Duke Energy Ties to Gov. McCrory Increase Concerns over SB10 Proposal to Fire NC Utilities Commission
This guess post was written by Sue Sturgis for the Institute for Southern Studies' online magazine, Facing South.
This is a critical moment for North Carolina's energy future, as a packed public hearing held in Raleigh this week showed -- and there are growing concerns that the politician who might get to make key decisions about it has significant conflicts of interest.
On Monday, Feb. 11, about 180 people attended a N.C. Utilities Commission (NCUC) hearing on Duke Energy's plan for meeting its customers' power needs over the next two decades. Dozens of citizens testified against Duke's proposed Integrated Resource Plan, which calls for generating most of its energy from polluting sources: dirty coal plants (24 percent), natural gas plants (29 percent), and risky nuclear plants (29 percent). Efficiency would account for only 4.5 percent of Duke's generation mix, while wind and solar would make up only 2.25 percent. The plan would cost Duke's customers dearly, as the company -- which supplies electricity to over 95 percent of North Carolina customers since its merger with Progress Energy -- would quadruple rates within a decade.
Speaker after speaker called on commissioners to require Duke to increase its generation from renewable sources such as solar and to encourage greater efficiency. Many of those who testified cited the urgency of acting now, pointing to mounting signs that the climate has already been dangerously disrupted by unchecked greenhouse gas pollution.
"What are we waiting for, the next tragic super storm to strike?" asked Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for clean air in western North Carolina. "What is it going to take for you to act in the public interest?"
But there are mounting concerns that the public interest will get even less consideration if North Carolina's legislature gets its way and gives Gov. Pat McCrory (R) sole control over the commission's membership.
A controversial bill recently introduced in the General Assembly would sweep out the current members of key state regulatory commissions including the NCUC and replace them with members appointed by the governor and/or the legislature. In the case of the NCUC, Senate Bill 10 specifies that the new appointments would be made by the governor and confirmed by the legislature. It would also downsize the commission from seven members to five. The bill has already passed the Senate and is now advancing through the House, both of which are controlled by veto-proof Republican super-majorities.
State Sen. Bill Rabon (R-New Hanover), one of the bill's primary sponsors along with Sens. Tom Apodaca (R-Buncombe) and Neal Hunt (R-Wake), told the Senate Rules Committee that the bill streamlines state government and allows key boards to be run by appointees who "are more like-minded and willing to carry out the philosophy of the new administration," as The News & Observer reported.
However, some watchdogs are protesting what they call "an unprecedented conflict of interest" created by the legislation because of McCrory's unusually close ties to Duke Energy.
In addition to having received generous campaign contributions from Duke Energy (the company, its political action committee, employees, and their families donated over $240,000 to McCrory's 2008 and 2012 gubernatorial campaigns and to the state Republican Party since he became the party's nominee, according to a recent report by the liberal advocacy group Progress NC), McCrory worked for the company for 28 years, starting out digging ditches and eventually making his way to a position as senior adviser with Duke's Business and Economic Development Group before retiring in 2007 to run for governor.
Because of that employment history, the clean-energy advocacy group NC WARN last month joined with the state AARP to ask the governor to recuse himself from making appointments to the commission and from appointing a new Public Staff director to represent consumers in utility cases because of his longtime association with Duke. This week NC WARN sent a letter to McCrory raising concerns about the commission overhaul proposal.
"If the bill passes, you would be required to appoint all the members of the Utilities Commission," NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren wrote in the Feb. 11 letter. "The public perception would be inescapable that Duke Energy had captured its regulator, and had done so with the Governor's assistance."
But the governor's financial ties to the utility giant are not merely historic: Though he's no longer employed by Duke Energy, McCrory continues to hold a significant financial stake in the company. His latest statement of economic interest filed with the N.C. Ethics Commission and posted to the Indyweek.com website discloses that he holds stock in Duke valued at a minimum of $10,000. North Carolina ethics rules do not require reporting the exact value of the investment.
Notified of the holdings, Warren said they are "just more evidence that the governor has an unprecedented conflict of interest."
McCrory's history of conflicts
This is not the first time concerns have arisen over potential conflicts of interest related to McCrory's close ties to Duke Energy, as Facing South reported back in 2008.
