Former commissioners go to bat for Binz over scathing editorial

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, August 12, 2013

Former members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission yesterday hit back at an editorial in The Wall Street Journal calling President Obama’s pick to lead the agency a radical who will attempt to circumvent Congress to impose an anti-carbon and pro-renewables regime.

A dozen former commissioners took issue with the newspaper’s July 29 editorial, titled “Ron Binz’s Rules for Radicals,” which accused Binz of not caring about or understanding the “difference between making laws and enforcing them.”

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

Binz, a pro-renewable energy champion and former Colorado utility regulator, has fallen prey to criticism from the coal industry and free market groups for implementing Colorado’s contentious “Clean Air, Clean Jobs” legislation while chairing the Colorado Public Utilities Commission from 2007 to 2011.

The Wall Street Journal editorial warned that Binz, who awaits a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is “part of the White House’s damn-the-voters strategy of imposing through regulation what Congress won’t pass” and that he would, based on his record, likely target coal and natural gas using his position as chairman.

“The Senate’s advice-and-consent role is especially important because a FERC chairman has broad powers, much like a CEO’s, even if other commissioners dissent — and the chairman is not supposed to carry Mr. Obama’s banner,” the editorial reads. “Mr. Binz’s record and methods deserve far more scrutiny than they have received.”

But former FERC Commissioners Vicky Bailey, Linda Breathitt, Nora Mead Brownell, Jim Hoecker, Joe Kelliher, Suedeen Kelly, Betsy Moler, Clifford Naeve, Donald Santa, Marc Spitzer, Branko Terzic and Pat Wood III said in a letter to the editor yesterday that the paper was wrong to imply Binz in the past had pursued “an agenda unconstrained by law or national policy.”

Binz was asked by then-Gov. Bill Ritter (D) to help draft the legislation, which required utilities in Colorado to submit regulatory plans so that coal plants would comply with new U.S. EPA clean air standards, they said. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission implemented the law and issued “a balanced decision that closed older, heavier-emitting coal plants” and outfitted newer coal plants with emissions controls, they added.

“The Journal seems to believe regulatory agencies have only a judicial role,” the former regulators wrote. “But when an agency exercises its congressional-given rule-making authority, it is legislating; when it rules on a complaint, it acts as a judge. You are wrong to suggest this arrangement, common in regulatory agencies, is improper.”

Instead, the commissioners asserted that “vested interests” sued Binz for violating ethics laws, but a court vindicated him and found commissioner participation in the legislative process is “inherent” in the PUC’s duty. “Inexplicably, the Journal fails to mention this,” they wrote.

The former FERC members touted Binz’s 34-year career in energy policy, saying he will be a “fair and impartial judge” if he receives a nod of approval from the Senate. “FERC has a long nonpartisan tradition, and Ron Binz fits squarely within that tradition,” they wrote.