President's Nomination to Head FERC Withdraws Ahead of Confirmation Vote

Ron Binz, President Obama’s nomination to head up the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), withdrew Tuesday ahead of the confirmation vote Oct. 3. Binz appeared to be headed for almost certain defeat by a 22-member Senate panel.

FERC is the federal agency that oversees the nation’s electricity and natural gas networks.

The withdrawal by Binz had been predicted by some since late last week, when West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he would join all 10 Republicans on the panel in opposing the confirmation of Binz.

“At best, he would have gotten a tie, and one needs a majority to be confirmed,” Dena Wiggins, a partner and energy attorney with Ballard Spahr LLP, told Rigzone. “I think the White House would rather have Mr. Binz take himself out of the process. There has been a lot of speculation about what happened and who might be nominated in his place, but nothing is certain right now.”

Wiggins noted that a further erosion of support was possible, since Democratic Senator Mary Landieu of Louisiana had not indicated how she would vote. Landieu is facing a tough re-election fight, and there was speculation that she was leaning against voting to confirm Binz.

“I’ve never seen this before,” Wiggins, who had 25 years of experience working with FERC, said.

“Confirmations for the FERC head are generally not divisive.”

The nomination of Binz quickly generated criticism from fossil fuel groups, and particularly the coal industry. Critics said Binz was out of the mainstream, and they were particularly bothered when Binz suggested that natural gas might be a “dead end” fuel.

Binz was also criticized for misleading the panel regarding his support of the coal industry while he was serving as the head of Colorado’s Public Utility Commission (PUC). Binz reportedly told the Senate Committee that he had approved the largest coal power plant in Colorado. However, Binz was not with the Colorado PUC until 2007, and the power plant was approved in 2003.

During his time as head of the PUC, Binz had been an advocate of wind, solar and other renewable energy. Binz said in a confirmation hearing that he was not anti-coal, but the perception that he was against fossil fuels stuck.


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