Binz Withdraws From Consideration For FERC Chairmanship

November 2013, Vol. 68 No. 11

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) tried to convince his members that Binz's thoughts on coal had no relevance to his nomination to chair FERC. Wyden supported Binz even though the White House never asked for his input on the nomination. That was perhaps a bit ham-handed of the Obama administration, who relied on the recommendation of Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate Majority Leader, some of whose former aides assisted environmental groups in lobbying for Binz. That lobbying, plus pressure by coal industry groups on Republicans to oppose Binz, was unprecedented for a FERC nominee, given the agency is as backwater an independent regulatory organization as there is in the federal government.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the committee's top Republican, appeared to be more concerned with Binz's perhaps incomplete disclosure to her in a private meeting about the lobbyists who were supporting his nomination. Their past affiliations with Reid, the Senate's top Democrat, and the alleged funding of the lobbying effort by an environmental group caused Murkowski to question how independent Binz would be as FERC chairman.

Murkowski's concerns about Binz being beholden to Democrats and environmentalists were in part sparked by editorials in the Wall Street Journal which raised the possibility that FERC would become the next EPA, meaning an allegedly out-of-control regulator headed by the "most important and radical Obama nominee you've never heard of." The Journal said Binz "doesn't understand the difference between making laws and enforcing laws." The implication was that Binz would attempt to exceed FERC's mandate by setting environmental policy, and not in a way the Journal would approve of. Murkowski indirectly echoed the Journal's concerns. “Based on my meeting last week with Mr. Binz and my due diligence, I regret that I must conclude that he lacks the temperament and judgment required of the leader of an independent commission and statutory CEO of an agency such as the FERC,” she said. “In addition, his conception of the role of regulation is not what we need at FERC right now. What is needed, now more than ever, is balance and independence.”

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