Ron Binz is an experienced electricity regulator who understands the important role that wind and solar power are playing as they pour electrons into grids across the country. He was the lead author of a paper last year that described how boosting renewable energy infrastructure could hedge against fossil-fuel cost increases, aging equipment, and other risks.
“This is no time for backward-looking decision making,” he wrote in that paper [PDF], published by the nonprofit Ceres. “It is vital — for electricity consumers and utilities’ own economic viability — that their investment decisions reflect the needs of tomorrow’s cleaner and smarter 21st century infrastructure and avoid investing in yesterday’s technologies.”
So no frickin’ way is this guy qualified to oversee the nation’s power lines! Am I right?
No, of course I’m not right. But that’s what the coal sector is arguing as it desperately rallies Republican opposition to President Obama’s nomination of Binz to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The New York Times reports that the “fight over Mr. Binz has been unusually public, considering that the job at stake is at an agency most people cannot name.” From Bloomberg’s coverage of a Senate confirmation hearing held on Tuesday:
Senator Lisa Murkowski [R] said she won’t support the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, raising uncertainty about the agency’s future leadership.
“At this point in time, I’m not prepared to support your nomination,” Murkowski, of Alaska, told Ron Binz at the end of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in Washington today. …
Her decision not to support Binz, combined with an uncertain vote from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, casts doubt over whether Binz, 64, will survive the nomination process. Binz, a former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, has been the object of a public-relations battle between free-market and coal-industry groups, who want to block his nomination, and clean-energy organizations who support him.
Nominated to replace outgoing FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, Binz has become a lightning rod, pitting libertarian-leaning groups, the coal industry and some senators — including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — against clean energy advocates and former FERC commissioners.
His foes say Binz would be key to the Obama administration’s plans to tackle climate change through regulatory actions that end-run Congress. Binz’s agenda, they say, would give all the breaks to wind and solar and elbow out fossil fuels.
Ben Cole, a spokesman for the libertarian-leaning American Energy Alliance, said Binz’s agenda would constitute the “third leg” of Obama’s climate plan, which also includes U.S. EPA’s clampdown on greenhouse gas emissions at power plants and the administration’s limiting of access to federal lands for oil and gas drilling.
Obama’s decision to go around Congress on climate change and Binz’s “troublesome” advocacy for renewable energy sources have sparked a confirmation fight that’s raised the profile of FERC from a sleepy regulatory agency, Cole added.
In the face of all this hubbub, Binz has turned to an unlikely ally. The Washington Times reports that he emailed BP officials, asking them for “any intelligence or advice” regarding the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “You’re welcome, or not, to put in a good word for me with any of the members with whom you have a relationship.”
Get Grist in your inbox