Obama announces picks for FERC, USDA

Source: Amanda Peterka and Hannah Northey, E&E reporters • Posted: Wednesday, July 3, 2013

President Obama yesterday announced several nominations, including two for vacant positions in the Department of Agriculture and one in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The president nominated senior USDA policy adviser Robert Bonnie to oversee conservation activities and the Forest Service; USDA Chief of Staff Krysta Harden to fill the department’s No. 2 position; and Ron Binz, Colorado’s former top utility regulator, to replace outgoing FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff.

All must be confirmed by the Senate.

Bonnie has served at USDA since 2009 as a senior policy adviser. Prior to joining the department, he worked for more than a decade at the Environmental Defense Fund, where he was vice president of land conservation and wildlife and managing director of EDF’s Center for Conservation Incentives.

Bonnie has also served on the board of visitors at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and on the board of directors for the Piedmont Environmental Council and Scenic America.

He has a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and master’s degrees from the Nicholas School of the Environment.

Bonnie would replace outgoing USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources Harris Sherman, who crafted the Forest Service’s planning rule and spearheaded a movement toward landscape-scale conservation during his four-year tenure (Greenwire, April 9). The position is currently filled by Ann Mills, who is serving in an acting role.

If confirmed by the Senate, Harden would serve as deputy secretary and replace Kathleen Merrigan, who abruptly resigned in March after serving four years in the position (Greenwire, March 15).

Harden has held the position of chief of staff since 2011; previously, she served as assistant secretary for congressional relations at USDA.

Harden arrived at USDA in 2009 after working for four years as the chief executive officer of the National Association of Conservation Districts, an active farm group that works to help farmers put in place conservation measures on their lands.

She was also senior vice president of Gordley Associates from 1993 to 2004 and was the staff director for the House Agriculture subcommittee on peanuts and tobacco from 1992 to 1993.

Before joining the committee, Harden worked for 11 years for former Democratic Rep. Charles Hatcher of Georgia, serving in several different positions. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia.

Binz would replace FERC Chairman Wellinghoff, a champion of renewable energy, smart grid and grid modernization for the past five years (Greenwire, May 29).

Binz was chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission from January 2007 until April 2011. Binz has been an active member of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, where he chaired the group’s task force on climate policy. He is a member of the Harvard Electricity Policy Group and the Keystone Energy Board and served on an advisory council to the Electric Power Research Institute.

Binz also served as president of Public Policy Consulting, specializing in policy and regulatory issues in the telecommunications and energy industries. From 1984 to 1995, he directed the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel, the state’s utility consumer advocate.

“I am grateful that these impressive individuals have chosen to dedicate their talents to serving the American people at this important time for our country,” Obama said in a statement. “I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.”