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The environmental stories in this section are selected from news sources around the country and the world. They do not necessarily reflect official NRDC positions or the opinions of NRDC staff.

Two EPA Officials Take Jobs with Firms Benefiting from Air Rule Change

9/4/2003 4:05:00 AM
(C) 2003 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.. All Rights Reserved

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 years."

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 regulators.

"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 job."

"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 lobbyists."

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 minimal government.

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 filed.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.     Seth Borenstein

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