Emails show Binz asking BP execs for help with FERC confirmation

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The nominee for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman reached out to executives at oil giant BP PLC for help with the confirmation process, according to emails released yesterday by a conservative think tank opposing his nomination.

Former Colorado energy regulator Ron Binz thanked three BP officials in a July 25 email, part of a packet of emails obtained by the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic and the Independence Institute in Colorado through a Freedom of Information Act request from FERC.

The emails were first reported last night in The Washington Times after Binz had finished a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“I’ll appreciate any intelligence or advice you can pass on about the ENR Committee,” Binz wrote Mark Stultz, senior vice president of BP Energy; Kathleen Magruder, BP’s vice president of U.S. regulatory affairs; and Julia Levy, director of government affairs for the Rockies at BP.

“You’re welcome, or not, to put in a good word for me with any of the members with whom you have a relationship,” Binz wrote. “You know that world much better than me, so your judgment about what is helpful will be better than mine.”

Another email shows John Peschke, FERC’s Senate liaison, directing Binz to set up a meeting with an official at Shell Oil Co.

A spokesman for BP said the communication was not out of the ordinary. “As one of the largest energy providers and employers in the U.S., it is not unusual for BP staff to talk to people in the regulatory and policy arena who are interested in energy issues,” said spokesman Scott Dean

A request for a comment from FERC was not immediately returned.

Another batch of Binz’s emails, released previously by conservative groups to show his efforts to promote his confirmation with a public relations firm, prompted Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee’s ranking member, to come out against Binz’s nomination.

During yesterday’s hearing, Murkowski said Binz told her that he had not coordinated with the White House on the confirmation, but emails showed otherwise (Greenwire, Sept. 17).

“You’ve effectively got a team, a shadow team, of lobbyists and PR experts that have been helping throughout,” Murkowsk said. “I hate to think this is going to be the new normal.”

Binz apologized to Murkowski and said he had been in touch with her chief counsel before the confirmation hearing about the issue. After his meeting with Murkowski, Binz said he had reviewed every contact he had with the PR firm Vennsquared Communications and that he did have a conference call with the firm.

Binz also said he predicted the conservative groups would attack him, as they had in Colorado. Binz said he has attempted to operate independently from everyone throughout the confirmation process and that he would discuss the issue with Murkowski’s staff.

“I have hired no one; I am paying no one,” Binz said. “I’m trying to be as open as a book.”

But Murkowski said she has concerns about FERC staying independent. Her concerns, combined with persistent doubts from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the strongest coal supporters in the upper chamber, could derail Binz’s nomination altogether.

Manchin told reporters yesterday that he continues to have concerns about Binz, who has been pegged by conservative and libertarian groups as being pro-renewables and anti-coal. Supporters of Binz say he’s actually a level-headed regulator getting a bad rap (E&ENews PM, Sept. 17).

“No” votes from Murkowski and Manchin would mean the Energy and Natural Resources panel — 10 Republicans and 12 Democrats — would likely split, halting Binz’s nomination. The panel’s other nine Republicans are expected to vote against him.

The Senate committee in recent months has taken one to two weeks to vote on a nominee after holding the confirmation hearing.

But just how fast Binz will move through committee remains unclear, and at least one committee Democrat has expressed concern that Binz’s confirmation could be delayed, leaving the commission split, with two Republican and two Democratic commissioners, after FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff steps down.