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EDITORIAL: The dead-end kid

The White House wastes energy on the wrong nominee

- - Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Two weeks ago President Obama's nominee to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission tried to walk back an earlier statement that natural gas is a "dead-end" fuel. Ron Binz's flip-flop didn't change any minds, and now it's his nomination that's hit a dead end.

Mr. Binz on Tuesday withdrew his name, realizing his chances for easy Senate confirmation had slipped away. Opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a Democrat, together with unanimous opposition from all 10 Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, meant the best he could hope for was sending his nomination to the Senate on a tie vote without a positive recommendation. That's usually the recipe for a protracted losing struggle, even for a White House with the kidney for such a fight.

In withdrawing, Mr. Binz protested that he was the victim of a caricature of himself and his views. Caricatures can be unkind, but he didn't paint a flattering portrait of himself. He once claimed that as the top public-utilities commissioner in Colorado he approved the largest coal-fired power plant in the state's history. That wasn't true, as he wasn't even on the state Public Utilities Commission when the plant was approved.

"Based on Mr. Binz's record in Colorado," said Mr. Manchin, whose state's economy is heavily dependent on coal, "I have grave concerns about how he would regulate our energy sector. Mr. Binz's actions prove that he prioritizes renewables over reliability. His approach of demonizing coal and gas has increased electricity costs for consumers."

Like higher taxes, the administration easily tolerates higher costs. As Mr. Obama famously said in a January 2008 interview with the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle, "Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket" as a result of the costly retrofitting that it would require of coal- and natural-gas-fired electricity-generating plants.

The cap-and-trade tax may be a dead letter in Congress, but the president has populated the federal bureaucracy with youthful and inexperienced acolytes determined to promote inefficient and intermittent sources of energy such as windmills, solar power and algae at the expense of reliable and affordable fuels. Even an ambassadorial nominee becomes a part of the debate. Senate Republicans intend to use the nomination of Bruce Heyman to be U.S. ambassador to Canada as a referendum on approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The Ottawa post has been vacant since July.

Approval of the pipeline, which would transport oil from Alberta's tar sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, has been endlessly stalled by the administration. It might be unfair to put Mr. Heyman on the spot for a policy not of his making, but it's crucial to U.S.-Canada relations; the Canadians are counting on the pipeline. Politics, like life, is not always fair. The men and women Mr. Obama chooses to fill these positions have great influence on the direction of the economy. Congress is right to perform due diligence.