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 TrumpCoast Guard chief: 'Unacceptable' that service members must rely on food pantries, donations amid shutdown Dem lawmaker apologizes after saying it's never been legal in US to force people to work for free Grassley to hold drug pricing hearing 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) ChatterjeeGOP commissioner on federal energy panel dies Senate should reject Trump’s radical nominee to key energy panel Overnight Energy: Chief energy regulator vows to steer clear of political fights | Zinke was referred to DOJ shortly before watchdog controversy | Groups threaten to sue EPA over paint stripper 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 PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Pompeo in Iraq for unannounced visit GOP commissioner on federal energy panel dies 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 PruittFormer Obama energy advisor warns EPA is being ‘hollowed out’ Christie says Trump hired 'riffraff' in new book Meet 3 women who stood up to Trump to protect the American people — and lost their jobs 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.