Senator Questions The Impartiality of FERC Nominee Binz

Senator Lisa Murkowski cast doubt on the ability of President Barack Obama’s nominee for chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to lead the agency in an impartial manner.

“At this point I am not convinced that your views are compatible with FERC’s mission,” Murkowski of Alaska, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told Ron Binz at his confirmation hearing in Washington today. The nominee is a former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission

“FERC is an independent agency,” Murkowski said. “It must remain an independent agency.”

Binz, 64, has been the object of a public-relations battle between free-market and coal-industry groups, who want to block his nomination, and clean-energy organizations, who support him. Critics say he had an improper advisory role in the creation of a 2010 Colorado law that encouraged the conversion of coal plants to natural gas, benefiting power company Xcel Energy Inc. at customers’ expense.

Murkowski said a paid public-relations effort to support Binz’s nomination “should not become the new normal” for an independent regulator.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who leads the Senate panel pre-empted criticism of Binz from the coal community.

“FERC has no authority to regulate coal,” he said in his opening remarks.

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.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.