Rejecting Ron Binz for FERC Chair will Cause Irreconcilable Political Divisions

Ken Silverstein | Sep 27, 2013


A few months ago, most Americans had never heard of Ron Binz, who is President Obama’s pick to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Now, this man who has the support of a dozen former bipartisan energy commissioners, is the focal point in the battle for and against the president's climate change’s program.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to determine whether it would recommend the nominee to the full senate for its consideration. Without getting into the political machinations, it appears that -- at best -- the energy committee will be evenly split, and possibly even vote against sending his name to the full body. That said, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada could still cast him for an up-or-down vote.

That would be a good idea. And Mr. Binz should keep his name in the hat, not for himself but for the good of electoral politics. For starters, the role of FERC, as it is called, is not one that could dictate the future of climate change politics and by extension, the fate of the coal industry.

FERC’s job, mainly, is to ensure equal access to the transmission grid and to make sure vital infrastructure gets built, both gas and electric. So, supporting or opposing his nomination is not the place to draw the line in the sand on climate change. Doing so will only cause the electorate to disrespect their national institutions even more than they do.

Because Binz’ would-be role would not be political but rather judicial, his opponents should take a deep breath. His colleagues, nationally, think he is of sound mind. The main ones who do not are those with ideological purposes who think that dragging down a good man will elevate their importance.

Wrong! It will only cause the other side to become more entrenched. 

In other words, derailing this relatively benign nomination will assuredly kill the Keystone XL Pipeline. And it will definitely rally the troops to create extremely vigorous regulations against the existing coal-fired electric fleet -- ones that would be gravy layered atop the rules that just came out regarding any future coal plants.

Elected leadership is an honor. It is a chance to weigh-in on matters of national importance and to come to the table in good faith. Negotiations are about give-and-take. They are not about destroying the political -- and economic -- landscape so that one side can replant anew.

Reasonable Conclusions

The arguments for and against Ron Binz have been fully aired. Debate is healthy. It not only creates a more learned electorate, it can help moderate the eventual outcome of both the issues and the leaders elected or appointed to carry out the will of government. 

By now, many know that Binz served in Colorado as head of its public utility commission. In that role, he helped close some older coal fired plants that made room for cleaner gas fired plants. Opponents have criticized this, saying that it caused citizens there to pay more for power. They also say that the coal plants could have retrofitted their facilities for far less money.

Proponents have said that the state had made a commitment to generate more of its electric from green energy and that Mr. Binz was responsible for helping to carry out those policy goals. Meantime, the switch to gas-fired plants is not just a cleaner option but has also proven to be less expensive.

Regardless, anyone who the president chooses for key energy positions is going to hold similar views, nationally speaking. The same words of wisdom apply across the board and they are ones that the Democratic Party should also heed. All-out political battles should be reserved for concerns that would actually tip the scales of justice out of balance.

Again, FERC does not legislate. It simply carries out the will of the elected leadership. If opponents of the president’s climate change action plan are dissatisfied, they would be advised to make this a national issue and to campaign on it, trying to get their guys into elected office. Rejecting the president’s preference for FERC chairman will do absolutely nothing to advance their mission. In fact, it will hurt their cause by making the other side even more determined.

Best advice: Stick it out Mr. Binz. This occasion is now bigger than you are. It’s about learning to have civil dialogues and coming to reasonable conclusions. This would be a healthier outcome than allowing the most vocal or best-funded partisans to derail the political process. 


Twitter: @Ken_Silverstein

Related Topics


Political Divisions


A reasonable article as usual. Unfortunately, Mr. Binz's nomiation fight will not "cause irreconciliable political divisions". Those are already upon us. 

The political argument is really about how fast we transition from our legacy generation portfolio to the next generation. This question is fraught with high economic consequences due to the high capital costs and long life of generation assets. 

Through his implementation of the PTC in 2004, surprising "addiction to oil" about face, and proposed changes to FERC regulations President Bush kicked off the current strong movement towards cleaner, less water consuming, and less expensive energy.

It is puzzling why every policy from the current administration needs to turn into a political fight. Outlawing new coal plants through carbon regulations is not going to move us to a cleaner generation fleet faster. New coal plants are already virtualy impossible why pick these fights?

We need to focus on the goal which is the phased replacement of our aged generation assets and how to position ourselves for a cleaner and more competitive future.

Will Congress Read this Editorial?

Dear Ken,
Thank you for your excellent editorial article on Ron Binz.  I hope folks in Congress read it!
Audrey Kawano Taucher
Taucher International

Is someone listening?


Great opinion article. I just wish someone was listening.


Jon Wellinghoff, appointed by President Obama in 2009, is the current chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Is Politics Just Greedy Anti-Science Industry Promotion


On December 21, 2012, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) blog posted a letter from Chairman Macfarlane titled, “A Visit to Japan: Reflections from the Chairman.”  

She said, “Regulators may need to be “buffered” from political winds, but they need to be fully subjected to the pressure of scientific and engineering truth and cannot be allowed to make decisions or order actions that are “independent” of facts.” 

Now, good science is being held hostage by the very people that took an oath to protect our Country, not just what is best for their wealthy donors, and it is happening while our Country continues to slide backwards because of them!

I think of it as a fiscal cancer that is eating away at America!


Good, balanced comments.  I

Good, balanced comments.  I hope someone in Congress and in the White House is listening to the facts and understands the implications of this.  I am rapidly losing confidence in that.

Nora Mead Brownell
ESPY Energy Solutions, LLC
Former FERC Commissioner, Bush administration 2001-2006

We need more not less access to decision makers!

Great comment Nora!

What you describe is yet another huge problem facing all those who wish to help instead of hinder US development, how does one learn who to reach out to?

Most emails and/or phone calls go unanswered, so the message is that communication is not wanted, which is the WRONG message, since our Regulators need all the input they can get, to then be in a position to make the best decisions possible; as we all know that is just not happening now...