Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) announced on Thursday that he will vote against Ron Binz, President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Just hours later, a Democratic spokesman on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said other candidates are being considered for the post.
“The [Senate Energy and Natural Resources] Committee is aware that other candidates are being considered to lead FERC,” said Keith Chu, a spokesman for the committee’s Democratic leadership.
This development in the confirmation process will make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to approve the nomination unless someone on the panel changes their mind.
By most accounts, Binz is seen as the best man for the job. Twelve former FERC commissioners have said that he would “be a fair and impartial judge and further the public interest within the FERC’s authority.” Commissioners for FERC are usually accepted without many problems. But Binz’s confirmation process has drawn unprecedented attention and become a lightning rod of partisan politics.
So what is going on? Why has a normally procedural process turned into a confusing and overtly partisan polemic? The fossil fuel industry and a coalition of conservative groups led by billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch-funded American Energy Alliance are likely to blame.
At last week’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the top Republican on the energy panel and recipient of $158,100 of Koch-funded contributions, said she would “reluctantly” not be able to support his nomination. A day later coal-state Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) broke ranks with fellow Democrats on the committee by making the surprise decision to vote against Binz.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), whose vote Binz will need to just break even for a vote of the 22-member Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and who has received $142,500 of Koch-funded contributions over her career, is looking less likely to approve Binz’s nomination.
Landrieu is up for re-election this year, and her 2014 senatorial opponent has made Binz a sticking point, asking Landrieu to “withhold” support. Landrieu depends on a substantial share of Republican and independent voters to win re-election. She has won her past two races in large part because of her avowed support for oil and gas. A letter was also sent to the committee before the hearing last week, claiming that Binz would act to carry out President Obama’s plan to make electricity prices “necessarily skyrocket” or that he sees natural gas as a “dead end.” It was signed by Americans for Prosperity; the Competitive Enterprise Institute; the National Taxpayers Union; and 10 other fossil fuel-backed groups.
All but one of the groups that signed the letter have confirmed ties to the Koch brothers.
This is not the first time the AEA has muscled its way into a debate with money. Last year the AEA made opposing the production tax credit for wind a priority, which turned out to be a failed effort.