President Obama’s nominee to head an obscure but powerful energy panel is in deep trouble on Capitol Hill, but the White House said Thursday it is standing by Ron Binz in what is shaping up to be a major battle over Mr. Obama’s climate agenda.
The Senate Energy Committee said it has been informed that there is a search for other names that could be sent over in lieu of Mr. Binz, whom Mr. Obama nominated in June to be chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
“The committee is aware that other candidates are being considered to lead FERC,” said Keith Chu, a spokesman for the Senate Energy Committee, where Mr. Binz’s nomination has stalled amid questions of his truthfulness and whether he is open to the continued use of fossil fuels in American energy production.
But hours later, the White House said Mr. Binz is still their man and should be confirmed.
“Ron Binz is a very qualified candidate for the position he’s been nominated for. He’s qualified and the Senate ought to act on his nomination,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the White House.
The back-and-forth suggests the high stakes on Mr. Binz’s nomination, which some on Capitol Hill see as one of the battlegrounds in the fight against Mr. Obama’s plans to try to limit greenhouse gas emissions by shifting from fossil fuels.
Mr. Binz didn’t answer an email asking about his situation. He has declined requests since he was nominated in late June, when Mr. Obama picked him to lead FERC, which controls interstate energy transmission.
At a rocky confirmation hearing earlier this month, Mr. Binz tried to discount previous statements calling natural gas a “dead-end” fuel, and argued that as chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission he approved the largest coal-fired power plant in state history.
But that claim turned out to be wrong, further damaging Mr. Binz’s credibility. He had already run into trouble with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Energy Committee, who said Mr. Binz appeared to have misled her when he said he wasn’t working with an outside team to try to promote his nomination.
The Washington Times obtained emails that showed Mr. Binz was working with a group of lobbyists and strategists he called his “team,” and also asked employees for BP, a multinational oil and gas company, to lobby the Energy Committee on his behalf.
“We do think there are qualified candidates out there who would be less controversial than Mr. Binz,” said Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Ms. Murkowski. “The committee’s role is to advise and consent and Sen. Murkowski and the other Republican members will consider each nominee on an individual basis.”
Green technology companies had rallied around Mr. Binz’s nomination and one political action committee even hired a public relations firm to defend Mr. Binz.
Emails showed Mr. Binz initially worked with that firm, VennSquared, as part of his team of lobbyists, but he told the Energy Committee he eventually asked VennSquared founder Michael Meehan not to contact him anymore.
VennSquared didn’t respond to an email Thursday.
Mr. Binz suffered another blow when Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, decided this week he would oppose the nomination. That put all Republicans on the Energy Committee on record as prepared to vote against Mr. Binz, along with Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who also said he would oppose Mr. Binz.
That means at best Mr. Binz would face a tie vote in the committee — though analysts said one option available to Democrats would be to try to clear Mr. Binz with an “unfavorable” recommendation from the committee.
That would still send the nomination to the full Senate floor, where the GOP would then have to decide whether Mr. Binz rose to the level that would warrant a filibuster.