In the end, the fossil fuel extremist Bernard McNamee squeaked through by the narrowest of margins—50 to 49 on a totally party-line vote, on both sides. 49 Democrats voted against him; 50 Republicans voted for him.
Susan Collins, supposedly someone who is concerned about the “serious consequences” of the climate crisis, could have prevented McNamee’s confirmation by the Senate to be a commissioner of the gas-industry-rubber-stamping agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. But she didn’t. Very shameful. Just for this and the Kavanaugh votes, Collins really should be shown the Senate exit door come 2020.
McNamee has to be pretty bad, a beyond-the-pale fossil fueler, for even coal-loving Joe Manchin to change his committee vote of a week before and join his 48 fellow Democrats to do the right thing. Manchin said that the reason he did so was because he hadn’t seen the infamous McNamee video before the committee vote. Some people think it was because he’s very interested in being named Democratic leader of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee. Conspiracy theorists wonder if he coordinated with Susan Collins in advance to be sure she wasn’t going to vote her beliefs and cause his “change of heart” to be responsible for McNamee’s defeat.
So how significant is the ascension of McNamee to FERC leadership?
It could become very significant if Trump names him the new FERC chair. Mafioso Don can do that legally, without triggering a Mueller investigation or any other legal action. But given the 49 Senate votes, it sure seems unlikely that even Trump would be stupid enough to do this. Talk about revolting!
There will likely be legal significance, however, in another way. Legal experts are already officially challenging McNamee’s ability to rule on important issues before FERC because of past public statements and actions when he was an open fossil fuel extremist working for Trump’s Department of Energy or warm and fuzzy Ted Cruz. And smart people who know about these things are predicting that FERC decisions in which McNamee takes part will more likely be overturned in court. This will be the case because of some of his public statements, like his claim that evil environmentalists like NRDC’ers and those who support renewable energy are all about “tyranny” against the liberty-loving fossil fuel industry.
IMHO, what happened among enviros and among Democrats in the Senate because of the McNamee nomination are the most significant developments of all.
For the first time in my memory, a critical mass of groups joined together, about ten national and many local, state and regional ones, to fight a FERC nomination. This just hasn’t happened before. If you want to know why every single Democratic Senator voted against McNamee, this has a lot to do with it. It’s a very good development, because it is likely that Trump is going to be able to nominate two more people to be FERC commissioners in the next six months (see below). Yikes.
And then there’s the 49 Democrats, even Manchin, joining together under the leadership of Chuck Schumer, who gave a very short but strong speech on December 5th to kick off the cloture vote on McNamee, which the Republicans also won by a 50-49 vote.
It sure as heck looks like, on the issue of the climate crisis, with Sunrise and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes for sure deserving much of the credit, the Democrats in Congress are finally starting to act like a party which gets it on the urgency.
We’ll see how true that ends up being. What they do about the Green New Deal idea will tell us a lot. What happens with Manchin and the ENR committee will tell us more. But what they do about FERC will also be important.
It is entirely possible that by next month Kevin McIntyre, a FERC commissioner in such poor health that he hasn’t participated actively in FERC decision-making for months, will announce his resignation. Trump will then get a chance to nominate another McNamee-like person to join McNamee. Will the Democrats, and Republicans like Collins supposedly very concerned about climate impacts, fight this nominee? What will they do when Democratic commissioner Cheryl LaFleur’s term is up next June? And now that they control the House, will there finally be public hearings on FERC’s repeated and destructive abuse of people’s rights, the law and the environment, something that groups on the receiving end of rubber-stamp approvals of new fracked gas infrastructure have been calling for for years?
C’mon Dems, let’s act as if the future of human civilization and the earth’s ecosystems are at stake, since they are!
Ted Glick is active with Beyond Extreme Energy and several other climate groups. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.