WASHINGTON -Two top Environmental Protection Agency
officials who were deeply involved in easing an air pollution
rule for old power plants just took private-sector jobs with
firms that benefit from the changes.
Days after the changes in the power-plant pollution rule
were announced last week, John Pemberton, the chief of staff
in the EPA's air and radiation office, told colleagues he
would be joining Southern Co., an Atlanta-based utility that's
the nation's No. 2 power-plant polluter and was a driving
force in lobbying for the rule changes. Southern Co., which
gave more than $3.4 million in political contributions over
the past four years while it sought the changes, hired
Pemberton as director of federal affairs.
Ed Krenik, who had been the EPA's associate administrator
for congressional affairs, started work Tuesday at Bracewell
& Patterson, a top Houston-based law firm that coordinated
lobbying for several utilities on easing the power-plant
pollution rule. The firm's Washington office also served as
home base and shares staff with the Electric Reliability
Coordinating Council, which was created by several utilities,
including Southern Co., to be the public voice favoring the
rule changes the EPA just enacted.
EPA chief spokeswoman Lisa Harrison said neither Pemberton
nor Krenik played a major role in the rule changes, which
allow more than 500 older power plants to upgrade without
adding pollution-control devices. She said Pemberton "played a
minimal role on (the rule change) in the past two and a half
Krenik told Knight Ridder he had nothing to do with writing
the rule; his duties were confined to selling it on Capitol
Hill, where he has been promoting it for months. "If I was the
person writing the rule, I would say you might have something
to say about conflict," Krenik said.
But others who are knowledgeable about the rule change said
both men were key. Pemberton was one of three top people
involved, said Bill Becker, the executive director of the
State and Territorial Air Polluter Program Administrators, a
Washington group that represents state and local air
"His role was significant and was huge," Becker told Knight
Ridder. "Pemberton was the guy behind the scenes that worked
very closely on this rule."
One former EPA official in a Republican administration
agreed, but spoke only on the condition that he not be
identified. "I find it incredible" that Pemberton played only
a minimal role, the official said.
Pemberton's office referred questions to Harrison, who said
Pemberton would be on the EPA's payroll through Friday and
that he withdrew July 31 from any potential conflicts with the
Southern Co., including the rules change. The change had been
in process for about two years, however.
Environmental groups and one prominent senator said the
moves raised ethical questions.
Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., the ranking minority member of
the Senate Environment Committee, said, "The timing is
atrocious. You do it (change the rules) and walk out and get a
"It smells as bad as it looks," charged John Walke, the
director of the clean air project at the Natural Resources
Defense Council, an environmental group. "You've got this
devastating public health decision that directly benefits this
polluting company that suddenly snatches away two high-ranking
EPA officials to get their top in-house and outside
It's done all the time on both sides, with Democrats often
going to environmental organizations, said Jerry Taylor of the
Cato Institute, a libertarian research center that favors
The fact that the two officials moved right after the rule
changed "smells even worse," but doesn't mean any law was
violated, said G. Calvin Mackenzie, a professor of government
at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
There was no ethical breach, said Southern Co. spokeswoman
Tiffany Gilscrap. "This has been in the works for weeks."
The Clinton administration had used the now-diluted "new
source review" rule to sue 51 power plants for making upgrades
without adding pollution controls, and won or settled many of
those cases on favorable terms. Southern Co. owns eight of
those plants, and the Bush administration still is pursuing
those cases. The changes in the rule would have made it
impossible to prosecute those cases had they not already been
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information