Thursday, April 14, 2011

Follow Southern Company's advice... and kill 500 people a week!

As we reported yesterday, the notorious polluter Southern Company is the headliner witness at tomorrow’s hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power. And what great timing for Southern, whose boss declared yesterday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, self-pitying, that coal was “under attack.“

Southern’s boss, Tom Fanning, plans, so to speak, to fan the flames tomorrow when he appears before the panel chaired by Rep. “CSX” Ed Whitfield (R-KY), who apparently hopes to use Fanning’s hysterical, sky-is-falling comments to make a case for delaying toxic pollution controls on power plants, cement plants, and industrial boilers.

The EPA has reported that its toxic air pollution standards for these industries would prevent up to 26,000 premature deaths a year – or about 500 a week.

So if Congress follows the delay path being explored by “CSX” Ed with Southern’s help, it would be shortening the lives of up to 500 people every week. (Some wonder if that’s a new strategy to reduce Medicare costs, but let’s leave that idea aside for the moment.)

Since Fanning spends so much time talking about his company’s “impressive” environmental record, maybe we should put that record in some context:

Southern Company was literally the biggest polluter in America for sulfur dioxide, according to the most recent CERES “benchmarking” emissions report. It ranked second only to American Electric Power for emissions of toxic mercury, smog-forming nitrogen oxides and heat-trapping carbon dioxide.

In 1999, the EPA and Justice Department launched a series of suits against Southern Company (among other big polluters) for allegedly failing to install pollution controls on power plants that were modernized. Southern’s immediate response was to help set up an organization called the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, designed to kill the EPA lawsuits and change the underlying rules. Southern also aggressively fought against the EPA in court, though its Alabama Power subsidiary did settle one of the cases:

It also lost its attempt to change the EPA rules themselves, when a federal court said only a “humpty dumpty” logic could support an interpretation of the law that Southern was championing.

Southern has been one of the biggest-spending lobbyists in DC for years – not to mention among the most effective. Some of you are old enough to recall one of its key lobbyists in the late 1990s was Haley Barbour, former chair of the Republican National Committee, now governor of Mississippi and talked about as a presidential contender. It was Haley Barbour who persuaded then Vice President Dick Cheney to break President George Bush’s 2000 campaign pledge to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Check the Senate lobbyist disclosure records if you want all the details on recent lobbying expenses to such high-powered firms as Barbour Griffith and Rogers, Bracewell Giuliani, Hunton & Williams and Heather Podesta and Partners. A lot of very nice people work for them, as many of you know.

Southern is well known for fighting not only against EPA clean-air requirements, but also against a national renewable electricity standard -- no coal in that! -- and against a plan to create a national electricity market.

Southern, or course, is also one of the biggest-spending campaign contributors among power companies. Its PAC alone distributed more than $300,000 in the last election cycle to House and Senate candidates, including – of course – Whitfield and full committee chair Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) as well as House Speaker John Boehner. By the way, this PAC actually gave more money to Democratic House candidates in the last political cycle, including Rep. Mike Ross (AR), John Dingell (MI), and Mike Doyle (PA).

No comments: