The Senate’s narrow approval of fossil fuel-defender Bernard McNamee for a seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday provoked anger and dismay from climate action groups, which have demanded the Trump administration listen to scientists and the American people and end its efforts to prop up “dirty, dying, and dangerous” energy industries.
McNamee has publicly criticized renewable energy and helped engineer President Donald Trump’s bailout of the nuclear and coal industries—even as Americans living in coal-producing states have called for a shift to sustainable energy sources like solar and wind power.
“McNamee’s enthusiasm for dirty fossil fuels and his antipathy toward clean, renewable energy is undeniable, and his claim of impartiality is a blatant charade,” Kenneth Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), said in a statement. “At a time when consumers, businesses and forward-thinking utilities are embracing the clean energy revolution, we don’t need a FERC commissioner who endorses the Trump administration’s schemes to keep the dying coal and nuclear industries on life support.”
As an executive director in the Energy Department’s Office of Policy, McNamee rolled out the department’s $34 billion plan to save the nation’s nuclear and coal plants. Last month, he refused to confirm that he would recuse himself from any FERC decisions on the bailout.
“The Senate’s reckless decision to place Bernard ‘Coal Bailout’ McNamee on FERC is a major threat to the Commission’s independence and integrity,” said Mary Anne Hitt, senior director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “From this day forward we will do everything we can to guarantee that he follows the law, treats clean energy sources fairly, and recuses himself from all matters pertaining to his failed coal bailout scheme. It’s essential that we have a fair and lawful FERC moving forward.”
McNamee will serve as one of five commissioners on the panel, making regulatory decisions regarding the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, hydropower, and oil.
The new commissioner, critics argue, is far from an impartial judge of such issues, having stated in February 2018 that fossil fuels are “key to our way of life,” while renewable energy “screws up the whole physics of the grid.” Footage of the statement, made in a speech he gave as an employee at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, surfaced last month.
“Mr. McNamee’s bias, so clearly in favor of fossil fuels and against renewables, should disqualify him for this position,” said Rob Cowin of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “The only winner here is the coal industry. States with large renewable energy industries, such as Kansas and Iowa, have a lot to lose.”
“Most of all,” Cowin added, “the climate loses. We have about ten years to aggressively reduce carbon emissions or we are going to destroy this planet, and we are looking at a pro-fossil fuel, anti-renewables political operative with a massive conflict of interest at FERC. The partisanship is really striking.”
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Julia Conley is a Common Dreams staff writer.