|Lobbyists Help Dems Draft Climate Change Bill|
By Tom LoBianco
May 4, 2009
Democratic lawmakers who spent much of the Bush administration blasting
officials for letting energy lobbyists write national policy have turned to a
coalition of business and environmental groups to help draft their own sweeping
And one little-noticed provision of the draft bill would give one of the
coalition's co-founders a lucrative exemption on a coal-fired project it is building.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman
Henry A. Waxman, both of California, were among the Democrats -- then in the
minority -- who slammed Vice President Dick Cheney for holding closed-door
meetings to draft energy policy early in the Bush administration.
Republicans "invited energy lobbyists to write the energy bill that gouges
consumers with big payoffs to Big Gas and Big Oil," Mrs. Pelosi said in 2005.
"They have turned Washington, D.C., into an oil and gas town when it is supposed
to be the city of innovation, of new, of fresh ideas about our energy policy."
But the sweeping climate bill Mr. Waxman and Rep. Edward J. Markey,
Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the panel's key environmental
subcommittee, introduced at the end of March includes a provision that benefits
Duke Energy Corp., a founding member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership
(USCAP), whose climate plan released in January the lawmakers have frequently
called a "blueprint" for their climate legislation.
The exemption would save Duke Energy -- along with other firms now building new
coal power plants -- from having to spend millions of dollars outfitting its
Cliffside, N.C., power plant currently under construction with "clean coal" technology.
"The USCAP companies must be delirious over the freebies that they've received
after writing the blueprint for [the House draft bill]," said Larry Neal, deputy
Republican staff director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
At the kickoff to hearings last week on the massive climate bill, Myron Ebell,
climate and energy policy director for the Competitive Enterprise Institute,
told lawmakers, "The authors of the draft bill have invited the beneficiaries of
what could turn out to be the biggest transfer of wealth from consumers to
special interests in American history to write the rules for this legalized plunder."
A spokeswoman for Mr. Waxman rejected any parallel with the previous administration.
"It's just not a fair comparison," said Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for Mr. Waxman, saying the process for the
climate bill had been far more transparent.
Members of the Cheney energy task force crafted energy policy in secret in 2001,
and Democratic lawmakers spent months battling the Bush administration to
release records of the meetings, she said.
By contrast, Mr. Waxman's committee has held dozens of hearings on the topic of
climate change, and USCAP's blueprint has been publicly touted since its January
release, Ms. Lightfoot said.
It was USCAP that provided language to the Waxman-Market draft that effectively
bars construction of new coal-fired projects for 10 to 15 years, until "clean
coal" technology is developed. The draft bill has language that effectively
shields Duke and few other energy companies from the restrictions for unfinished
plants already well along in the permitting process.
Mr. Waxman and Mr. Markey have said they used USCAP's climate-change proposal as
a "blueprint" for the broad-based legislation they outlined in late March and
are starting to put into final form.
At a January hearing, Mr. Waxman promised the USCAP ideas would be written into climate legislation.
USCAP's members include environmental advocacy groups such as the Natural
Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund and corporate
giants such as PepsiCo Inc. and Ford Motor Co., in addition to many of the
nation's top energy providers.
Critics say the little-noticed provision affecting the Duke Energy coal plant is
a prime illustration of the close links between industry and environmental
lobbies and the bill's authors.
Supporters of the exemption say it would protect energy companies from having to
scrap coal projects well under way. Critics say the provision amounts to the
same type of handout Democrats accused Republicans of approving eight years ago.
Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams would not disclose whether his company
requested the language, but said an exemption makes sense.