As feared, conservative groups backed by the billionaire Koch brothers successfully killed the nomination of Ron Binz to lead the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Comission (FERC). Binz, a former Colorado energy regulator, withdrew his name from consideration Monday evening as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee seemed unlikely to approve his nomination, and began considering other candidates for the post.
The confirmation for FERC is typically not contentious, as it is a relatively arcane energy regulatory body in Washington. But Binz himself told Politico his nomination sunk as the energy industry “spun and respun” his record to make it seem like he was unfairly biased against coal. “It was just a blood sport,” he said.
And Koch-funded fossil fuel group American Energy Alliance celebrated their victory in that sport, saying Obama’s climate agenda “just got Binz’d,” as reported by Politico.
A bipartisan group of twelve former FERC commissioners countered the idea that Binz was a coal-hating ideologue, writing he would “be a fair and impartial judge and further the public interest within the FERC’s authority,” in the Wall Street Journal. Other supporters included Ralph Izzo, CEO and President of New Jersey utility PSEG, and Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres and a director of a group of 100 institutional investors managing nearly $10 trillion in assets focused on the business risks and opportunities of climate change.
Binz seemed baffled by the partisan opposition marshaled against him. “I came to Washington with this 35-year career behind me only to encounter a fictional Ron Binz, a fictional character that I didn’t recognize and I would never even support,” he told Politico.
The ten Republicans and one Democrat, Joe Manchin (D-WV), on the committee who opposed Binz received a combined total of nearly $3.4 million in oil and gas industry contributions over their careers, compared with $1.8 million combined for the 10 Democrats and one independent who did not. And 14 far-right groups, all but one connected to the Koch brothers, signed onto a letter to the committee, pushing the idea that Binz was committed to destroying fossil fuels and raising energy prices.
As the Energy Committee considers other candidates for FERC chair, the impact of politicizing the post could be large. Binz told Politico his concerns that, “If this kind of handling of a nomination becomes … the new normal, that’s going to make it a lot more difficult for good energy policy to grow.”