Frank O'Donnell is president of Clean Air Watch, a 501 (c) 3 non-partisan, non-profit organization aimed at educating the public about clean air and the need for an effective Clean Air Act.
If you wonder why the Congress hasn’t taken decisive action on global warming, you might start by asking Michael G. Morris, chairman, president and CEO of American Electric Power—probably the single biggest source of global warming in
Morris loves to bask in the glow of awards given to his company by the Bush administration and others for its “voluntary” approach to climate control—while consistently lobbying against any effort in Congress to limit global warming pollution.
In his other role as chairman of the board of the power industry lobby, the Edison Electric Institute, Morris reiterated his voluntary-only stance this week as the Senate Energy Committee held an all-day conference on possible remedies to global warming.
It’s worth taking a moment to focus on Morris and the power industry. In a recent but barely-noticed report, the federal Energy Information Administration pointed out that power companies are not only the biggest source of carbon dioxide in
Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., cautioned that enacting mandatory pollution limits would be tough. "Consensus will be a very difficult thing,” he noted.
AEP, of course, isn’t the only obstacle to such a consensus. But as the nation’s biggest electric power company—and one that has shrewdly hired well-connected lobbyists to block real progress while its PR machine grinds out cheery propaganda—its corporate behavior is worth some scrutiny.
The Ohio-based company has a checkered history at best when it comes to pollution. In the mid-1970s, with the nation in the throes of the Arab oil embargo, AEP ran racist, Arab-bashing advertisements that urged relaxing the Clean Air Act to permit more coal burning. More recently, AEP actively opposed better clean-air standards and fought efforts to require modern pollution controls.
But in recent years the company has been working to green up its image—giving “donations” to such groups as the National Governors Association, the Brookings Institution and Resources for the Future. It joined the Chicago Climate Exchange and the Pew Climate Center Business Environmental Leadership Council. And it has also embarked on a much-touted program to plant trees in
As a reward, the Bush administration last year gave AEP a “climate protection” award. Surprisingly, the company also received a favorable nod last month from Ceres, a coalition of investment funds, environmental organizations and other public interest groups.
But a new Ceres report published this week lays out the raw facts. Despite all that tree planting, AEP still pumps out more carbon dioxide than any other power company and also at a higher rate than most. As a bit of comparison, AEP produced seven times more electricity than Pacific Gas & Electric, but AEP pumped out 109 times the carbon dioxide emissions.
In his press releases on global warming, AEP’s Morris notes that “we are very proud that our long-term efforts to serve as a leader in our industry on this issue.”
But where the company is really a leader is its lobbying prowess—and its close ties to Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, and a loud and consistent opponent of mandatory global warming pollution limits.
Just how close? In the current Congress, AEP had not one but two former Voinovich chiefs of staff on its lobbying payroll. ( One recently went to work for AEP’s cross-state rival, Cinergy, another polluter scofflaw that has used Voinovich to oppose global warming limits.) And Morris is also a steady campaign contributor to his influential home-state senator, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
It’s no surprise that Voinovich became the most vocal Senate supporter of the Bush so-called “clear skies” plan, which really was an effort to cut breaks for companies like AEP and Cinergy and shield them from any global warming limits. Voinovich’s panel is likely to assert jurisdiction over global warming should Domenici’s committee begin to move forward with legislation.
The tragedy here is that the scientific evidence is mounting that federal action is needed now to limit global warming pollution. Yet, in recent years, the federal government has delivered only half measures and weak regulations, like the new CAFÉ standards Bush released last week.
Executives such as Morris and their political mouthpieces show more interest in hot air than real solutions. As long as politicians in Congress and the White House show themselves willing to do the bidding of these powerful corporate lobbies, the federal government will drag its feet in addressing one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.