In 1994, while working for Duke and serving as an at-large city councilman and mayor pro tem in the company's hometown of Charlotte, McCrory chaired a council meeting and voted on a matter that directly affected Duke's finances. City of Charlotte v. Cook involved Charlotte's efforts to condemn private farmland to build an underground water pipe for a project that would enable the city to purchase power from Duke instead of the electric membership corporation that was the authorized provider for that location.
The case eventually ended up in state Supreme Court. Though the court majority ultimately ruled there was no wrongdoing by the city, a dissenting opinion by Justice Beverly Lake Jr., a Republican, pointed to a conflict of interest on McCrory's part:
The record evidences multiple Duke Power internal e-mail messages and memoranda reflecting that Duke Power and the City collaborated to have the City acquire a fee simple title to the property in order that Duke Power could provide the power to the plant. These e-mail messages indicate that the mayor pro tempore of the City, an employee of Duke Power, as well as the project director had contact with Duke Power officials and discussed condemning a fee simple interest for the project. The mayor pro tempore chaired the 12 September 1994 City Council meeting where the subject of condemning a fee simple was discussed, and he voted in favor of a fee simple condemnation.
McCrory filed an affidavit saying he would not have participated in the meeting if he had known Duke was involved. However, the court pointed to evidence that McCrory did in fact know Duke was involved -- though it ruled that "an ethical problem involving the Council has to rise to a much higher level than this one for us to upset a decision by the Council."
In another action that raised conflict of interest concerns, McCrory went to Washington, D.C. in 1997 to testify as Charlotte mayor against federal clean air regulations for the city that would have cost his employer Duke Energy an estimated $600 million. As a local paper reported at the time:
When asked about a possible conflict of interest arising from his appearance on Capitol Hill as Charlotte's mayor to testify about a matter that would directly affect his employer, Duke Power (where he serves as manager of business relations), McCrory replied, "No, in fact it's quite beneficial because I'm very knowledgeable on the subject."
In the letter it sent to McCrory this week about the latest conflict of interest concern, NC WARN asked the governor to oppose the NCUC provision in the commission overhaul bill and to call for it to be removed from the House version of the legislation. It also asked McCrory to state that, should the section pass in spite of his opposition, he would appoint an independent panel to recommend candidates for the NCUC and abide by its recommendations.
If he fails to do so, NC WARN's Warren wrote, McCrory risks further alienating the people from the government that's supposed to serve them:
The Utilities Commission provisions of the bill would set the precedent that whenever legislative leadership and the governor changes party, the seated commissioners would be thrown out and replaced. It would do away with the Commission's institutional legitimacy as well as its knowledge base and continuity gained by handling its highly complex legal, technical, and policy issues. The public, already skeptical that utility regulation is in the public's interest, would see the Commission as just a rubber stamp wielded by politicians and their utility industry backers. Instead of bolstering faith in the integrity and effectiveness of state government, the bill would take cynicism to a new level.
Today at a well-attended energy forum hosted by Politico, I shed some light on the role of coal lobbyist Jeffrey Holmstead in blocking pollution reductions for his coal utility and mining clients after he said we can't "regulate our way to clean energy." Here's the video:
UPDATE 11/16: Holmstead was later confronted on camera by Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project after the disruption at the Politico forum. Watch Holmstead re-write the history of his attacks on mercury pollution laws:
As I waited inside for Mr. Holmstead to step on stage, members of Greenpeace's Climate Crime Unit stood outside handing out WANTED posters of both Holmstead and chief oil lobbyist Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute, who was also present.
Jeff Holmstead, who is often quoted in newspapers as a former Air and Radiation Administrator for the George W. Bush Environmental Protection Agency or a "partner" (read: lobbyist) at Bracewell & Giuliani's corporate law firm here in DC, is rarely credited as an influence peddler for some of the most notorious polluters in the country.
Polluters like Duke Energy, Southern Company, and Arch coal are paying Holmstead's bills. These laggard coal-reliant companies are responsible for ecologically destructive coal mining and the carbon dioxide emissions that drive global climate change, not to mention a litany of dangerous pollutants.
