For Immediate Release – June 28, 2013
Contact: Craig Richardson, Executive Director, American Tradition Institute
[email protected]

ATI: Obama Nominee to Chair Energy Commission an Anti-Coal Warrior With Ethical Troubles Already Exposed by Colorado’s Freedom of Information Law

Washington, D.C. – As the fitting next-step after President Obama’s strident speech Tuesday reaffirming his war on abundant American energy sources, particularly coal, he nominated Ron Binz, a former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities (PUC) and a well-known anti-coal crusader, to serve as the next chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC).  As Colorado PUC chair, Binz was heavily involved in pushing through the state’s “Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act,” which sought to move the state away from coal power to natural gas, only to find himself tripped up by ethical missteps revealed by his state’s Open Records Act.

“Through my experience litigating a lawsuit in Colorado against the state’s unconstitutional renewable energy standard mandate, I learned a great deal about Ron Binz,” said Dr. David Schnare, lead attorney who brought the Colorado suit on behalf of the American Traditional Institute (ATI).  “He has a reputation as someone who will do whatever it takes to push his agenda against coal, regardless of how much it cost the consumers, puts people out of work, or hurts the economy.”

As a result of his involvement with the “Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act,” Binz had serious conflict-of-interest issue charges levied against him while PUC chair.  The act included a $1.3 billion plan for Xcel Energy to switch 903 megawatts of coal-based power to natural gas.  According to the Denver Post, “Months before the 2010 legislative session began,

[Binz] engaged in meetings with executives from the natural gas industry and Xcel Energy…By early March 2010, he was even reassuring Xcel officials on how the commission would treat cost recovery under draft language.”

The one group Binz neglected to include in his series of meetings to change the state’s energy mix was Colorado’s coal producers, who back in October 2010, sought to have Binz and another PUC commissioner recuse themselves from any further involvement in helping craft the law.  The Colorado Mining Association (CMA), which filed the motion with the Colorado PUC, accused Binz and his colleague of “making a ‘behind-closed-door deal’ with Xcel, Colorado’s largest power utility…with [the Public Service Company of Colorado, Xcel’s Colorado subsidiary] and natural gas companies that resulted in the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act,” according to the Denver Business Journal.  CMA’s motion also says that it “creates, at the very least, the appearance of impropriety and, at the worst, serious bias in this proceeding…Colorado law does not permit the same vested person to act as legislator, judge and finally, jury.”

“To engage in backroom dealings on how energy is produced and delivered in Colorado – a plan that will virtually eliminate an entire industry, while not having that industry represented at the table — is unconscionable,” said Schnare.  “With Binz’s proven disdain for coal and even-handed use of an agency position already proven, and Obama’s stated war on coal now inarguable, is there any question at all where he will come down when overseeing and promulgating regulations impacting America’s coal industry as the nation’s FERC Chair?” he added.

Binz’s conflict of interest charges aren’t the only ethical questions raised during his tenure as PUC chair.  His excessive travel, which the Denver Post noted was approximately 200 days on the road in a 3½ year period from June 2007 through November 2010, came under close scrutiny. One trip he took in to Houston, where he accepted travel reimbursement from an energy analysis firm who had him speak about natural gas, was reviewed by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, which concluded that “Binz violated state law when he accepted the trip while chairman of the Public Utilities Commission,” according to the Denver Post.  His trips included junkets to Greece, Jordan, Santa Monica, San Diego, Santa Fe, Hawaii, San Francisco, Amelia Island (Fla.), and “numerous other hardship outposts,” says the Post.

“Not only is Binz an obvious anti-coal advocate, he has serious ethical issues as well,” noted Schnare.  “For an Administration that is already reeling from scandals involving the IRS, the EPA Administrator, the NSA, and who knows what else — many exposed, like Binz’s problems, through freedom of information law — it is mind-boggling that they would nominate someone who is so blatantly ethically-challenged,” notes Schnare.

“It is for the reasons Dr. Schnare raises that ATI believes he should not be confirmed as the next FERC Chair, and the President should withdraw his nomination immediately,” concluded ATI executive director Craig Richardson.

American Tradition Institute (ATI) is a public policy research and public interest litigation foundation advocating restoration of science and free-market principles on environmental issues, including air and water quality and regulation, responsible land use, natural resource management, energy development, property rights, and principles of stewardship.