A wolf pack of in-state utilities and out-of-state petrochemical billionaires has attacked Ohio's clean energy law, threatening to kill clean jobs and wreak further damage on the environment.
This attack is led by Ohio state Senator Bill Seitz (R), who five years earlier voted for the law, but after accepting dirty energy money compared the law to Stalinism. The latest step to stall and dismantle clean energy incentives is the so-called "Energy Mandates Study Committee," or "EMSC." The EMSC was established after previous failed attempts by Sen. Seitz and other Ohio Senators to repeal or weaken the clean energy law.
The EMSC's recent decision to indefinitely stall laws promoting clean, efficient energy and the jobs they produce, is a power grab by coal utilities paying dropping campaign contributions in exchange to the gutting pollution-free clean energy jobs in Ohio.
A review of Ohio campaign finance data reveals some of the money behind these politicians' attack on successful clean energy incentives:
Quid Pro Coal: Dirty Energy funding to Ohio politicians on the "Energy Mandates Study Committee"
Oil & Gas
|Rep. Ron Anstutz||X||$83,100||$35,200||$90,686||$208,986|
|Sen. Bill Seitz||X||$79,125||$25,350||$20,425||$124,900|
|Sen. Cliff Hite||X||$50,085||$2,990||$64,855||$117,950|
|Rep. Kristina Roegner||X||$62,950||$2,150||$28,400||$93,500|
|Sen. Troy Balderson||X||$43,400||$2,450||$30,200||$76,050|
|Sen. Bob Peterson||$31,650||$3,600||$14,850||$50,100|
|Rep. Christina Hagan||X||$24,280||$2,050||$21,900||$48,230|
|Rep. Louis W. Blessing, III||X||$37,578||$1,200||$3,350||$42,128|
|Rep. Jack Cera||$11,000||$1,350||$9,200||$21,550|
|Rep. Mike Stinziano||$16,150||$0||$2,700||$18,850|
|Sen. Sandra Williams||$14,700||$500||$250||$15,450|
|Sen. Capri Cafaro||$12,200||$1,000||$0||$13,200|
ALEC, Clean Energy, and Rigged Markets
The EMSC is stacked with politicians linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate bill-mill whose state legislator members help dirty energy lobbyists forge laws rolling back clean energy incentives. Some of ALEC's top "private sector members" include Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Peabody, and Duke Energy.
At recent ALEC meetings, many of these companies sent their lobbyists to rub elbows with state politicians and create template laws in meetings closed to the public. ALEC facilitated the creation of several model bills intended to trip up the booming clean energy industry.
Legislators violate ALEC's core mission of promoting "free markets," giving their fossil fuel sponsors a pass and attacking incentives for their clean competitors at the expense of human health, clean air, clean water and a stable climate. ALEC's cookie-cutter attacks on clean energy have taken various shapes in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas and a dozen other states.
Quid Pro Coal - What Lobbying Looks Like
The utilities gave the bulk of $466,218 to 12 politicians on Sen. Seitz's committee, documented above. This includes companies directly coordinating with Sen. Seitz, according to his emails.
Ohio utility companies -- FirstEnergy, American Electric Power, Duke Energy, NiSource, AES subsidiary Dayton Power & Light, and the Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives (OREC) -- were directly solicited for input on Seitz's clean energy freeze bill, SB 58, a placeholder bill that preceded Sen. Seitz's study committee. See this timeline, courtesy of Energy & Policy Institute.
Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives is part of a massive consortium of smaller-scale electric co-ops called the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). NRECA is the top contribution to national politicians among all dirty energy interests, even outspending Koch Industries PAC. NRECA's Ohio affiliate gave Sen. Seitz $4,250 in 2012. The next year, OREC lobbyists helped write Sen. Seitz's bill, SB 58, telling a Seitz staffer, "As we discussed,nbsp;attached is suggested language for inclusion in SB 58 with slight modifications."
No such opportunities were provided to clean energy advocates in communication with Sen. Seitz, including several small businesses, the Sierra Club and affiliates of unions like the Steelworkers and AFL-CIO.
Seitz repeatedly dismissed an Ohio State University study, commissioned by Ohio Advanced Energy Economy (OAEE), a group of Ohio businesses advocating for clean energy in Ohio. OAEE President Ted Ford warned Senator Seitz in a letter:
"[W]e can report that the results [of SB 58] are worse for ratepayers than we initially thought. The Ohio State University Study (version 2.0) finds that the bill is a massive giveaway to Ohio utilities, and would cost consumers almost $4 billion between now and 2025. The study also finds the standards have already saved Ohioans 1.4% on their electric bills."