Jeff Holmstead's job as their lobbyist is to delay any clean air rules, clean water rules or climate change laws that threaten the billions in profit these companies make by getting to pollute for free. Since he started officially working for them, his firm has been paid over $13.7 million dollars for the dirty work of Holmstead and his partners at Bracewell & Giuliani. He is the perfect example of the political revolving door: he was a coal lobbyist who was placed at the head of our government's clean air department before jumping back on the payroll of coal companies to dismantle the rules he was supposed to uphold. Here are some of
Holmstead's greatest polluter hits:
- Eight years of delay for mercury pollution controls at US power plants. As part of the George W. Bush EPA, Holmstead swapped out a technology-based solution to mercury emissions from coal plants with a rule that was later declared illegal by a US District Court. This bait-and-switch happened in December, 2003; it took the US EPA until Dec. 2011 to put the effective mercury rule back in place. EPA currently estimates that up to 11,000 people's lives could be saved each year by controlling mercury pollution--see EPA Factsheet.
- Led the Bush administration's "Clear Skies Initiative," a deceptively-titled name for a series of proposed air pollution laws that actually allowed for more coal pollution.
- Attacks on greenhouse gas regulations through the Clean Air Act: Holmstead was the infamous co-author behind the scenes of Senator Lisa Murkowski's "Dirty Air Act" in 2010.
- Ongoing attacks on pollution controls through ERCC front group: the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council" is a coal industry front group run out of Holmstead's office. They have worked to block any regulation of poisonous coal ash, greenhouse gas emissions from coal and the mercury pollution controls that Holmstead already delayed for eight years.
- Work for a Koch front group that denied the existence of acid rain: "Citizens for the Environment" was a spinoff of the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, which eventually became David Koch's Americans for Prosperity. Citizens for the Environment had no actual citizen membership, according to the New Yorker.
FOR MORE: See Jeff Holmstead's PolluterWatch profile.
“Mr. Holmstead, Southern Company and Duke Energy pay you to block those regulations. They pay you to block climate legislation. They don’t want clean energy. You need to be reported as the coal lobbyist that you are. When you were in the George W. Bush EPA you blocked mercury controls on power plants for eight years. Eight years—do you know how many thousands of people may have died as a result of that decision, Mr. Holmstead? You need to be held accountable for that. You need to be held accountable as a lobbyist for coal interests.” (click to return to top)
Written by Madhura Deshpande of Greenpeace's Frontline program.
On September 27th I had the opportunity to attend Jim Rogers’ first public appearance as CEO of Duke Energy Corp--which just completed a messy takeover of Progress Energy--and listen to his keynote speech about their future energy policy. The most surprising portion of this event was when Jim Rogers stated Duke’s mission is to provide clean, sustainable energy to its ratepayers. What a fantastic statement to make when comparing words to actions: Duke’s true, actionable mission is and has been to minimize the percentage of renewable energy in our portfolio and maximize funding for more coal, unregulated natural gas, and nuclear energy plants.
At the end of the event we asked Mr. Rogers why Duke Energy continues to support climate science denial (an obviously global and critical issue facing us today) and voter suppression by funding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), especially since Duke’s policies seem to oppose such efforts. Conveniently, Mr. Rogers declined to answer on the grounds that he was leaving the event and did not have any more time.
ALEC is a group of big industry leaders (oil, coal, gas, tobacco, healthcare, etc) that help create state bills that limit the responsibility of their companies, and thus make more money. How can they do this? It’s easy: they use the massive profits from their respective industries to rub elbows with State lawmakers and ‘ghostwrite’ bills to be passed. Through these meetings, ALEC has helped disseminate state laws that disenfranchise voters and policies that deny climate science and solutions to global warming.
It’s time for Duke Energy and Jim Rogers to commit: drop ALEC and match your rhetoric with your actions. This nation and our environment cannot afford to wait any longer.
Tomorrow, the American Legislative Exchange Council--known as ALEC--will host their 2012 Spring Task Force summit in Charlotte, NC. At tomorrow's meeting, the corporate front group will round up its various committees and prepare to peddle new state-level legislation to attack clean energy laws, protect polluting industries, privatize education, and suppress voters, among other big business schemes.
Need a refresher on ALEC? It's the group that brings state legislators to the table with representatives from major corporations in the sectors of energy, healthcare, tobacco, private prisons, and other groups to manipulate state politics to maximize their profits and limit their liabilities. These companies help craft template bills for state legislators to bring home and introduce in their respective statehouses.
Documents obtained and published by Common Cause now give us a roster of specific attendees at ALEC's environmental meetings, a consortium of state legislators and a who's who of the most offensive polluting political heavyweights including: Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Duke Energy and Peabody. Participating legislators know well they're walking into a dirty party, sometimes using state taxpayer money to foot the bill.
