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Senate panel votes to advance McNamee to US FERC despite renewables comments

Highlights

Near party-line vote to support FERC nomination

Murkowski calls February comments 'unfortunate' but accepts promise of independence

Washington — The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted largely along party lines Tuesday to advance the nomination of Bernard McNamee to the fifth slot at the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, despite concerns voiced by the committee's leaders over statements he made in February criticizing renewable energy.

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The confirmation could provide Republicans with a tie-breaking vote on more contentious matters and assure continued approvals of natural gas infrastructure.

The committee also voted to advance the nomination of Rita Baranwal, director of DOE's Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear, to be assistant secretary for nuclear energy at DOE and for David Vela to be director of the National Park Service.

In supporting McNamee's nomination, Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, Republican-Alaska, acknowledged she found some of this February comments in a video that surfaced last week to be "unfortunate."

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McNamee, in a policy orientation while working for a conservative think tank, described renewables as "screwing up the whole physics of the grid" when they come on and off, and discussed a messaging campaign to convince the public that fossil fuels are essential to quality of life as well as a clean environment. In addition, he described environmental groups as advancing "administrative tyranny" and suggested CO2 was not "real pollution" in comparison to such things as burning coal inside homes in developing nations.

AGENCY INDEPENDENCE

Murkowski said fossil fuels "have made a great deal possible ... and I believe we continue to need them," while adding "we also recognize their role in changes we're seeing in our climate." As for McNamee's remarks on renewable energy, she said: "It's more appropriate to think of renewables as a technical challenge for the grid, one that we will overcome. "But based on conversations she has had with McNamee, she said "I think that he understands that FERC must be an independent agency," and said she would take his commitment at face value.

In written answers to questions from senators following his confirmation hearing, McNamee gave assurances that renewable energy along with other resources "play important roles in supporting a reliable grid" and emphasized that competitive wholesale markets "should offer a level playing field."

But Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell, Democrat-Washington, said she was not able to support him, both because of his role in the administration's efforts to "subsidize high-cost coal" at the expense of ratepayers, and her view that the video unveiled a bias.

"After the video surfaced ... I find it hard to believe that he will be the impartial reviewer of these issues," Cantwell said. "McNamee's speech shows him to be neither fair nor judicious. His views expressed are out of the mainstream."

SENATE ACTION

Murkowski continued to express hopes for full Senate action on the nominations by the end of the year, but was uncertain whether leadership would be able to move them given other pending nominees in the queue.

Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia joined Republicans in voting to advance McNamee's nomination.

Previously serving as executive director of DOE's Office of Policy, McNamee served briefly this year at conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation. He has also served as DOE deputy general counsel, and represented energy and utility clients at McGuireWoods. In addition, he worked for four attorneys general in two states, Virginia and Texas, was a policy adviser to a Virginia governor and worked as a policy adviser for Senator Ted Cruz, Republican-Texas.

-- Maya Weber, maya.weber@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Pankti Mehta, newsdesk@spglobal.com