To date, the Trump Administration’s plans to craft a bailout for aging coal and nuclear power plants have been largely stymied not only by a lack of evidence to support its rationales for doing so, but also the professionalism of government employees. This has included at times those he has appointed.
Now one of those barriers may in the process of being lifted. On Wednesday Trump appointed Bernard McNamee to fill the seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that was vacated when Robert Powelson (R) stepped down in August.
Powelson served for only one year, but in that time was part of a decision to not adopt the coal and nuclear bailout called for by Energy Secretary Rick Perry. And while this decision was unanimous, it was clear that some commissioners – namely Commissioner Neil Chatterjee – went along with a majority opposed to a move that past FERC officials said would undermine wholesale markets.
If Trump was looking for another ideologue in the mold of Chatterjee, he appears to have found one. Jason Johns of law firm Stoel Rives has noted that Powelson’s departure is a strategic opportunity for the Trump Administration.
“Powelson’s departure was widely seen as opportunity for the White House to more closely align FERC with its own policies,” notes Johns. “It is my belief that Powelson’s opposition to certain policy efforts came as a surprise to the White House, particularly the White House’s efforts to subsidize coal and nuclear facilities. I’m confident the White House is looking to address those surprises with this choice.”
In his current role Bernard McNamee as executive director of the Office of Policy at the Department of Energy he has been a champion of a coal and nuclear bailout, and this is in line with other positions he has taken during his career.
In addition to being a policy advisor and counsel to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R), McNamee spent four months this spring working as a director at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right wing think-tank that has ties to the Koch Brothers, supports climate denial and advocates against renewable energy.
While there, he went so far as to write an Earth Day op-ed for The Hill declaring that fossil fuels “have dramatically improved the human condition – and continue to do so”. This includes a section casting doubt on the ability of renewable energy to power our society – in contrast to a wealth of studies declaring the opposite.
A sample follows
Some suggest that we can replace fossil fuels with renewable resources to meet our needs, but they never explain how. The challenges are clear: 80 percent of energy consumed (transportation, manufacturing and electricity) in the U.S. comes from fossil fuels. About 63 percent of electricity generation comes from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases), with about 20 percent from nuclear energy. Renewable wind and solar, however, only provide about 7.6 percent of our electricity needs (6.3 percent wind and 1.3 percent solar) — and this is only when the sun is shining or wind is blowing.
This does not mean we should not use renewable energy. Of course we should. But these facts do mean that we need to be honest about whether renewables can displace other energy resources in providing for our energy needs.
Bernard McNamee still has to be approved by the U.S. Senate before he can join FERC.