Trump’s Pick for Energy Panel Clears Hurdle Despite Democrats’ Opposition

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s pick to join the nation’s top energy regulator has so far failed to convince Democrats that he has no political agenda.

Bernard McNamee, an Energy Department official who played a role in Energy Secretary’s Rick Perry’s ill-fated plan to bail out coal and nuclear plants, is set to join the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that oversees U.S. electricity markets. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday voted 13-10 to approve his appointment, sending the nomination to the full Senate for confirmation. Senator Joe Manchin, from West Virginia, was the sole Democrat who voted in favor.

The party-line split is unusual for FERC nominees. The last two commissioners appointed to the five-member panel -- Republican Kevin McIntyre and Democrat Rich Glick -- were approved unanimously. More controversial nominees, such as Republicans Neil Chatterjee and Rob Powelson, still garnered significant Democratic support.

The vote comes after a recently surfaced video showed McNamee championing the continued use of fossil fuels and criticizing renewable energy and environmental groups. Mcnamee subsequently assured the committee he recognized the “significant role that renewables play in our energy mix” and promised to take an independent position if confirmed to the commission.

That failed to sway Democrats, already wary of his nomination given his role in Perry’s bailout effort. Senator Maria Cantwell, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said she found it hard to believe that McNamee could be “the impartial reviewer” of these issues given his comments that showed a “very strong bias” in favor of fossil fuels. Chairman Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, said his comments were “unfortunate” but voted to approve his nomination.

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club expressed their disappointment at the committee’s decision to approve McNamee and called on the Senate to reject his nomination outright if it reaches the floor.

“The video remarks of McNamee disparaging environmental groups is unprofessional, and will render him a compromised commissioner should he be ultimately confirmed,” said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at the watchdog group Public Citizen.

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