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 TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election 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) ManchinFormer coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics 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 CantwellMicrosoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Senators introduce cybersecurity workforce expansion bill Boeing chief faces anger over 737 crashes at hearing 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 reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics This week: House to vote on Turkey sanctions bill Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars 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 MurkowskiHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal 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 SandersSinger Neil Young says that America's presidents haven't done enough address climate change New poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide MORE (I-Vt.) requested to be recorded “no” on both of those nominees. Sen. Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoHouse and Senate Dems implore McConnell to sign DACA legislation to protect 'Dreamers' Democrats unifying against Joe Kennedy Senate bid Former state senator gets DSCC endorsement in North Carolina Senate race 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.