A handwritten note on the letter, apparently written by Senator Seitz, says "more complete fabrications from people with zero credibility." The letter and handwritten commentary were circulated by a Seitz staffer to lobbyists at Duke Energy, American Electric Power, First Energy and others.
Seitz shot back a letter to OAEE and the Ohio Sierra Club, loaded with questions attacking the credibility and relevance of their data, also sourced from the Ohio State University Study.
It turns out, Sen. Seitz prefers his data from out-of-state universities, financed by none other than Kansas billionaire Charles Koch.
Koch University, Inc. - Utah State University
Ohio's coal-burning utilities aren't the only interests helping Seitz behind the scenes. The ALEC senator's study committee relied on data using dishonest measurements from professors at Utah State University (USU) in a department that has taken over $1.6 million from Charles Koch since 2005. USU is among the Charles Koch Foundation's top-funded universities.
It begs the question: Why would Ohio politicians look to Utah professors, financed by a Kansas billionaire, for the data on Ohio's clean energy and efficiency efforts?
The Koch-funded Institute for Political Economy at USU has produced a series of reports that give politicians the bad data needed to attack clean energy. The Koch professors are USU, like the Suffolk professors before them, appear to be intentionally misleading. Foundations affiliated with Koch Industries have backed these Utah professors in identical attacks on renewable energy standards, in Kansas and North Carolina.
Disproved data aside, USU professor Randy Simmons hid his financial conflicts of interest in a national op-ed for Newsweek.
These aren't the only Koch-funded professors stepping up to the plate to bat against wind. Before Utah, it was the Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University. And recently, Kansas University Professor Art Hall was caught taking payments from Koch to study the Kansas renewable energy standard, not long before he told the Kansas legislature to erode the incentives. Hall's previous job: Koch Industries' chief economist.
Koch Industries' executives are pushing "fake it till you make it" into the unknown.
Why the Freeze Makes Zero Sense
It's not the affiliations that matter so much as the false data and backwards hype involved.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the U.S. wind energy trade association, has revealed basic flaws in all three of these Koch-funded professors' reports out of Utah State University. AWEA's Michael Goggin:
Instead of only going back to EIA’s 2013 renewable cost estimates like they did in their Kansas report, in their Ohio report they go back to 2008 cost data to develop their estimate of how the cost of wind energy compares against alternatives.
No explanation is provided for why they did not use EIA’s more recent 2015 and 2014 data, which show that wind energy imposes no net cost relative to conventional sources of energy even after removing the impact of federal incentives. Of course, the authors could have also used recent data from real-world market prices and found that wind energy provides significant net benefits for consumers, as we did above. Instead, using obsolete data allows them to miss how the cost of wind energy has fallen by more than half over the last five years, as documented by both government and private investor data.
Jobs, lower energy bills, less wasted energy...frozen by Senator Seitz
Samantha Williams at Natural Resources Defense Council surveys the data that Senator Seitz refuses to accept:
As of 2013, Ohio was home to over 400 advanced energy companies that employed over 25,000 Ohioans and was leading the country in the number of facilities manufacturing components for wind technology and second in the number of solar equipment providers. A report by the Pew Charitable trusts shows Ohio attracted $1.3 billion in private clean energy investment from 2009 to 2013. Similarly, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) reported that, just prior to the passage of the SB 310 clean energy freeze, Ohio's clean tech economy had grown to support 89,000 jobs.
Unfortunately, much of that hard-earned momentum was a casualty of the freeze as well as HB 483, which basically tripled setbacks for wind turbines and made future commercial-scale development unviable.The renewable sector is particularly lagging, in the E2 report showing a scant 1.5 percent job growth in Ohio far lower than the national wind and solar rate.
Pancake Politics: They Liked this Law in 2008
Sen. Seitz voted along with a large majority of Ohio lawmakers in 2008 to pass the clean energy law. Five years later, Seitz was comparing the clean energy law to "Joseph Stalin's five-year Plan."
Ohio is in the midst of a fossil-fueled flip-flop.
UPDATE: After ALEC legislators failed to freeze or repeal RPS laws in North Carolina, Kansas, and many other states, ALEC legislators in Ohio froze its RPS law, effectively gutting the clean energy and energy efficiency incentives. Ohio state Senator and ALEC member Troy Balderson sponsored SB 310, which passed and was signed by early ALEC alumni Governor John Kasich. Troy Balderson, the third ALEC member senator in Ohio to introduce RPS attack legislation, is listed inALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force rosters from 2011 (see ALEC EEA agendas from Cincinnati and New Orleans, from Common Cause's whisteblower complaint to the IRS about ALEC's lobbying activities). Balderson's ALEC affiliation was unfortunately unreported by Ohio press and bloggers. Despite a nationally-coordinated State Policy Network and fossil fuel industry attack on state RPS laws, Ohio is the only state that has allowed ALEC and SPN to undermine its own clean energy incentives, after quietly passing the RPS law with support from ALEC legislators back in 2008.