The corporations that fund ALEC are well known for their political spending on both sides of the aisle. ALEC funders include Koch Industries, known for its coordinated political spending against President Obama, and Duke Energy, which is laying down a ten million dollar line of credit to host the Democratic National Convention in their hometown of Charlotte, NC. But these polluting companies are co-conspirators under the banner of ALEC, where partisan politics are set aside to focus on the mission of destroying environmental protections, clean energy competition and liability for crimes against both people and the ecosystems sustaining us.
So what exactly are ALEC and these oil, coal, chemical and public relations companies focusing on tomorrow?
According to their newest meeting memorandum, ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force is going to discuss some pending model laws that ALEC will likely be approved for state distribution:
- The "Electricity Freedom Act" (really? Electricity Freedom?!) is a new attack on states with plans requiring companies to get a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. This new bill is similar to other legislation ALEC has already peddled in several states and compliments an "email and telephone campaign" against state renewable energy standards, according to the Guardian.
- The "Coal Intrastate and Use Act" serves to prevent EPA from overruling state permits for coal mining and producing dirty coal products (like liquid coal for fuel) if all the coal operations are conducted within the borders of a single state.
- The "Resolution on U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement Accountability" mandates a report be filed on cities and states that have fallen short of their goals to reduce greenhouse gases through the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which has over 1,000 signatories. ALEC's new resolution then demands that any program that hasn't met its goal be canceled out right, voiding the Climate Protection Agreement altogether. Keeping in mind that ALEC's members like Koch and Exxon have fought greenhouse gas programs at every turn for years, it is obvious that this ALEC bill is meant for one thing, attacking programs that address carbon emissions.
- A resolution demanding the passage of the notorious federal REINS Act, which would give Congress the power to block the enforcement of just about any federal protection--clean air and water laws, safeguards for mine workers, prohibiting tobacco sales to kids, protection from discrimination, you name it. It's the ultimate gift from Congress to their corporate fundraisers who would like to avoid responsibility for...everything.
- The exhaustively-titled "Resolution Supporting a Reasonable Compliance Timeline and Economy-wide impact study of EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule" has a simple purpose: delay when coal-burning utilities have to reduce mercury pollution and other severely hazardous emissions. For major mercury polluters like Energy Future Holdings, American Electric Power, and Duke Energy, this is likely to be a popular item tomorrow.
Documents obtained and published by Common Cause also show us what ALEC's focal points have been for other meetings in the last two years. Here are a few examples:
- A resolution urging Congress and the State Department to push through TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. ALEC recycles a lofty jobs lie in their reasoning for this resolution, ignoring State Department KXL job estimates under 2,000 and a Cornell study warning that "There is evidence to suggest that the effects of KXL construction could very well lead to more jobs being lost than are created." How many jobs does ALEC assume? 120,000 -- see Greenpeace's letter to the SEC to understand how they were calculated by politics rather than reality. Go figure--the American Petroleum Institute and its largest members were in the room when this resolution was forged.
- A deceptive ALEC bill pushed by ExxonMobil that "discloses" chemicals used by the oil industry in fracking operations, but actually inserts loopholes to avoid disclosure of certain fracking chemicals. This bate-and-switch comes at a time when doctors are concerned about signing confidentiality agreements if they ask for disclosure of fracking chemicals when treating people who are exposed to chemicals from gas drilling.
- A resolution that would prevent EPA from recognizing coal ash as a hazardous substance (it contains neurotoxins, carcinogens and radioactive elements). This may well have served as the model for the coal ash amendment that is currently being tacked on to the federal transportation bill by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV). Coal ash was a repeated topic of discussion at ALEC's energy task force meetings over the last two years, according to their meeting documents.
Who exactly attends these events? Beyond ALEC staff and dozens of corporate representatives, industry front groups are also represented. Tomorrow will feature John Felmy of the American Petroleum Institute in a presentation on gas prices (spoiler alert: this crowd will probably blame the President). Next up: presentations from representatives of the Edison Electric Institute (utility trade group) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (nuclear industry lobby).
Perhaps most intriguing will be a chat about "The Dirty Truth Behind Reusable Bags" led by Charles Gerba, who will warn attendees that reusable bags will give them "projectile vomiting and diarrhea." Gerba may not mention this dramatic and messy sickness can be avoided by simply washing one's reusable bags, since Mark Daniels of Hilex Poly (a plastic bag company) regularly attends these meetings, and Gerba serves as an advisor to Hilex Poly.
