Obama Defeat on FERC Seen Opening Door for Arkansas Regulator

Among the potential nominees to head the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is Arkansas’ top utility regulator, a woman who served in that state’s attorney general’s office and is slated to lead a national regulatory group next year.

Colette Honorable, along with two current FERC members, was cited as a probable candidate by a person familiar with the process who asked not to be named in discussing sensitive deliberations. President Barack Obama’s first pick, Ron Binz, has failed to win the support of a majority of the Senate committee considering the nomination.

“We’re happy to see who they send us,” said Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as the White House considers replacements for Binz.

Honorable, the chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, and FERC Commissioners John Norris and Cheryl LaFleur, are among potential candidates Republicans would consider, Dillon said. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the party’s top official on the committee, doesn’t have a candidate in mind to lead the FERC and is open to anyone who isn’t as controversial as Binz, he said in a phone interview.

The future leadership of the federal agency, which regulates the interstate transport of electricity and natural gas and polices energy markets for manipulation, has been thrown into chaos due to opposition to Binz, a former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. All 10 Republicans on the 22-member panel, as well as Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, have said they would vote against him.

Mike Beebe

Honorable, appointed to her post by Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat, is a lawyer and first vice president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. The group expects to elect her as its next president in November.

Honorable had been chief of staff to Beebe when he served as the state’s attorney general. She served in the Consumer and Civil Litigation divisions, and as senior assistant attorney general overseeing Medicaid fraud cases.

Honorable declined to comment on her possible FERC nomination, Rob Thormeyer, a spokesman for the state-regulators’ group, said in an e-mail. Norris and LaFleur didn’t immediately respond to messages left at their FERC offices today to discuss their potential candidacies.

White House

The White House has been considering other candidates to lead the FERC since it became clear this week that Binz didn’t have the backing of a majority of the Senate committee.

Manchin told reporters and editors yesterday at a Bloomberg Government breakfast that the White House was considering alternatives to Binz. He said President Barack Obama should have picked Norris in the first place.

Free-market and coal-industry groups have opposed Binz, saying that he favored renewable energy at consumers’ expense while leading the Colorado commission. As chairman of the state panel, Binz backed a Colorado law that allowed utility Xcel Energy Inc. to convert coal plants to natural gas.

Binz, who has the support of clean-energy groups and 12 former FERC commissioners from both parties, has said that he isn’t against coal as a source of power generation.

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