Binz appears doomed in Energy panel with one more Republican opposed — but endgame is unclear

The last undecided Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last night confirmed he will oppose President Obama’s pick to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, dooming the controversial nominee to fail in what at best would be a tied committee vote.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) was previously undecided but will vote “no” on Binz, a spokesman for the senator said. Scott is the 10th Republican on the committee to oppose Binz, joining Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia, who has also vowed to block the nominee, whom he has accused of “demonizing coal and gas.”

What happens next remained unclear.

Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has said he’s working on scheduling a vote on the nomination. And despite rumors circulating on Capitol Hill, the senator’s office yesterday said Binz has not pulled his name from consideration (E&ENews PM, Sept. 25).

The White House has vowed to back Binz, and on rare occasions, Senate leaders have called nominations to a floor vote after receiving no recommendation from a deadlocked committee. That situation occurred in 2005 and 2006 with the controversial nominee for U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, who eventually received a recess appointment but was never confirmed. Whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will move in that direction with Binz is not known.

What is clear is that Binz’s nomination will fail in committee even if he secures a nod of approval from Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a key but undecided member of the panel who could face political backlash for either supporting or opposing the former Colorado regulator.

Landrieu is facing a tough re-election battle next year — and a likely matchup with Rep. Bill Cassidy (R), who yesterday joined his Republican colleagues in the Louisiana House delegation to urge Landrieu and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) to vote against Binz.

On one hand, Landrieu’s re-election could be affected by whether she backs Obama’s pick to lead FERC.

Earlier this month, she said she was “encouraged” by Binz’s support for exporting domestic gas and fast-tracking the permitting of pipelines, a critical issue for Louisiana. Binz during his confirmation hearing said he supports exporting domestic liquefied natural gas, and Louisiana is home to the first facility — the Sabine Pass LNG terminal in Cameron Parish, La. — to receive approval from the Energy Department to export domestic LNG to countries that do not have a free-trade agreement with the United States.

But conservative groups and House Republicans are also trying hard to make Binz an issue that reverberates in Louisiana.

The conservative Institute for Energy Research yesterday released a report that casts the issue squarely on the Pelican State.

“Since Senator Landrieu supports the production and use of natural gas, it is difficult to see how Commissioner Binz and his anti-energy and carbon dioxide-obsessed agenda will receive her support,” the group wrote.

Cassidy and Louisiana Republican Reps. Rodney Alexander, John Fleming and Steve Scalise in the letter to Landrieu and Vitter said Binz is an “activist chairman,” opposed to fossil fuels, who could jeopardize the state’s LNG exports and use of gas.

The House members also noted that Binz has said natural gas will require carbon capture and sequestration beyond 2035, as would coal (Greenwire, Sept. 17).

Vitter last night released a statement vowing to oppose Binz on the floor.

“The Obama administration has been on a witch hunt to shut down hydraulic fracturing, and unfortunately, this nominee fits in with that crowd,” Vitter said, adding that Binz would block gas development. “I would encourage Sen. Landrieu, a member of the Energy Committee, to stand for Louisiana jobs and oppose the nomination, and not let Washington insiders convince her otherwise.”

Despite those claims, Binz at his hearing said he believes natural gas is a “terrific fuel” in the near term, and that supplies in the United States are growing “larger by the minute.” He added that CCS could be developed during the coming decades to make it a “permanently good fuel.”