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Obama's FERC nominee withdraws, citing Senate struggle

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks alongside Americans (unseen) the White House says will benefit from the opening of health insur
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks alongside Americans (unseen) the White House says will benefit from the opening of health insur

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stepped aside on Tuesday, saying the nomination was unlikely to pass the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

There was no immediate word on who would be tapped to lead the commission, which regulates elements of the U.S. natural gas, electricity, oil and hydropower industries, including the reliability of the electricity grid.

"I am withdrawing so that the President can move forward with another nominee, allowing the FERC to continue its important work with a full complement of commissioners," FERC nominee Ron Binz said in a statement.

Binz, who served as chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission from 2007 to 2011, had been criticized by some conservative and free-market groups because he favored renewable energy sources like wind over coal and natural gas.

Binz's nomination was widely seen as being in trouble, given opposition from all 10 Republicans and at least one Democrat, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, on the 22-member Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

At Binz's Senate confirmation hearing in September, Manchin described Obama administration policies as hostile to the coal industry and "beating the living daylights out of little West Virginia."

Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, had promised to "work to defeat" Binz.

Cheryl LaFleur, one of the five current FERC commissioners, will likely lead the agency on an acting basis at least, said energy policy analyst Kevin Book of ClearView Energy Partners, LLC. LaFleur, who as nominated by Obama to serve as a member of the panel in 2010, is seen as more moderate on renewable energy than Binz.

Bill Bissett of the Kentucky Coal Association said Obama had failed in an attempt to put an "anti-coal ideologue" in charge of FERC. McConnell termed Binz's withdrawal "a victory for job creation and for Kentucky families."

Binz said he planned to resume his consulting practice in Colorado, focusing on regulatory reform and ways to advance clean energy.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny and Susan Heavey; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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