Binz Withdraws From Consideration For FERC Chairmanship

November 2013, Vol. 68 No. 11

The withdrawal of the White House nominee for the FERC chairmanship reflects the intensity of the political wars between Democrats and Republicans in Washington, the heavy-handed Obama administration and miscues by Binz, a former Colorado Public Utility Commission Chairman.

The scuttlebutt in Washington is that Obama will now turn to Colette Honorable, chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, who was in the running for the chairmanship before the White House decided on Binz. "Certainly that is the rumor running around," said Dena Wiggins, a partner at the law firm of Ballard Spahr, who focuses on natural gas issues at FERC. Honorable has a considerable pipeline background serving on the Department of Transportation's Technical Pipeline Safety Standards Committee and on the Pipeline Safety Task Force at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

The Binz bashing underlines the extreme partisanship in Congress, even in the calmer Senate, and its effect on issues such as a nomination for the FERC chairmanship which have never been controversial.

Binz pulled out because all Republicans and some Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee were ready to vote against him perceiving him as anti-coal and anti-natural gas. In effect, he was "too green," though no greener than current Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, who was confirmed without nary a hitch as a commissioner in 2006 and elevated to the top job in 2011. The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America took no formal position on Binz, who had been quoted as saying natural gas would be a "dead end" by 2035 unless carbon capture and sequestration was a viable technology by then. At his confirmation hearings, he admitted the statement was poorly thought out. But he didn't deny saying it.

He tried to untangle himself from that rhetorical knot. He called natural gas "a great resource that is getting larger by the minute" and added more pipeline capacity is needed. But that didn't win him any votes with Republicans such as Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) who said Binz's views on carbon capture and sequestration were "very troubling."

Many Republicans complained Binz was anti-coal, which is effectively beside the point since the FERC has no authority over the siting of coal plants or over greenhouse gas environmental regulations requiring expensive mitigation technology for those plants. Had he been nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency, that objection would have at least been in the ballpark.