Ohio is currently fighting this year's final battle in a nationally-coordinated attack on clean energy standard laws, implemented by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other groups belonging to the secretive corporate front group umbrella known as the State Policy Network (SPN).
ALEC and SPN members like the Heartland Institute and Beacon Hill Institute failed in almost all of their coordinated attempts to roll back renewable portfolio standards (RPS) in over a dozen states--laws that require utilities to use more clean energy over time. After high profile battles in North Carolina and Kansas, and more subtle efforts in states like Missouri and Connecticut, Ohio remains the last state in ALEC's sites in 2013.
ALEC Playbook Guides the Attack on Ohio Clean Energy
After Ohio Senator Kris Jordan's attempt to repeal Ohio's RPS went nowhere, ALEC board member and Ohio State Senator William Seitz is now using ALEC's new anti-RPS bills to lead another attack on the Ohio law--see Union of Concerned Scientists.
ALEC's newly-forged Renewable Energy Credit Act allows for RPS targets to be met through out-of-state renewable energy credits (RECs) rather than developing new clean energy projects within Ohio's borders. RECs have varying definitions of renewable energy depending on the region they originate from, lowering demand for the best, cleanest sources of power and electricity.
Sen. Bill Seitz's SB 58 takes advantages of existing provisions of Ohio's RPS law and tweaks other sections to mirror the key aspects of ALEC's Renewable Energy Credit Act. His RPS sneak-attack is matched by House Bill 302, introduced by ALEC member Rep. Peter Stautberg.
Just five years ago, Senator Seitz voted for Ohio's RPS law. Now, Seitz calls clean energy incentives "Stalinist."
Attacks on Ohio's Clean Energy Economy: Fueled by Dirty Energy Profits
Most of ALEC's money comes from corporations and rich people like the Koch brothers, with a tiny sliver more from its negligible legislator membership dues ($50/year). This includes oil & gas giants like ExxonMobil ($344,000, 2007-2012) and Big Oil's top lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute ($88,000, 2008-2010). Exxon and API just two of dozens of dirty energy interests paying to be in the room during ALEC's exclusive Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force meetings.
Other polluting companies bankrolling ALEC's environmental rollbacks include Ohio operating utilities like Duke Energy and American Electric Power. AEP currently chairs ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force. Some of these companies (like Duke Energy and the American Petroleum Institute) pay into a slush fund run by ALEC that allows Ohio legislators and their families to fly to ALEC events using undisclosed corporate cash (see ALEC in Ohio, p. 6).
Ohio Senator Kris Jordan used corporate money funneled through ALEC to attend ALEC events with his wife (ALEC in Ohio, p. 7). With electric utilities as his top political donors, Sen. Jordan has dutifully introduced ALEC bills to repeal renewable energy incentives (SB 34), along with other ALEC priorities like redirecting public funds for private schools (SB 88, 2011), and blocking Ohio from contracting unionized companies (SB 89, 2011).
Koch-funded Spokes & Junk Data Bolsters the ALEC Attack
The behavior of Senator Bill Seitz indicates he's more beholden to ALEC and the dirty energy utilities dumping tens of thousands of dollars into his election campaigns* than his constituents. There is support from a majority of Ohioans for utilities to obtain at least 20% of their electricity from clean sources. Ohio veterans spoke up for the RPS for increasing the state's energy security and lowing wholesale energy costs.
Rather than listening to these voices from Ohio, Senator Seitz has sided with out-of-state Koch-funded mouthpieces invited to testify against the Ohio RPS. Back in March, Seitz heard anti-RPS testimony from The Heartland Institute's James Taylor, who repeated false claims that the RPS will make electricity unaffordable.
Taylor's assertions mimicked those made in a debunked series of reports written for ALEC's RPS attacks. The Ohio anti-RPS report was co-published by the Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute and the American Tradition Institute (ATI), sister group to the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. ATI, now known as the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, was largely funded by Montana petroleum millionaire Doug Lair.
Senator Seitz also heard testimony from Daniel Simmons of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), who recited long-debunked statistics from the so-called "Spanish study" and "Danish study." Koch-funded groups have used these two papers for years to stifle clean energy growth in the United States. Daniel Simmons previously worked for ALEC and the Mercatus Center, which was founded by the Kochs. Heartland and the Institute for Energy Research have financial or personnel ties to the Kansas billionaire Koch brothers.
