From The Hill

The Senate confirmed President Trump’s pick for a key energy agency Thursday over Democrats’ objections that he is too biased for the job.

The 50 to 49 vote along party lines means Bernard McNamee, a Republican and former high-ranking political official at the Energy Department under Trump, can take his spot in the five-person Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

McNamee’s history in the Trump administration and working for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation have raised significant objections from Democrats that he can’t live up to the expectation that FERC commissioners should be independent and neutral when it comes to energy fuel sources.

He has been an outspoken advocate of fossil fuels, harshly criticized renewable energy and cast doubt on the science of climate change, including in a video of a speech that surfaced in recent weeks. McNamee also served a key role in pushing the Trump administration’s ongoing attempts to bail out uneconomic coal and nuclear power plants.

“He has lied about how the renewable energies impact the electric grid. He has called support for clean energy ‘organized propaganda,’ and pitched the debate between fossil fuels and renewables in his words as a clash between liberty and tyranny,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Thursday before the vote. “My Republican friends, these words sound absurd.”

“At a time when average Americans are feeling the devastating effects of climate change right now, we should not elevate someone so biased in favor of fossil fuels that caused these problems in the first place,” he added.

To Republicans, McNamee is a highly qualified candidate who knows how to keep his personal opinions in check.

“His obvious qualifications and his commitment to fairness and impartiality earned him a bipartisan vote out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last month with a favorable recommendation,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “I hope the same common sense will prevail today so we can move this nominee forward with the bipartisan vote he well deserves.”

That bipartisan committee vote was due to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who told McNamee in his confirmation hearing that he supports his past statements on fossil fuels and coal.

But Manchin voted against his confirmation due to the video, first published by Utility Dive, and McNamee’s apparent doubt of climate change science.

“After viewing video footage, which I had not previously seen, where Bernard McNamee outright denies the impact that humans are having on our climate, I can no longer support his nomination to be a FERC commissioner,” Manchin said in a statement Wednesday, after voting against a procedural motion to move forward on the confirmation.

“Climate change is real, humans have made a significant impact, and we have the responsibility and capability to address it urgently.”


Sierra Club issues statement

Senate Recklessly Confirms Coal Bailout Architect and Fossil Fuel Proponent Bernard McNamee to FERC

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate confirmed coal bailout architect and fossil fuel proponent Bernard McNamee to the technology-neutral Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today, despite strong opposition from public health groups, environmental organizations, and elected leaders. In addition to being a lifelong fossil fuel lawyer, McNamee has proven to be an overt opponent of America’s clean energy revolution, going so far as to belittle the solar and wind industry’s growth in front of a major fossil fuel group and awkwardly promoting coal, oil, and fracked gas use on Earth Day.

Given the pivotal role that FERC serves in protecting consumers, ensuring reliability, and robust competition, it is critical that all parties appearing before the Commission have confidence that it is technology-neutral and guided by the evidence and law.  McNamee’s expressed hesitation to recuse himself on issues related to the coal bailout scheme he engineered while serving in a political capacity at the Department of Energy has raised red flags by ethics watchdogs. The bailout was widely panned by an diverse array of groups and stakeholders, and unanimously voted down by FERC. Many of these groups are encouraging McNamee to preemptively recuse himself from considerations to both protect FERC’s independence and avoid legal challenges to FERC decisions in the future.

In response, Mary Anne Hitt, Senior Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, released the following statement:

“The Senate’s reckless decision to place Bernard ‘coal bailout’ McNamee on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is a major threat to the Commission’s independence and integrity. From this day forward we will do everything we can to guarantee that he follows the law, treats clean energy sources fairly, and recuses himself from all matters pertaining to his failed coal bailout scheme. It’s essential that we have a fair and lawful FERC moving forward.”

Legal Notice