WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's nominee to be the nation's top energy regulator withdrew Tuesday, conceding he did not have enough support for confirmation.
Ron Binz, a former Colorado energy regulator who strongly backs renewable energy, was opposed by at least half of the 22-member Senate Energy Committee, including all 10 Republicans and at least one Democrat.
Opponents said they considered Binz's views to be outside the mainstream and were troubled by his comment that natural gas may be a "dead end" fuel.
Republicans said they were concerned that Binz was not truthful when he assured them that he was not part of a coordinated effort by a green-energy group and a Washington lobbying firm to boost his nomination to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Binz said in a statement that he plans to remain in Colorado. No replacement was announced. Colette Honorable, chairwoman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, and FERC commissioner Cheryl LaFleur are among those mentioned as possible successors to outgoing FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff.
A White House spokesman said Tuesday that Obama was grateful for Binz's willingness to serve and regrets that "qualified public servants continue to get obstructed by the Senate confirmation process."
Binz, who served on Colorado's public utilities commission from 2007 to 2011, has championed renewable energy such as wind and solar power and helped former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter push through a law that led to closures of older, coal-fired plants in the state.
Binz, 64, said in an interview Tuesday that he was caught up in an ideological battle that had little to do with him — or with FERC's job of regulating interstate transmission of electricity, oil and natural gas. The panel does not regulate coal.
"That was the greatest disappointment, that the person considered for this job was a caricature of me ... spun up by my opponents," he said. "The committee announced its votes on someone I didn't even recognize."
Binz called the battle over his nomination a "blood sport" and said advocacy groups funded by the fossil fuel industry waged an organized and effective campaign against him.
"It was a coordinated attack," he said, calling the dispute a proxy battle against the Obama administration's clean energy policies.
A former advocate for energy consumers, Binz now works as a consultant and is affiliated with a renewable energy institute headed by Ritter. Binz said Tuesday he will focus on "how to move forward on a clean energy agenda."
At a confirmation hearing last month, Binz denied he is anti-coal, but the perception that he is hostile to coal and other fossil fuels persisted. Sen. Joe Manchin, a pro-coal Democrat from West Virginia, sharply questioned Binz at the Sept. 17 hearing and announced his opposition to Binz the next day. Another pro-coal Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, also was considered likely to oppose Binz if his nomination had continued.
"Mr. Binz's record shows he strongly favors renewable (energy) over other energy sources, and he favors rising rates as part of the new economy," Manchin said.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate energy panel, said she was not convinced Binz's views were "compatible with FERC's mission."
Binz's withdrawal was celebrated by pro-coal activists, who had strongly opposed his nomination. Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, a conservative group backed by fossil fuel interests, called Binz "the wrong nominee at the worst possible time for American consumers."
Binz's "record of radical advocacy and regulatory bias was too much to overcome, even for (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid's rubber-stamp Senate," Pyle said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Binz's withdrawal a "victory for job creation and for Kentucky families." McConnell had vowed to oppose Binz on the Senate floor.
"Given the Obama administration's hostility toward coal and other fossil fuels and the jobs they create, the last thing American families need is another regulator who is willing to block job growth in the vital field of energy production," McConnell said
Senate Energy Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called Binz well-qualified to lead FERC and said it was "unfortunate" that Binz was forced to withdraw.
"The next nominee should be judged on his or her merits," Wyden said, "and not on organized PR campaigns, either for or against."
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