RPS and Energy Efficiency Are Helping Build Ohio's Economy
Thanks in part to energy efficiency incentives and the RPS law, Ohio's clean energy economy is expanding rapidly, with 25,000 Ohioans employed by 400 companies in the sector. Wind energy is set to expand rapidly, with the American Wind Energy Association projecting $10 billion in investments over the next decade, thanks to the RPS targeted by ALEC and its dirty companies through loyal politicians like Senator Seitz.
Not content to just weaken incentives for clean energy growth, Bill Seitz's SB 58 would also undermine energy efficiency standards, another item on ALEC's agenda. This despite a projected $2.7 billion in savings for Ohio by 2012, as directed by the efficiency and RPS laws.
No wonder ALEC got dumped by its wind and solar trade members.
*Since 2007, Senator Seitz has received $46,450 from coal utilities that are ALEC member companies:
- $21,500 from American Electric Power (AEP)
$15,300 from Duke Energy
- $4,800 of this bundled from Duke Employees in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana during the 2008 election cycle
- $4,000 from NiSource
- $3,000 from Dominion
- $2,650 from the Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, a member of the nation's top dirty energy lobbying heavyweight, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
If you add contributions from FirstEnergy, AES subsidiary Dayton Power & Light, and the Ohio Coal Association, Sen. Seitz's coal money since 2007 tops $66,000.
ALEC's December, 2012 meeting in Washington, DC was heavily sponsored by coal companies, including AEP, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and Edison Electric Institute, the utility trade group whose membership includes Duke Energy, AEP, NiSource, Dominion, AES and FirstEnergy.
Data aggregated by the National Institute for Money in State Politics - FollowTheMoney.org
Updated Nov. 2012
Coal is dirty. Coal companies know this—utilities that burn the fossil fuel are willing to spend millions of dollars each year to undermine laws that cut back on coal pollution and protect public health. Vital in this dirty business are the lobbyists who are willing to ignore the massive external costs of coal and make a career peddling the coal industry’s continued grip on U.S. electricity production. In the recent history of the coal lobby, no single person has bought his clients as much delay on critical pollution controls, such as reducing mercury emissions, as Jeffrey R. Holmstead.
Currently working out of the Washington, DC headquarters of the lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani, Jeff Holmstead has jumped in and out of government positions in a continuous effort to block pollution controls at coal-fired power plants. Holmstead’s coal clients have doled out over $10.7 million dollars (UPDATE Nov. 2012: $13.7 million) to his firm since he joined in 2007, and a primary undertaking of Holmstead’s has been to block and weaken laws that cut back on mercury pollution from power plants. Coal and oil-burning power plants, which release tons of mercury pollution each year [PDF] in the U.S., have avoided any federal mercury protections, despite the Clean Air Act 1990 amendments. This is where Holmstead’s dirty legacy begins.
Jeffrey Holmstead’s formative experience manipulating clean air laws began in 1989 as associate counsel to President George H. W. Bush, where he was involved in “the key steps taken to implement” the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, or as Clean Air Watch’s Frank O’Donnell puts it, he “tried to ‘interpret’ the rules in ways more favorable to industry.” In spite of Holmstead’s role, changes to the Clean Air Act through the 1990 amendments paved the way for requiring mercury controls at power plants and other facilities, but extensive scientific research and coal filibustering stalled EPA’s official endorsement of a strong utility mercury rule for a decade. By December, 2000, EPA finally ruled that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury from power plants by installing high-standard technology across the board with a utility maximum achievable control technology rule (MACT) approach (What’s the Utility MACT?).
Jeff Holmstead was one of the coal lobby’s voices during the ten year delay leading to EPA’s decision to regulate mercury with a Utility MACT rule. After leaving the Bush Sr. administration in 1993, Holmstead joined Latham & Watkins, a beltway lobby firm. His clients at the time included two utility front groups [PDF]. One of Holmstead’s lobby clients, the Alliance for Constructive Air Policy [PDF] included large coal utilities [PDF] like American Electric Power, Cinergy, Wisconsin Electric and subsidiaries of Dynergy and Dominion. Holmstead remained a lobbyist at Latham & Watkins until 2001.
Fox in the Hen House
Jeffrey Holmstead put aside his official lobbying job for five years in order to take the opportunity of a lifetime for any polluter apologist. A top position within the George W. Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave Holmstead unprecedented power to reward the industry clients he had been representing. Holmstead’s controversial appointment was blocked by Senators until staff from the Environment and Public Works Committee could review documents to investigate conflict of interest concerns. As a former industry lobbyist, his pending EPA appointment threatened to disrupt the development of Clean Air rules, and undermine ongoing efforts begun under the Clinton EPA to hold polluters accountable for their violations of the Clean Air Act. Sure enough, he dismantled those clean air rules, told Congress it wouldn’t affect the lawsuits despite internal warnings, and watched EPA turn its back on 70 suspected violation cases. One of Holmstead’s priority targets for evisceration was the mercury rule.
