FERC chairman nominee Ron Binz faced a series of tough questions at his confirmation hearing from Senators who are skeptical about whether he is qualified to lead the independent regulatory agency. However, the two and a half hours of answers from Binz seemed to only raise more questions. Specifically, IER has compiled a brief list of follow-up questions to get to the bottom of Binz’s contradictory statements on key issues.
Question 1: During your confirmation hearing, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) raised concerns that your statements in a private meeting with her and her staff (that you only worked with FERC external affairs staff and no one else) cannot be reconciled with the now-available email record showing your direct and intentional contact with members of a PR firm, lobbyists who formerly worked for Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, and White House staff. Of great concern is the evidence that your contact occurred prior to your meeting with the Senator and her staff. In the hearing, you apologized to Senator Murkowski for “leaving a different impression than what we now agree has happened.”
Given the gravity of misleading a member of Senate in response to a direct question, are there any other impressions or potentially misleading statements you may have made to United States Senators – either in private or publicly under oath – that you would like to clarify at this time? Were there any other private meetings with Senators and their staff in which you conveyed information that might be considered misleading or factually inaccurate? If so, please be very specific about any contact with lobbyists, PR firms, etc., about which you may have left a wrong impression in your private meetings with Senators.
Question 2: Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) opened your confirmation hearing by swearing in all nominees. He referred to the rules of the committee and asked three questions, one of which dealt directly with conflicts of interest. Specifically, Chairman Wyden asked:
Are you aware of any personal holdings, investments, or interests that could constitute a conflict of interest or create the appearance of such a conflict should you be confirmed and assume the office to which you have been nominated by the President?
You answered in the negative.
As with your statements to Senator Murkowski, this answer begs more explanation. As the Freedom of Information Act materials released by FERC show, you had direct contact with executives at several FERC-jurisdictional companies where you specifically asked them for lobbying support. The Washington Times published a story on these developments.
In an email exchange with BP employees, you said:
“And, as we discussed, I’ll appreciate any intelligence or advice you can pass on about the ENR Committee…. You’re welcome, or not, to put in a good word for me with any of the members with whom you have a relationship. You know that world much better than me, so your judgment about what is helpful will be better than mine.”
Apparently you did not consider this action (asking for lobbying favors from FERC-jurisdictional companies) a conflict of interest. Would you please explain why not? For clarification, at what point would you consider such behavior (receiving lobbying favors from regulated entities) to create the appearance of a conflict of interest?
Further, it appears you sought counsel on key staffing decisions from members of other FERC-jurisdictional companies. In one email, Jay Carriere, Director of Federal Government Affairs for MidAmerican Energy, wrote to a senior member of the FERC external affairs team:
“Not sure if word passed back to you yet, but while I was out there, we had a very good meeting with Ron Binz, the gist of which I shared with Sandie. Binz asked me to give some thought to personnel suggestions (both chief of staff and advisory). Any chance you have and can send me his email address so I can follow up with him?”
The FERC staffer then sent your email address to Carriere. Did you correspond with him directly, and if so, did you discuss potential candidates for the Chief of Staff position within FERC? Did you make any agreements with Carriere or MidAmerican, explicit or implicit, that might constitute a conflict of interest were you to be confirmed as FERC chairman?
Question 3: You answered in your sworn testimony that you had no direct contact with White House staff regarding the substance of the President’s climate action plan or FERC’s role in said plan. This seems to be contradicted by the facts in the FERC FOIA request. As the Washington Times reported:
“The documents, which FERC released in response to an open-records request from researcher Chris Horner and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic, also show agency staffers specifically prepared Mr. Binz to be ready for questions about the president’s climate plan, signaling that the Obama administration sees him as a key player in the fight over global warming policy.”
Further, there is evidence of at least one meeting on July 8, 2013 labeled “Nomination Mtg” that was attended not only by members of the PR firm Venn Squared, the Energy Foundation, Cassidy government relations, and the Hewlett Foundation, but also Jeffrey Stevens, a White House staffer.
Given your sworn testimony that your “only substantive interview with the White House was in
December, it was with Heather Zichal…”, please explain whether White House staff discussed anything substantive in that meeting.
Question 4: Your opinion on the benefits of natural gas appears to have changed. Earlier this year you laid out your case for why natural gas was a “dead end,” but yesterday you said you were “fully supportive of the development of natural gas resources” and “fully committed to streamlining the FERC’s processing of natural gas applications.”
Why was your statement about natural gas being a “dead end” in 2035 “uncareful”? After all, you did not just said one time that natural gas was a “dead end,” but you said it at least three times.
Why are you backtracking on calling natural gas a “dead end”? The context of your statement on March 21, 2013, you were obviously referring to some kind of carbon limits that made natural gas a “dead end.” As you stated on March 21st, “On a carbon basis, you hit the wall in 2035 or so with gas.” What law or regulation are you talking about that establishes carbon limits that natural gas cannot comply with in 2035? Why do you believe that Americans will not be able to use natural gas after 2035 without carbon capture? How can you assure us that your beliefs on this matter would not have any impact on your decision-making at FERC regarding regulations that might affect natural gas?