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 TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign 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 MurkowskiSenate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Senate blocks push to subpoena Bolton in impeachment trial Impeachment trial begins with furor over rules MORE (R-Alaska) and ranking member Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer Poll: West Virginia voters would view Manchin negatively if he votes to convict Trump Pelosi set to send impeachment articles to the Senate next week 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 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 request briefing on intel behind Trump's embassy threat claim Former Hawaii Democratic governor calls on Gabbard to resign Gabbard under fire for 'present' vote on impeachment 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 SchumerDemocratic senator blasts 'draconian' press restrictions during impeachment trial Feds seek 25-year sentence for Coast Guard officer accused of targeting lawmakers, justices Clinton: McConnell's rules like 'head juror colluding with the defendant to cover up a crime' 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.”