Commissioner John Norris announced his resignation Aug. 7 from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to take a post with the U.S. Agriculture Department in Italy.
Norris, a Democrat whose term expires in 2017, said his resignation is effective Aug. 20.
“It has been a great honor to serve with all the exceptional professionals and public servants who make up the FERC family and so many dedicated energy stakeholders in the public and private sectors,” Norris said. “I want to say a special thank you to the incredible personal staff I have had throughout my tenure on the commission.”
Norris said he has a “tremendous opportunity to continue in public service” as the minister-counselor for the Department of Agriculture in Rome. Prior to his service at FERC, Norris was chief of staff to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Norris’ resignation comes on the heels of President Obama’s formal appointment of Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur to be FERC chairman and Obama’s designation of his first choice, newly confirmed Commissioner Norman C. Bay, to become chairman effective April 15, 2015. LaFleur and the newly appointed Bay are the other two Democrats on the five-member commission.
A published report in July quoted Norris at a power industry conference saying he would not seek another term on the commission and that he could not win Senate confirmation because he is too pro-consumer. Identified in his home state of Iowa as an early supporter of Obama’s presidential campaign, Norris was quoted by the Des Moines Register then as saying he was interested in a seat on FERC, possibly as chairman. Instead Bay is to succeed LaFleur as chairman in an agreement engineered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Arkansas regulator seen as possible FERC candidate
Reports have indicated a likely candidate to replace Norris on the commission is Chairman Colette Honorable of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, who is president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. Honorable’s name was raised last year after an earlier Obama choice for FERC chairman, Ronald Binz, withdrew his nomination in the face of Senate opposition.
The Senate confirmed Norris to a second term in 2012, at the same time confirming Commissioner Anthony Clark, a Republican, to his first term at FERC. Clark’s term expires in 2016. The other Republican on the panel is Philip Moeller, whose term expires in 2015.
Norris spoke about hydropower last December when four commissioners told the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee that hydropower licensing might be accelerated if Congress could compel state and federal resource agencies to meet deadlines in the licensing process. Norris echoed concern regarding hydroelectric projects and other energy infrastructure.
“I believe it is important to understand that building new infrastructure is much more difficult today than in years past,” Norris said. “You can count on significant resistance from multiple parties to the construction of any new infrastructure. … I believe our role is to reach a just and reasonable decision, respectful of due process in a fair and reasonable manner as expeditiously as practical and required under law.”
Addressing the National Hydropower Association Conference in 2011, Norris said increased generation from hydropower and other clean energy sources will diversify domestic energy production and lower dependence on foreign energy. “There is great opportunity for hydro moving forward,” Norris said, noting that “We are in a period of transition in our energy economy.”
Norris concurred last year in FERC’s rejection of an attempt by a federal fisheries agency to force the Alaska Energy Authority to perform speculative climate change studies as part of licensing the 600-MW Susitna-Watana hydroelectric project on Alaska’s upper Susitna River.
Norris, a lawyer and state utility regulator from Iowa, was first named to the commission by Obama in 2009. Prior to his service at FERC, Norris was chief of staff to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and former chief of staff to then Iowa Gov. Vilsack, a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, and chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board from 2005-2009.
Norris is a 1995 graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law, after receiving an undergraduate degree from Simpson College in Iowa. He served as chief of staff to Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, from 1997-1998, and from 1989-2003 owned a restaurant in Iowa.
Clark is former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, a former North Dakota Labor Commissioner, and a former state legislator. He holds bachelor’s degrees in political science and history education from North Dakota State University and a master’s in public administration from the University of North Dakota.