Hearing leaves Ron Binz with few votes to spare

Source: By DARIUS DIXON | 9/18/13 5:03 AM EDT, Politico • Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ron Binz is pictured. | M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

Binz used his hearing to tout his support for natural gas. | M.Scott Mahaskey/POLITIC

Ron Binz, the president’s pick to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, charged into his Tuesday confirmation hearing with a central message: I’m no radical tree-hugger.

But critical pieces moved into place that could sink or stall his bid — for instance, losing the support of the Energy Committee’s top Republican, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

That makes it more likely that Binz’s fate will come down to the decisions of two fossil-fuel-friendly Democrats, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, neither of whom tipped their hands Tuesday.

Binz used his hearing at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to tout his support for natural gas and pointed out that Colorado’s largest coal-fired power plant was approved while he chaired the state’s public utilities commission.

“I fully embrace the use of natural gas. I’ve said that in many speeches over many years,” Binz said, making his first public remarks since President Barack Obama nominated him in June. He also said he’d been meeting with companies that want to export liquefied natural gas, and that if confirmed he would push for FERC to process the applications “as expeditiously as possible.”

But several Republicans seized on a speech in March in which Binz said natural gas is a “dead end” without some way of capturing and storing its carbon emissions.

“I find the comments troubling and far outside the mainstream,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who has held up past Obama nominees.

Binz acknowledged he chose his words “uncarefully.” In fact, he said, learning to store carbon “will benefit natural gas in the long run.”

“If I had just stopped my statement at that point, and not use the ‘dead end’ phrase, I’d probably be in a lot better shape,” Binz said.

None of that was enough for Murkowski, who finished listening to more than 2½ hours of testimony by siding against Binz’s confirmation.

“Mr. Binz, reluctantly, I don’t think I’m going to be able to support your nomination as we move through the committee,” she said, adding that she needs “absolute assurance” that the energy regulatory agency would remain independent of the Obama administration’s policies. “And I have not been convinced of that,” she said.

One factor that pushed Murkowski into the anti-Binz camp was a series of emails released last week that showed the extent of coordination by Binz’s supporters to aid his confirmation effort. The emails, first published by The Washington Times, showed that Binz had been in communication with two lobbyists who used to work for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as with a public relations firm hired by an environmental group and with a nonprofit called the Energy Foundation.

Murkowski suggested early in the hearing that Binz may have misled her last week when they discussed whom he has worked with to guide his confirmation.

“You’ve effectively got a team — a shadow team — of lobbyists and PR experts that have been helping throughout,” she told Binz. She added, “But what I can’t reconcile is your statement to me that said the only ones that you were working were the FERC external team.”

Binz acknowledged that he had been in contact with Chris Miller, one of the lobbyists, who had reviewed his biographical materials “a few times subsequently” because he’s “an old hand at these things.” But, he said, “as far as I know, I have had no contact with [the PR firm] since July 15. In fact, I asked them to stop sending me material.”

“I have hired no one. I am paying no one,” Binz said. “I very much apologize and I’d be glad to get together to talk further with your staff about this.”




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