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Trump’s energy agency nominee backs fossil fuels in battle with renewables and green groups

Former think tank official Bernard McNamee views fossil fuels as key to a clean environment.

FERC nominee Bernard McNamee speaks at a February 2018 conference sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. CREDIT: screenshot
FERC nominee Bernard McNamee speaks at a February 2018 conference sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. CREDIT: screenshot

President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill a vacant seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) told a conference in February that the fossil fuel industry needs to be better at explaining to the American public that “fossil fuels are not something dirty.”

In a speech at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation’s (TPPF) Policy Orientation for Texas lawmakers, FERC nominee Bernard McNamee emphasized that fossil fuels are not a form energy from which the nation should move away.

The video of McNamee’s speech, first reported by Utility Dive, is raising eyebrows 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.

Many clean energy supporters also have become concerned that the commission has been favoring pipelines over cleaner energy infrastructure. And environmentalists fear McNamee, if approved to the position, would help push Trump’s efforts to bail out coal.

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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,” the video shows McNamee saying at the February conference. 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.

McNamee’s description of the impact of fossil fuels on the environment stands in stark contrast to the views of scientists who have overwhelmingly concluded that burning coal, natural gas, and oil have significantly contributed to increased carbon dioxide levels over the past 60 years.

The extraction and burning of coal, oil, and natural gas also create huge levels of pollution that causes irreversible damage to the environment and harms human health.

McNamee’s comments at the February conference, however, in no way resembled what he told lawmakers last week at his Senate confirmation hearing. The FERC nominee, for example, did not mention his bias in favor of burning fossil fuels.

Furthermore, when asked whether his advocacy work for fossil fuels at the TPPF and his support for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) coal and nuclear support plan would unduly influence his work if he is confirmed to the commission, McNamee said: “I can honestly say that I will be in an independent arbiter.”

In early 2018, McNamee left his job as deputy general counsel for energy policy at DOE to join TPPF. But after only four months at the right-wing think tank, McNamee was back at DOE, serving as executive director of the department’s Office of Policy. McNamee now works under Mark Menezes, the undersecretary of energy who serves as a point person for Trump’s push to bail out coal and nuclear power plants.

At the TPPF Policy Orientation event in February, McNamee was extremely critical of renewable energy.

“Renewables, when they come on and off, it screws up the whole physics of the [electric] grid,” McNamee said. “When people want to talk about science, they ought to talk about the physics of the grid and know about what real science is and that is, how do you keep the lights on? And it’s with fossil fuels and nuclear.”

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In 2013, Ron Binz, a former Colorado utilities regulator who President Barack Obama nominated to serve as a FERC commissioner, was strongly opposed by Republicans for what they perceived as a preference for renewable energy resources and an anti-coal bias.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) did not back Binz’s nomination. 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.

At his FERC confirmation hearing on November 15, McNamee did not tell the senators about his strong support for fossil fuels or his opposition to renewable energy resources.

But during his time as deputy general counsel at DOE, for example, he signed the cover letter to the controversial grid resiliency plan, ordered by Trump and sent by DOE to FERC on September 29, 2017.

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Also during his February speech McNamee touted his support for the administration’s efforts to undermine the Clean Power Plan, a landmark proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing electric generating stations. Last month, the Trump EPA proposed the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) to replace the Clean Power Plan — but the ACE rule would be far more lax. Starting in 2030, replacing the Clean Power Plan with the ACE rule could result in up to 1,400 more premature deaths and up to 120,000 more asthma attacks every year, according to the EPA’s own analysis.

As he explained in his February speech, McNamee said he was pleased to work with Trump and Energy Secretary Perry to see the Obama EPA’s Clean Power Plan “be put to death.”

McNamee also emphasized that a book, “Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy,” written by Kathleen Hartnett White — his former colleague at TPPF — served as a foundation for the TPPF’s pro-fossil fuel work.

In February, after increased scrutiny on her history of fringe anti-science beliefs, the White House withdrew Hartnett White’s nomination to lead its Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Hartnett White has argued on multiple occasions that increased carbon emissions in the atmosphere are beneficial to humans.

McNamee, in his TPPF presentation, also accused environmental groups of attempting to return the “administrative tyranny that they’ve been pushing for so long” since Trump took office.

“The green movement is always talking about more government control because it’s the constant battle between liberty and tyranny,” he said. “It’s about people who want to say I know what’s better for you.”

As an alternative to the work of environmental groups, McNamee lauded the TPPF’s litigation team for fighting to weaken the Endangered Species Act and eliminate the Clean Power Plan.