Coal booster joins energy regulator

WASHINGTON — Earth Day is often an event for politicians to extol pure wonders and our efforts to protect them. For Bernard L. McNamee, who immediately grew to become one of many nation’s prime vitality regulators, it was a chance to reward oil and coal.

“This Earth Day, let’s settle for the important position that fossil gas performs in vitality wants,” read the headline of his op-ed published in The Hill in April. McNamee argued that fossil fuels “have dramatically improved the human situation” whereas suggesting that “doom-and-gloom prophecies” had been exaggerated, as had been projections about renewable vitality’s development.

A veteran conservative activist, McNamee was a high-ranking deputy within the Division of Vitality when in October President Trump nominated him to serve on the Federal Vitality Regulatory Fee, the nation’s prime arbiter of issues associated to the transmission and sale of vitality. It’s the FERC’s duty, for instance, to both approve or reject initiatives just like the controversial Dakota Entry Pipeline. The five-commissioner company — usually known as “ferk” — additionally conducts oversight of vitality markets, thus exerting oblique affect on the charges shoppers pay.

McNamee’s nomination was vigorously opposed by critics who noticed him as yet one more oil-and-gas trade helpmate within the Trump administration.

However the nomination moved ahead on Wednesday, after the Senate narrowly voted to finish debate and proceed to a flooring vote. McNamee was confirmed by the complete chamber on Thursday, in what a Democratic aide predicted forward of time could be “the narrowest of margins.” The margin in each circumstances was 50 to 49.

That margin was narrowed on Wednesday after Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., indicated that he would vote towards McNamee. Manchin generally caucuses with Republicans, particularly when his state’s financial prospects — 12 % of the nation’s coal comes from West Virginia — are in play. Manchin stated he modified his thoughts after viewing a video of an occasion at which McNamee praised coal in phrases just like these of his Hill op-ed. “Fossil fuels are usually not one thing soiled, one thing we have now to maneuver and get away from,” McNamee says within the recording, which was disseminated widely by his critics.

McNamee’s remarks had been made at a gathering for lawmakers held by the Texas Public Coverage Basis, a conservative suppose tank the place McNamee spent a number of months in early 2018 on an vitality initiative known as Life: Powered. The institute, which is averse to regulation, is heavily funded by corporate concerns. It has additionally acquired cash from the billionaire libertarian activists Charles and David Koch.

Each earlier than and after his transient stint on the Texas Public Coverage Basis, McNamee labored on the Division of Vitality, which is headed by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. At present the director of the division’s coverage workplace, McNamee is believed to have been liable for a proposed Division of Vitality bailout of coal and nuclear vegetation. That plan was ultimately rejected by the FERC.

Sam Gomberg, a senior vitality analyst on the Union of Involved Scientists, instructed Yahoo Information that McNamee is a “blatant ideologue” who can’t be trusted to be a “impartial arbiter of the details.” Gomberg worries that when the Vitality Division returns to the FERC with one other model of its coal and nuclear plant bailout, as it’s anticipated to do in coming months, McNamee will probably use his vote, and his affect, to influence commissioners to vote in favor of the plan.

Ari Peskoe, director of the Electrical energy Regulation Initiative at Harvard Regulation College, instructed Yahoo Information that McNamee ought to be “disqualified” from dealing with issues associated to this previous work with the Division of Vitality. McNamee has made no indication that he would make such a recusal.

He didn’t reply to a request for remark from Yahoo Information.

On the FERC, McNamee may have an ideological ally within the committee’s present chairman, Neil Chatterjee. A former aide to Senate Majority Chief Mitch McConnell, Chatterjee was a critic of the Clean Power Plan, which was proposed by President Barack Obama however by no means put into motion.

New York protesters urge Sen. Chuck Schumer to oppose Bernard McNamee for FERC commissioner (and Joe Manchin as rating member of the Vitality and Pure Assets Committee). (Photograph: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket by way of Getty Photographs)

Trump administration positions having to do with vitality and the surroundings are virtually totally dominated of their higher ranks by proponents of fossil fuels who’ve denied scientific conclusions about human-caused local weather change. The administrator of the Environmental Safety Company, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal lobbyist, whereas Inside Secretary Ryan Zinke has provided hundreds of thousands of acres of public land to vitality prospectors.

Regardless of that, it isn’t clear simply how a lot McNamee or any of his like-minded Trump administration friends can do to spice up the prospects for fossil fuels, coal specifically. In response to an annual report on coal by the U.S. Vitality Data Administration, consumption of coal decreased by 1.9 % in 2017, whilst coal manufacturing elevated by 6.four %. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are solely 52,000 coal miners at work throughout the nation immediately, a drop of 25,000 jobs within the final decade.

Gomberg of the Union of Involved Scientists notes that any favoritism McNamee exhibits to fossil fuels is prone to damage the burgeoning wind-power trade in Midwest states like Kansas and Iowa. As his colleague Rob Cowin has pointed out, wind energy generates greater than a 3rd of the electrical energy within the two states, along with offering hundreds of jobs.

Nonetheless, on Thursday, all 4 senators from Iowa and Kansas voted for McNamee.

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