Reid Pushed White House to Appoint Energy Regulator Now Targeted by Conservatives

Sen. Harry Reid
National Journal
Amy Harder
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Amy Harder
Sept. 13, 2013, 12:29 p.m.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., per­suaded the White House to drop its nom­in­ee to lead an ob­scure but im­port­ant fed­er­al en­ergy agency and re­place him with an ap­pointee whose con­firm­a­tion pro­cess is now em­broiled in con­tro­versy, ac­cord­ing to the trade pub­lic­a­tion Trans­mis­sion Hub.

Re­id con­sidered Pres­id­ent Obama’s ori­gin­al choice for chair­man of the Fed­er­al En­ergy Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion, John Nor­ris, to be too “pro-coal,” the Hub re­por­ted Thursday. Obama then tapped Ron Binz, former chair of the Col­or­ado Pub­lic Util­it­ies Com­mis­sion, to be FERC chair­man.

Binz’s con­firm­a­tion hear­ing is sched­uled for Tues­day be­fore the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee, and some fire­works are ex­pec­ted. Con­tro­versy over Binz’s nom­in­a­tion has es­cal­ated over the past couple of months, in­clud­ing a scath­ing Wall Street Journ­al ed­it­or­i­al in Ju­ly de­scrib­ing Binz as the “most im­port­ant and rad­ic­al Obama nom­in­ee you’ve nev­er heard of.”

The Journ­al ed­it­or­i­al board, along with con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans, some Demo­crats (in­clud­ing Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.), and the coal in­dustry have cri­ti­cized Binz’s past work. This in­cludes a state law he helped write that aimed to shut down coal-fired power plants and his up­front philo­sophy of fa­vor­ing re­new­able en­ergy.

FERC over­sees the in­ter­state trans­mis­sion of elec­tri­city and oil and nat­ur­al-gas pipelines, as well as hy­dro­elec­tri­city pro­jects. It does not have any dir­ect in­flu­ence in power-gen­er­a­tion policy-mak­ing.

Obama first nom­in­ated Nor­ris to FERC in 2010. He is the second-most seni­or Demo­crat on the five-mem­ber pan­el after out­go­ing Chair­man Jon Welling­hoff.

Nor­ris was pre­vi­ously chief of staff to Ag­ri­cul­ture Sec­ret­ary Tom Vil­sack, a former gov­ernor of Iowa. Nor­ris’s roots are in Iowa; he was chair­man of the Iowa Util­it­ies Board and served on sev­er­al oth­er util­ity or­gan­iz­a­tions based in the state. He earned both his un­der­gradu­ate and gradu­ate de­grees in Iowa.

“Re­id’s chief of staff in­formed me that Re­id in­ter­vened with the White house to stop my ap­point­ment as chair be­cause, as told to me by his chief of staff, I was ‘too pro-coal,’ ” Nor­ris told Trans­mis­sion Hub.

Nor­ris denied the char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion by Re­id’s of­fice that he is pro-coal, ac­cord­ing to the Hub. He also told the pub­lic­a­tion that he be­lieves his nom­in­a­tion was blocked be­cause Re­id wanted a FERC chair­man from a West­ern state.

Kristen Orth­man, spokes­wo­man for Re­id’s of­fice, denied Nor­ris’s claims. “Un­for­tu­nately Com­mis­sion­er Nor­ris is wrongly blam­ing oth­ers and mak­ing ac­cus­a­tions that are not ac­cur­ate,” Orth­man said in an e-mail to Na­tion­al Journ­al

Mean­while, a group of en­vir­on­ment­al act­iv­ists has hired a Wash­ing­ton PR firm, VennSquared Com­mu­nic­a­tions, to cam­paign for Binz as he heads in­to what looks like a tough and testy Sen­ate con­firm­a­tion pro­cess.

On Thursday, the Wash­ing­ton Times re­por­ted on e-mails that re­vealed two former Re­id staffers — Chris Miller, who left the lead­er’s of­fice earli­er this year as his top en­ergy and en­vir­on­ment aide, and Kai An­der­son — also have helped with Binz’s con­firm­a­tion pro­cess.

This isn’t the first time Re­id has wiel­ded his in­flu­ence in a fight over an ob­scure en­ergy agency. He was in­stru­ment­al in hav­ing Gregory Jaczko, a former Re­id aide, ap­poin­ted chair­man of the Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion, a post Jaczko left last year after a con­tro­versy over his man­age­ment style.

Cor­al Dav­en­port con­trib­uted

What We're Following See More »
ONE WEEK
Senate Votes To Fund Government
1 hours ago
BREAKING
ON TO SENATE
House Passes Spending Bill
2 hours ago
BREAKING

The House has passed a one-week spending bill that will avert a government shutdown which was set to begin at midnight. Lawmakers now have an extra week to come to a longer agreement which is expected to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass before President Trump signs it.

FULL CABINET IN PLACE
Acosta Confirmed As Labor Secretary
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Alexander Acosta was confirmed Thursday night as Labor secretary, officially filling out President Trump's cabinet on day 98 of his presidency. Nine Democrats joined every present Republican in voting to approve Acosta, with the final tally at 60-38. Trump's first choice for Labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his nomination after taking criticism for hiring undocumented workers and for other matters in his personal life.

Source:
HAS WHITE HOUSE BACKING
Hurd to Make Push on Federal IT
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) plans to introduce legislation today designed to help federal agencies update their aging technology—and this time, it has White House backing. Hurd worked alongside White House Office of American Innovation officials Reed Cordish and Chris Liddell in crafting and tweaking the legislation, and called their partnership an 'invaluable' part of the process."

Source:
2,300 JOBS ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK
Tillerson Looking to Slash 9% of State Dept. Workforce
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The State Department plans to cut 2,300 U.S. diplomats and civil servants—about 9 percent of the Americans in its workforce worldwide—as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson presses ahead with his task of slashing the agency’s budget, according to people familiar with the matter. The majority of the job cuts, about 1,700, will come through attrition, while the remaining 600 will be done via buyouts."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login