Democrat Manchin’s Opposition Imperils Obama FERC Nominee

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he’ll vote against President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, throwing the confirmation of Ron Binz into uncertainty.

“Mr. Binz’s actions prove that he prioritizes renewables over reliability,” Manchin, of West Virginia, said yesterday in a statement. “His approach of demonizing coal and gas has increased electricity costs for consumers.”

Manchin’s opposition means Binz won’t have the full backing of Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that’s considering the nomination. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the panel’s top Republican, and Senator Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican, have also said they won’t support Binz’s nomination.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who leads the committee, has not scheduled a vote on Binz, his spokesman, Keith Chu, said in an e-mail.

Benjamin Cole, spokesman for the American Energy Alliance, a coalition of organizations that oppose Binz’s nomination, said Manchin’s lack of support casts doubt on Binz’s confirmation.

If Binz doesn’t have Manchin’s support, he’s unlikely to win the backing of Republicans such as Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, another coal-producing state, Cole said in an interview.

“How does Rob Portman go along with that? I just don’t see it,” Cole said.

‘Smart Thinkers’

Richard Caperton, managing director for energy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based policy group with ties to Democrats, said there are “several Republicans that are very smart thinkers” who haven’t weighed in yet on Binz’s confirmation.

“If the committee members focus solely on the substance, then they should approve the Binz nomination,” Caperton said by phone.

Portman hasn’t indicated how he will vote. Neither has Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat whose support will be crucial for Binz to win confirmation. Democrats hold a two-vote majority on the committee.

Binz, 64, is the former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and has been widely supported by clean-energy advocates. His critics, including free-market organizations and the Colorado Mining Association, have said his actions as a state regulator illustrate that he favors renewable-energy sources over coal. They have also criticized him for saying natural gas is a “dead end” fuel source without improvements in capturing carbon emissions.

“I’m not comfortable with furthering an anti-carbon agenda at the expense of consumers, which is why I plan to oppose Mr. Binz’s nomination,” Heller said in a statement yesterday.

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