Odds grow longer for Obama’s nominee to energy commission

Opposition to President Barack Obama’s choice to head the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission grew as Republicans led by Sen. Mitch McConnell said they’ll vote against Ron Binz’s confirmation.

“His nomination is yet another threat to American energy and jobs and I will work to defeat it,” McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate minority leader, said in a statement Thursday.

Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee joined fellow Republican senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Dean Heller of Nevada and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia in saying they won’t support Binz, a former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming, Jeff Flake of Arizona, John Hoeven of North Dakota and James Risch of Idaho — also Republicans — will vote against the nominee, according to spokesmen for each. All are members of the 22-member Energy and Natural Resources Committee that held a hearing this week on Binz’s nomination.

With Democrats holding a two-vote majority on the committee, and Manchin opposed, Binz’s path to approval rests with the vote of Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, and Republicans such as Tim Scott of South Carolina. The two have not said how they will vote.

Coal-industry and free-market groups have said Binz, 64, promoted renewable energy over coal in Colorado at consumers’ expense, while clean-energy advocates have supported him.

Portman echoed comments by Murkowski, the top Republican on the energy panel, who said during Binz’s Sept. 17 confirmation hearing she was concerned that that Binz hadn’t revealed the extent of his support from lobbyists and public-relations groups.

Binz “has been far from forthcoming in his dealings with the Energy Committee, and his past statements and background demonstrate an aggressive bias toward certain types of energy generation,” Portman said Friday in a statement.

Binz declined to comment on the senators’ comments today. At his hearing, he said he was not anti-coal.

“What we did in Colorado was to increase the diversity and the balance” of the fuel mix in the state, he said. Binz said he provided the committee with e-mails showing those who were helping him prepare for his confirmation hearings.

Keith Chu, spokesman for Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, said the panel is working on scheduling a vote.

Wyden “respects other members’ views on this,” Chu said today in an e-mailed statement. “However he continues to feel Mr. Binz’s years of service in Colorado and views on respecting FERC’s role make him well-qualified to serve on the commission.”

McConnell said Binz was “handpicked” by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to be “another foot soldier in his and this administration’s war on coal.”
Reid Thursday said he strongly supports the former Colorado regulator. “Mr. Binz is the type of common-sense energy regulator that should be approved on a bipartisan basis and his nomination is supported across party lines from people who know FERC better than anyone,” Reid said in an e-mailed statement.
Manchin said in a statement Wednesday that Binz’s “approach of demonizing coal and gas has incre
ased electricity costs for consumers.”

Richard Caperton, managing director for energy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based policy group with ties to Democrats, said “If the committee members focus solely on the substance, then they should approve the Binz nomination.”

The FERC’s responsibilities include overseeing the reliability of the nation’s electric grid, regulating interstate transport of natural gas and reviewing electric utility mergers. Congress in 2005 expanded the agency’s enforcement power to help it police energy markets.

This year alone, FERC has sought more than $900 million in penalties and settlements from banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Barclays Plc on charges of market manipulation.