Senate committee advances pro-fossil ideologue to FERC

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He worked on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) failed bailout of coal and nuclear power plants. He has tried to remove carbon dioxide from being considered as a pollutant. He took “great pleasure” in seeing the Clean Power Plan “put to death”. And he’s claimed that the intermittency of renewables “screws up the whole physics of the grid”.

And now, the nomination of Bernard McNamee, who has worked for Koch Brothers-backed think tanks and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) – the top recipient of campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry in the U.S. Senate – has been advanced by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

This vote to advance McNamee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) appears to have been done over the protests of the Democrats on the Committee, who according to UtilityDive attempted to get a delay in the vote after a video surfaced showing McNamee’s strong bias towards fossil fuels.

Both Energy and Natural Resources Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), referenced this video, but drew very different conclusions, with Senator Murkowski assuming that McNamee will transform from a pro-fossil ideologue into a neutral administrator in the role.

Based on the conversations that i’ve had with Mr. McNamee, I think he understands that FERC must remain an independent agency… I will expect that he be fuel-neutral, and not a champion of one resource over another.

Senator Cantwell had a very different take.

I would like to take Mr. McNamee at his word, when he ensured me that he will be a fair and objective, impartial regulator and that he would decide these matters based on the law and the facts. But after the video has surfaced, I find it hard to believe that he is going to a be an impartial administrator when it comes to these fuels. Mr. McNamee was not defending the administration’s policies, he was speaking as a private citizen. His words reveal a very strong bias in favor of fossil fuels and against renewables.

Senator Cantwell also referenced the DOE’s attempts to bail out coal and nuclear power plants.

Like many of my colleagues, I am troubled by this administration’s continued efforts to subsidize high-cost coal at the expense of our ratepayers. Mr. McNamee had a hand in these policies… he certaintly has been a defender in his role at DOE.

During Senator Murkowski’s comments, a protestor in the audience called on the committee to not approve McNamee, calling him a “fossil fuel extremist” and noting his antipathy to renewables.

There is nothing new about the Trump Administration appointing officials who have strongly supported fossil fuels – as well as officials whose ideological orientation appears more important than technical qualifications. However, if McNamee is approved by the full Senate it could undermine the perception of FERC as a fuel neutral, technocratic regulator of national energy markets.

It could also allow renewed efforts by Energy Secretary Perry to ram through a bailout of coal and nuclear power plants, despite the utter lack of evidence that such plants are necessary for the reliability of the electric grid. At the least, it could allow proposals to reform market rules in the PJM Interconnection and ISO New England regions which would support ailing fossil fuel and nuclear plants and provide barriers to the participation of renewables in wholesale markets.

Clean energy trade group Advanced Energy Economy declined to comment on the advance of McNamee. However, Center for Biological Diversity issued a damning statement. 

“McNamee’s enthusiastic embrace of dirty fossil fuels would have disqualified him under any administration that listened to its own climate scientists,” declared Jean Su, energy director and staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Meanwhile, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has attempted to extend an olive branch. SEIA VP of Communications Dan Whitten offered the following statement to pv magazine:

We hope that his views have evolved and he recognizes the value and low-cost of solar, among its many other attributes, and that he will commit to competitive markets. If he is confirmed, we look forward to working with him in a constructive way to resolve today’s electric grid challenges.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that McNamee had been nominated as chair, when instead he is being proposed only as a member of FERC. We corrected this error at 9:55 AM EST on November 28, and we regret the error.