By Joe Smyth | firstname.lastname@example.org | @joesmyth
Leaders of the US Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce wrote to Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and other electric utilities today, requesting information about the utilities' relationships with the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG), a secretive lobby group focused on rolling back Clean Air Act rules.
In the letter to Tri-State, Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chair Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) wrote, “UARG has avoided any transparency, with details of its funding and internal organization only recently revealed. Your company contributed $167,418 in 2017 to fund UARG's activities, with a higher contribution projected for 2018."
Because of Tri-State's funding of UARG and its legal challenges against Clean Air Act rules, the Energy and Commerce Committee leaders wrote to Tri-State to request information and documents as part of their investigation into UARG and its connections to senior US Environmental Protection Agency officials.
The Energy and Commerce Committee investigation into UARG is focused on whether senior officials at the Environmental Protection Agency violated ethics rules by rolling back Clean Air Act rules in order to benefit their former clients, including Tri-State and other coal-heavy utilities. Bill Wehrum and David Harlow formerly represented UARG and its utility industry clients, and are now in key positions to weaken Clean Air Act rules as Assistant Administrator and Senior Counsel for the Office of Air and Radiation at the US Environmental Protection Agency.
In February, Politico reported:
The nation’s biggest coal-burning power companies paid a top lobbying firm millions of dollars to fight a wide range of Obama-era environmental rules, documents obtained by POLITICO reveal — shortly before one of the firm’s partners became President Donald Trump’s top air pollution regulator.
Now that ex-partner, Bill Wehrum, is aggressively working to undo many of those same regulations at the EPA, where he is an assistant administrator in charge of issues including climate change, smog and power plants’ mercury pollution.
As part of that investigation, Politico obtained documents that showed how much money each utility had spent funding UARG in 2017. Those documents revealed that Tri-State paid $167,418 to UARG in 2017.
An earlier investigation by S&P Global revealed that UARG sought to keep its members and sources of funding secret.
Is funding UARG's attacks on the Clean Air Act "consistent with your obligations to ratepayers" ?
In the letter, Energy and Commerce Committee leaders requested that Tri-State provide details about its communications with certain EPA officials, documents related to UARG's legal status and funding, and more.
In addition to those documents, Energy and Commerce Committee leaders asked Tri-State and other utilities questions about the source of the funds they contributed to UARG, whether state regulators had approved the use of such funds to fund UARG, and how the utilities' contributions to UARG "are consistent with your obligations to ratepayers."
In Tri-State's case, the answer to the first question is likely straightforward. Unlike most of the other utilities that fund UARG, Tri-State doesn't have shareholders because it is a generation and transmission association, not an investor-owned utility. Tri-State sells wholesale power to 43 electric cooperatives in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Nebraska, and those electricity sales are the source of substantially all of its revenues.
The Energy and Commerce Committee leaders requested a response to its questions and document requests by April 25, 2019.
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