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.
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.