ALEC always gets some of industry's most interesting mouthpieces to set the rhetorical tone for those attending ALEC's anti-environmental jamborees. Looking back to last August at ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture task force meeting in New Orleans, presenters included:
- Robert Bradley of the Institute for Energy Research, which made press recently when its sister group the American Energy Alliance spend $3.6 million on ads blaming the President for high gas prices. IER has a former Koch lobbyist on staff and has received $175,000 from Koch foundations in recent years as part of the climate denial network.
- Gerry Angevene of the Fraser Institute, another longtime player in the Koch- and Exxon-funded climate denial machine
- James Taylor of the Heartland Institute, which has helped champion ALEC efforts to confuse K-12 students about climate science. Heartland is currently in the middle of a crisis as corporate funders are distancing themselves from its comparison of terrorists and serial killers to those who recognize the reality of global warming. Seriously, they put the Unabomber on a billboard saying, "Do you still believe in global warming? I do. www.heartland.org"
- Craig Idso, whose nutjob Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change has been paid by the coal industry and the Heartland Institute to tell people that global warming is good for the planet. Craig Idso explained this nonsense to state legislators in August. As is the pattern here, see the Center's history of Koch- and Exxon-funding, as well as Idso's former employment at Peabody and work for the Western Fuels Association.
- Stephen Miller of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which spends big on national advertisements promoting the idea that perhaps coal isn't inherently dirty, dangerous and deadly (it is). Miller, who is resigning from ACCCE this year after serving as a dilligent coal apologist for the last decade, came under Congressional fire in 2009 when it was revealed that ACCCE contractors forged letters on behalf of groups "representing senior citizens, minorities and veterans," including the NAACP.
Likely due to the publicity of ALEC Exposed and the recent mass migration of 16 companies and 34 state politicians away from ALEC (in response to controversial bills on voter suppression and Stand Your Ground laws that protected Trayvon Martin's killer), ALEC no longer includes the specific members of its task forces in the documents it mails to participants beforehand. ALEC's Energy task force as of June, 2011 shows the nefarious people who run this dirty operation, by name. People representing the following groups have been consistently present at recent ALEC meetings over the last couple years:
Oil and gas industry:
- Shell Oil
- American Petroleum Institute
- Occidental Petroleum
- Marathon Oil
- Continental Resources
- American Gas Association (trade association)
- Peabody Energy
- Cloud Peak Energy
- Duke Energy & Progress Energy (which are merging into the nation's largest utility company)
- Energy Future Holdings
- American Electric Power
- PacifiCorp (a MidAmerican subsidiary, owned by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway)
- Alliant Energy
- Pinnacle West
- MDU Resources
- NV Energy
- Edison Electric Institute (trade association, membership includes all utilities above)
- American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (membership includes AEP, Peabody, and Energy Future Holdings subsidiary Luminant)
- Salt River Project
- National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (an aggressive lobbying group for electrical utility cooperatives and top political donor in the energy sector)
- Nuclear Energy Institute (trade association)
- Duke, Progress, AEP, and Pinnacle West all have notable nuclear generation capacity
Other major polluters:
- Dow Agrosciences
- International Paper
- American Chemistry Council (top trade association for chemical companies)
- Bayer Healthcare (Bayer is the country's top air polluter according the Political Economy Research Institute at U-Mass, Amherst)
- Honeywell (#31 on PERI's toxic air polluters list)
- General Motors (GM has a history of climate denial, although GM Foundation just dumped the Heartland Institute)
- LyondellBasell Industries (third largest chemical company in the world)
Front groups, all involved in climate science denial (Koch funding since 2005):
- Americans for Prosperity ($5,760,781)
- Atlas Economic Research Foundation ($152,600)
- Commonwealth Foundation ($84,532)
- Goldwater Institute ($70,427)
- John Locke Foundation ($47,472)
- Heartland Institute ($25,000)
Public Relations Firms
Dezenhall Resources, which Businessweek calls the "Pit Bull of Public Relations." Dezenhall Resources is currently included in a Greenpeace lawsuit due to its role in hiring spies on behalf of chemical companies to track Greenpeace's internal campaign plans.
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.