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 TrumpLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Saudi Arabia paid 0 million for cost of US troops in area Parnas claims ex-Trump attorney visited him in jail, asked him to sacrifice himself for president 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) ManchinTrump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer Poll: West Virginia voters would view Manchin negatively if he votes to convict Trump Pelosi set to send impeachment articles to the Senate next week 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 CantwellFive tech stories to watch in 2020 Hillicon Valley: House panel unveils draft of privacy bill | Senate committee approves bill to sanction Russia | Dems ask HUD to review use of facial recognition | Uber settles sexual harassment charges for .4M Key House committee offers online privacy bill draft 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 HeinrichHealth care, spending bills fuel busy year for K Street Schumer introduces bill requiring GDP measure inequality Senators want FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats 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 MurkowskiPaul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump Seven things to know about the Trump trial Trump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer 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 SandersEx-Obama official on Sanders-Warren feud: 'I don't think it played out well for either of them' Former Vermont Governor: Sanders 'will play dirty' Hill.TV's Krystal Ball rips Warren over feud with Sanders MORE (I-Vt.) requested to be recorded “no” on both of those nominees. Sen. Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoSenate Democrats launch investigation into Trump tax law regulations DSCC endorses combat veteran MJ Hegar in Texas race to unseat Cornyn Senate confirms Trump's 50th circuit judge, despite 'not qualified' rating 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.