Clean energy group taps PR firm to advocate for Binz amid mounting attacks

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Clean energy advocates have hired a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm to advocate for President Obama’s pick to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and thwart increasing attacks from Colorado’s coal industry and free market groups.

Green Tech Action Fund, a San Francisco group that describes itself as a nonpartisan grant-making organization, has hired VennSquared Communications to advocate for Ron Binz as the next chairman of FERC.

If confirmed by the Senate, Binz would have a five-year term and replace Jon Wellinghoff at the helm of the commission, which regulates the electric grid, gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas export terminals and hydroelectric projects.

Sarah Elliott, senior vice president of VennSquared, said in a statement that the action fund believes Binz’s regulatory approach when he chaired the Colorado Public Utilities Commission from 2007 to 2011 was “sound” and that the group supports his nomination.

Binz was not aware that the group had hired the firm and was not involved in selecting VennSquared, she added.

“Our support includes helping to make sure accurate information about Ron and his record are in the media as the Senate considers this important nomination,” Elliott said.

Clean energy advocates are ramping up their efforts amid increasing criticism from Colorado’s coal industry, Denver-based libertarian think tank Independence Institute and Washington, D.C., think tank American Tradition Institute, which have accused Binz of promoting the Obama administration’s “war on coal” (E&ENews PM, July 16).

Those groups have pointed to Binz’s work on Colorado’s contentious “Clean Air, Clean Jobs” legislation while leading the Colorado PUC, an effort that prompted Xcel Energy Inc. to shutter coal plants in the Denver area on then-Gov. Bill Ritter’s (D) watch.

Just how much muscle the Green Tech Action Fund has is unclear.

The group was most recently involved in pushing a proposal on Michigan’s state ballot that would have raised the state’s renewable energy standard to 25 percent by 2025. The proposal, which has since failed, pitted utilities, chambers of commerce and their allies against environmentalists, public health advocates, faith groups and national organizations like the action fund (ClimateWire, Oct. 12, 2012).

It also remains unclear how the groups’ messaging wars will play out on Capitol Hill and at Binz’s hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will likely take place after the August break.

Binz has secured the support of a number of large utilities and Democrats, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has vowed to “carefully consider” his qualifications.

“Binz has been a public figure since 1984, so there’s plenty of material to review,” Robert Dillon, a spokesman for the senator, said in a statement. “The chairman of FERC must have a record of balance, fairness and judicial temperament. And he must be willing to recognize and accept the commission’s distinct role.”