New Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee vowed Wednesday to protect the independent body from political influence as it considers how to handle the growing number of retirements of coal and nuclear plants.

“We should be separate and apart from any political influence on either side," Chatterjee said. “I intend to do everything in my power."

"I have made very clear to all of the staff at the agency that the agency’s independence from political influence will continue,” Chatterjee, a sitting GOP commissioner, told reporters at a briefing one week after the White House designated him chairman, replacing Kevin McIntyre, a fellow Republican who is suffering from health issues.

Chatterjee sought to rebut critics who fear, because of his political background representing a coal-friendly state, that he may be more sympathetic to the Trump administration’s interest in saving uneconomic coal and nuclear plants by subsidizing their continued existence.

“When I first came to the commission last fall, coming from a partisan legislative role were I worked on behalf of my boss to fight against retirement of coal, I initially was sympathetic to Secretary Perry’s proposal," Chatterjee said. "As I evolved into the role, I recognized that is not part of our record, that does not factor in the statute that governs us."

Chatterjee, a former staffer for Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., previously served as FERC chairman on an interim basis before McIntyre was confirmed by the Senate last November.

McIntyre plans to remain on FERC as a regular commissioner. Chatterjee stressed continuity, and loyalty to McIntyre.

"He so emphasized the importance of the rule of law," Chatterjee said of McIntyre. "He could not be more strenuous in saying politics cannot be allowed to interfere with work of the commission. I hope to lead in the same way he did."

FERC in January voted unanimously to reject a proposal from Energy Secretary Rick Perry to provide special payments to struggling coal and nuclear plants in the name of resilience and reliability, saying the grid faces no immediate risk without them.

McIntyre and Chatterjee both opposed the Perry plan.

FERC, in rejecting Perry’s plan, directed regional transmission operators to submit information on resilience challenges in their markets. The commission is reviewing those responses and could act on its own. President Trump has repeatedly pressed for action to save coal and nuclear plants, but the White House has reportedly stalled over an effort to use emergency executive authority.

Any potential action would likely come through FERC.

Chatterjee said he would follow the “rule of law” on any decision on the matter and take action, or no action if the evidence does not support it, based on facts.

“This won't be a politically influenced decision,” he said. "My actions will be taken by the record, facts, and the rule of law."

The new FERC chairman also said he would not veer from the commission's other priorities.

FERC is currently reviewing its 1999 policy for approving pipeline projects, aiming to update it to reflect how to best manage the transport of bountiful shale natural gas to market, while balancing environmental and climate change concerns. It is under pressure to more quickly approve liquified natural gas export projects to clear a backlog. And it is considering ways to bolster the cybersecurity of pipelines.

"Kevin demonstrated tremendous leadership on these matters and I intend to build on them," Chatterjee said.