President Obama’s nominee to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is coordinating his campaign with two lobbyists for energy companies, a Democratic strategy firm and several other green-technology strategists, according to emails that show an unprecedented effort to gain a position on the obscure board.
Ron Binz, the former head of Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission, has become an unlikely nomination battleground in the Senate, where commissioners for FERC, a regulatory agency that oversees the interstate transmission of electricity, oil and gas, are usually accepted without any problems.
Mr. Binz’s opponents say the lobbying effort is evidence that environmentalists are trying to expand Mr. Obama’s global-warming agenda to FERC, a quasi-judicial independent agency that had until recently had shied away from the contentious debate.
The new emails, which The Washington Times obtained from a pressure group that requested them under federal open-records laws, indicted that FERC employees worked closely with lobbyists, strategists and an employee of the Energy Foundation, a non-profit that is supposed to be limited in what lobbying it is allowed to do.
The coordination has become an issue because it raises questions about who, exactly, is backing Mr. Binz and why lobbyists are involved.
“At their minimum, FERC’s own records show that he is burdened by the appearance of a very difficult to explain away conflict of interest,” said Chris Horner, who requested the emails for the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic. “Who were the clients, and why? What do they want?”
Mr. Binz’s nomination will go through the Senate Energy Committee, and has already proved to be contentious, with Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, saying he is concerned, and a number of Republicans are saying they are not sold.
All of that signals a potentially bruising fight, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the panel’s ranking Republican, said in a statement to The Times that the new emails add to troubling questions.
“We just learned about the emails now. They are concerning and must be taken seriously,” she said. “FERC has said there will be another release of emails next week. We need to see what are in those emails.”
Mr. Binz’s backers say he’ll be a fair-minded regulator in line with previous commissioner, while his opponents say he will bring a “radical” agenda and a prickly personality to the agency.
Mr. Binz declined to comment to The Times, saying in a brief email that he has turned down all interviews since being nominated in June.
Soon after that nomination, the emails show he began to coordinate with what he called his “team”: Michael Meehan, a longtime Democratic operative who now runs VennSquared public relations firm; Kai Anderson and Chris Miller, lobbyists at different firms who used to be staffers for Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, now the top Democrat in the chamber; and Carrie Doyle, a former Obama campaign operative who is now vice president of public engagement for the Energy Foundation.
According to the emails, Mr. Binz had the lobbyists and Mr. Meehan vet his official biography that he submitted to the Senate, and the emails show Mr. Binz coordinated with his team, with a White House staffer, and with a number of FERC employees on strategy meetings.