Senate should reject Trump’s radical nominee to key energy panel
© Greg Nash

Another day, another maneuver by the Trump administration to grab power for greedy corporate interests and line its supporters’ pockets. If President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE has his way, Bernard McNamee - his nominee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) - could serve to carve out another safe haven for right-wing partisan warriors to deepen the pockets of fossil fuel companies at the expense of our health.

FERC is supposed to be a non-partisan agency that levels the playing field for all energy technologies across states. It is supposed to protect consumers, not do the bidding of the oil, gas and coal industries. Yet recent events – like FERC’s chief of staff venting his frustrations in far-right Breitbart or taking taxpayer-funded trips to express support for right-wing radicals in Europe – mark a dangerous trend in the direction of a Commission serving partisan political interests, not people.

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If McNamee is confirmed, the trend toward right-wing partisanship will only accelerate. What “experience” does McNamee bring to FERC? He was the chief of staff to a Texas attorney general who tried to roll back the life-saving Clean Power Plan; he was an attorney who helped big utility companies get more money; and he worked at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch-funded right-wing think tank, where he pushed industry-friendly policy and opposed environmental and health protections. He’s said, incorrectly, that renewables can’t provide more than “maybe seven percent” of energy needs and that they “screw up” the grid. And he celebrated last Earth Day by writing a love letter to the fossil fuel industry. Simply put, this isn’t someone who will be an impartial voice for consumers.

Here’s why this nomination matters: FERC is currently divided evenly between two Democrats and two Republicans. With the unfortunate illness of Commissioner Kevin McIntyre, if appointed, McNamee may well rise to the crucial position of chair. (Commissioner Neil ChatterjeeIndranil (Neil) ChatterjeeSenate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Watchdog: Energy Department not doing enough to protect grid against cyber attacks To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies MORE stepped in the role for now, but Trump may change that designation at will.)

And with major issues coming before FERC in the coming months, placing a partisan advocate for the Trump administration agenda at the helm could prove disastrous. One example: the Department of Energy’s recent attempt to pick winners and losers for the benefit of the coal industry – an attempt FERC has blocked to date. McNamee spearheaded this pro-coal effort in his job as Deputy General Counsel of Energy Policy in the Department of Energy, and it’s likely he’d support the latest version of it at FERC. While purportedly on ice, recent remarks from Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryOvernight Energy: BLM may boost staff numbers at new Colorado headquarters | Perry backers reportedly got Ukraine gas deal after he met with president | Paris exit toughens US path to green future Perry backers secured lucrative Ukraine gas deal after his meeting with new president: report The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment drama will dominate this week MORE suggest the billion-dollar industry handout is not going away.

McNamee could influence other more insidious and localized threats to clean energy as a FERC commissioner as well. Take the example of a gas-fired plant, La Paloma in Kern County, Calif., where a major Trump campaign financier is seeking FERC’s assistance to shove renewable energy sources out of the market. If McNamee is confirmed, it’s more likely than ever that the commission will favor Trump’s ally over the will of California residents, who’ve embraced the state’s historic decision to achieve 100 percent clean energy electricity by 2045.

This nomination is just another example of the Trump administration allowing a fox to guard the henhouse. Former EPA administrator and polluter-friendly Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA rule proposes to expand limitations on scientific studies Overnight Energy: Fight between EPA watchdog, agency lawyers heats up | Top EPA official under investigation over document destruction | DOJ issues subpoenas to automakers in California emissions pact Top EPA official under investigation in document destruction MORE, coal-happy Secretary of Energy Perry, or any of the countless compromised industry allies installed in senior administration positions since President Trump’s inauguration have made things bad enough for public health and the climate. We don’t need one more dangerous and biased voice making decisions that will affect generations.

The bottom line is that McNamee lacks the impartiality to faithfully execute the duties of the office he seeks. Senators should not be fooled by McNamee’s claims of non-partisanship and impartiality, as we’ll certainly hear from him this week. Don’t buy it. And for the rest of us, it’s extremely important to call our senators and urge them to protect our clean energy future by opposing Bernard McNamee’s appointment to FERC.

Smaczniak is a Clean Energy Staff Attorney at Earth Justice.