Expecting a fight? Obama nominee hires PR firm

Greg Campbell | Contributor

A controversial former Colorado official is hiring a D.C-based PR firm to fight for his nomination to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to Bloomberg.

It’s an unprecedented move for an appointment to the relatively obscure FERC, the site reported, but a good sign of just how polarizing a figure Ron Binz is expected to be.

Binz has been described as an activist regulator during his time at the head of the PUC in Colorado and the Wall Street Journal called him “the most important and radical Obama nominee you’ve never heard of.”

Binz has been accused of overstepping his authority as a regulator and promoting policy changes that favor renewable energy over fossil fuels. He openly advocates for higher energy prices for consumers as part of the country’s comprehensive climate plan, according to a scathing op-ed by Vincent Carroll, the Denver Post’s editorial page editor.

Carroll wrote that Binz can be considered a consumer advocate “only if you happen to believe higher energy prices are a consumer’s best friend.”

Carroll also took note of Binz’s extravagant travel itinerary during his tenure.

“If Binz could leverage this sort of eye-popping travel from a mere state regulatory post,” he wrote, “imagine what exotic opportunity might await him as chairman of a commission with national duties.”

Critics have ample evidence to back up their concerns that Binz would continue to be more of an activist than a regulator should he be appointed to FERC, which runs the nation’s power grid.

“I saw the commission not simply as an umpire calling balls and strikes, but also as a leader on policy implementation,” Binz told the Association for the Demand Response and Smart Grid, a trade group.

Most recently, Binz was the senior policy adviser for the Center for the New Energy Economy, a think tank at Colorado State University headed by former Gov. Bill Ritter, who appointed Binz to the PUC.

The center lobbies for clean and renewable energy as central components of the country’s energy policy and promotes conservation and other practices to reduce greenhouse gases.

Apparently expecting opposition from conservatives, the Green Tech Action Fund hired VennSquared Communications, a PR firm, to help with Binz’s nomination. Green Tech is affiliated with the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, which provided financial supporter for Ritter’s Center for the New Energy Economy.

According to its website, VennSquared “designs and delivers winning message strategies through multi-media platforms for public and private corporations, trade associations, foundations, issue campaigns and coalitions.”

Hiring a PR firm is unusual, the managing director of energy programs at the Center for American Progress told Politico, but not unexpected.

“Now that every nomination has become highly politicized and partisan, it makes sense to bring in outside help to move nominations forward,” Richard Caperton said. “I definitely expect that we’ll see more of it. I’m sort of surprised we haven’t seen more of it already.”

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