After years of scientific review, effective and available technology to reduce mercury pollution from power plants, and success in reducing mercury pollution through “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) rules in other industries [PDF], Holmstead took steps to undo this progress. An EPA-sponsored Utility MACT Working Group composed of 29 experts from the utility industry, state and local air quality offices and environmental groups were confident that a Utility MACT rule, mandated under the Clean Air Act due to mercury’s toxicity, would be EPA’s approach to control mercury emissions from power plants. Instead, Holmstead and his adviser Bill Wehrum stopped the Utility MACT rule in its tracks, disbanding the working group suddenly in April, 2003. The Utility MACT Working Group was never reconvened under the Bush EPA. A few months after the working group was disbanded, the New York Times reported that EPA employees in Holmstead’s department were told “either not to analyze or not to release information about mercury, carbon dioxide and other air pollutants,” in order to be consistent with the Bush Administration’s unscientific political positions.
In 2004, Holmstead began shifting away from the legally-mandated Utility MACT rule by proposing less effective options for reducing mercury pollution at U.S. power plants. Drafting the new rules, Holmstead was caught borrowing language provided by his former lobbying firm employer, Latham & Watkins. Holmstead’s clients at Latham included two coal utility front groups, so he recognized that it didn’t look good when “at least a dozen paragraphs were lifted, sometimes verbatim, from the industry suggestions” and pasted into his regulatory proposals. A few months later, the New York Times uncovered disturbing details of censoring mercury science in Holmstead’s office: “The staff members deleted or modified information on mercury that employees of the [EPA] say was drawn largely from a 2000 report by the National Academy of Sciences that Congress had commissioned to settle the scientific debate about the risks of mercury.” Citing specific quotes of altered language, Jennifer Lee reported, “In some cases, White House staff members suggested phrasing that minimized the links between power plants and elevated levels of mercury in fish, the primary source from which Americans accumulate mercury in their bodies, in a form known as methlymercury.”
Holmstead Abandons the Utility MACT
The utility mercury rule Holmstead favored and admitted to initiating was a less stringent (in fact, illegal) cap and trade method under a different section of the Clean Air Act (subsection 111 instead of 112), which meant downgrading EPA’s opinion of mercury’s danger as a toxin. The cap and trade rule mirrored the Bush Administration’s absurdly-titled “Clear Skies Initiative” in Congress, a legislative assault on clean air laws designed under Holmstead’s lead. Clear Skies was a priority of the Bush Administration, but was picked apart by environmental groups and the National Academy of Sciences for weakening Clean Air Act pollution standards. EPA employees claimed even Holmstead acknowledged the Clear Skies Initiative was inferior compared to stronger legislation in the Senate, wondering out loud, “How do we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?”
Mercury regulation under the Clear Skies Initiative would have been less effective than the technology-based Utility MACT because cap and trade is designed to bring down geographically widespread emissions of a substance. While this approach can be effective for emissions that don’t have a dangerous local impact (such as carbon dioxide), mercury is known to accumulate locally. Under a cap and trade rule, dirtier power plants would buy credits to release more mercury from plants with lower emissions, and communities around the dirtier facilities could face greater health risks. Concern over these mercury “hot spots” was dismissed by Holmstead, but higher mercury concentrations were later confirmed in a study on the U.S. Atlantic Coast. Additionally, the Associated Press reported that EPA knew of the existence of hot spots in a censored internal report.
Holmstead’s reputation for repeatedly censoring inconvenient scientific data and watering down regulatory language was again demonstrated in 2005 by multiple offenses. In March 2005, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized EPA’s lack of transparency in creating a new mercury rule, saying Holmstead’s cap and trade method should have been considered a “last-resort option.” The GAO statements followed an EPA Inspector general report concluding that “agency scientists had been pressured to back the approach preferred by industry” in re-creating mercury regulations.
A month later, Holmstead’s office was caught smothering a crucial report commissioned for EPA by the Harvard Center for Risk Assessment as a cost benefit analysis of mercury regulation. The Associated Press revealed how the agency claimed a national benefit of $50 million when the smothered report actually indicated benefits of up to five billion dollars nationwide for larger cuts in emissions, as the Utility MACT rule was poised to do before Holmstead intervened. The Harvard report sat on EPA’s shelf for over a year before AP broke the story.
