Obama energy nominee takes heat in Senate for ‘dead end’ remark

President Obama's pick to run the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, under fire from Republicans, on Tuesday sought to clarify his controversial claim that natural gas will eventually be a “dead end.”

Ron Binz, the nominee to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), told a Senate panel that he’s a big fan of the fuel.

“This is a terrific fuel, it’s needed right now and may be in the permanent energy mix,” Binz said during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

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Binz is under attack from Republicans and conservative groups for saying in March that natural gas, from a climate standpoint, is a “dead end” after 2035 absent use of carbon capture and storage technology.

“I find the comments troubling and far outside the mainstream,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told Binz on Tuesday.

More broadly, Binz faces conservative allegations that he’s also biased against coal and too eager to use FERC as a platform to promote green energy.

Barrasso said he feared that Binz, a former Colorado utility regulator, would act on his “dead end” view when weighing permits for natural gas-related infrastructure, such as export terminals and pipelines.

“If confirmed, you will be in an ideal position to act on the beliefs about the ‘dead end’ for natural gas in 2035 by blocking permits,” Barrasso said, adding that carbon capture technology isn’t currently commercially viable and may never be for natural gas

But Binz, during the hearing, said he’s “fully supportive of the development of natural gas resources,” and wants to streamline pipeline applications and ensure liquefied natural gas export plans are processed “expeditiously.”

He said he would “probably be in a lot better shape right now” if he hadn’t made the “dead end” comment at a March conference.

“I fully embrace the use of natural gas, I have said that in many speeches over many years, and I don’t want something I said, probably un-carefully, to be taken out of context to mean something different,” Binz said.

But he also defended the idea that de-carbonizing gas-fired power would eventually be needed to achieve very steep greenhouse gas emissions cuts at mid-century. Natural gas produces far less carbon dioxide than coal when burned to create power, but it’s still a greenhouse-gas emitting fuel.

Binz called his view on the role of gas in addressing climate change “very much in the mainstream,” noting work done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and elsewhere. He also expressed confidence that carbon capture and storage technology would be ready by the "dead end" date.

“We have got 20 years to do it, and I think there is a very good chance that the technology will be invented or perfected by that time,” Binz said.