* FERC is “an equal opportunity enforcer”-Wellinghoff
* Recent actions target Barclays, JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - The federal electricity regulator has turned heads with recent manipulation cases against large banks that trade power, but its chairman said on Thursday the agency is not aiming to push Wall Street out of the market.
“We’re an equal opportunity enforcer. We’ll go after anybody who we believe is engaged in an activity that is inappropriate or is in violation of the statute,” Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told reporters.
The agency recently proposed a record $470 million fine on British bank Barclays, and a six-month ban on JPMorgan Chase & Co’s energy trading arm from part of the domestic power market.
It is also seeking a $1.5 million fine from Deutsche Bank AG’s energy trading arm for alleged manipulation.
“We’re not trying to push anybody out of any business. We’re just trying to make sure that the markets are operating fairly and that there is a minimum of fraud and manipulation,” Wellinghoff said.
The banks are fighting the charges and fines. Barclays said last week it was reserving its option to fight the proposed fine in U.S. district court.
“I‘m not surprised that anybody’s going to push back if you’re coming after them and they’re subject to very substantial penalties, which all these entities are,” Wellinghoff said.
The agency has received “a great deal of support” for its action by lawmakers, who gave the agency new enforcement powers in 2005, after the Enron scandal exposed efforts to manipulate markets.
“That’s why Congress gave us that authority, to actually have some teeth in the law to be able to police the industry and police the markets,” Wellinghoff said.
It has taken FERC some time to get analysts and experienced attorneys in place to pull cases together, he said, explaining the sudden spike in the number of enforcement cases.
FERC’s office of enforcement has about 200 staff, up from about 20 during the Enron era. It is led by Norman Bay, a former U.S. district attorney from New Mexico, and other high-profile recruits.
“It’s just a matter of us finally gearing up, having the resources, having the capabilities,” Wellinghoff said.