Dems slam Trump’s energy regulator nominee

Dems slam Trump’s energy regulator nominee
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats tore into President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE’s nominee for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), saying he is too close an ally to the Trump administration and its policies.

Bernard McNamee has served in numerous senior roles at the Department of Energy under Trump, and he has told senators that he was the leading attorney in the administration’s failed attempt to require higher electricity payments for coal and nuclear power plants.

Democrats on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee argued in a Thursday hearing on his confirmation that McNamee’s history shows he cannot be the neutral arbiter an independent agency like FERC requires.

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“You played a key role in developing the legal underpinnings of a Trump energy bailout that was so flawed, every member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected it,” said Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenKremlin seeks more control over internet in Russia Wisconsin governor to propose decriminalization of marijuana High stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks MORE (D-Ore.).

“Now the president wants to put you on the commission that rejected the plan you wrote. Looks to me … this is not like having the fox guard the chicken coop. This is like putting the fox inside the chicken coop.”

Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenate votes to extend key funding mechanism for parks White House poised to take action on AI, 5G Overnight Energy: States press Trump on pollution rules | EPA puts climate skeptic on science board | Senate tees up vote on federal lands bill MORE (Wash.), the panel’s top Democrat, asked McNamee whether a policy that increases prices in the name of improving electric grid resilience — which opponents of the Trump proposal said it would do — would comply with FERC’s mandate to impose “just and reasonable” rules on the grid.

Some senators, including Sens. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingDrama hits Senate Intel panel’s Russia inquiry Warner, Burr split on committee findings on collusion Overnight Defense: Top general wasn't consulted on Syria withdrawal | Senate passes bill breaking with Trump on Syria | What to watch for in State of the Union | US, South Korea reach deal on troop costs MORE (I-Maine) and Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoSchumer urging ex-congressional candidate Amy McGrath to run against McConnell Mark Kelly launches Senate bid in Arizona Former McCain chief of staff says he will not run for Senate in Arizona in 2020 MORE (D-Nev.), said McNamee ought to recuse himself from consideration of any future policy to help coal and nuclear plants, but McNamee promised only to consult ethics officials.

“I don’t understand any argument where you would have to consult any counsel anywhere on earth to understand that you have a conflict of interest when it comes to this issue of the so-called grid resiliency pricing rule, or any version thereof,” King said. “I’m surprised and disappointed that you feel you have to consult with counsel on something that’s so clear.”

McNamee repeatedly pledged that he wouldn’t bring his political activities from the Trump administration and other jobs into his role at the five-member FERC.

“If confirmed, I commit that I will be a fair, objective and impartial arbiter in the cases and issues that would confront me as a commissioner. My decisions will be based on the law and the facts, not politics,” he told senators.

“I don’t just say this just because I’m trying to get your vote. It’s something I believe, because I think that the rule of law depends on the fact that people who are in the position of making decisions, that they listen, and they hear what people say, and they consider it,” he said.

The panel also heard from David Vela, Trump’s pick to lead the National Park Service, and Rita Baranwal, his nominee to lead nuclear energy at the Department of Energy.

Vela, the superintendent at Grand Teton National Park, identified two major priorities if he is confirmed: fixing the culture of sexual harassment among agency employees and confronting the $11.6 billion backlog at parks.

He said the Trump administration has already implemented some good policies on harassment, but he wants to boost those.

“We have better reporting requirements. We have survey instruments. We’ve added additional subject matter expertise to help guide individuals who are making allegations through the process. We have more defined processes,” Vela said.

“But the thing I want to make sure, if confirmed, is that we have accountability, accountability throughout the entire chain of command,” he said. “It starts with the director. The director sets the tone. He or she sets the dynamics, if you will, to ensure that we do get that accountability.”

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE (R-Alaska), the Energy Committee’s chairwoman, said she hoped to pass all three nominees through the committee before the end of the year.