With the support of one Democrat, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-10 to confirm Bernard McNamee, a former anti-renewables activist, to fill an open position at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) joined all 12 Republicans on the committee to vote in favor of moving McNamee’s nomination to the Senate for a final vote. Republicans are hoping McNamee’s nomination will get a full Senate floor vote before the end of the year.
Along with his pro-fossil fuel work for conservative think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), McNamee, worked on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) coal and nuclear bailout plan that was unanimously rejected by FERC last January. He signed the cover letter to the controversial grid resiliency plan sent by DOE to FERC on September 29, 2017.
The successful vote to move McNamee’s nomination to the Senate follows new revelations last week when a video emerged showing McNamee, during his time working for TPPF, touting the benefits of fossil fuels and criticizing the role of renewable energy resources in meeting grid reliability.
The video of McNamee’s speech caused a stir because FERC oversees bulk power markets and regulates interstate electricity transmission — and has taken a fuel-neutral approach to its regulation of competitive power markets. The video of McNamee’s speech was allegedly removed from TPPF’s website after he was nominated in early October to serve on FERC.
Describing McNamee’s comments in the video as “unfortunate,” Committee Chairwoman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said she would still support McNamee’s nomination.
Murkowski said that she viewed the video as just one speech made 10 months ago by someone just a couple days into a new job. And “based on conversations I’ve had [with him],” she said, “I think he understands that FERC must be an independent agency.”
“I do expect… [that] he will be fuel neutral and not a champion for one resource over another,” she continued.
Others were less convinced. Speaking ahead of the vote, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said that it is “hard to believe [McNamee] is going to be the impartial reviewer” required of someone in this role, adding that “his words revealed a very strong bias in favor of fossil fuels.”
In the video of the February conference, McNamee said the fossil fuel industry and its supporters need to help policymakers and the public understand that fossil fuels are “key not only to our prosperity” but “to a clean environment.” At the time, he was working as head of the TPPF’s Center for Tenth Amendment Action and its Life:Powered project, a pro-fossil fuel program.
Cantwell also highlighted the irony of the Republicans’ endorsement of McNamee compared to how they treated Ron Binz, who President Barack Obama nominated to lead FERC in 2013. Binz, a former Colorado utilities regulator, was strongly opposed by Republicans who feared he would push an anti-coal agenda at the commission.
Murkowski did not support Binz because she reportedly believed he misled the committee during his testimony on his favorable views on renewable energy resources. However, Binz told Politico at the time that he didn’t intentionally mislead Murkowski about the extent of his support for renewable energy, as she charged during his confirmation hearing.
Ultimately, Binz withdrew his nomination to serve as chairman of FERC.
When pressed on his views towards various energy resources during his confirmation hearing on November 15, McNamee failed to mention his strong anti-renewables stance as demonstrated in the TPPF video when pressed on whether or not he’d be an independent judge of energy resources. Despite this, Republicans on the committee — and one Democrat — were not troubled by how McNamee sought to gloss over his past work as a fossil fuel advocate.