Will Sen. Landrieu choose what's right for Louisiana?

Will Sen. Landrieu choose what's right for Louisiana?

September 28, 2013
Originally published in The Town Talk

There does seem to be something about Mary. At least there always seems to be something about Mary when it comes down to close votes in the U.S. Senate.

In 2009, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., agreed to vote for "ObamaCare" only after President Barack Obama agreed to a $300 million package of disaster relief for Louisiana.

Now, the president needs her again, and $300 million may not be enough this time.

Ron Binz, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is in trouble. Binz, a former member of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, demonstrated a problem with truthfulness during his hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee — at least four times, he gave answers the senators on the committee found to be false or misleading.

And FERC is no backwater agency. It regulates a variety of issues near and dear to North Louisiana — interstate electricity sales, wholesale electric rates, hydroelectric licensing, natural gas pricing, liquefied natural gas terminals, interstate pipelines for oil and natural gas and non-federal hydropower projects.

And for the most part, he is against them. He opposes fossil fuel use in general and coal in particular. He would not favor the terminals being built in South Louisiana to export liquefied natural gas, and he is fully supportive of the new rule that would put the new Southwestern Electric Power Co. plant in Fulton, Ark., a state-of-the-art facility that provides electrical power to customers in Louisiana and Texas, well out of compliance.

It is unlikely anyone President Obama would appoint to such a position who was pro-fossil fuel, but Binz is an outspoken opponent who proved on the Colorado PUC he would use his position to work against coal in particular and fossil fuel power generation in general.

But his problem now is not his stances on key issues. It is with his failure to come clean in his appearance before the committee.

He told Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in a courtesy visit to her office, that his nomination candidacy was being assisted only by staff at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is common for such positions. In fact, as he admitted under withering questioning by Murkowski during the hearing, he had been directing an “army” of consultants, headed by VennSquared, a liberal PR firm.

When finally cornered, Binz offered a Washington response for the ages. “I apologize,” he said, “if I have left a different impression from what we now agree has happened.”

Murkowski, the ranking Republican, was not amused. She announced she could not support him because of this, and it is doubtful any other Republican members will cross her.

But Binz, whose bio brags he has testified before Congress 15 times, would come to even more regret Appearance No.16. Soon after his encounter with Murkowski, he told Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVa., he “approved the largest coal plant that was ever built in Colorado.” He was referring to the Comanche-3 power plant in Pueblo, and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission indeed did approve that plant. But it did so in 2004, and Binz didn’t join until 2007.

Oops.

He also claimed he approved a rate plan to allow the utility to begin operating, but Polly Page, who served as a commissioner from 200 to 2008, said the rates already had cleared the approval process.

Oops again.

He also spoke to Manchin about a plan he implemented as chairman of the Colorado PUC that required power plants to switch from coal to cleaner fuels. Binz said, “The legislation told us to approve a plan to comply with future EPA regulations.” In other words, it wasn’t his fault — the law forced his hand. What he didn’t say — but which Manchin found out — was that Binz had helped write the fuel-switching law.

Manchin also has said he will not support the nominee.

That means, if nothing changes, the committee vote would be deadlocked, 11-11. If that occurs, he would be sent to the full Senate with a neutral report, rather than the committee’s endorsement. Only five nominees ever have been sent to the floor with a neutral report, and only one was confirmed.

President Obama knows this nominee is in trouble. The Hill newspaper already has reported the administration is seeking a new nominee. But Obama is said still to prefer Binz.

This is where Landrieu comes in. She has it in her power to kill the nomination. If she simply announced she opposes Binz, she probably never would have to actually vote on him. Obama would realize he had no chance and pull the nomination and find someone else.

This is no time to trade her vote. This is a time to stand up against an anti-affordable-energy extremist. Can Mary do it? Does her allegiance to Louisiana come first? Or her allegiance to President Obama?