FERC Nominee Binz in JeopardyBy Cathy Cash | ECT Staff Writer Published: September 23rd, 2013
The nomination of Ron Binz to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission appeared in jeopardy after a key senator came out against the former state regulator for his stance on renewable energy and requirements for carbon capture on coal and gas units.
“Based on Mr. Binz’s record in Colorado, I have grave concerns about how he would regulate our energy sector as the next chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in a statement Sept. 18, a day after Binz appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“Mr. Binz’s actions prove that he prioritizes renewables over reliability. His approach of demonizing coal and gas has increased electricity costs for consumers. I believe Mr. Binz’s record is unacceptable for a FERC chairman,” Manchin said.
Manchin’s opposition deadlocks a vote before the committee’s 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans at this time. Should a Republican abstain or support Binz, the nomination would advance to the full Senate, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has pledged to defeat it.
President Obama nominated Binz to succeed Jon Wellinghoff whose term on the commission has expired.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the senior Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, at the close of the Sept. 17 committee hearing told Binz said she would “reluctantly” be unable to support his nomination.
Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., however, underscored that Binz as head of FERC could not slam coal.
“FERC has no authority to regulate coal,” said Wyden. “Most importantly, it has no authority to impose unjust or unreasonable rates or impose discriminatory or preferential charges on coal or coal-generated electricity—that means no backdoor taxes on coal or coal-generated electricity.”
For his part, Binz, a former chairman of Colorado Public Utilities Commission, said he would do a “stem to stern review” of the energy markets and ensure that FERC moves quickly on infrastructure projects. Although he admitted to favoring natural gas under questioning from the senators, Binz said FERC “does not take a position on fuels.”
Manchin described the importance of coal in the nation’s energy mix and questioned Binz’s position regarding Environmental Protection Agency rules to slash coal plant emissions.
Binz responded that he believed it was “a very important duty of FERC to speak truthfully and directly to the EPA about the reliability impacts” of its emission rules. “It is something FERC must do to fulfill its role with regard to reliability.”