The Senate confirmation hearing for former Colorado regulator Ronald Binz to join FERC is still a day away, but already the fireworks have started.
In a letter Monday to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a coalition of more than a dozen organizations led by American Energy Alliance (AEA) urged the panel to oppose President Obama’s choice for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). “While it is normal for the president to receive the benefit of the doubt with nominations, some nominations are so troubling that they raise grave concerns. The nomination of Ronald Binz is one of these very troubling nominations,” they said. Binz was not immediately available for comment.
“The Binz nomination is suffering under the strain of Binz’s own record, the outside lobbying by groups and the clumsy politics of [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid,” said a spokesman for AEA. “It’s unclear how much political capital the White House will want to spend to get Binz through confirmation, and it’s unclear…how much Senate Democrats like Mary Landrieu [of Louisiana] and Joe Manchin [of West Virginia] are willing to lose getting Binz through to confirmation.”
The groups believe that a Binz chairmanship would further hamper FERC’s approval of interstate natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) liquefaction facilities. “The FERC approval process takes 12-18 months and costs an estimated $10 million” for LNG facilities. “To date, only one LNG export facility has received FERC approval.” If Binz is confirmed, “he could make those processes [for approval of pipelines and LNG export facilities] even more burdensome, creating another hidden tax and threatening to dim one of the brightest spots in the economy right now, the growth in natural gas, which is lowering energy prices and spurring GDP growth.”
Some FERC observers are concerned that Binz will try to legislate energy policy from the agency. “Binz apparently believes that regulators should not merely execute the laws, but should usurp the role of the legislative branch and legislate. He has said ‘the problem with current regulation is the regulatory process’ and therefore ‘regulation must become a more legislative (as opposed to judicial) process,” the group noted.
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) also signed the letter, saying that it “does not normally oppose nominations. However, given the very real danger that a Binz-run FERC would present to electricity rates for American citizens, natural gas pipelines, natural gas imports and exports, and the long-running controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline, we felt that it was important to weigh in.”
The coalition said that “Binz gave us plenty to worry about in his previous roles as both a pro-renewables advocate and regulator, as he imposed a staunchly expansionist agenda in both cases. As head of Colorado’s Office of Consumer Counsel, Ron Binz encouraged the shutdown [of] the Fort St. Vrain nuclear power station.” And as chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, Binz struck a controversial $1.3 billion deal with Xcel Energy to shut down coal plants and convert them to natural gas (see Daily GPI, Dec. 13, 2010).
“Today Binz opposes natural gas as well, calling it a ‘dead end,'” they said.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board Friday was highly critical of Binz’s past statement on natural gas. “This is a man whose overriding policy motivation is making carbon more expensive so it can be phased out of the U.S. economy. Such thinking ought to scare the daylights out of Senators from fossil-fuel states, because it shows how Mr. Binz will operate at FERC.”
Following a similar attack in the Wall Street Journal earlier this summer, eight Republican and four Democratic ex-FERC commissioners came to Binz’s defense, calling him “a fair and impartial judge.”
In addition to AEA and AFP, other members of the coalition include American Commitment, National Taxpayers Union, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Caesar Rodney Institute, American Tradition Institute, Family Business Defense Council, Independence Institute, Frontiers of Freedom, 60 Plus, Freedom Action, Competitive Enterprise Institute and Positive Growth Alliance.
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