President Obama’s FERC Nominee Ron Binz Derailed by Truthiness

by William Yeatman on September 19, 2013

President Obama’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) nominee Ron Binz was caught in a tangle of contradictions during his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

For starters, Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) suggested that Binz misled her during a previous face to face meeting. As reported by Politico’s Darius Dixon,

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.” (full article here)

So that’s one instance of Binz seeming to bend the truth before the U.S. Senate.

Later, during the same hearing, Binz told another apparent whopper. According to our friend Todd Shepherd at Complete Colorado,

Mr. Binz attempted to defend his record on coal by telling Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Va.), “I approved the largest coal plant that was ever built in Colorado.”* Mr. Binz is referring to the Comanche-3 power plant. Only the Colorado Public Utilities Commission would have the authority to approve new coal plants.

The problem is the fact the decision by Colorado’s PUC to build the largest coal plant in the state’s history came in 2004, according to Xcel Energy’s website. Mr. Binz did not become a member of the PUC board until 2007.

Alas, there’s more.

Regarding a 2010 fuel switching plan that Binz implemented as Chair of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, the FERC nominee told the junior Senator from West Virginia, “The legislation told us to approve a plan to comply with future EPA regulations.”

Binz clearly was intimating to Sen. Manchin, who represents a pro-coal state, that it was Colorado lawmakers (rather than Ron Binz) who were responsible for the plan that required fuel switching from coal to gas for almost 1,000 megawatts of power generation. But that’s not the whole story. As I explain in this report on Binz’s Colorado history, Binz helped write the fuel switching law! Here’s the relevant excerpt from the report (citations omitted):

Binz’s operating thesis is that “today’s regulation may not be up to the task” of “making over” the utility industry. Thus, Binz sought to expand his regulatory role at the Colorado PUC, in order to facilitate clean energy investment and energy efficiency. To this end, he actually participated in the drafting of legislation that mandated fuel switching from coal to gas for almost 1,000 megawatts of power generation. From a separation of powers perspective, it is unsettling that Binz helped write legislation whose implementation he oversaw. Due to this appearance of impropriety, seven Colorado state senators sent former Colorado governor Bill Ritter a letter demanding that Binz recuse himself from implementing the fuel switching law.

Binz’s seeming difficulty telling the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, was not without consequence. At the hearing, Sen. Murkowski announced her intention to oppose his nomination. And yesterday, Sen. Manchin announced his opposition, citing Binz’s Colorado history.

Assuming that no Republican breaks ranks with Ranking Member Sen. Murkowski and all the Committee Democrats (other than Sen. Manchin) vote for Binz, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee vote is 11 -11. This puts confirmation in doubt. According to National Journal, “since 1987 only five nominations that got a neutral reporting from a committee were brought to the floor, and only one was approved.”

A neutral committee report would be an extraordinary development coming from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is known for harmony. However, Binz is an extraordinary case. As I explain in the aforementioned study on his history in Colorado, Binz has a troubling record of pushing the boundaries of regulatory power in order to discriminate against fossil fuels and promote green energy.

*N.B. The existence of Binz’s “shadow team” was revealed earlier this week by the Washington Times’s Stephen Dinan. His report, in turn, was based on emails obtained by my colleague Chris Horner on behalf the Independence Institute and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic.

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