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 TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection 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) ManchinHillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court cancels shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline | US could avoid 4.5M early deaths by fighting climate change, study finds | Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic 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 CantwellThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mike Roman says 3M on track to deliver 2 billion respirators globally and 1 billion in US by end of year; US, Pfizer agree to 100M doses of COVID-19 vaccine that will be free to Americans Overnight Energy: Supreme Court reinstates fast-track pipeline permit except for Keystone XL | Judge declines to reverse Dakota Access Pipeline shutdown OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' report | Climate change erases millennia of cooling: study | Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget 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 HeinrichSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic OVERNIGHT ENERGY: 20 states sue over Trump rule limiting states from blocking pipeline projects | House Democrats add 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking big amendment | Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money following Treasury delays 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 MurkowskiOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns 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 Campaign Report: LIVE: Trump from Gettysburg | The many unknowns of 2020 | Omar among those facing primary challenges Trump's personality is as much a problem as his performance Sierra Club endorses Biden for president  MORE (I-Vt.) requested to be recorded “no” on both of those nominees. Sen. Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump signs major conservation bill into law | Senate votes to confirm Energy's No. 2 official | Trump Jr. expresses opposition to Pebble Mine project Senate votes to confirm Energy's No. 2 official 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.