Energy Nominee's K Street Connection; Regulatory Commission Choice Binz Plots with Lobbyists to Win Confirmation

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Obama's nominee to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is coordinating his campaign with two lobbyists for energy companies, a Democratic strategy firm and several other green-technology strategists, according to emails that show an unprecedented effort to gain a position on the obscure board.

Ron Binz, the former head of Colorado's Public Utilities Commission, has become an unlikely nomination battleground in the Senate, where commissioners for FERC, a regulatory agency that oversees the interstate transmission of electricity, oil and gas, are usually accepted without any problems.

Mr. Binz's opponents say the lobbying effort is evidence that environmentalists are trying to expand Mr. Obama's climate change agenda to FERC, a quasi-judicial independent agency that until recently had shied away from the contentious debate.

The new emails, which The Washington Times obtained from a pressure group that requested them under federal open-records laws, indicate that FERC employees worked closely with lobbyists, strategists and an employee of the Energy Foundation, a nonprofit that is supposed to be limited in what lobbying it is allowed to do.

The coordination has become an issue because it raises questions about who exactly is backing Mr. Binz and why lobbyists are involved.

At their minimum, FERC's own records show that he is burdened by the appearance of a very difficult-to-explain-away conflict of interest, said Chris Horner, who requested the emails for the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic. Who were the clients, and why? What do they want?

Senate hurdles

Mr. Binz's nomination will go through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and has proved to be contentious. Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, said he is concerned, and a number of Republicans are saying they are not sold.

All of that signals a potentially bruising fight, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the panel's ranking Republican, said in a statement to The Times that the emails add to troubling questions.

We just learned about the emails now. They are concerning and must be taken seriously, she said. FERC has said there will be another release of emails next week. We need to see what are in those emails.

Mr. Binz's backers say he will be a fair-minded regulator in line with previous commissioner, while his opponents say he will bring a radical agenda and a prickly personality to the agency.

Mr. Binz declined to comment to The Times, saying in a brief email that he has turned down all interviews since his nomination in June.

Soon after that nomination, the emails show, he began to coordinate with what he called his team : Michael Meehan, a longtime Democratic operative who now runs VennSquared public relations firm; Kai Anderson and Chris Miller, lobbyists at different firms who used to be staffers for Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, now the top Democrat in the chamber; and Carrie Doyle, a former Obama campaign operative who is now vice president of public engagement for the Energy Foundation.

According to the emails, Mr. Binz had the lobbyists and Mr. Meehan vet his official biography that he submitted to the Senate, and the emails show Mr. Binz coordinated with his team, with a White House staffer, and with a number of FERC employees on strategy meetings.

Please look this over quickly TODAY and give me any feedback, Mr. Binz tells the lobbyists and Mr. Meehan in one email. A number of the other emails deal with coordinating meetings with staffers on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Binz's association with Mr. Meehan is noteworthy. Two media outlets, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page and E&E, an environment and energy publication, have reported on the association.

E&E reported July 23 that VennSquared Senior Vice President Sarah Elliott said Mr. …