Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics

Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics
© Greg Nash

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee reviewed two nominees Tuesday for major roles in overseeing the nation’s energy portfolio, both of whom have been criticized for ethical issues related to the companies they would help regulate. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE has nominated James Danly to serve as a commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and Katharine MacGregor to serve as deputy secretary for the Department of the Interior. 

Both nominees earned praise from the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. 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) and ranking member 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.).

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But in a hearing interrupted twice by protesters, Democratic lawmakers zeroed in on a recent report that oil and gas companies boasted about relying on MacGregor anytime they ran into trouble with the Interior Department.

The political director of the Independent Petroleum Association of America once said a meeting that “We’ll call Kate,” became the default solution to any problems they encountered with Interior, according to reporting Monday from Reveal

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt once served as the lawyer for that same association.

MacGregor came to Interior under former Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight 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 Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Overnight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule MORE after also spending a decade working on the Hill, including time as a Republican staffer on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoOvernight Energy: Perry replacement faces Ukraine questions at hearing | Dem chair demands answers over land agency's relocation | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Perry replacement moves closer to confirmation despite questions on Ukraine Hirono memoir due in 2021 MORE (D-Hawaii) noted that she was not surprised by MacGregor’s nomination, as Interior is “full of political appointees like you that are close to the fossil fuel industry.” 

“You are outspoken about your belief that environmental regulations are burdensome, and you strongly support oil and gas development on public lands,” Hirono said, noting the Reveal article stressing the industry’s comfort in calling her for solutions. 

Reporting from Reveal found that MacGregor helped fast-track a drilling permit that had been rejected as “incomplete” and “deficient.”

When asked how the department’s many holdings would be affected by climate change, MacGregor said, “I recognize that the climate is changing. Man does have an impact, that’s what the science tells us, and the science indicates there is great uncertainty in the projections related to those impacts.” 

Also Monday, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action MORE (D-N.Y.) requested an investigation of Danly, who currently serves as general counsel for the FERC, saying he may have given bad ethics advice to FERC commissioners who had ties to the industries they regulate. 

“Issues have been raised related to inconsistent and inaccurate ethics advice provided by FERC’s Office of General Counsel regarding recusal obligations, waivers requirements, and implementation of the Administration’s ethics pledge,” Schumer wrote in a letter to the inspector general of the Department of Energy (DOE), which oversees the FERC. 

Schumer asked for an expeditious review of Danly’s role in ethics reviews and any “inconsistent and inaccurate ethics advice.”

Danly told lawmakers he has “no role whatsoever in the provision of ethics advice,” which he said is entirely the role of the agency’s Departmental Ethics Office, which he does not oversee.

But many Democrats were more concerned that a Democrat had not been nominated to FERC alongside Danly, a sign of what they view as a politicization of the commission under controversial chair Neil ChatterjeeIndranil (Neil) ChatterjeeSenate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Watchdog: Energy Department not doing enough to protect grid against cyber attacks To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies MORE

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 was worried about the commission becoming “another extension of the White House or DOE.”

“When we fail to pair nominees we really risk tearing down the norms that have made this body so apolitical and so effective for so long,” he said.

Danly’s testimony was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, one of which screamed, “No more fossil lovers. Wind and solar now.”