Dems continue push for McNamee recusal

Source: Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, December 14, 2018

Fresh off a partisan confirmation vote, newly sworn-in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Bernard McNamee is facing more calls for his recusal from potential policies to aid struggling coal and nuclear power plants that may appear before the panel.

A group of 17 Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, wrote McNamee yesterday requesting he recuse himself from those considerations following his work with the Department of Energy’s failed policy proposal to institute a market tariff to reward plant “resilience.”

FERC unanimously rejected that proposal in January. Other strategies to help coal and nuclear plants appeared to have stalled over cost concerns.

“We are concerned about positions you have taken, both while serving as the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Deputy General Counsel for Energy Policy and in the private sector,” the senators wrote, adding, “These positions and statements suggest a lack of independence and an inappropriate predisposition on a number of topics likely to be involved in proceedings that will come before you in your new role as a FERC Commissioner.”

In addition to the request for recusal, the senators pushed McNamee to disclose by Jan. 9 the ethics guidance he sought from FERC officials as to which matters he could and could not participate in.

McNamee avoided calls for his recusal during his confirmation hearing, arguing he needed to consult with ethics experts before making final commitments.

Although the senators pose tough demands on the new commissioner, there does not appear to be much recourse for the lawmakers if he does not recuse himself.

McNamee already earned the support of every Republican during his floor vote last week. McNamee officially joined FERC on Tuesday.

House Democrats may prove more successful in conducting oversight as they take over control of the Energy and Commerce Committee next Congress, although leaders have not hinted that is a priority for the panel.

McNamee secured confirmation last week on a 50-49 party-line vote after he narrowly moved through a rocky confirmation process that called into question how impartial he could be following his work promoting fossil fuel use.

Those questions reached a fever pitch after a video emerged last month showing McNamee giving a speech before the Texas Public Policy Foundation in February, in which he disparaged the use of renewable energy and environmental group advocacy campaigns.

McNamee has said he will approach his decisions on the commission as “fuel-neutral.” Republicans argued during floor debate last week that they would take him at his word.

FERC declined to comment.

Not included among the Democrats signing the letter is the new ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin backed off his committee support of McNamee during floor consideration after determining the FERC nominee did not take seriously the challenges of addressing climate change.