Trump names Chesco man to federal energy post

Members of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Tuesday lauded President Trump’s nomination of Commissioner Robert F. Powelson of Kennett Square to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Powelson recently set off a storm after saying anti-pipeline activists were engaged in “jihad.”

Trump named Powelson and Neil Chatterjee, senior energy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky,), late Monday to the five-member regulatory commission, which approves interstate energy-transmission projects. Their selection was reported in March, but the pair needed to clear security review before they were officially nominated to the FERC.

“Commissioner Powelson is knowledgeable and passionate about public utility issues – from infrastructure investment and marketplace competition to innovation and the development of our next generation of utility workers,” PUC chair Gladys M. Brown said in a statement.

A Republican and former PUC chair, Powelson is known as a pro-market regulator who is not shy about speaking his mind. In March, he walked back his “jihad” comment as “inappropriate” after it triggered a backlash.

Powelson was appointed to the PUC in 2008 by Gov. Ed Rendell and reappointed by Gov. Tom Corbett. He previously was president of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry, and in November assumed a one-year term as president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the Washington advocacy group for state public utility commissioners.

The FERC has three vacancies and has been unable to advance projects without a quorum. Senate Energy Committee chair Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) has expressed her intention to quickly approve the nominees and forward them to the full Senate for consideration.

Utility- and energy-industry representatives voiced support for the nominations on Tuesday, while environmentalists expressed dismay. Jeff Tittel, head of New Jersey’s Sierra Club, called Powelson and Chatterjee “fossil fools.”

Powelson, 48, is a graduate of St. Joseph’s University and the University of Pennsylvania. He has been a member of the Drexel University board of trustees since 2013.

His departure from the PUC would create a void that Gov. Wolf could fill only with another Republican, because state law requires that the bipartisan commission have no more than three members from one party. The five-member PUC now has three Democrats.

Powelson posted a tweet on the PUC’s statement Tuesday afternoon: