President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dropped out after opposition from Republicans and a key Democrat concerned he would support renewable energy at the expense of coal all but doomed his nomination.
Ron Binz, a former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, said he won’t seek the FERC chairmanship because he didn’t have the support of a majority of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which was considering his nomination.
“Last evening I asked the President that my name be withdrawn from further consideration as his nominee” to the FERC, Binz said today in a statement. “I am withdrawing so that the President can move forward with another nominee, allowing the FERC to continue its important work with a full complement of commissioners.”
While the White House hasn’t named a replacement, possible candidates to head the FERC now include Colette Honorable, chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, and FERC commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, a former executive vice president of National Grid Plc’s U.S. subsidiary, according to industry officials that conduct business with the five-member commission.
“The administration must now nominate a thoughtful leader who doesn’t have an anti-energy-job agenda. If they don’t, they can expect another fight,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in an e-mail.
Binz said today in a phone interview that it’s a “really bad sign” that the FERC got swept up into politics. “What happened to me is unfortunately not unusual in DC politics,” he said. It’s unusual that the FERC, an independent agency, got caught in a political fight, Binz said.
“We need agencies like the FERC to help us get to a better place on energy,” said Binz, who plans plans to return to his consulting practice in Denver.
Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, said on Sept. 25 he would vote against Binz, virtually ensuring that the nominee wouldn’t have the backing of a majority of the Senate committee. The other nine Republicans on the 22-person panel already said they would oppose the nomination. Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, also planned to vote against Binz.
Republicans led by Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the party’s top member on the committee, lined up against Binz after his Sept. 17 confirmation hearing before the panel. Murkowski told Binz at the hearing she was concerned he wasn’t forthcoming about the extent of his support from lobbyists and public-relations officials.
Others, including Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, and Manchin said Binz displayed a bias toward renewable fuels at the expense of coal as head of the Colorado regulatory authority. Without Manchin’s support, Binz needed the backing of at least one Republican on the Senate committee.
Binz said he believes the coal industry was primarily responsible for ending his nomination. “It’s really too bad that the industry is spending it’s money opposing presidential nominees instead of putting it into research” for carbon capture and other technologies, he said.
Binz said that his positions on energy were “repeatedly twisted and misrepresented.”
Binz, who had the support of clean-energy groups and 12 former FERC commissioners from both parties, said at his confirmation hearing that he was open about the support he had received to help prepare for his nomination. He also said he wasn’t against coal and supported the use of natural gas as a fuel source.
“We are grateful for Ron’s willingness to serve and regret that qualified public servants continue to get obstructed by the Senate confirmation process,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in response to a request for comment.
Schultz said he wouldn’t speculate on any future nominee.