White House ‘absolutely’ backs Binz despite confirmation hurdles

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Obama administration is “absolutely” standing by its nomination of Ron Binz to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, despite bipartisan opposition on a key Senate committee currently vetting the nominee, a White House spokesman said today.

“Mr. Binz is a highly qualified nominee who would do a great job at the FERC,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in Missouri. “We continue to work with Congress to ensure that he gets a fair hearing and gets confirmed in a timely fashion.”

Binz’s quest to secure a majority vote on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and break a tie hinges on “yes” votes from Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), both of whom have yet to express a position on the panel, which has 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Nine committee Republicans have vowed to oppose Binz, and Scott’s approval is doubtful. “We need neutral arbiters [at FERC], and [Binz] doesn’t [see] that as his role,” a Scott spokesman said in an email.

Landrieu’s vote is also uncertain, but the lawmaker said yesterday she’s “encouraged” by Binz’s views on natural gas and his support for exporting domestic liquefied natural gas — a critical move for the Pelican State (E&ENews PM, Sept. 19).

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin from coal-rich West Virginia earlier this week vowed to oppose Binz, which would tie the vote in the absence of Scott’s support, joining Republicans who have lined up to block his nomination.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appears to have a heavy hand in choosing a successor for outgoing FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, also from Nevada. Democratic FERC Commissioner John Norris earlier this week accused Reid of blocking his nomination for being too “pro-coal,” an accusation Norris denied (E&E Daily, Sept. 17).

On rare occassions, Senate leaders call nominations to a floor vote after receiving no recommendation from a deadlocked committee, as occurred in 2005 with the controversial nominee for U.N. ambassador, John Bolton. Whether Reid would bring Binz to the floor for a vote in that case is unclear.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the committee’s top Republican, has said she opposes Binz, and moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is not on the committee, said she’s undecided but has “reservations.”