Who does Joel L. Saltzman work for?

It wouldn't seem hard to find out. He can be found almost any day at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where he is counsel to the subcommittee on energy regulation.

But he isn't on the Senate payroll.

He's on the payroll of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, one of the agencies the subcommittee is responsible for overseeing.

This arrangement has been in place for three years without attracting much attention. But in the last few weeks, some critics of FERC and some opponents of a major natural gas pipeline project that FERC is considering have been pointing it out as a way of discrediting a regulatory process that apparently is not going their way.

The scrutiny of Saltzman's role is one small piece of a furious regulatory battle over the proposed Iroquois Natural Gas pipeline -- a 369-mile, $582.6 million project to transport Canadian natural gas from the St. Lawrence River to southern New York and New England. The FERC is expected to rule July 11 on whether to permit it.

Saltzman was one of two Energy Committee staff members who prepared a briefing paper for senators before a May 3 hearing about FERC's handling of the Iroquois case. Last week he was at a seaside resort on Cape Cod with -- and as a guest of -- executives of companies in the consortium that wants to build the pipeline.

Domestic natural gas producers, New England fuel oil dealers and some conservation groups oppose the Iroquois project. The May 3 hearing did not cover some questions about FERC that they wanted to raise, and none of them was invited to the Cape Cod session. Through leaks to the trade press, rather than in direct charges, the opponents of the project have raised suggestions that the regulatory process is tainted.

Saltzman did not return phone calls. Both Daryl H. Owen, the Energy Committee's staff director, and FERC Chairman Martin Allday said Saltzman's dual role was appropriate and helpful.

"I would think it would be very helpful over there {in the committee} to understand FERC and to know about it," Allday told reporters. "It would be better than talking to me. . . . It seems to me that communications is what is needed between Congress and the agencies."

"Joel is a detailed employee, of which there are many all over Capitol Hill," Owen said.

He said Saltzman has often been critical of FERC -- a statement confirmed by some consumer-oriented energy analysts who monitor the committee's work -- and he said that "Joel's loyalties have been 100 percent dedicated to this committee."

As for the Cape Cod meeting, Owen said, "it's not inappropriate at all for us to send our experts up there. Maybe there's more that we can learn." He said the Iroquois case "is very complicated. It gets into the U.S.-Canada free trade agreement, questions of pipeline ratemaking. It's not inapppropriate. We do that all the time. All the committees encourage their staffs to do it."

According to Owen, it was Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), not known as a warm friend of the oil and gas industry, who asked that Saltzman work for the subcommittee. Metzenbaum was chairman of the subcommittee until two weeks ago. The new chairman, Sen. Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.) is not obliged to continue the arrangement.