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The non-profit Clean Air Trust today awarded its clean air "Villain of the Month" award to the National Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group of coal-burning power companies accused of evading the Clean Air Act.
Members of the Council -- including the Southern Company, First Energy, and Duke Power -- are defendants in high-profile Justice Department anti-pollution lawsuits. (Another financial contributor to the Council, the Tennessee Valley Authority, is facing administrative action by the Environmental Protection Agency for the same sort of pollution violations.)
Rather than clean up their deadly emissions, these companies have hired an "all-star" team of Republican heavy-hitter lobbyists in an effort to weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act and obtain a pardon for the polluters (a). The polluters already persuaded Vice President Cheney to order EPA to review its enforcement policy (and the Justice Department to review the pending lawsuits). Now the dirty-air lobby is moving in for the kill.
Even though the public -- as we have seen in recent EPA hearings -- overwhelmingly supports strong enforcement of the Clean Air Act and no pardon for the polluters, these insiders may have enough clout -- and campaign cash -- to get the polluters off the hook.
Here are some of the "all stars" that we know have signed up to bat for these dirty-air utilities:
C. Boyden Gray -- former counsel to former President George Bush and the ringleader of an industry alliance that tried to block EPA from setting tougher standards for smog and soot in 1997. Gray also wrote the legal brief that sent those standards into legal limbo. (His view -- which challenged the authority of Congress to delegate clean-air authority to EPA -- was unanimously repudiated by the Supreme Court earlier this year.) Thanks to Gray, those tougher standards are still not being enforced despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they are needed to protect our health. He also unleashed the right-wing grassroots group that he heads -- Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) -- to oppose the clean air standards. CSE has recently been revved up again in an effort to promote the Bush-Cheney energy plan and oppose pollution cleanup.
In addition, Gray reportedly helped one of his former assistants, Jeffrey Holmstead, obtain appointment as EPA's Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation -- a key decision maker in the current controversy. (What a coincidence! And an amazing further coincidence that several of Holmstead's other friends and former colleagues have also gotten contracts to lobby for companies including Southern Company and Cinergy since his appointment became
Gray recently testified on behalf of the polluters at an EPA hearing; he is scheduled to testify today at a Senate hearing on the health and environmental effects of pollution from power companies.
Gray recently also earned another distinction: he gave more campaign contributions (all of it to Republican candidates) than any other lobbyist in Washington during the last election cycle.
Haley Barbour -- the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and fund-raising chief for Senate Republicans. Unlike Gray, Barbour isn't an expert on the intricacies of air pollution, but he sure does know a lot about money and power. It has been reported that Barbour helped shape the Cheney energy plan. He registered to lobby for this new dirty-air alliance a mere five days after Cheney apparently took his advice.
Barbara Olson -- best known as a Clinton-bashing "tv pundit," Olson has a day job heading the Washington lobbying office of Balch and Bingham, an Alabama law firm. Olson has lobbied previously for the Southern Company. She is also married to Solicitor General Ted Olson, who argued President Bush's election case to the Supreme Court. As Haley Barbour recently described the Olsons: "Each of them is a big asset to the Republican party and the conservative cause. Each of them fills a different niche."
Mark Racicot -- the former governor of Montana was described as President Bush's "recount advisor" in a press release distributed by the dirty-air power companies. He testified on their behalf at a recent EPA hearing in Cincinnati. EPA made him the lead-off witness.
We should note this isn't strictly a partisan affair. The polluters have also hired Jim Chapman, a former Democratic congressman from Texas, to press their case.
(a) At stake is New Source Review, government jargon for the Clean Air Act enforcement program that requires industries to install state-of-the-art pollution controls when they expand or make major modifications to existing factories, electric power plants, refineries, etc. The Clinton Administration's Justice Department sued the defendant power companies for trying to evade this part of the law.