees

The Senate on Friday confirmed the nominations of a Republican and a Democrat to fill vacant seats on the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (search), which oversees wholesale electricity markets.

The nominations of Joe Kelliher, a senior adviser at the Energy Department (search), and Suedeen Kelly, former New Mexico state utility commissioner, were approved by voice votes.

The two will join a commission that since summer has been down to the minimum three members including one, Democrat William Massey, whose term actually expired last June but remained to keep a quorum.

As a senior policy adviser to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Kelliher in 2001 was the department's day-to-day point man with Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force. He served as an aide to Abraham when he was a senator from Michigan.

Kelly, a Democrat, is a former member of New Mexico's utility commission and served as its chair for two years. She currently teaches energy and utility law at the University of New Mexico and practices law in Albuquerque.

Neither nominee faced any serious personal opposition.

But Kelliher's nomination was held up for two years. First, Democrats refused to proceed until Bush produced the other nomination, which by law was required to be a Democrat. Bush nominated Kelly last March.

Then the nominations were held in limbo after Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon put "holds" on Kelliher until he further explained his position on how he would deal with Western power market issues.

"I am delighted that the long wait is over," Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee (search), said of the nominations.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the committee's ranking Democrat, said both Kelliher and Kelly "have the deep understanding of these issues that is needed at this time."

FERC is an independent agency that regulates wholesale electricity markets, the interstate movement of electricity and natural gas, and hydroelectric projects.

The appointments come at a time when FERC is trying to respond to growing demands that federal regulators do more to ensure power line reliability and take steps to avoid a repeat of the abuses that occurred in wholesale electricity markets in the West in 2000 and 2001.

It also comes as FERC likely will face new responsibilities arising from forthcoming energy legislation, and tries to develop new standards for the electricity grid and wholesale power markets, including new regional grid management systems.