Ignorance is Bliss
The overwhelming evidence in favor of a strong Utility MACT mercury rule led the Clinton administration EPA to conclude that a cap and trade alternative was not legally supportable. Comparing the favorable and legally-required Utility MACT mercury controls with Holmstead’s cap and trade proposal, the Washington Post’s Eric Pianin explained, “Under the administration’s approach, utilities would have until 2018 to cut [mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide] emissions by 70 percent. By comparison, the EPA working group considered various approaches that would cut mercury pollution by 35 percent to 93 percent within three to four years.” Instead of reducing utility mercury pollution to as low as 5 tons per year in 2008, Holmstead’s plan would only drop emissions to 15 tons annually by 2018. In other words, Holmstead pushed for a ten year delay that ultimately allowed three times the mercury pollution than the Utility MACT he blocked [Heinzerling & Steinzor, p.11].
Jeffrey Holmstead shrugged off the criticism and pushed ahead with his efforts to dismantle effective mercury controls. Holmstead’s office had dragged its feet by vaguely studying both the MACT and cap and trade methods. Lisa Heinzerling explained at the time how EPA “ties itself in knots trying to explain how the law allows it to promulgate either of these diametrically opposed options” [Heinzerling & Steinzor, p.9]. Despite a request from 45 Senators to use the appropriate Utility MACT rule, Holmstead later dropped the method altogether, overstepping EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt. EPA officially issued Holmstead’s mercury rule on March 15, 2005.
At this point, certain states and environmental groups sued EPA to force a return to the legally mandated Utility MACT rule. This was achieved three years later in a 2008 DC Circuit Court ruling supporting the Clinton EPA’s December, 2000 decision to reduce mercury air pollution from coal and oil utilities using a MACT rule. The court’s scathing conclusion cited Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, stating [PDF] that the Bush EPA’s “explanation deploys the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting EPA’s desires for the plain text of section 112(c)(9),” the section of the Clean Air Act requiring MACT controls for power plant mercury emissions.
The original Utility MACT rule that Holmstead replaced should have been fully implemented by 2008. As of 2011, EPA expects full implementation by 2016.
Accounting for all the delay, Holmstead’s interference has blocked serious reductions in power plant mercury pollution for eight years, assuming no further delays by the coal industry. Unfortunately, that may not be a safe assumption.
Back in King Coal’s Court
Jeffrey Holmstead spent over four years as EPA’s assistant administrator of Air and Radiation, longer than anyone else in that position to date. In late 2006, after taking a year off, Holmstead joined the lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani (B&G). B&G has a notably anti-environmental legacy, lobbying for major corporate polluters and defending white-collar criminals in cases of federal enforcement lawsuits. When asked to explain his blatant revolving door career--leaving EPA to lobby for industry clients--Holmstead said, “I, I'm not sure why, uh, people have tried to make something of that. But people have to have jobs. And that's the way it works.”
Since joining Bracewell & Giuliani, Jeff Holmstead has had a total of 16 clients. All but four of those clients were coal utilities, mining companies, or trade associations (and one of those four was CSX, a railroad company that is the largest coal shipper east of the Mississippi). Holmstead’s coal interest clients have paid Bracewell & Giuliani over $13.7 million since he joined the firm. In 2011, only one of Holmstead’s ten clients was not a coal company. With the coal industry’s money, Holmstead and other Bracewell lobbyists fought for the industry’s assumed right to unlimited mercury pollution and resisted other rules to protect Americans from coal industry pollution. A recent MJ Bradley report [PDF] found that eleven of the top fifteen U.S. utility companies have long anticipated recent clean air rules and taken steps to prepare. Two of the four laggard companies were Southern Company and Energy Future Holdings, both current Holmstead clients.
Southern Company made two billion dollars last year in profits alone. Southern and other coal utilities invest millions of dollars into subverting regulations. Assistance from Holmstead and other polluter lobbyists at Bracewell & Giuliani costs Southern $120,000 in annual lobbying fees, part of Southern’s $8 million lobbying budget. In addition, Southern is represented by the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coal industry front group run out of Bracewell’s office in Washington, DC. At a November, 2011 meeting with the White House Office of Management and Budget, Holmstead was present with Bracewell lobbyist and ERCC director Scott Segal (who requested the meeting), three representatives of Southern Company, and a lobbyist from Duke Energy. Duke and other major coal utility clients work with Holmstead, his firm and ERCC in the same fashion that Southern Company does.
Many of Jeff Holmstead’s current clients were recently named among the top mercury polluters in the coal utility sector, the largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S. Of the 25 companies listed as 2010's biggest mercury polluters (see Environment America report [PDF]), at least 9 are represented by Holmstead. Luminant, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Energy Future Holdings, and Southern Company rank 2nd and 3rd, respectively, releasing over 4,000 pounds of airborn mercury each. Other Holmstead clients on the list are Ameren (#4), GenOn (#7), DTE Energy (#11), Duke Energy (#12), Salt River Project (#20) and Progress Energy (#22). FirstEnergy (ranked #16 in the report), is a suspected member of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, or ERCC -- the coal front group managed by coal lobbyists in Bracewell’s DC lobbying office. ERCC itself is a Holmstead lobbying client. Although ERCC refuses to reveal its member companies, several confirmed or suspected members overlap with several of Holmstead clients: Southern Co., Duke Energy, Progress Energy, Energy Future Holdings, and Salt River Project [Drew & Oppel, Jr.].
