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Obama's FERC nominee withdraws, citing Senate struggle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a setback for U.S. President Barack Obama, his pick to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stepped aside on Tuesday, saying the nomination was unlikely to pass a key Senate panel.

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.

FERC nominee Ron 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 that said he was out of the mainstream because he favored renewable energy sources like wind over coal and natural gas.

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

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

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

"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," Binz said in a statement.

The coal industry was jubilant. 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 a clean energy agenda.

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

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