Former Colorado energy regulator Ron Binz, President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), faced a somewhat contentious nomination hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Committee, according to reports. No date has yet been set for a vote on his nomination.
The committee's leading Republican, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she was not convinced that Binz's beliefs were compatible with the mission of FERC, which regulates and monitors the nation's electric grids, hydropower licenses and natural gas pipelines, among other duties.
"His conception of the role of regulation is not what we need at FERC right now," said Murkowski. "What is needed, now more than ever, is balance and independence."
Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said Obama administration policies on emissions are putting pressure on the coal industry in his home state and others. In August 2013, Manchin said Obama wants to "destroy" the coal industry.
Binz responded by saying that FERC is "fuel neutral" and has no ability to regulate the coal-fired generation sector.
After the hearing, Manchin's office released a statement saying that he would not vote to approve Binz's nomination.
Binz's tenure with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (from 2007 to 2011) saw several battles with the state legislature and the mining industry over regulation that pushed Xcel Energy, a Minnesota-based utility with a large presence in Colorado, to convert a coal-fired power plant from coal to natural gas.
A group of past FERC commissioners who have worked under Democratic and Republican administrations have put in their recommendations for Binz. Outgoing chairman Jon Wellinghoff told Bloomberg that Binz would make a "capable and competent" chairman.
FERC has recently taken a more active role in enforcing energy policy, levying more than $900 billion in settlements penalties against companies accused of market manipulation — including J.P. Morgan Chase, Barclays and others.