White House Renews Support for Energy-Panel Nominee Ron Binz

The White House said it stands by President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who is facing an uphill battle for confirmation in the Senate.

The administration “absolutely” supports nominee Ron Binz, Josh Earnest, deputy White House press secretary, told reporters traveling with Obama to a speech in Missouri today.

Earnest called Binz, a former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, a “highly qualified nominee” and said the White House will work with Congress to make sure he’s confirmed.

Binz needs the support of both Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, and Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, to win the backing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Democrats hold a two-vote majority. Nine of the 10 Republicans on the panel and Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, have said they’ll vote against the nominee.

A “no” vote from either Scott or Landrieu would make it mathematically impossible for Binz to win the panel’s support, since the 22-member committee can’t recommend a nominee to the full Senate in the event of a tie.

Landrieu has not indicated how she will vote, Erin Donar, a spokeswoman for the senator said yesterday. Scott hasn’t said how he will vote.

Scott told a reporter for Politico yesterday that FERC needs “neutral arbiters.” Binz “doesn’t [see] that as his role,” Greg Blair, the senator’s spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Republican Opposition

Republicans lined up against Binz this week after his Sept. 17 confirmation hearing before the Senate committee. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the panel’s top Republican, 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 Rob Portman of Ohio and Dean Heller of Nevada, have said they’re concerned that he favors certain types of electricity sources.

As Colorado’s top utility regulator from 2007 to 2011, Binz helped implement former Governor Bill Ritter’s plan to reduce air pollution in the state, which involved converting some Xcel Energy Inc. coal plants to natural gas. While clean-energy advocates have supported Binz, 64, free-market and coal-industry groups have said he favors renewable energy at consumers’ expense.

Even if the committee recommends his nomination, Binz faces a challenge before the full Senate.

“His nomination is yet another threat to American energy and jobs and I will work to defeat it,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said yesterday in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has said he strongly supports Binz.

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