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White House concedes defeat on Ron Binz, key energy nominee

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The White House's nominee to a top energy post withdrew Monday, conceding defeat in a fight that had turned into a major battle over President Obama's climate agenda.

Ron Binz, Mr. Obama's nominee to be chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, had faced bipartisan opposition after he made comments critical of fossil fuels and appeared to mislead members of the Senate Energy Committee.

"It is now clear that my nomination will not be reported favorably," Mr. Binz wrote to Mr. Obama in a letter. "Reluctantly, therefore, I respectfully request that my name be withdrawn from further consideration for this position."

As late as Thursday, the White House had publicly insisted it was still backing Mr. Binz, even as the Energy Committee said it had learned the administration was searching for other candidates to replace him.

The concession is a major blow to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose current and former staffers — including some who have become registered lobbyists — had been working to get Mr. Binz confirmed.

Indeed, emails exposing Mr. Binz's work with those lobbyists and with a Democratic public relations firm helped dent his nomination. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Energy Committee, said Mr. Binz had led her to believe he didn't have a team of lobbyists aiding him.

In his confirmation hearing in mid-September he apologized for misleading her.

In an effort to stem concerns over his view of fossil fuels, he also said that during his term as chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, he had approved the largest coal-fired power plant in the state's history. But in fact that power plant was approved several years before Mr. Binz joined the panel.

His nomination took a hit when all the Energy Committee's Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, said they could not support him.

That left him at best facing a vote to send him to the full Senate with a negative recommendation, which would have been difficult to surmount.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who had taken a strong stand against Mr. Binz, said the withdrawal was prompted by that bipartisan opposition.

"Given the Obama administration's hostility toward coal and other fossil fuels and the jobs they create, the last thing American families need is another regulator who is willing to block job growth in the vital field of energy production," he said.

He warned Mr. Obama to replace Mr. Binz's nomination with someone who "doesn't have an anti-energy-job agenda."

"If they don't, they can expect another fight," Mr. McConnell.

Democrats had said FERC didn't have a major role in the climate change debate and that Mr. Binz's nomination shouldn't rise or fall alongside Mr. Obama's views on the environment, but many Republicans disagreed.

And in his withdrawal letter Mr. Binz also seemed to confirm he would have relished taking on that fight.

"Although the FERC does not have a direct role in climate issues, its policies are essential components that allow other policies to work," Mr. Binz wrote. "Our nation's move toward clean energy resources will be much slower without a strong commitment at the FERC to enhance investment in energy infrastructure and to ensure that clean energy resources have full access to electricity markets."

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