Willie Phillips was appointed acting chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in January. (Photo from FERC)
Nevada had a summer that showed the true severity of extreme weather events, ranging from heat waves to tropical storms that showcased how worsening severe weather knows no bounds. Though the White House is proactive in confronting these challenges head on, the bulk of regulatory rulemaking to address this will come from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and its Acting Chairman, Willie Phillips.
FERC is a small, five commissioner independent agency within the U.S. Department of Energy that’s responsible for overseeing the country’s electric and natural gas industries and regulating the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil, including the connection of clean energy projects to the power grid. Phillips has only led the agency since January, when he was appointed by President Joe Biden to serve as Acting Chairman – a decision that put an African American person in charge of the agency for the first time in its history.
In his time thus far, his impact cannot be overstated. He’s shown a commitment to environmental justice and equity, ushered in new rules that will help to speed up the connection of renewable energy projects to the power grid, and taken steps to boost grid readiness to combat severe weather.
Phillips has proven that he is the right person to lead this ever-important agency into the future, and it’s time that this work was rewarded. Phillips must be nominated by President Joe Biden to become the permanent chairman of FERC through the end of his term in June 2026.
Outside of what he has accomplished over the last several months, Phillips further plans for his time at the agency, his wealth of experience, and his breadth of support from Congress and third-party groups make him a natural pick to lead the agency in the coming years. Having been appointed as acting chairman in January 2023, Phillips immediately identified priority areas, which include environmental justice, equity, reliability, and transmission.
Across Nevada, the first of those action items — environmental justice — is a chief concern. As a state with a large minority population, environmental justice and equity must be part of the equation for our nation’s energy policy. Our work at the Faith Organizing Alliance has sought to bring that focus to the state level. Phillips is doing the equally important work of ensuring that environmental justice and equity are front of mind with our national policy.
Earlier this year, he hosted an environmental justice and equity roundtable, bringing together various stakeholders to discuss how to better address environmental justice in decision-making. He’s also overseen the agency hiring new Senior Counsel for Environmental Justice and Equity, and led bipartisan efforts requiring new projects to specify plans for protecting marginalized communities from air pollution effects.
Outside of his qualifying work on environmental justice and equity, he’s gained useful knowledge from his experience at various levels of government and the private sector. His path to FERC includes both chairing the District of Columbia Public Service Commission (DCPSC) and working as assistant general counsel for the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. He’s well versed in the energy and regulatory sector and among the most experienced to hold the title of chairman.
Beyond that, Phillips represents a pick that many, both within government as well as external stakeholders, can support. He garnered unanimous support on the Senate floor for his nomination to FERC; his work at the agency has earned praise from the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, including Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) and ranking member John Barrasso (R-WY); and his rulemaking has earned support from various outside groups in the energy sector.
Additionally, groups like the Congressional Black Caucus, the Black Economic Alliance, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and the American Association of Blacks in Energy have all backed his tenure. The Congressional Black Caucus has even recently taken to urging President Biden to nominate him as permanent chair.
Phillips has taken charge of FERC at a turning point in our nation’s history, and he has delivered. From his promises on environmental justice to his work on the energy grid, the change he is enacting will be long lasting. President Biden just needs to ensure that he can continue to carry out this work. The next move is clear — it’s time to nominate Phillips as permanent FERC chairman.
This story was republished from the Alaska Beacon’s sibling outlet, Nevada Current, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected].
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.