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 TrumpDefense industrial base workers belong at home during this public health crisis Maduro pushes back on DOJ charges, calls Trump 'racist cowboy' House leaders hope to vote Friday on coronavirus stimulus 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 senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Schumer: Senate should 'explore' remote voting if coronavirus sparks lengthy break Turning the virus into a virtue — for the planet MORE (R-Alaska) and ranking member Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinWhite House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on Senate fails to advance coronavirus stimulus bill for second time in two days 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 ZinkeThe case for transferring federal lands back to Native Americans International hunting council disbands amid litigation Europe deepens energy dependence on Russia 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 HironoDemocratic senators ask IRS to extend tax filing deadline amid coronavirus outbreak Democratic senators ask prison operators for answers on coronavirus plans Overnight Energy: EPA revamps 'secret science' rule | Scientists warn rule still limits research | Trump calls for full funding for conservation program | 19 states sue over border wall funding 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 SchumerCOVID-19, Bill Barr and the American authoritarian tradition Cuomo calls T stimulus 'reckless,' says it fails to meet New York's needs Government oil purchase in jeopardy without stimulus funding 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) ChatterjeeOvernight Energy: Trump prepares to buy 30M barrels of oil amid industry slump | Coronavirus offers reprieve from air pollution | Energy regulators split on delaying actions amid outbreak Energy regulators disagree on whether to delay actions amid coronavirus  Hillicon 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 MORE

Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocrats call for pollution reduction requirements in any aid for airlines, cruises Coronavirus takes toll on Capitol Hill GOP chairman cancels Hunter Biden-related subpoena vote 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.”