Attorneys general seek McNamee’s recusal on grid resilience

Source: Rod Kuckro, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A coalition of attorneys general from nine states and the District of Columbia yesterday asked Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Bernard McNamee to recuse himself from proceedings evaluating the resilience of the country’s regional bulk power systems.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) led the comments to FERC, arguing in an announcement that McNamee’s outspoken support of fossil fuels and antipathy toward renewables “show that he cannot impartially evaluate the resiliency needs of our power system.”

A group of 17 Democratic senators in December also asked McNamee to recuse himself from such proceedings. Their request was followed a week later by one from four clean energy groups.

In a letter to the senators, McNamee was noncommittal, saying he would seek the guidance of FERC’s ethics officer on such questions (Greenwire, Jan. 9).

“As I stated in my confirmation hearing, I pledge to be a fair, objective and impartial arbiter in the cases and issues that will come before me as a Commissioner, and my decisions will be based on the law and the facts, not politics,” McNamee wrote.

The request from the attorneys general raises the recusal issue to another level, as they would have clear standing and the legal muscle to challenge McNamee’s failure to recuse as part of a broader legal argument on FERC action arising out of its resilience proceeding.

McNamee previously served as deputy general counsel for the Department of Energy under Secretary Rick Perry and was involved in the 2017 proposal that FERC change its rules to effectively value the fuel-secure nature of coal and nuclear power plants.

FERC unanimously rejected the so-called grid resilience rule in January 2018 and instituted a new, currently active proceeding on grid resilience.

In its comments to FERC, the attorneys general argued that McNamee’s record of promoting the retention of “uneconomic, highly-polluting” power plants shows a clear bias that prevents him from fairly participating in the commission’s proceeding to evaluate the resilience of the country’s power grid.

“A reasonable observer informed of Commissioner McNamee’s work history and prior statements would conclude that he has already determined that additional Commission action to subsidize uneconomic and polluting fossil fuel resources is appropriate and necessary for the resilience of the bulk power system,” the letter said.

“This objective appearance of prejudgment requires Commissioner McNamee to recuse himself from participation” in FERC resilience discussions, the letter added.

In October 2017, Healey led a coalition of states arguing that DOE’s proposed coal bailout would jeopardize the nation’s competitive markets for wholesale electric power and would add billions of dollars to customers’ bills.

Joining Healey yesterday were the attorneys general of California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Vermont and the District of Columbia.