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Amid Controversy, FERC Nominee Binz Bows Out

Amid controversy over his pro-renewable energy and anti-fossil fuel sentiments, former Colorado regulator Ron Binz last Monday asked President Obama to withdraw his name from further consideration as a nominee for FERC chairman.

"It appears that my nomination will not be reported favorably by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. I am withdrawing so that the president can move forward with another nominee, allowing the FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] to continue its important work with the full complement of commissioners," Binz said. President Obama in June tapped Binz to sit on the five-member Commission, succeeding Jon Wellinghoff, who is expected to depart the agency at the end of the year (see NGI, July 1).

All 10 of the Republicans on the committee and one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), voiced their opposition to Binz's appointment, making it virtually impossible for his nomination to be voted out of the committee to the Senate floor. With a committee lineup of 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans, it took the defection of only one Democrat (Manchin) to throw it into a tie, which is the same as a no vote by the committee.

"Based on Mr. Binz's record in Colorado, I have grave concerns about how he would regulate our energy sector as the next chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission," Manchin said (seeNGISept. 23). "Mr. Binz's actions prove that he prioritizes renewables over reliability. His approach of demonizing coal and gas has increased electricity costs for consumers."

Binz "was the wrong nominee at the worst possible time for American consumers. His record of radical advocacy and regulatory bias was too much to overcome," said Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance. "Going forward, the White House would be well-advised to nominate only the most impartial and balanced regulators to serve on independent commissions.

The most likely candidates to head the FERC now include Colette Honorable, chair of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, and FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, a former executive vice president of National Grid plc's U.S. subsidiary, according to a published report. LaFleur, a Democrat, has been a commissioner since July 2010; her term is scheduled to expire in June 2014. If not LaFleur, Obama could designate another Democratic commissioner to be acting chairman until someone is confirmed by the Senate, an agency spokeswoman said.

Binz said he plans to resume his consulting practice in Colorado, "where my focus will remain on reform of regulation, the evolving utility business model, and how to move forward on a clean energy agenda."

Colorado "has shown that it's possible to move steadily down the path of a clean energy future while protecting consumers, stimulating the economy and creating jobs. We can do this as a nation if we get serious about energy policy and investments in technologies that allow an 'all-the-above' mix of low-carbon resources," Binz said. 

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