WHEELING - Actions speak louder than words to Sen. Joe Manchin, and that is why he cannot support President Barack Obama's nomination of Ron Binz to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, he said Wednesday.
Despite Binz's attempt to refute critics that labeled him as anti-fossil fuels during a Tuesday hearing before the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Manchin believes Binz's record as chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission demonstrates he will support an energy policy that moves too rapidly toward alternative, "renewable" energy sources at the expense of less expensive fuels such as coal and natural gas.
"I truly believe for my state, and my country, the most important thing (is) we have an energy policy that makes us less dependent on foreign oil and more secure as a nation by being more independent," Manchin, D-W.Va., told reporters Wednesday. "That means we have to use all the resources we have. ... This is not personal. We just disagree."
Manchin's announcement could be a major blow to Binz's chances for confirmation, as Democrats hold a slim, 12-10 majority on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Binz's nomination must clear that committee before coming to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.
Of particular concern to Manchin was legislation Binz recommended during his four-year stint as Colorado Public Utilities Commission chairman from 2007-11 that led to the closure of several coal-fired power plants in that state. The Colorado law, Manchin said, required even greater reductions in carbon emissions than did regulations handed down by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
During his hearing before the energy committee, Binz also downplayed FERC's ability to regulate the coal and natural gas industries. But Manchin pointed out the commission's powers include regulating the transmission and sale of electricity, natural gas and oil in interstate commerce as well as reviewing mergers and acquisitions by electricity companies - and he believes that in concert with the EPA, Binz's leadership of FERC could lead to policies that would be devastating to West Virginia's economy.
"I don't mind a good fight every now and then, but I'd like it to be a little bit fair. ... We're not even getting a fighting chance," Manchin said.
Manchin also pointed to states such as Nevada - which ranks second in the nation in net electricity generation from geothermal and solar energy, yet imports more than 90 percent of the energy it consumes from outside the state - as evidence the country is not ready to move to renewable energy sources as quickly as Binz would advocate.
"West Virginia exports most of its energy to keep the lights on (for) most of the eastern seaboard," Manchin said. "Somebody's got to get real here and find a balanced approach."
Manchin said he's not against alternative energy sources, but doesn't believe people understand they cannot, at the current time, replace fossil fuels to power the nation.
"Show it to me. Let me see it. They have never been able to do that. Never," Manchin said of those who advocate for alternative energy. "So I'm going to continue to speak out."