WASHINGTON - The 30 companies that own most of the dirtiest power plants in the country, and their trade association, have raised $6.6 million for President Bush and the Republican National Committee since 1999, and were given relief from pollution regulations that would have cost them billions of dollars, according to a new analysis.
Ten utility industry officials were so good at fund raising for the president that they were named Rangers or Pioneers by his campaign for bringing in at least $200,000 or $100,000, respectively, according to the analysis by Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, and the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental watchdog organization.
Collectively these 10 people have raised more than $1.5 million since 1999.
"It is no coincidence that a wholesale assault on the Clean Air Act is taking place today," said Environmental Integrity Project Director Eric Schaeffer.
Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, said it was a "classic" story about the role of campaign contributions in Washington. Utility industry officials faced aggressive enforcement actions by the Clinton administration, requiring them to install expensive pollution controls at coal-fired power plants.
Clemente said he believed the officials' strategy was to "help elect an industry-friendly president, fill federal regulatory posts with former utility executives and lobbyists, and hire a small army of lobbyists and lawyers connected to the new president to engineer regulatory changes."
But the Republican National Committee dismissed the report as "partisan politics" because the president of Public Citizen, Joan Claybrook, has donated $450 to the campaign of presumptive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, and liberal billionaire George Soros has donated generously to Public Citizen.
"Unfortunately there appears to be a partisan agenda here that makes one question whether their true concern is the environment," said Christine Iverson, an RNC spokeswoman.
Once in office, the Bush administration overhauled a key Clean Air Act regulation, making it much easier for power plants to make major renovations and increase pollution without installing modern pollution controls.
The utility industry, however, rejected the notion that it was getting a break. The Bush administration has proposed new policies that would require the industry "to reduce key pollutants by two-thirds over the next decade and a half," said Dan Riedinger, spokesman for Edison Electric Institute, a trade group that represents most electric utilities.
"Those are the biggest reductions ever not specifically mandated by Congress - that's a hell of a payback," he added sarcastically.
For their study, the two interest groups used federal data to identify the 50 biggest polluting plants for each of three pollutants - sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, haze and health problems; mercury, which is linked to birth defects in children; and carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming.
Relying on data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit group that tracks campaign donations, the interest groups then tracked the donations from the 30 companies that own most of the plants on those lists, and the Edison Electric Institute.
The industry's donations pale next to some other groups, such as lawyers and lobbyists. Nonetheless, the utility industry has succeeded in its effort to get credit from the Bush administration for what it has given, according to the report.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.