Skip to comments.Joe Manchin's break on FERC nominee could sink Obama’s pick
Posted on 09/19/2013 7:20:49 PM PDT by Qbert
Sen. Joe Manchin broke ranks with the Democrats on Wednesday, saying he would vote against President Barack Obamas pick to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Ron Binz, a move that could sink the nomination.
The surprise decision by the coal-state Democrat is the latest twist in power struggle over the chairmanship of the agency that typically draws attention only from power sector and pipeline wonks. But the Binz nomination has recently jumped to the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal as conservatives attacked a regulator they view as hostile to fossil fuels.
Manchins move crimps the Democrats 12-10 vote advantage on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, whose approval is needed to send the Binz nomination to the Senate floor.
As a former executive, I truly believe that the president should have the utmost discretion when assembling his team; however, after my conversations with Mr. Binz, I respectfully cannot support his appointment as FERC chairman, the West Virginia Democrat and former governor said in a statement.
Manchin first announced his decision on a conference call with West Virginia reporters Wednesday afternoon, including the Charleston Daily Mail, which reported the discussion. His office later confirmed the account.
In announcing that Binz was unacceptable, Manchin said his concerns stemmed from Binzs record as chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
For months, Binzs critics have labeled him anti-coal because of his role in advising then-Gov. Bill Ritters office on a Colorado energy law that led to the closure of some coal-fired power plants a sensitive issue for a senator who hails from coal country.
After questioning Mr. Binz in yesterdays energy committee hearing, it is clear that we have completely different views on how to effectively invest in Americas energy future, Manchin said, adding that he believed Binz would favor renewables over coal and gas.
Both critics and supporters of Binz thought it would be a long shot for Manchin to break with his party over a nomination on his own, especially one as obscure as FERC chairman.
Now all eyes are on another fossil-fuel state Democrat on the energy panel, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who has not yet stated her position. She only briefly attended Binzs Tuesday hearing but didnt stay for questioning. Her office did not reply to requests for comment.
In a tie 11-11 vote, where the other Democrats hold the line, Binzs bid could fail or at least stall out until at least one senator switches votes a scenario that appears to be playing out. Binz could also choose to withdraw.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top Republican on the energy committee and a moderate on many issues, announced her opposition to Binz during his Tuesday morning confirmation hearing. Meanwhile, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), another member of the energy committee, said Wednesday that he would also vote against Binz.
Reaction to Manchins move among Binz supporters elicited more sadness than shock.
In this political environment, where special interests trump public interests every day, no, I guess Im not surprised, former FERC Commissioner Nora Mead Brownell, a Republican, told POLITICO. Im sad because it isnt a good thing, whether you like Binz or not.
Its all in that theme of gotcha politics, she added.
Earlier this summer, Brownell organized 11 other former FERC commissioners to publicly defend Binz and the agency against the criticism on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.
Adding to the drama around the nomination was a report last week in a power industry publication, TransmissionHub, that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid squelched the chances for another potential nominee for FERC chairman who the majority leader believed was too pro-coal.
The politically charged atmosphere around Binzs nomination may have broader implications for the energy companies that have a financial stake in FERC remaining nonpartisan, Brownell said. FERC, an independent regulator, has jurisdiction over much of the backbone of the energy world, including interstate electric transmission and natural gas pipelines.
Im disappointed that Sen. Manchin is standing in the way of a fully functioning FERC, making it harder for the commission to meet its central mandate of protecting consumers and ensuring fair competition in energy markets, said Richard Caperton, managing director of energy programs at the liberal Center for American Progress.
Yesterdays hearing showed that Binz is completely qualified to chair FERC and is committed to treating all energy sources fairly, he said.
When Manchin spoke near the end Binzs hearing, he said that the Obama administrations energy policies were beating the living crap out of West Virginia and that he was skeptical of Binz but had not yet committed to a position on his nomination.
Outgoing FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoffs term expired this June, but commission members are allowed to stay in place until the end of the congressional session. That would be sometime in December. If Wellinghoff slips off the commission before a replacement is confirmed, FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur is the most likely candidate to be named agency chairwoman, at least temporarily.
The tension over Binz had already reached a level not seen for a FERC nomination before Binz testified Tuesday: the involvement of conservative groups, a PR firm hired by environmentalists to push Binzs nomination through the Senate, and the alleged heavy-handed involvement of Reid early in the process.
What remains to be seen is whether a White House that has already had to fight tooth and nail for other second-term nominees, such as Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon and Gina McCarthy at EPA, can or wants to push hard for a spot at an obscure independent regulator.
Binz outright lied to the committee:
Ron Binz looked Sen. Joe Manchin in the eye Tuesday at a committee hearing on his nomination to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and brazenly rewrote history.
“I approved the largest coal plant that was ever built in Colorado,” he told the West Virginia Democrat.
Did Binz manage this feat through telepathy? Were other arcane arts at play?
Binz was not a member of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in 2004 when it approved the Comanche 3 power plant. He wasn’t appointed as chairman until 2007, after construction had begun.
He lied even more about other things...
Liars fit right in with BO and his minions. In fact, it’s probably a requirement.
Awww just shut the hell up Joe ya obammy butt boy.
You can lie all you care to pal but when push comes to shove you will continue being very far up this Marxist punks ass.
Soooo F you joe manchin.
Oh yeah and as for the coal folks in W. Virginia that voted for him, good luck with having to vote democrat because momma and daddy always voted democrat.
Enjoy your unemployment.
Manchin is waiting a payoff.