Utilities Helped States Draft Less Stringent Emissions Standards Than the EPA’s

Utility-State Pact Revealed in E-mail

By Ron Nixon and Lois Caliri

(This article appeared in the The Roanoke Times on Sunday, June 21, 1998. Thanks to Daphne Wysham of the Institute for Policy Studies for forwarding it)

An e-mail sent to electric utilities, including American Electric Power and Virginia Power, reveals a plan by the utilities to work behind the scenes with governors to develop less stringent regional smog standards.

The e-mail also urges the utilities to oppose the very plan they helped draft. The reason, the e-mail points out, is to create an impression that the standards are more stringent than they really are.

A copy of Thursday's e-mail obtained by The Roanoke Times states the effort is being coordinated from the office of the governor of West Virginia in response to proposed rules by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA’s proposal calls for utilities in 22 states, including Virginia, to greatly reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants.

The governors of 10 states in the Southeast and Midwest, including Virginia, are expected to announce their plan for emission reductions Wednesday. Thursday is the final day for comments on the EPA's nitrogen oxide reductions.

Dale Heydlauff, vice president of environmental affairs for AEP in Ohio, was one of 117 industry officials listed as receiving the e-mail. "I've gotten 12 to 15 e-mails this week concerning the governors’ plan for a regional [nitrogen oxide] reduction," he said Saturday.

Heydlauff said the e-mail in question "rings a bell."

"But I don't know anyone who knows what the governors are going to propose," he said.

The e-mail's author is listed as Eugene M. Trisko, an attorney representing the United Mine Workers. The e-mail states that Corky DeMarco, an official in the West Virginia governor's office, wanted utilities to give the impression they oppose the plan.

According to the e-mail, DeMarco suggested that when the governors’ plan is unveiled, trade groups for mining and utilities should "audibly grumble about the stringency of the proposal, while acknowledging that they can probably live with it." The two trade groups mentioned are the Alliance for Constructive Air Policy -- of which AEP and Virginia Power are members -- and the Midwest Ozone Group.

The e-mail went on to state that DeMarco "sees a lot of benefit from us positioning the governors to the left of our position, even if the proposal actually resembles the ACAP position (which he assured me it does with a few "minor" alterations)." Once the proposal is announced by the governors, the e-mail's author suggests the utilities should be prepared to complain about the cost and the difficulty of complying with the established deadlines.

But, the e-mail added, DeMarco, "obviously does not want us to oppose the proposal."

The plan also calls for getting state representatives to meet with members of ACAP to plan a political strategy. The e-mail states the United Mine Workers union was "amenable to a complementary, but separate, Washington lobbying effort."

Paul Miller, an analyst with the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management in Boston, said the purpose of the plan forwarded in the e-mail "is to make the governors’ plan look more stringent than it is and to make it appear that the governors are not doing the coal industry’s bidding." The Boston-based Air Use Management group, which has been an outspoken critic of emissions from Midwest utilities, is composed of state environmental officials from Northeastern states.

Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources John Paul Woodley said Gov. Jim Gilmore plans to propose a regional nitrogen oxide reductions strategy. But he denied the state is acting on the utilities' behalf by suggesting an alternative to the EPA's proposed smog reductions.

Woodley said he had no knowledge of the e-mail.

"We consulted with the utilities on various aspects [of the governors’ proposed plan]," Woodley said. "We wanted to get their input on technical matters such as the feasibility of the reductions."

"But they certainly did not play a role in the deliberations of these proposals," Woodley said.

Woodley said the governors’ proposal follows up on a letter they sent to President Clinton a few months ago. In that letter, the governors said the EPA's rules were too strict.

"We promised we would work together to develop an alternative to the EPA to deal with the ozone transport problem," he said. Not all the governors have signed on to the plan to be presented this week, Woodley said. _