Trump Nominee Grilled By Senate Dems Over Past Support For Fossil Fuels


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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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  • Bernard McNamee was grilled during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but he’s still likely to become the newest member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
  • McNamee would replace former Republican Commissioner Robert Powelson, restoring a GOP majority on the 5-member regulatory body. 
  • Democratic senators showed trepidation over McNamee’s nomination, pointing to his past work in a bailout plan for failing coal and nuclear plants. 

President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the newest member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) received criticism from Senate Democrats over his past work on a coal bailout plan and for his public support of fossil fuels.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Thursday for Bernard McNamee’s nomination. Should he be confirmed, McNamee would bring the 5-member federal agency back to a GOP majority and likely boost Trump’s energy agenda, as he is more aligned with the president’s philosophy on grid resiliency.

Before the president nominated him in October to be a FERC commissioner, McNamee served as the executive director of the Office of Policy for the Department of Energy. Before that, he lead the Tenth Amendment Center at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.

During his time at the Energy Department, McNamee was behind a failed effort to bail out unprofitable coal and nuclear facilities. FERC rejected that particular measure, but the Trump administration has continued to show interest in subsidizing at-risk coal and nuclear plants. McNamee’s position as a new FERC commissioner could buoy chances that such a measure could pass.

McNamee has also demonstrated personal support for coal. He wrote an Earth Day op-ed in April that extolled the benefits of fossil fuels during his time at the Public Policy Foundation.

This issue of coal bailouts was brought up continually during the Thursday committee hearing.

“I know I can honestly say that I will be an independent arbiter if the issue comes before me at FERC. I think it’s important to look at the law and the facts and make those decision based on that,” McNamee said as he responded to a question over his past work in the coal-nuclear bailout proposal. “My role was primarily as the lawyer and, as I’ve talked throughout my introduction, I’ve had a number of roles as a lawyer.” (RELATED: Trump Nominee Could Make Or Break A Proposal To Bail Out Struggling Coal Plants)

Protesters shouted over McNamee when he first began to speak, but they were immediately escorted out by law enforcement. No other protesters interrupted the hearing.

When Democratic New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich specifically asked if there was an urgent threat to grid reliability, requiring FERC intervention, McNamee answered in the negative.

“I don’t believe it’s FERC’s role to pick and choose resources. I think one of the great success stories has been the development of the wholesale markets,” he answered. “I think that’s FERC’s role really — their goal is to make sure that the markets function properly, and that’s through just and reasonable rates and making sure it’s not unduly discriminatory.”

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden told McNamee that he should recuse himself if issues relating to Trump’s coal bailout come to FERC. When asked specifically by Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto if he would recuse himself, McNamee said he would consult with an ethics counsel beforehand.

While he received scrutiny over the coal bailout proposal, McNamee may never have to vote on the issue at FERC. The Department of Energy in October decided to shelve the bailout plan, citing financial concerns.

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