Manchin says no to Binz

Debbie Rolen drolen@civitasmedia.com

September 19, 2013

In a telephone press conference Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he cannot support Obama’s choice to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)

Ron Binz, who was Chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission from 2007 to 2011 and currently a regulatory consultant, Binz was nominated by President Barack Obama in July to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Binz would replace Jon Wellinghoff, a New Mexico attorney who remains with FERC pending the confirmation of a successor.

FERC, which has about 1,500 employees, regulates elements of the U.S. natural gas, electricity, oil and hydropower industries, including the reliability of the electricity grid and approval of liquefied natural gas export terminals.

Sen. Manchin outlined FERC’s responsibilities in an example of his dealings with them while he was governor.

“They wanted to build transmission lines and ended up building one. It wasn’t because we needed the power in West Virginia, they were building reliability in the eastern seaboard. They wanted the little state of West Virginia to provide it and to transmit it. FERC had the responsibility to say it was needed, this capacity is much needed and needs to be built, and gave the approval to build it. Let’s say they didn’t want it to come now from coal and they are going to put it much more costly in different directions doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. They shouldn’t be making those determinations, but they can. FERC regulates the transmission wholesale sales of electricity in interstate commerce, reviews certain mergers and acquisitions and corporate transactions by electricity companies. So if they have an electricity company who is heavily reliant on carbon, or coal or natural gas and the person is going towards renewables and they don’t allow an acquisition or merger to happen because of that, it changes the whole mix. They regulate the transmission and sales of natural gas for resale in interstate commerce. He also made a point of saying that natural gas is a dead-end fuel. “

Manchin said Binz was well prepared for the hearing and acknowledged that Binz apologized for the natural gas remark, but said the remark went along with his past actions over the past 20 or 30 years and he had no reason to believe Binz would change his ways.

“He was not going to be coming from a balanced approach. I would like to see someone say here is how I can help and all benefit by having an ‘all in’ energy policy that makes our country more secure as a nation, less dependent on foreign oil and more independent on our own resources. I never did hear that.”

When asked when he thought West Virginia would move toward more renewable energy, the senator reminded the group West Virginia has some of the largest wind farms in the country.

“I am not objectionable to that. In fact, we are moving toward that with some of the largest wind farms in the country or at least east of the Mississippi. But when your own EIA, or department of energy is saying basically the realistic fact of what we are dealing with is because of the load and capacity needed, 70 percent or greater for the next 30 years is coal and natural gas. Experts are saying this, not me. If that’s the case, can’t we start looking as a partnership in finding ways to enhance the technology, the technology that we can use coal much cleaner. I can assure you the rest of the world is demanding more carbon, more Co2 will be emitted than ever in the history of the world and it won’t be coming from America. If you believe the ocean currents and wind currents stop at America, I don’t. I’m not asking for someone who is pro-coal, pro-gas, pro-renewables, pro-nuke or pro-hydro. I’m not asking for any one tilted person to be in those types of responsible positions. I’m asking for a person who understands what it takes to have a realistic approach and a blend that gives us more chances of being energy independent. Whether it be FERC, EPA, there’s a balance between the environment and the economy. That’s all I’ve ever asked for. I did not see that in Mr. Binz. I think he’s a very honorable man and a good person. He believes what he believes. He has practiced what he preaches. I have to look at past performances—and that’s why I came to the conclusion I did. I am hoping the president, if this person is not confirmed, can give us a person who is more balanced, and has a past performance of being balanced. There is a gentleman on the committee now who has the most experience, who for some reason was not even considered, Mr. Norris.”

Sen. Manchin says Binz recommended shutting down coal-fired plants without having the proper energy to come on-line at a cost of more than a billion dollars and passing that cost along to the rate payers over seven years causing a lot of hardship to a lot of people. Manchin says he could have done that in a number of different ways using a blend, renewables or retrofitting.

“It required reductions in emissions, even more than the EPA. It made it so expensive, the plants had to shut down. There was a lot of stuff that went down. He advocated an innovative approach to climate regulation. They’ve had the threat of rolling blackouts and brownouts because of the actions. I was concerned because of all of the things. We went through it step by step. He did the best job that he could to explain, but it’s hard to explain something that you can’t defend because of the facts.”

Sen. Manchin does not know where the vote is on this position and says that if Binz is confirmed, he will work with him.

Manchin questions why he should have to fight everyone, including the government, when one of the greatest sources of energy is being produced in West Virginia.

“Why do I have to fight for something that the experts have identified will be the largest source of energy for the next two to three decades or more? Why shouldn’t they be working with me, and continually seems to be working against us? The people they put in place, the rules and regulations they come out with are unattainable, they are unreasonable. It is technologically impossible for the composition of coal and natural gas to meet the same standards. Technologically impossible. They know it. Yet, they are still depending on coal. All the energy companies will tell you the mix of energy they are producing in their portfolio to make sure they have reliable energy and affordable energy is getting critical, very critical. They are being forced because of regulations and uncertainty and higher cost changes they are making, they are very vulnerable to the consumer. The people of our state and the citizens of our country better be paying attention to their energy costs, their energy bills.”

The subject of layoffs in the coalfields came up and the senator was optimistic and hopeful.

“I’ve lived all my life in West Virginia in the coal industry and know it well. Farmington, my little home town, the southern region, I know it well. We are a resilient people. When the economy, when the markets change, when gas comes on plentiful, that’s going to hurt coal because it’s a cheaper fuel. I understand all of that. We have been able to survive markets ups and markets downs. We have never had since I have lived on this beautiful earth of ours in the beautiful state of West Virginia, I have never seen a time when we were trying to survive through a market switch or market changes and have a federal government or state government jump on your back and ride you to the ground. I’ve never seen that time. That’s what it feels like to me now. With that being said, does Ron, you continue to have the people that their mind, their thought process and their past actions show that they would go down that path—do you think it would be responsible for me the way you know I believe and what you just heard me say to vote for him? It’s not democrat, it’s not republican, it shouldn’t be political, it should be based on facts and the fact is, the hard, cold fact is, they need the coal that we produce to make electricity that keeps the lights on for 40 percent of the east coast. They need it. And why they want to make it so difficult for us to provide them the quality of life they depend on is beyond me. If we were doing it in such a way that was unacceptable, if there was better technology that was out there and we didn’t use it, then shut us down, but if we are using all the technology and we are trying to develop new technology, work with me to find it, not against me.”