Thursday, September 29, 2011

Where there's smoke: connecting the dirty-air dots

In case you haven’t seen it, there was an excellent cover story this week in The National Journal which connects the dots between the coal and coal-power lobbies and the Republican-led congressional attack on EPA.

(The story seems to be publicly available now at http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/epa-the-world-in-microcosm-20110922 )

And, as things tend to happen in D.C., the dot-connecting continues.

I want to call to your attention an interesting episode that took place just before the House voting on the dirty-air legislation known as the TRAIN Act.

In this episode, 14 Republican members of Congress launched an unusual attack – not directly against EPA or Democrats, but against a series of power companies collectively known as the Clean Energy Group. There letter has been shopped around to the media, but just in case you haven’t seen it, here is a link: http://bit.ly/piHtFu

If you take a moment to read it, I am sure you will conclude, as I did, that the letter must have been ghost-written. The finger prints of the coal and coal-power lobbies are all over it. Indeed, the language of the letter appears to have come straight out of the word processors of the American Electric Power Company, with perhaps a tweak or two by Southern Company and the National Mining Association. The legal jargon and the details involving power industry politics clearly point to lobbyists for the coal and coal-power industries such as AEP as the true authors. (In fact, the letter self-servingly includes a defense of the heads of AEP and Southern Co.)

This episode of lobbying, money and energy politics is especially interesting because this letter may have continuing repercussions. The letter is still being shopped around town. If these members of Congress ultimately succeed, the breathing public will suffer.

And I believe the true goal wasn’t so much to affect the House vote on TRAIN – that was already in the bag – but to generate some steam for similar action in the Senate, where AEP has struggled since last April to line up sponsors for a power plant delay bill that it drafted. Note that the home page of AEP’s corporate web site still leads with a call to delay EPA’s rules, citing “reliability” concerns – the core of the argument made in the letter by the 14 members of Congress. http://www.aep.com/

As for connecting the dots, there are clear campaign contribution connections between the authors and AEP and its delay-seeking allies such Southern Company and the National Mining Association/Ohio Coal Association. More on that below.

First, let’s quickly review recent history.

You will probablly recall that AEP has been aggressively lobbying since at least last April for legislation that would delay the EPA power plant cleanup. It was seeking to line up Senators Manchin and Portman to spearhead this effort. The senators kept some distance after the connection was publicized.

AEP then uncorked a claim that EPA standards would lead to major plant shutdowns and related “reliability” concerns. http://www.aep.com/newsroom/newsreleases/?id=1697
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was among those who directly challenged this assertion.

AEP also was linked to an effort to get utility regulators (NARUC) to go on record raising related “reliability” concerns.

This new letter raises similar concerns, citing the NERA consulting firm as an “independent” expert. Of course, the letter fails to note that AEP and other coal interests pay for NERA’s studies which raise the “reliability” concerns. NERA has done other paid work for AEP.

You might ask yourself the all-important question: why would these particular 14 members of Congress sign a letter that gets so deep into the weeds and jargon of utility politics?

Of course, 9 of the 14 are from Ohio, where AEP is the biggest power producer and has threatened to close plants. And AEP has complained bitterly about not only “reliability” but has also threatened big rate hikes. One is from West Virginia, which AEP also supplies (and has threatened to close plants). Two are from Texas, where the local power company (Luminant/Energy Future Holdings) is so upset at the cross-state rule that it has sued. (AEP also operates in Texas and has threatened to close a plant there.) One is from Oklahoma (yes, AEP ALSO operates there). And one is from Georgia, where the Southern Company affiliate Georgia Power operates. (The letter, as noted above, also defended Southern Company’s boss.)

But real glue is probably the money. Everyone who signed the letter has received campaign contributions from AEP, or other coal interests, including the coal-hauling railroad CSX, which is also lobbying for a delay in the standards.

For a look at some recent and relevant campaign contributions, note http://bit.ly/pACeFm

This is meant to be illustrative and not an exhaustive look at all the campaign contributions. But I think the money explains more than anything why these 14 members were on the same page.

The most bizarre argument made in the letter, of course, is that the cleaner power companies are “rent seeking.” In fact, it has been the coal lobby that has profited for decades at the breathing public’s expense.

The pity is that these 14 members of Congress allowed themselves to be used as tools for the dirty-air companies.

2 comments:

john.watson60 said...

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