BISMARCK, N.D. — Public Service Commission Chairman Tony Clark, who is leaving office at year's end, end, is being considered for a spot on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a spokesman for North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven said.
The bipartisan, five-member commission needs a GOP replacement for Marc Spitzer, a Republican and former Arizona state regulator. He left the panel Dec. 14.
By law, the FERC cannot have more than three Republican or Democratic members. With Spitzer's departure, it now has one Republican, Philip Moeller, and three Democrats — Cheryl LaFleur, John Norris and its chairman, Jon Wellinghoff.
Clark declined comment on his possible appointment, while calling the FERC "the top energy regulatory commission in the country."
"It does very, very important work with regard to a lot of things that are very important to all electricity consumers," Clark said.
A Clark appointment would introduce another odd circumstance into the politically touchy operations of North Dakota's Public Service Commission.
The panel's other two commissioners, Republicans Brian Kalk and Kevin Cramer, are among five candidates competing for the GOP endorsement to run for the U.S. House.
Should Clark resign to accept a FERC appointment before his term ends Dec. 31, neither of the two candidates who are campaigning for his job could be appointed to replace him, unless North Dakota voters agree in June to a proposal to change the state constitution.
The FERC regulates interstate gas and oil pipelines, electric transmission lines, sales of natural gas and wholesale electric power, and some electric utility mergers and transactions. It oversees the reliability of the nation's electric transmission grid.
The president nominates commission members, who must be confirmed by the Senate to join the panel. A White House spokesman, Clark Stevens, said Friday in an email that President Barack Obama had not yet announced his choice.
Don Canton, a spokesman for Hoeven, said the Republican senator has been lobbying the Senate's minority leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to support Clark. McConnell decides who to recommend to President Barack Obama as the nominee, Canton said.
Hoeven " thinks (Clark) should get the job. He thinks he's the most qualified for the job," Canton said.
A spokesman for McConnell, Don Stewart, said the senator does not comment on nominations until they are made public.
Clark, 40, is finishing his second six-year term Dec. 31 on the Public Service Commission, to which he was elected in 2000. He is a former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, which represents state regulators across the country.
North Dakota's commission regulates electric and gas utilities, pipelines, coal mining, grain storage, weights and measures and auctioneers. North Dakota's booming energy industry has kept the agency busy in recent years with siting new wind energy projects, oil and gas pipelines, and electric transmission lines.
Two Republican state lawmakers, Sen. Randy Christmann, R-Hazen, the Senate's assistant majority leader, and Rep. Blair Thoreson, R-Fargo, are competing for the GOP endorsement to run for the Public Service Commission seat that Clark is leaving. Democrats do not yet have an announced candidate.
Should Clark land a FERC appointment, and resign his state job to take it, the North Dakota Constitution bars Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple from appointing Christmann or Thoreson to succeed him.
The constitution says North Dakota lawmakers may not accept a full-time state appointment if the job's pay was increased during their legislative term.
During the 2011 session, lawmakers approved 3 percent annual pay rises for state workers and elected officials. North Dakota's three public service commissioners are paid $92,826 annually, and their salaries will increase to $95,611 on July 1.
Christmann or Thoreson would be eligible for an appointment if voters approve Measure 1, a proposed state constitutional amendment, during the June 12 primary election. The change would allow North Dakota lawmakers to take state appointments, as long as the Legislature did not give the job a greater pay raise than was granted to state workers generally.
The Legislature voted last year to put the amendment on the ballot. It was sponsored by three lawmakers: Christmann, Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, and Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House Republican majority leader.