WASHINGTON — Major natural gas pipeline projects along the East Coast and Midwest face uncertainty as the federal agency that oversees the work loses a commissioner and will be unable to decide on projects indefinitely under President Donald Trump.
Democrat Norman Bay is stepping down Friday from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, leaving the five-member panel with just two commissioners, one short of the number needed to form a quorum.
Lack of a quorum blocks major agency actions and could short-circuit Trump’s goal to jump-start infrastructure projects, a key part of his campaign pledge to create jobs.
More immediately, Bay’s exit leaves the commission unable to approve or reject natural gas pipelines or settle proposed mergers, including a $12 billion plan to unite Great Plains and Westar energy companies in the Midwest.
At least a half-dozen major pipeline projects totaling more than $10 billion hang in the balance as FERC seeks a third commissioner to allow the commission to resume normal operations. The projects include the $2 billion Nexus pipeline in Ohio and Michigan; the $1 billion PennEast pipeline in Pennsylvania and New Jersey; and the $450 million Northern Access pipeline in Pennsylvania and New York.
The turmoil at FERC would not affect the proposed Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. FERC does not issue permits for oil pipelines.
The agency approved a special order Friday granting additional authority to agency staff to carry out some of the commission’s responsibilities, but the order does not allow approval of major projects or mergers.
Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski said she was deeply concerned about the shortage of voting members and said she has advised the White House for months of the need to nominate a new commissioner.