Trump picks DOE alumni for FERC, nuclear posts

Source: Rod Kuckro and Christa Marshall, E&E News reporters • Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2018

President Trump today nominated Energy Department officials Bernard McNamee to fill a vacancy on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Rita Baranwal to lead DOE’s nuclear office.

If confirmed, McNamee would be the most overtly political person to serve on FERC in decades.

He has been executive director of DOE’s Office of Policy since June and previously served at the agency from May 2017 to February 2018 as a political appointee in the general counsel’s office.

Between those stints at DOE, McNamee was a director at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Prior to his first term at DOE, McNamee was chief of staff for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) and a senior adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — both political positions.

He also served twice under Republican attorneys general in Virginia in the early 2000s and was the policy director for George Allen’s (R) successful U.S. Senate bid in 2000.

He has a long history of political donations to Republican candidates and political action committees.

McNamee’s private-sector experience includes the law firms McGuireWoods LLP, Williams Mullen and Hunton & Williams LLP.

He has no experience in the electric or natural gas utility industry or as a regulator of those sectors.

McNamee would replace Rob Powelson, who left FERC in August after less than a year on the commission to become president and CEO of the National Association of Water Companies, the lobbying group for private water utilities. The FERC seat’s term would last until 2020.

Powelson had been chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and as recently as 2017, he was president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Powelson warned before leaving against allowing politics to creep into deliberations of the commission, which has traditionally practiced independence from outside political pressure and made decisions based on a defensible legal record.

“I don’t make any decision based on the fact that I’m a lifelong Republican. I have a mean independent streak in me,” Powelson said (Energywire, Aug. 10).

McNamee has testified on behalf of DOE before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in support of a number of bills as well as on the administration’s plan to reorganize the department.

In April, McNamee penned a column for The Hill titled “This Earth Day, let’s accept the critical role that fossil fuel plays in energy needs.”

He wrote that “when we celebrate Earth Day, we should consider the facts, not the political narrative, and reflect about how the responsible use of America’s abundant resources of natural gas, oil and coal have dramatically improved the human condition — and continue to do so.”

The White House also vetted Art Graham, chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission, for the FERC seat (Energywire, Sept. 17).

Nuclear nominee

DOE’s assistant secretary of nuclear energy position — to which Trump nominated Baranwal — was the last political position at the agency without a confirmed official or nominee.

Baranwal currently is director of the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear initiative at Idaho National Laboratory, a program that provides industry with financial and technical support on advanced reactor designs.

She previously worked at Westinghouse Electric Co. for more than eight years, most recently serving as director of technology development. She also was a manager in materials technology at Bechtel Bettis Inc., where she led research on materials for U.S. naval reactors.

Baranwal holds a doctorate in materials engineering from the University of Michigan.

The Trump administration proposed cutting funding for DOE’s nuclear office by about 25 percent in fiscal 2019, although Congress increased funding for the office in a package passed last month.