Senate panel advances Trump’s energy nominee despite Dem objections

Senate panel advances Trump’s energy nominee despite Dem objections
© Greg Nash

A Senate committee voted Tuesday to advance President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE’s latest nominee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) despite objections from Democrats.

The 13-10 vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee lines up Bernard McNamee, a senior Department of Energy official, for a vote on the Senate floor. The vote was along party lines, except for Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinRepublicans, Trump Jr. signal support for embattled West Virginia governor Critics say Interior's top lawyer came 'close to perjury' during Hill testimony The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments MORE (D-W.Va.), who broke with his party to support McNamee.

Since Trump nominated him earlier this year, McNamee has faced fierce opposition from Democrats and environmentalists. They say his history working for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Trump administration — including a key role in pushing a bailout for coal and nuclear plants that FERC itself rejected — goes against the expectation that FERC is impartial and fuel-neutral.

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The objections to McNamee became stronger last week, when a video surfaced of McNamee speaking in February at a Texas Public Policy Foundation event. In the video, first reported by Utility Dive, McNamee said renewable energy “screws up the whole physics of the grid” and fossil fuels are “key to our way of life,” among other comments.

“I would have liked to take Mr. McNamee at his word when he assured me that he would be fair and objective and an impartial arbitrator and that he would decide these matters coming before him based on the law and the facts,” Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Senators call on McConnell to bring net neutrality rules to a vote Maine shakes up debate with tough internet privacy law MORE (Wash.), the committee’s top Democrat, said before the panel vote.

“But after the video has surfaced ... I find it hard to believe that he’s going to be the impartial reviewer of these issues,” she said. “Mr. McNamee’s speech shows him to be neither fair nor judicious. His views expressed are out of the mainstream.”

Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Energy: Democrats ask if EPA chief misled on vehicle emissions | Dem senators want NBC debate focused on climate change | 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Democratic senators want NBC primary debate to focus on climate change Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' MORE (D-N.M.) said he is “deeply disappointed that Mr. McNamee is the best we can do for the FERC at this juncture.”

“I find both the video and his background to suggest that he is going to have a very difficult time being fair, objective or anything close to impartial,” he continued.

Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Overnight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Alaska) said some of McNamee’s comments in the video were “unfortunate,” but she still stood by his nomination.

“Based on the conversations that I’ve had with Mr. McNamee, I think that he understands that FERC must be an independent agency, it must continue to function as such, and I’m going to take his commitment to maintain FERC’s autonomy and to take an independent role as commissioner at face value,” she said. “I will expect that he be fuel neutral and not a champion for one resource over another.”

The panel moved by voice vote to advance two other Trump nominees: David Vela to be director of the National Park Service and Rita Baranwal to be the Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for nuclear energy.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Biden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced MORE (I-Vt.) requested to be recorded “no” on both of those nominees. Sen. Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoHouse panel advances bill to create cybersecurity standards for government IT devices Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties Dems get behind businesswoman challenging Joni Ernst MORE (D-Nev.) put in a “no” vote for Baranwal, after challenging her at a hearing earlier this month to oppose the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project in Nevada.