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 TrumpCNN's Don Lemon explains handling of segment after Trump criticism NPR reporter after Pompeo clash: Journalists don't interview government officials to score 'political points' Lawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet 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 MurkowskiGOP confident of win on witnesses Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight Trump's team rests, calls for quick end to trial MORE (R-Alaska) and ranking member Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump lawyers to offer closing arguments on day 7 Senators ready for question time in impeachment trial The Hill's Morning Report - Report of Bolton tell-all manuscript roils Trump defense MORE (D-W.Va.).

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 ZinkeEurope deepens energy dependence on Russia Overnight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks 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 HironoDemocrats worry Trump team will cherry-pick withheld documents during defense Democrats urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency from chopping block Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on 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 SchumerLawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet Senate Democrats' super PAC raised million in 2019 As the mental health crisis grows, Puerto Ricans need long-term care 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) ChatterjeeHillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon Bipartisan senators call on FERC to protect against Huawei threats Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware MORE

Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocratic senator blasts 'draconian' press restrictions during impeachment trial Health care, spending bills fuel busy year for K Street Schumer introduces bill requiring GDP measure inequality 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.”