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 TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards 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 MurkowskiMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Most Americans think winner of election should pick next Supreme Court justice: poll Murkowski: Supreme Court nominee should not be taken up before election MORE (R-Alaska) and ranking member Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinNames to watch as Trump picks Ginsburg replacement on Supreme Court Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Gardner on court vacancy: Country needs to mourn Ginsburg 'before the politics begin' 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 ZinkeTrump extends Florida offshore drilling pause, expands it to Georgia, South Carolina Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention Trump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet 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 unveil plan declaring racism a public health issue Overnight Defense: US, Russia trade blame over Syria incident | Pentagon calls out China's 'counterproductive' military exercises, missile test | Democrats press Esper on COVID-19 response Democrats press Esper on 'concerning' rise in Pentagon's COVID-19 cases 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 SchumerChuck SchumerRepublican senator says plans to confirm justice before election 'completely consistent with the precedent' Video of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral Graham signals support for confirming a Supreme Court nominee this year 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) ChatterjeeAppeals Court's support for FERC rule ramps up the need for flexible energy programs Watchdog finds agencies using outdated standards for gas export facilities Overnight Energy: 350 facilities skip reporting water pollution | Panel votes to block Trump's 'secret science' rule | Court upholds regulation boosting electric grid storage MORE

Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Senate Democrats seek removal of controversial public lands head after nomination withdrawal Five takeaways from final Senate Intel Russia report 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.”