Senate advances Trump energy pick after Manchin flips

The Senate voted Wednesday to advance President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build Trump Tower in Moscow during 2016 campaign: report DC train system losing 0k per day during government shutdown Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees MORE’s nominee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) despite Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks MORE’s (D-W.Va.) surprise vote against him.

Lawmakers voted 50-49 to limit debate on Bernard McNamee’s nomination to be a FERC commissioner. All Republicans voted “yes,” and all Democrats voted “no,” while Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (R-N.C.) wasn’t present.

The Senate plans to vote Thursday on McNamee's final confirmation to the five-person body.

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McNamee has faced strong opposition from Democrats, environmentalists and others. He formerly worked at the Energy Department under Trump, helping to advance controversial policies including the administration’s attempts to bail out the coal and nuclear power industries — a version of which FERC unanimously rejected earlier this year.

Manchin voted for McNamee in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week, the only Democrat to do so.

But he flipped Wednesday, voting “no” on the procedural vote. He explained in a statement that only after the committee vote did he see a video of McNamee speaking at a Texas Public Policy Foundation event in February in which he harshly criticized renewable energy, cheered fossil fuels and threw doubt on climate change science.

McNamee worked for a Texas conservative think tank at the time.

“After viewing video footage, which I had not previously seen, where Bernard McNamee outright denies the impact that humans are having on our climate, I can no longer support his nomination to be a FERC commissioner,” he said in the statement. “Climate change is real, humans have made a significant impact, and we have the responsibility and capability to address it urgently.”

Manchin is currently seeking to become the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee after Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellGOP seeks health care reboot after 2018 losses Climate movement should focus on winning 2020 presidential election Senate poised to kick land bill fight to January MORE’s (D-Wash.) expected move to lead the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

McNamee's admiration for coal and for Trump administration policy alarms environmentalists.

The video in question had been removed from the internet by the think tank. But a group opposing his nomination saved it, and Utility Dive published it in November, before the committee vote.

Manchin, who narrowly won reelection last month in coal-heavy West Virginia, told McNamee at his confirmation hearing last month that he viewed the nominee’s support for coal positively.

“I'm probably one of the only ones on my side who appreciates where you're coming from,” he said.

FERC commissioners are expected to be independent and neutral on issues such as energy fuel sources in the matters they oversee, including interstate natural gas pipelines and bulk electricity markets. And McNamee told senators he would respect that.

“If confirmed, I commit that I will be a fair, objective and impartial arbiter in the cases and issues that would confront me as a commissioner. My decisions will be based on the law and the facts, not politics,” he said.

Republicans took McNamee at his word.

“I believe that Mr. McNamee understands, and understands well, that FERC is an independent agency, and it must continue to function as such,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiKaine to force Senate to hold rare Saturday session amid shutdown Senate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Senators look for possible way to end shutdown MORE (R-Alaska), the Energy Committee’s chairwoman, said on the Senate floor. “And I take his commitment to uphold FERC’s autonomy and maintain an independent role as a commissioner at face value.”

Democrats said McNamee has demonstrated his inability to be neutral.

“I would like to have taken Mr. McNamee at his word when he came before the Senate Energy Committee to say that he would be ‘a fair and objective and impartial arbiter,’ ” Cantwell said.

But his remarks in the video, and his overall record, “reveal a very strong bias in favor of fossil fuels against renewable energy,” she said.