President Obama’s nominee to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission apologized Tuesday for what described as inadvertently misleading senators about a team of lobbyists backing his bid for chairman of the obscure but powerful panel, and asked for a chance to meet and clear the record.
Ron Binz, the nominee, also promised senators he is committed to promoting natural gas, including from shale, as a major source of fuel for the U.S., and denied that he is being pushed by the White House to implement President Obama’s climate plan.
“I apologize if I left a different impression that what we now agree has happened,” Mr. Binz told Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which held a confirmation hearing for Mr. Binz Tuesday.
But Mr. Binz also blamed “conservative organizations” for trying to smear him, saying he faced off against these groups when he was chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
“I predicted there was going to be a fight over this nomination because of my experience with these very same conservative organizations in Colorado,” he said.
His nomination appears to be in some trouble. Republicans intensively 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.
COVERAGE: Energy & Environment
Ms. Murkowski said Mr. Binz had assured her the only team he was working with to earn confirmation was a group of FERC employees.
But emails obtained by an interest group and shared with The Washington Times show Mr. Binz organized a group of lobbyists and strategists he called his “team,” which he asked to edit his official biography and which he used to plot strategy.
“Reluctantly, I don’t think I’m going to be able to support your nomination,” Ms. Murkowski told Mr. Binz.
The GOP opposition signals that Mr. Binz could be the next major fight on one of Mr. Obama’s nominees.
New emails released by FERC to researcher Chris Horner and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic this week show Mr. Binz has asked several lobbyists, oil company BP and other interests for help with his confirmation.
“And, as we discussed, I’ll appreciate any intelligence or advice you can pass on about the ENR Committee,” Mr. Binz wrote to three BP 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.”
In another email exchange BP Senior Vice President Mark Stultz 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.
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, who said Mr. Stultz had forwarded The Washington Times’ request for comment to him.
Democrats on the Senate committee generally defended Mr. Binz, though Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, used his nomination to savage the Obama administration for what he saw as a war against coal production.
“We’re getting the living crap beaten out of us by this administration,” Mr. Manchin said.
The committee has 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans, so if Mr. Manchin joined all 10 of the GOP members in opposing the nomination it could end up being killed in the panel.