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Willie Phillips to be the First Black Chairperson of FERC

Phillips to be the First Black Chairperson

Willie Phillips to be the First Black Chairperson of FERC. President Joe Biden’s recent appointment of Willie L. Phillips as the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) marks a historic moment, making Phillips the first Black person to hold this prestigious position.

Having served as acting chair since January 2023, Phillips’ tenure as FERC chairman is set to continue until 2026. FERC, established in 1977, is an independent agency tasked with regulating the interstate transmission and wholesale aspects of natural gas, oil, electricity, and other energy projects.

Phillips, initially appointed as a commissioner in 2021, expressed his gratitude for the appointment, deeming it the greatest honor of his professional career. The significance of the announcement during Black History Month was not lost on him, and he acknowledged its meaningful impact on the community.

In July 2023, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) played a pivotal role in urging President Biden to appoint Phillips as chairman. This call was echoed by other influential groups, including the Black Economic Alliance, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and the American Association of Blacks in Energy.

Phillips extended his thanks to the CBC, particularly highlighting the support of Chairman Steven Horsford and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, emphasizing their instrumental role in his journey to becoming FERC chairman.

“I’m thrilled and I want to thank the president for making me chair of FERC. It is the greatest honor of my professional career,” Willie L. Phillips

The White House, in announcing Phillips’ appointment, underscored his extensive experience as an “experienced regulatory attorney” with over two decades of legal expertise in utility regulation, private practice, and serving as in-house counsel.

The Biden administration expressed its commitment to leveraging FERC, under Phillips’ leadership, to address pressing issues such as the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and work towards achieving a clean electricity grid by 2035.

Phillips, in his new role, emphasized FERC’s primary goal of providing reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy for the nation. He highlighted the commission’s dedication to ensuring the reliability of the American energy grid, citing significant actions taken to enhance grid reliability during his tenure.

Looking ahead, Phillips indicated that in the coming months, FERC will address a groundbreaking 2022 proposed rule aimed at guiding utilities and grid operators in establishing long-term regional planning.

Acknowledging the disproportionate impact of energy and environmental challenges on Black communities, Phillips underscored the importance of prioritizing environmental justice. Sharing his personal connection to this issue, he revealed that he hails from an environmental justice community in Alabama, offering him a firsthand understanding of the challenges faced by those living in the shadows of heavy industry.

Phillips stressed the necessity of planning for the energy grid of the future in a manner that takes into account the voices of all people, particularly those who bear the brunt of environmental injustice.

As the new chairman of FERC, Phillips assumes a pivotal role in shaping the regulatory landscape of the energy sector. His leadership will play a crucial part in navigating complex challenges, including climate change, environmental justice, and grid reliability.

FERC, as a regulatory body, plays a central role in ensuring the integrity and efficiency of the nation’s energy infrastructure. Phillips’ legal expertise and regulatory background position him well to guide the commission through the evolving landscape of energy policy, technological advancements, and the imperative to address environmental concerns.


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Written by Aliyah Collins