WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama’s nomination of Ron Binz to be the next Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is very much in question.
The former Colorado regulator was under intense pressure Tuesday as members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee questioned whether he is opposed to coal and natural gas.
The concerns of lawmakers partially came from comments Binz made during the Edison Foundation panel in 2013. Binz made the comment that gas may be “a dead end” fuel. Binz recanted that statement during Tuesday’s hearing.
“I think this is a terrific fuel and it’s needed right now and maybe in the permanent energy mix,” he said.
FERC is the independent federal agency that regulates the interstate transportation of electricity, natural gas and oil. FERC would be responsible for permitting the the interstate natural gas pipelines, the natural gas storage facilities and the liquid natural gas export terminals.
Binz told lawmakers that he has concerns that natural gas could contribute to greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming down the road if nothing is done by 2035 to reduce carbon emissions. He said steps need to be taken otherwise he questions the use of natural gas over the long term.
“If we will have to reduce carbon, then we are going to have to make plans at some point,” he said. “We’ve got twenty years to do it and I think there is a very good chance that the technology will be invented or perfected by that time.”
Binz said that ultimately the future of natural gas would not be in his hands but rather Congress, the EPA and the industry itself.
“It will be up to this industry in total to decide what we do on a carbon basis going forward,” he said. “This is not a FERC decision.”
In addition to natural gas concerns, lawmakers also questioned Binz’s stance on coal considering he favors renewable energy sources such as wind and solar over traditional fossil fuels.
Binz served as chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission from 2007 to 2011 and during which time he supported a clean-air law which resulted in the closure of six old coal-fired power plants.
Binz stated during the hearing that he approved the state’s largest coal-fired power plant while serving as chairman, and noted that coal provides 40 percent of Colorado’s electricity.
No vote was taken Tuesday by the committee on Binz’s nomination, however no Republicans spoke in favor of Binz. Democrats control the energy panel, 12-10. Binz’s nomination will be in jeopardy if one Democrat votes no.