Doublespeak and Deception
While working full time for polluters at Bracewell & Giuliani, Jeffrey Holmstead’s statements on mercury’s toxic potency directly contradict some of his statements while at EPA. In office, Holmstead at least acknowledged the danger of mercury from power plants. The Natural Resources Defense Council flagged an unbroken quote from May 2002 Congressional testimony, where Holmstead recognized that “mercury is a potent toxin that causes permanent damage to the brain and nervous system,” that “mercury exposure comes through eating contaminated fish,” and that “power generation is now the largest uncontrolled source of mercury emissions.” In stark contrast, Holmstead claimed in a June, 2011 debate, “It is pretty hard to say that [mercury from coal-fired power plants] is a significant public health issue.” Each year, EPA’s mercury rule is expected to prevent 4,200-11,000 premature deaths, along with thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, and other health problems [PDF].
It takes a special talent to lobby against public health in favor of corporate profit. Part of Holmstead’s proficiency in peddling coal’s delay and deny strategy is to avoid an honest discussion of the immense impacts the burning coal has on public health and the environment, and instead focus on misleading cost benefit analyses. This dark talent is likely the reason Holmstead was named as one of several George W. Bush administration officials now advising Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign on energy issues. Holmstead also aided Romney during his 2008 campaign.
While the focus of this cautionary tale is how Jeff Holmstead has obstructed effective methods of reducing mercury pollution from coal plants, unlimited mercury pollution is only one dangerous privilege that Holmstead has defended for his coal clients. Holmstead’s full history includes parallel efforts to block or weaken other EPA rules. While at EPA, Holmstead attacked New Source Review rules, which require pollution controls when new industrial facilities are built or old ones are upgraded. And as for reducing industry greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global climate change, EPA air chief Holmstead stated in 2005, “the idea that there would be mandatory, you know, carbon regulation is just something that we don’t support.” In his time as a lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani, Holmstead was implicated in a 2010 scandal revealing that he and another former Bush EPA official-turned-lobbyist ghostwrote a legislative amendment for Senator Lisa Murkowski (I-AK) that would have undermined the Clean Air Act’s provision to control climate-altering greenhouse gases from major emitters. Sen. Murkowski has received over $380,000 from coal interests from 1999-2011, with $65,000 from Holmstead coal clients in the specific years he has worked for them. In 2011, Sen. Murkowski wrote letters and threatened legislative action to further delay implementation of EPA’s mercury rule.
At present, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates [PDF] that finally completing and implementing a Utility MACT mercury rule will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths per year, along with other enormous health benefits, by the time the rule is fully implemented.
Jeff Holmstead’s sabotage of the rulemaking process at EPA has caused eight years of delay, delay where Americans have continued to suffer from the impacts of pollution from coal fired power plants. The implications of the amount of lives that could have been saved in this eight-year timeframe is staggering: tens of thousands of people have likely been unnecessarily killed by coal pollution because of the delay. Instead of being held accountable, Holmstead continues to make a killing as the coal industry’s mercury lobbyist.
*What's the Utility MACT? (back up to report)
The Clinton EPA, recognizing the danger of mercury and certain other hazardous air pollutants, chose the “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) method for controlling dangerous pollution at power plants. The Utility MACT requires plant-by-plant controls to greatly reduce air emissions of mercury using attainable but top-notch technology. While utilities still haven’t been made to comply with a MACT rule, similar rules for incinerator industries have shown over 95% reductions in mercury pollution [PDF] over a 15-year period. Without any regulation, coal- and oil-burning utilities managed only 10% voluntary reductions of mercury pollution over the same time. Coal and oil burning electric utilities are the top source of manmade mercury pollution in the United States.
Environmental Law Reporter:
Lisa Heinzerling & Rena I. Steinzor, Environmental Law Reporter, News & Analysis, “A Perfect Storm: Mercury and the Bush Administration,” part 1 of 2, April, 2004.
Lisa Heinzerling & Rena I. Steinzor, Environmental Law Reporter, News & Analysis, "A Perfect Storm: Mercury and the Bush Administration, Part II" part 2 of 2, June, 2004.
New York Times:
Neela Banerjee, "Files Detail Debate in E.P.A. on Clean Air," New York Times, March 21, 2002.
