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Energy panel choice sought BP’s aid

Binz’s apology to Murkowski at hearing fails to win support

President Obama's nominee to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asked top officials at BP oil company to lobby on his behalf, further expanding the list of lobbyists and former lobbyists Ron Binz has worked with as he's tried to win the chairmanship of the obscure but powerful panel, according to new emails released this week.

The new emails come on the heels of others disclosed last week that showed Mr. Binz created a team of lobbyists and strategists to help him — despite the assurances Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Mr. Binz gave her in a private meeting.

Mr. Binz, who appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, apologized for what he said was an inadvertent misleading of Ms. Murkowski, and asked for another meeting to clear the air.

"I apologize if I left a different impression than what we now agree has happened," Mr. Binz told Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, at a confirmation hearing.

But Mr. Binz also blamed "conservative organizations" for digging up the emails and trying to smear him, saying he faced off against these groups when he was chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

His nomination appears to be in some trouble. Republicans intensely questioned him on his prior statements that appeared to show an antipathy toward natural gas, and said they were troubled by his previous denials that he was working with lobbyists and strategists — some of them paid for by green technology interests — to win confirmation.

Mr. Binz said he spoke "inartfully" when he said natural gas would be a "dead end" in 20 years, saying his intention had been to signal the need for more work on carbon capture and sequestration to make the fuel cleaner in terms of climate change.

He stressed that he believes natural gas is a "terrific fuel."

But his apologies and explanations failed to win over Ms. Murkowski, who told him at the end of the hearing she won't be able to vote for him. That is a major blow, since Ms. Murkowski is not only the top Republican on the panel but has also shown deference to Mr. Obama's choices for nominees in the past.

Further complicating Mr. Binz's path is Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who accused the Obama administration of a conducting a "war" on coal-producing states.

"We're getting the living crap beaten out of us by this administration," Mr. Manchin said.

The latest emails add to the evidence that Mr. Binz is managing a campaign to win confirmation and working with lobbyists and employees of companies with energy interests.

In one of the emails from Monday, Mr. Binz asks three senior employees at BP oil company to lobby members of the Senate on his behalf, and in another email he talks strategy with BP Senior Vice President Mark Stultz, who urges Mr. Binz to consider asking FERC to schedule editorial board meetings with other newspapers to try to push back against a scathing editorial in The Wall Street Journal.

"And, as we discussed, I'll appreciate any intelligence or advice you can pass on about the ENR Committee," Mr. Binz wrote to the three employees in one email. "You're welcome, or not, to put in a good word for me with any of the members with whom you have a relationship. You know that world much better than me, so your judgment about what is helpful will be better than mine."

Scott Dean, a BP spokesman, said the conversations were normal business.

"As one of the largest energy providers and employers in the U.S., it is not unusual for BP staff to talk to people in the regulatory and policy arena who are interested in energy issues," said Mr. Dean.

The emails, obtained under open-records laws by researcher Chris Horner, also show staffers for several Democratic senators setting up weekly calls to talk about the nomination. That email was also sent to both a FERC employee and a high-powered lobbyist who is aiding Mr. Binz's nomination on the meeting invitation.

Mr. Binz testified to the committee Tuesday that he asked one of the strategists, Michael Meehan at VennSquared, a public relations firm, to stop contacting him in the middle of July.

He said he had nothing to do with the firm being hired and called it "an unfortunate situation."

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