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Prospects dimming for Obama's energy regulator nominee

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington June 18, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington June 18, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Ros Krasny

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The prospects of Ron Binz taking the reins at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dimmed on Thursday when Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he would "work to defeat" the former Colorado regulator.

"Binz has a proven track record of hostility toward coal and other traditional fossil fuels," McConnell, from the coal-producing state of Kentucky, said in a statement.

"I cannot support Binz's nomination as the next chairman of FERC. His nomination is yet another threat to American energy and jobs and I will work to defeat it."

McConnell's statement is the latest blow to President Barack Obama's pick to lead the commission. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, another coal-rich state, on Wednesday said he would not vote for Binz.

"Based on Mr. Binz's record in Colorado, I have grave concerns about how he would regulate our energy sector," Manchin said in a statement released by his office. "His approach of demonizing coal and gas has increased electricity costs for consumers."

Binz was questioned extensively in a Senate hearing on Tuesday about what Republicans and some outside interest groups have termed an opposition to fossil fuels in favor of renewable fuels like wind power.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has not scheduled a vote on Binz's nomination. Democrats hold a 12-10 edge on the committee, but a "no" vote from Manchin would produce a tie in an otherwise party-line vote.

Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the energy committee, said on Tuesday she would not support Binz.

Binz would replace Jon Wellinghoff, a Nevada attorney who remains with FERC pending the confirmation of a successor.

FERC regulates elements of the U.S. natural gas, electricity, oil and hydropower industries, including the reliability of the electricity grid.

As chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission from 2007 to 2011 Binz clashed with Republican state lawmakers and mining interests when the commission encouraged the state's largest utility, Xcel, to switch to natural gas from coal to power its plants.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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