The Trump Administration announced on Wednesday its intention to nominate Bernard L. McNamee to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a move which is already supported by the fossil fuel industry and will serve to further muddy the future of the country’s energy sector.
US President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday his intention to nominate a handful of personnel to key administration posts, including Bernard L. McNamee of Virginia, to be a Member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. McNamee currently serves as the Executive Director of the Office of Policy for the US Department of Energy (DOE), before which he served as in a variety of roles including practicing energy law with McGuireWoods LLP and serving four Attorneys General in Virginia and Texas.
Congratulations to Bernard McNamee for his nomination to @FERC! He is eminently qualified for the job, and I look forward to serving with him. @FERC is one step closer to our full complement. #energyisgood @FERChatterjee @CLaFleurFERC @RichGlickFERC
— Chairman Kevin McIntyre (@McIntyreFERC) October 3, 2018
And while the resume might appear impressive, its his actions within those roles which requires attention, and which serves to highlight the politicization of this appointment. While current FERC Chairman Kevin J. McIntyre might be pleased with the nomination (see above) — not surprising, considering that McIntyre is another Trump nomination — FERC Commissioner Cheryl A. LaFleur, who came out publicly against a plan by Secretary Perry last year, declined to comment, which says all you need to know.
Most recently, and importantly, McNamee was instrumental in designing Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s plan to prop up the country’s coal and nuclear markets under a supposed Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) which would have provided cost recovery to plants able to provide 90 days of onsite fuel. Originally proposed in October of 2017, the plan was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in early January after numerous complaints and criticisms were raised with the plan from across the energy sector.
Before his time at the Department of Energy, McNamee also headed up the Tenth Amendment center at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank with ties to Secretary Perry, who has been working hard to find any avenue possible to prop up coal plants across the country.
With his nomination to the Commission, McNamee may now be able to support similar proposals from within the Commission, rather than just working to convince them from outside.
The nomination has unsurprisingly been met with support from the fossil fuel industry and with concern and criticism from everyone else.
“We are pleased to support the nomination of Bernard McNamee to fill the vacancy at FERC and are hopeful that he will have a swift confirmation,” said Michelle Bloodworth, President and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), the American coal lobby. “FERC has a critical role in assuring that wholesale markets value resilience attributes, especially fuel security. McNamee’s background and experience at the state and federal levels make him well qualified to be the next FERC commissioner.”
Unfortunately, as part of its statement praising McNamee’s nomination, ACCCE put forward its own analysis which not only found nearly 120,000 megawatts (MW) worth of coal-fired generating capacity has retired or announced plans to retire — which is almost 40% of the national coal fleet — but, according to the analysis, “The coal fleet provides fuel security by maintaining an on-site stockpile of coal that can last an average of more than 70 days,” which of course is the argument being put forward by Secretary Perry, but which fails to be proven necessary under any circumstances.
“A Clear Assault”
“Bernard McNamee’s nomination to FERC is a clear assault on FERC’s independence, and we’ll do everything we can to stop his Senate confirmation,” Mary Anne Hitt, Senior Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, responded. “From just a quick look at his resume, the speeches he’s made, and his past associations, it’s clear McNamee is nothing more than a political plant for Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Donald Trump. Collectively, they are trying to use FERC to manipulate America’s electricity markets to bailout dirty and expensive coal plants that are heading toward retirement, while locking in a fossil fuel future for communities across the country.”
“It appears the administration is trying to stack FERC with loyalists who are eager to put their politics on electricity ahead of what’s best for consumers and the climate,” added Rob Cowin, director of climate and energy government affairs at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“FERC plays a vital role ensuring our electricity system is reliable as well as protecting ratepayers from excessively high electricity bills, but its mission would be threatened if Bernard McNamee is confirmed as a commissioner.
“Mr. McNamee and the Trump administration are perpetrating a false narrative about electricity reliability to force the country to bail out their political supporters in the utility industry. In addition to playing a huge role while he was at the Energy Department in the first rejected coal bailout, McNamee supports using emergency federal authority to force the country to use more expensive and polluting coal power—a plan soundly denounced by FERC commissioners this year.
“It’s clear that Mr. McNamee is far from objective. There’s a huge conflict of interest here, and that’s bad news for states that want to protect ratepayers and use more clean energy. Senators who care about protecting their constituents’ pocketbooks should vote no on his confirmation.” – Cowin
“As the head the Department of Energy’s Office of Policy, Bernard McNamee was a strong advocate for DOE’s bailout of uneconomic coal and nuclear generators,” added Gil Jenkins, Vice President of Communications for the American Council on Renewable Energry (ACORE). “Importantly, that proposal was resoundingly rejected this past January by all five FERC commissioners. Should McNamee be confirmed, it’s not clear yet whether the situation will change much. But if the Trump administration puts forward a modified coal and nuclear bailout that eventually comes before the commission, all bets could be off.
“It’s critical that McNamee be respectful of FERC’s independent mission and mindful of past precedent from the commission which found there is no substantial evidence of a grid emergency to justify a plan that invokes national security to save coal and nuclear assets that can no longer compete.”
“If the Trump administration moves forward with its scam to bailout the coal industry, taxpayers and electricity customers will be forced to pay tens of billions of dollars to subsidize these uneconomic coal plants for years, plants that instead could be replaced by cleaner, cheaper energy today,” Mary Anne Hitt continued. “Meanwhile, communities will be saddled with dirty and dangerous fracked gas projects, polluting their air and water for decades to come. In terms of protecting public health, government accountability, and consumer protection, this is one of Trump’s worst nominees yet. Senators must reject this nomination to ensure the FERC remains an independent agency that puts the priorities of the people first, not polluters.”