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September 19, 2013

Obama’s Nominee for FERC Chair Faces Rough Ride at the Confirmation Hearing

On Tuesday, September 17, 2013, President Obama’s nominee for chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee ("FERC") Ron Binz testified before the Senate Energy Committee.  Since June of this year, Mr. Binz’s nomination has been the subject of a partisan debate in the Senate.  In addition to opposition from the fossil fuel industry, Binz has become the target of a coalition of conservative groups, led by the Koch-funded American Energy Alliance. Binz, on the other hand, has been endorsed by several utilities, former regulators, renewable energy companies, and investors.  Twelve former FERC commissioners recently published an article in the Wall Street Journal praising Mr. Binz and his impartiality.

While serving as the Chair of Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission between 2007 and 2011, Mr. Binz guided the state through a set of important energy policy decisions, including implementation of the state’s Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act and oversaw the state’s efforts to reduce its reliance on coal-fired utility plants and increase use of renewable energy such as wind and solar power.  Republicans on the Senate Energy Committee said they believe that Mr. Binz favors renewable energy sources such as wind and solar over traditional fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski told Mr. Binz that she would vote against his nomination because she was not convinced that Binz’s views were "compatible with FERC’s mission" to regulate interstate transmission of electricity, oil and natural gas.

During the recent hearing, Mr. Binz said he would fully embrace the use of natural gas and it is a "terrific fuel" for the nation. Mr. Binz said he would like to "streamline pipeline applications and ensure liquefied natural gas export plans are processed "expeditiously."

The next FERC chair will face a wide range of challenges including rapidly changing energy technologies and utility business models as well as preparing the nation’s energy system for low reliance on fossil fuels. FERC’s current chairman Jon Wellinghoff announced his intent to step down when a successor is found.

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