Energy regulator nominee withdraws

Ron Binz
Ron Binz

President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the nation’s top energy regulator withdrew Tuesday, conceding he did not have enough support for confirmation.

Ron Binz, a former Colorado energy regulator who strongly backs renewable energy, was opposed by at least half of the 22-member Senate Energy Committee.

Opponents said they considered Binz’s views to be outside the mainstream and were troubled by his comment that natural gas may be a “dead end” fuel.

Republicans said they were concerned that Binz was not truthful when he assured them that he was not part of a coordinated effort by a green-energy group and a Washington lobbying firm to boost his nomination to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Binz said in a statement that he plans to remain in Colorado. No replacement was announced. Colette Honorable, chairwoman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, and FERC commissioner Cheryl LaFleur are among those mentioned as possible successors to outgoing FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff.

A White House spokesman said Tuesday that Obama was grateful for Binz’s willingness to serve and regrets that “qualified public servants continue to get obstructed by the Senate confirmation process.”

Binz, who served on Colorado’s public utilities commission from 2007 to 2011, has championed renewable energy such as wind and solar power and helped former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter push through a law that led to closures of older, coal-fired plants in the state.

Binz, 64, said in an interview Tuesday that he was caught up in an ideological battle that had little to do with him — or with FERC’s job of regulating interstate transmission of electricity, oil and natural gas. The panel does not regulate coal.

“That was the greatest disappointment, that the person considered for this job was a caricature of me … spun up by my opponents,” he said. “The committee announced its votes on someone I didn’t even recognize.”

Binz called the battle over his nomination a “blood sport” and said advocacy groups funded by the fossil fuel industry waged an organized and effective campaign against him.

“It was a coordinated attack,” he said, calling the dispute a proxy battle against the Obama administration’s clean energy policies.

A former advocate for energy consumers, Binz now works as a consultant and is affiliated with a renewable energy institute headed by Ritter. Binz said Tuesday he will focus on “how to move forward on a clean energy agenda.”

At a confirmation hearing last month, Binz denied he is anti-coal, but the perception that he is hostile to coal and other fossil fuels persisted.