Midnight Watch: Executive Actions

Changing of FERC Chairmanship

On November 5, President Trump named James Danly as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). He replaces Neil Chatterjee, who will remain on FERC as a commissioner. The president may name a new chairman from the sitting commissioners at any time. Although both Danly and Chatterjee are Republicans appointed by Trump to FERC, Chatterjee has taken some steps as chair that may be seen as too friendly to cleaner technologies, such as finalizing Order 2222, which aims to remove barriers to the participation of distributed energy resource aggregators in wholesale electricity markets. He also recently convened a technical conference to discuss carbon pricing in organized wholesale markets, and FERC issued a proposed policy statement on the same topic shortly thereafter. Danly dissented from Order 2222 and the proposed policy statement. As Chairman, Danly will still have a single vote, but he will also be able to guide the path of the agency.

Removal of U.S. Global Change Research Program Director

On November 6, the White House removed climate scientist Michael Kuperberg from his leadership post at the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), where he was expected to oversee development of the Fifth National Climate Assessment, slated for finalization in 2023. Mr. Kuperberg, who led USGCRP through the development of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, has been directed by the administration to return to his previous position as a scientist at the Energy Department. USGCRP is responsible for coordinating efforts by 13 federal agencies to produce a National Climate Assessment every four years, as mandated by Congress.

The following week, the Trump administration installed David Legates, a scientist who has downplayed the harms of climate change, to oversee USGCRP. The administration also placed a second official, Ryan Maue — who holds similarly questionable views on climate — into a USGCRP oversight role.

🔴NEW DEVELOPMENT: Legates and Maue were removed from their positions at USGCRP in mid-January.

Fracking Memorandum

In October 2020, President Trump issued a memorandum on hydraulic fracturing. The memorandum "directs certain officials to assess the potential effects of efforts to ban or restrict" fracking and "other innovative technologies." The memorandum directed the Energy Department to submit two different reports to the president by January 9 on the economic impacts and national security impacts of prohibiting or restricting the use of fracking.

Weakening of Civil Servant Protections

In October 2020, President Trump issued an executive order that would create a new policymaking classification of federal employees that would no longer receive civil service protections and could be fired as at-will employees. Concerns have been expressed that political appointees at federal agencies could then fire reclassified employees simply because they are perceived as insufficiently loyal to the president. The executive order requires federal agencies to complete a preliminary review of their workforces within 90 days of the issuance of the order — January 19, 2021 — to determine which employees should be reclassified.

🔴NEW DEVELOPMENT: With the exception of the White House Office of Management and Budget, federal agencies largely failed to implement the executive order before the change in administrations.