President Obama’s nominee to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has run into a stonewall of GOP opposition — aided by a red-state Democrat — putting a normally routine appointment in doubt as the administration gears up for a fight over its ambitious green energy plan.
Ron Binz, Obama’s nominee for FERC chairman, has been unable to shake GOP charges that he’s a foot soldier in the White House’s efforts to sidestep Congress on climate change.
When Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., this week came out against Binz, the former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, it sent warning signals to the White House that the nomination was in jeopardy.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has been reviewing Binz’s nomination. Without Manchin’s support, and assuming a vote by party lines, Binz doesn’t have enough votes to make it out of committee.
“He’s toast,” a senior GOP Senate aide declared on Thursday.
Still, the White House says it’s standing by Binz and expects him to be approved by the upper chamber.
“Mr. Binz has both the experience and qualifications to successfully head the FERC,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
“The hearing this week was an important opportunity for members of the Energy Committee to hear from him directly about his commitment to ensuring affordable energy and not picking energy winners and losers, and we look forward to full Senate confirmation," he added.
Even without support from the Energy committee, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could still bring the nomination to the Senate floor. But he’d need 60 votes for passage, and not a single Republican has voiced support for Binz.
Republicans told the Washington Examiner that Binz did little to help his case when appearing before lawmakers this week.
“It was Binz’s own history,” said Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Energy Committee. “There was a feeling he wasn’t being straight up with members of the committee he met with.”
The Green Tech Action Fund hired VennSquared Communications, a D.C. consulting firm, to push Binz’s cause. It's a level of advocacy usually reserved for high-level Cabinet nominees. And lawmakers bristled over emails made public showing Binz communicating with lobbyists ahead of his Senate hearing.
As for the odds of Binz winning a floor vote, Dillon said he is “not aware of any” Republicans backing the nomination.
Republicans this week grilled Binz over controversial past statements about the role of government regulators and the nation’s transition to renewable energy sources.
Binz told the Edison Foundation in March that natural gas was a “dead end” unless it becomes even cleaner.
FERC, an independent commission of five members, regulates the interstate transmission of natural gas, oil and electricity; handles proposals to build natural gas pipelines; and does licensing for hydropower projects.
The commission, which usually avoids the political limelight, has now caught the attention of GOP leadership.
Facing a tough re-election campaign, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday said Binz has a “proven track record of hostility toward coal and other traditional fossil fuels” and was a “threat to American energy and jobs.”
The Binz nomination became a proxy fight over climate change, with the Obama administration set to unveil new carbon standards for future power plants on Friday.
The new rules will set the stage for tighter regulations on existing power plants, a key measure in Obama’s plan to reduce carbon emissions. The action sidesteps Congress altogether and is certain to face a court challenge.