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FERC Enforcement Chief Picked by Obama as Agency Chairman

President Barack Obama will nominate former federal prosecutor Norman Bay, now the head of enforcement at the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to be the agency’s chairman.

Bay would join the five-member agency as a commissioner, and be designated chairman when he joins the board, according to a White House statement yesterday. He would succeed Cheryl LaFleur, the acting chairman who’s also a FERC commissioner.

If confirmed by the Senate, Bay would raise the profile of the agency as an enforcer of market rules. Bay, a former U.S. Attorney in New Mexico, led the FERC division that in the past two years handled investigations of alleged electricity-market manipulation by companies including Barclays Plc, Deutsche Bank AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Congress in 2005 gave the FERC additional police powers after traders for Enron Corp. drove up electricity prices and triggered rolling power failures in California in 2000 and 2001.

The FERC also oversees the U.S. electric grid, the network that distributes power to electric utilities, and ensures that interstate rates for electricity and natural gas are reasonable.

The commission’s leadership was in limbo after Ron Binz, nominated by Obama in June, withdrew his name after losing the support of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republicans. Jon Wellinghoff, the chairman whose term expired last year, left at the end of December.

‘Qualified Members’

“It’s curious that they would elevate him to chairman over existing qualified members,” Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said yesterday in a phone interview. Murkowski is the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that will consider Bay’s nomination.

Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who leads the panel, looks forward to meeting Bay and hearing his views on energy policies, Keith Chu, a committee spokesman, said by phone.

The FERC’s current work includes ensuring a smooth transition as utilities switch more of their power supply to natural gas, due to advances in drilling techniques that have led to a glut of the fuel source.

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