- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2013

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, new emails released late Monday showed.

The documents, which FERC released in response to an open-records request from researcher Chris Horner and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic, also show agency staffers specifically prepared Mr. Binz to be ready for questions about the president’s climate plan, signaling that the Obama administration sees him as a key player in the fight over global warming policy.

Mr. Binz is slated to appear for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy Committee on Tuesday, where he is likely to be asked about the new emails and ones released earlier showing him coordinating his push for confirmation with lobbyists and a well-connected public relations strategy firm.

An emailed request Tuesday morning asking Mr. Binz to comment wasn’t immediately returned. He has declined to talk to the press since his June nomination was announced.

In one of the emails from Monday, Mr. Binz asks for information from three senior employees at BP oil company, including asking them 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, who added that Mr. Stultz had forwarded The Washington Times’ request for comment to him.

The latest email release includes hundreds of pages of emails from FERC employees discussing Mr. Binz, and much of it is press coverage or scheduling matters involving the nominee. But some of the emails include strategy discussions where Mr. Binz defends asking FERC employees to help him schedule meetings with people who might benefit from his chairmanship.

One email shows 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.

In another email chain Mr. Binz talks about the more than 40 meetings he had at a recent meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, which FERC staffers helped him arrange.

Critics have accused Mr. Binz of being beholden to green technology companies and of being hostile to traditional fossil fuel energy companies — and say Mr. Obama nominated him in order to extend the administration’s global warming plans to FERC, an independent regulatory agency.

Mr. Binz’s backers, who include former FERC commissioners nominated by both parties, say he’s fair-minded and would continue in the tradition of former commissioner leaders.

Mr. Horner, the researcher who requested the emails under the Freedom of Information Act, said they raise questions about Mr. Binz’s activity, but he also challenged FERC, saying the agency has withheld documents it should have turned over. Hours before the new documents were released Mr. Horner had filed an appeal of a previous document dump based on those concerns.

“Earlier in the day, we appealed two withholdings from an earlier FERC production responding to a request for all correspondence to, from or mentioning the lobbying firm that outside ideological activists have hired to help shepherd Mr. Binz to confirmation,” Mr. Horner said in a statement. “That production revealed that there are more lobbyists than just those hired by the Green Tech Action Fund, an extension of the Energy Foundation, involved in this project. Numerous rent-seeking companies’ lobbyists are at the table. Today’s production revealed more email of interest, and implausibly conceals others.”

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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