Bernard McNamee, a Republican who is currently executive director of DOE's Office of Policy, was confirmed Thursday by the Senate as a FERC Commissioner on a straight party-line vote of 50-49.
McNamee received 50 votes in support of his nomination from Republican Senators, with one, Thom Tillis (R-NC), absent for the vote.
"This is an impressive nominee who has the right qualifications for this important job," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) prior to a preliminary vote Wednesday. "In his career as a well-regarded lawyer on energy issues, he's represented clients and gained expertise all across the energy sector."
Democrats in the Senate, joined by two independents, voted against McNamee's nomination. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who had joined Republicans in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last month to vote in support of McNamee's nomination, voted against his confirmation Thursday.
"Throughout his career, Mr. McNamee has been manifestly biased in favor of the fossil fuel industry, and biased against renewable energy sources, so much so that one cannot believe he would be a fair arbiter on these issues at the FERC," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
It wasn't immediately clear when McNamee would be sworn in at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC's next public meeting is scheduled for Dec. 20.
"I am pleased to welcome Bernie to the Commission, and I look forward to working with him and my FERC colleagues on the important matters that are before the Commission," said FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee. "Bernie's knowledge and experience will serve the Commission well."
McNamee was nominated by President Trump to fill a spot at FERC previously held by Robert Powelson, for the remainder of the term due to expire June 30, 2020. McNamee previously served as deputy general counsel for energy policy at DOE and practiced energy law with McGuireWoods LLP. He also has worked at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF).
During a hearing in November, Democrats on the committee asked McNamee if he would recuse himself should issues reemerge related to DOE's failed notice of proposed rulemaking on power grid resiliency and reliability issues. McNamee pledged to serve as an "independent arbitor" of those issues that come before FERC.
Democrats said they were also concerned by a speech at a TPPF meeting earlier this year, in which they said McNamee displayed a clear bias against renewable energy in favor of fossil fuels. An hour-long video of the remarks resurfaced last month.
There are currently four commissioners at FERC, two of them Republicans -- Chatterjee and Kevin McIntyre -- and two Democrats -- Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick.
Industry groups including the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA) and the Center for LNG applauded the Senate for confirming McNamee.
"He brings a wealth of legal and energy policy experience to the Commission, along with an appreciation of the benefits of competitive markets," said NGSA CEO Dena Wiggins. "It's important for FERC's work to continue and that works best with a commissioner in every seat."