Ron Binz

rbinz.comRon Binz.

Anybody casting an eye down the desolate hallway of a furloughed federal department might conclude that Congress is incapable of doing anything. But that’s not quite true. This week it succeeded in hounding a well-qualified energy regulator out of the energy-regulating job to which he had been nominated.

President Obama had nominated Ron Binz to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But after being attacked for weeks by coal companies and their Republican (and Democratic) friends in Congress, the former chair of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday gave up any hope of securing the blessing that he needed from lawmakers.

Why all the hate? Because Binz supports solar and wind power — renewable forms of energy that he has concluded can help America hedge against the economic volatility and environmental hazards posed by fossil fuels.

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In explaining his decision to withdraw, Binz told Politico that the fight over his confirmation had become a “blood sport” for attacks backed by Big Coal:

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The collapse of Ron Binz’s nomination to lead the little-known agency was a stunning setback for Obama, who had succeeded in winning Senate confirmations for far more controversial nominees at Environmental Protection Agency, the Pentagon and the Labor Department.

The consultant and career energy regulator had won over supporters from the green energy world — some of whom took the unusual step of hiring a public relations firm to advance his cause. But Binz said he couldn’t overcome a furious opposition campaign in which his record was “spun and respun” to make him appear biased against fossil fuels.

While the attacks on Binz were championed by coal lobbyists and Republicans, Bloomberg reports that the lack of support by a key Democrat helped to sink his nomination:

Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, said on Sept. 25 he would vote against Binz, virtually ensuring that the nominee wouldn’t have the backing of a majority of the Senate committee. The other nine Republicans on the 22-person panel already said they would oppose the nomination. Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, also planned to vote against Binz. …

Without Manchin’s support, Binz needed the backing of at least one Republican on the Senate committee.

Now Obama will have to find another candidate to lead the department — presumably one who is less switched on to the benefits of the world’s fastest-growing sources of electricity.