Katharine Q. Seelye, "White House Rejected a Stronger E.P.A. Alternative to the President's Clear Skies Plan," New York Times, April 28, 2002.
Jeffrey R. Holmstead, "Emissions Trading," Letter to the Editor, New York Times, June 7, 2002, obtained through ProQuest.
Jennifer 8. Lee, "Committee Approves E.P.A. Nominee, Setting Up Floor Fight," New York Times, October 16, 2003.
Jennifer 8. Lee, “White House Minimized the Risks of Proposed Mercury Rules, Scientists Say,” New York Times, April 7, 2004. (back to text)
Jennifer 8. Lee, "Critics Say E.P.A. Won't Analyze Clean Air Proposals Conflicting with President's Policies," New York Times, July 14, 2003.
Jennifer 8. Lee, "New Policy on Mercury Pollution Was Rejected by Clinton E.P.A." New York Times, December 16, 2003.
Christopher Drew and Richard A. Oppel, Jr., “Air War -- Remaking Energy Policy; How Power Lobby Won Battle Of Pollution Control at E.P.A.” New York Times, March 6, 2004. (back to text)
Michael Janofsky, "Inspector General Says E.P.A. Rule Aids Polluters," New York Times, October 1, 2004.
"Dubious Choices," Editorial, New York Times, April 24, 2006.
Eric Pianin, "EPA Announces 'Cap and Trade' Plan to Cut Mercury Pollution; Agency Bowed to Utility Industry Pressure, Critics Charge," Washington Post, p. A35, December 16, 2003. Obtained through ProQuest.
Guy Gugliotta & Eric Pianin, "EPA Withholds Air Pollution Analysis; Senate Plan Found More Effective, Slightly More Costly than Bush Proposal," Washington Post, p. A03, July 1, 2003. Obtained through ProQuest.
Guy Gugliotta & Eric Pianin, "EPA Issues Rosier 'Clear Skies' Analysis, Based on New Model; Agency Denies Hiding Data on Rival Bill," Washington Post, p. A06, July 2, 2003. Obtained through ProQuest, available on High Beam.
Eric Pianin, "Report Cites 10 States' Mercury Pollution; Envrionmental Advocacy Group Uses EPA Data to Pinpoint 'Hot Spots'," Washington Post, p. A02, December 10, 2003. Obtained through ProQuest, available at Environmental Defense Fund [PDF].
Eric Pianin, "Proposed Mercury Rules Bear Industry Mark; EPA Language Similar to that in Memos from Law Firm Representing Utilities," Washington Post, p. A04, January 31, 2004.
Juliet Williams, "List of states suing federal government over mercury regulations rises to 10," Associated Press, April 12, 2005. Obtained through ProQuest.
John Heilprin, "Internal EPA study finds higher benefits from curbing mercury pollution," Associated Press, April 29, 2005. Obtained through ProQuest, available through Google News.
Frank O'Donnell, Blog for Clean Air, Clean Air Watch. A site search for "Holmstead" reveals numerous accounts over the years.
"Resolved: EPA's Utility MACT is the right tool at the right time," filmed debate, Environmental Law Institute, June 7, 2011.
Meg Kinnard, "EPA's Holmstead: Emissions Trading Program Works," Insider Interview, National Journal, February 5, 2003.
For information on the coal industry's backroom lobbying to prevent the classification of coal ash as "hazardous," check out the recent DeSmogBlog/PolluterWatch report, Coal Fired Utilities to American Public: Kiss My Ash [pdf]. Also refer to the new Greenpeace map of high-hazard coal ash locations.
The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to decide whether or not to federally regulate coal ash, wrapping up the public comment period that began in late June. Coal ash, a residual product from burning coal, contains known neurotoxins and carcinogens, such as arsenic, lead, and mercury. The substance is also notably radioactive.
While Little Blue Run pond may give the impression of a quaint place to go for a swim, it is anything but. Owned by FirstEnergy, Little Blue Run is a coal ash impoundment right near the converging border of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio (check this map). The waste stored in Little Blue Run is produced seven miles away at FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield Power Station.
If the dam holding the pond's material were to break, 50,000 people in Ohio would be in immediate danger of a toxic flood. As if this dramatic threat is not stressful enough, people in the area also live with the lingering concerns of water contamination and ailments from dry ash circulated by the wind.
Lisa Jackson and the EPA seem to have no doubt about the dangers of coal ash. The agency found there is at least a 1 in 50 chance of developing cancer when living close enough to ash ponds, and recognizes that ponds like Little Blue Run have arsenic levels 900 times that of what is considered "safe".
It is time for the EPA to see its job through, ending the needless poisoning of Americans unfortunate enough to live too close to the toxic messes Big Coal leaves behind.
Photo Credit: Duke University