By Joe Smyth | firstname.lastname@example.org | @joesmyth
A Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association executive has been involved since 2005 with the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG), the anti-Clean Air Act group that is the subject of a US congressional investigation, raising questions about the amount of money that Tri-State has contributed to the group over the last 14 years.
On Thursday, leaders of the US Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce wrote to Tri-State and other utilities, requesting information and documents about the utilities' relationship with UARG, a secretive group that has played a key role in lawsuits aimed at rolling back Clean Air Act rules. Internal UARG documents obtained by Politico show that Tri-State contributed $167,418 to UARG in 2017.
In their April 11 letter, congressional investigators asked Tri-State to "Please explain how your substantial annual contributions to UARG are consistent with your obligations to ratepayers."
Congressional investigators are also seeking a variety of documents and information from Tri-State and other utilities by April 25, including "Membership and leadership nominations" and "Documents relating to the Policy Committee, including all documents relating to meetings thereof."
A bio of Barbara Walz, Tri-State's Senior Vice President of Policy and Compliance, shows that she has been a member of UARG's Policy Committee since 2005, and a member of UARG's Steering Committee since 2010.
If Tri-State has contributed a comparable amount to UARG each year since 2005 as it did in 2017, that could amount to more than two million dollars.
It isn't clear how much Tri-State and other utilities have contributed to UARG in earlier years, because the document Politico obtained only showed amounts that utilities paid to UARG in 2017. Congressional investigators are seeking UARG's budgets and funding requests since 2005.
With a representative on UARG's Policy Committee, Tri-State could have played a role in establishing UARG's annual budget, and therefore the amounts requested from each utility to fund UARG's legal challenges to Clean Air Act rules. The internal UARG document that Politico obtained suggests that the UARG Policy Committee sets UARG's annual budget. That document shows that UARG spent $8.2 million in 2017, and UARG said that figure could increase in 2018.
The significance of the Tri-State executive's position on UARG's Steering Committee is not clear, but it could represent a leadership role within UARG. The UARG internal document obtained by Politico mentions a "Policy and Steering Audit" Committee, which is chaired by American Electric Power executive John McManus - who is also named as UARG's chair.
Tri-State executive met with Bill Wehrum regarding the Mercury Air Toxics Standard
A focus of the congressional investigation is whether Bill Wehrum, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation at the US Environmental Protection Agency, violated ethics rules by rolling back Clean Air Act rules in order to benefit his former clients in the utility industry. As part of the investigation, Energy and Commerce Committee leaders asked Tri-State to provide information about communications and documents it shared with certain EPA officials.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of information Act by the Energy and Policy Institute show that Barbara Walz was among those in a February 12 meeting that Bill Wehrum organized regarding MATS, or the Mercury Air Toxics Standard.
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