Sen. Joe Manchin, I-W.Va., listens as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen...

Sen. Joe Manchin, I-W.Va., listens as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen responds to a question by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government hearing, Tuesday, June 4, 2024, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden's grip on a key federal energy commission will last beyond his first term, giving a boost to the Democrat's push for renewable energy regardless of the election results in November.

The Senate ensured that political reality as lawmakers approved three new members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, including two Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said confirmation of the three nominees allow FERC to "keep its quorum and continue its mission of providing Americans with affordable, reliable, safe energy.''

The five-member commission oversees natural gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure, including transmission of electricity across state lines, hydropower and interstate transportation of oil and natural gas.

The panel approved a long-awaited rule last month making it easier to transmit renewable energy such as wind and solar power to the electric grid — a key part of Biden’s goal to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by 2050. The rule is aimed at boosting the nation’s aging power grid to meet surging demand fueled by huge data centers, electrification of vehicles and buildings, artificial intelligence and other uses.

Earlier this week, the agency approved a request by the nearly $8 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline to send natural gas across rugged mountainsides in West Virginia and Virginia, despite longstanding objections from environmental groups, landowners and some elected officials.

On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed the nominations of Democrat David Rosner and Republican Lindsay See for three and four-year terms, respectively, on the commission. Senators on Thursday confirmed Democrat Judy Chang’s nomination to a five-year term. Chang replaces Democrat Allison Clements, whose term expires June 30.

Construction crews bore beneath U.S. 221 in Roanoke County, Va.,...

Construction crews bore beneath U.S. 221 in Roanoke County, Va., June 22, 2018, to make a tunnel through which the Mountain Valley Pipeline will pass under the highway. The hotly contested East Coast natural gas pipeline was given the go-ahead Tuesday, June 11, 2024, to start operating, six years after construction began at more than double its original estimated cost. Credit: AP/Heather Rousseau

The votes give Democrats a 3-2 majority on the commission until at least June 2026, when the term of Democratic Chairman Willie Phillips is set to expire.

“A fully seated, bipartisan FERC provides more opportunity for advancing long-lasting, sensible energy infrastructure policy,'' said West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat-turned-independent who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“When it comes to fairly assessing all interests, five heads are better than one,'' Manchin said Wednesday. “Bringing together five different people, with five different life experiences and perspectives, helps ensure that all affected interests will be heard and fairly considered and assessed'' by the energy commission.

Rosner, See and Chang “are very different people, from very different backgrounds,'' said Manchin, who supported all three nominees. "What matters most is their willingness to work with one another, to consider and assess fairly different interests and points of view, and to put partisan passions aside in favor of the public interest.''

Demonstrators against the Mountain Valley Pipeline protest at Northern Virginia...

Demonstrators against the Mountain Valley Pipeline protest at Northern Virginia Community College where gubernatorial candidates, Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin are debating each other, in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. The hotly contested East Coast natural gas pipeline was given the go-ahead Tuesday, June 11, 2024, to start operating, six years after construction began at more than double its original estimated cost. Credit: AP/Cliff Owen

Rosner, a former FERC staffer, has spent the past two years on Manchin's Democratic staff on the energy committee. See, who serves as solicitor general for the state of West Virginia, argued the state's case challenging a major U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule on power plant pollution before the Supreme Court. Chang, of Massachusetts, is a former undersecretary of energy and climate solutions for the state government.

Manchin said he knows Rosner well: "I have seen firsthand his expert knowledge on energy issues, his fairness, his nonpartisan approach to every problem we’ve had, and his ability to work with both sides on these issues, and he’s done that tremendously.''

Manchin, a political moderate who plays a crucial role on energy issues, called See “a very capable and experienced lawyer” who is "well-qualified to serve on the commission.''

Chang, who now teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School, led energy policy under Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. “I can think of no better preparation for serving on a bipartisan commission than working for a Republican administration in a very blue state,'' Manchin said.

Rosner's nomination was approved, 67-27, while See won approval, 83-12. Chang was confirmed by a vote of 63-33.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia opposed Rosner and See, saying he continued to be unhappy about federal approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a longtime Manchin priority.

“I voted no on rubber-stamping the same old people to FERC,” Kaine said in a statement.

Americans for a Clean Energy Grid, an advocacy group that supports expansion and modernization of the electric grid, hailed the Senate votes, saying FERC "operates most effectively with a full slate of commissioners.''

Christina Hayes, the group's executive director, said she was pleased that all three new commissioners recognize the need to address growing power demand and strengthen grid reliability. “We are also encouraged by all three nominees’ acknowledgement that interregional transmission is one important solution" to protect the grid from extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change, she said.

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