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 TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest 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) ManchinClarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Schumer: I don't know any 'Democrat who agrees' with O'Rourke on gun seizures O'Rourke: Many Democrats 'complicit' in gun problem 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: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers to discuss 'future internet regulation' 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 panel advances Trump's nominees to lead Air Force, Army Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Democrats grill Army, Air Force nominees on military funding for border wall 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 MurkowskiOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Bipartisan group of senators urges FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote 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 SandersSanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest Krystal Ball tears into 'Never Trump' Republicans 2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum MORE (I-Vt.) requested to be recorded “no” on both of those nominees. Sen. Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoMarijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis Female Democratic Senate candidates in Colorado ask DSCC to rescind Hickenlooper endorsement Democrats press Trump Treasury picks on donor disclosure guidelines 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.