Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Clean Air Watch Dirty Dog of the Month goes to AEP CEO and Chairman Michael Morris

As usual, we have a wealth of candidates for our Clean Air Watch Dirty Dog of the Month award for dubious achievements in the world of air pollution.

Top contenders – and worth dishonorable mention -- include Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who led an unsuccessful court effort to delay EPA’s upcoming mercury/toxic air pollution standards for electric power plants. (Could there be a link to campaign contributions from American Electric Power and DTE, whose powerful DC lobbyists have been orchestrating the campaign to block the cleanup?)

Another strong contender: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is convening a hearing of his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform this afternoon to muscle EPA to delay the toxic standards. http://oversight.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1488%3A10-27-2011-qlights-out-ii-another-look-at-epas-utility-mact-ruleq&catid=12&Itemid=20

But then we considered: Why give an award to puppets -- when a puppeteer is available?

And so the Clean Air Watch Dirty Dog of the Month award for November 2011 goes to American Electric Power Chairman and CEO Michael Morris.

Under Morris’ leadership, AEP, for decades one of America’s most notorious polluters, has spurred efforts in Congress and elsewhere to delay EPA’s toxic power cleanup effort.

What drives a guy like Morris to promote an agenda that would literally shorten thousands of peoples’ lives? (And, as our friends at the American Lung Association point out, every month of delay translates into 1,400 premature deaths from dirty air http://www.lungusa.org/press-room/press-releases/epa-mercury-air-toxics.html )

Why the corporate bottom line, of course.

Morris reminded us of this just last week in an earnings call with investors. http://seekingalpha.com/article/302417-american-electric-power-s-ceo-discusses-q3-2011-results-earnings-call-transcripts

And what good news he had – corporate earnings were UP – and AEP is so flush with cash that—while crying poor in DC -- it even raised its dividend!

But let’s take a look at a few other things Morris said.

We begin to -- some time ago, we began to have conversations with members of Congress, and we're quite pleased to see what the House Republicans have done. Also encouraged by yesterday or earlier this week's announcements by a bipartisan group of senators, both Democratic and Republicans sides of the aisle, addressing the coal ash issue, which is really a piece of legislation that was occasioned by a TV event at the TVA. That isn't the basis for continued regulatory change and we tried to point that out.
Whoa, Mike. A “tv event!!”

This wasn’t Geraldo, but a 2008 environmental disaster as millions of cubic feet of toxic ash gushed from a ruptured dike in Tennessee . And three long years later, the cleanup continues. http://www.tva.gov/kingston/index.htm.

Yes, some “tv event.”

During last week’s call, Morris failed to mention that AEP has no fewer than 44 ash ponds (see page 26 at
http://www.aepsustainability.com/docs/2011_AEP_CAReport.pdf )
, including 11 that the EPA rates as having “high hazard potential.” http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/special/fossil/ccrs-fs/

A few other things Morris said:

We're comfortable that some of the decisions that the EPA has made to date have moved into appropriate direction, and we will continue to have that dialogue. Because ours is one that takes away the risk of reliability impact and the unnecessary expense that may be associated with some of these rules. I think that particulate matter subset of the HAPs MACT Rule is a perfect example. For a company like ours, where we today capture 99.7% of all PMs, we're going to be required to go to 99.9%.

We are not sure what the “unnecessary” expense would be, though we don’t think Morris was referring to health care expenses for people breathing his company’s toxic fumes. As for his “99.7%” claim, We rather doubt that applies to his company’s control rates for toxic mercury, or for sulfur dioxide, which can morph into deadly fine particle soot downwind.

One other Morrisism from the question and answer portion of the call, as he argued for delaying cleanup of his company’s smokestacks:

There's just a better approach to take to this, and you get to the same environmental conclusion. The healthcare effects, we've got medical folks who say they're not real. They've got medical folks who say, they're absolutely real. Whether or not that ends or wins the argument, it's almost immaterial. What we're trying to do here is be rational.

He’s got “medical folks” who say there are no “real” healthcare effects from dirty air? Wonder what they get paid? Someone should investigate.

One could argue it’s good news that Morris is stepping down from the company as President and CEO later this month, but we have some doubt the corporate culture will change. After all, this is the company that ran racist, Arab-bashing cartoons in the 1970s while trying to avoid cleanup of its smokestacks. http://blogforcleanair.blogspot.com/2011/04/aep-ad-from-1970s-touting-coal-burning.html

We do want to cite a Clean Air Hero of the Month: John Walke, senior attorney and director of the clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. This guy does so much to further the cause of clean air that it makes us dizzy, but we’ll cite just a few quick examples (and apologies for what we omit):

Writing a successful legal brief opposing efforts by Morris and his puppets to delay the power plant cleanup.

Testifying to Congress about the dangers of legislation that would rob EPA of the ability to limit big-particle pollution (yes, including our old friend, fly ash): http://republicans.energycommerce.house.gov/Media/file/Hearings/Energy/102511/Walke.pdf
Writing an important blog post summarizing the problems associated with that legislation: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/jwalke/this_week_i_testified_before.html

He could be named a hero every month.

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