By Libby Casey Environmental group Greenpeace has filed a Senate Ethics complaint against Senator Lisa Murkowski for consulting lobbyists as she wrote an amendment. But Murkowski and her staff say the criticism is overblown, and that her office did nothing wrong. Murkowski is concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gasses at stationary sources, like power plants and factories. She says setting new pollution limits could hurt jobs and the economy. So she tried to introduce an amendment last fall stopping the E-P-A, and calling for a one-year time out so Congress could craft its own legislation dealing with pollution. Murkowski’s spokesman on the Senate Energy Committee, Robert Dillon, says she sought input from the E-P-A, but didn’t get a response. So her staff turned to outsiders for help:
The EPA did not return her calls, dodged her efforts to speak with them, so who was she supposed to turn to to make sure that her legislation did not do anything unintended. Who better to do that than former public servants that served in the high power of the EPA during the former administration?
Those former E-P-A officials worked for the Bush Administration, and are now lobbyists at powerful D-C firms, representing high-profile clients like utilities and coal companies. That’s not who Greenpeace thinks should have an input on energy legislation. Kert Davies runs the environmental group’s website “Polluter-watch.” He says lobbyists have too much influence in crafting bills.
This is just another case and point, it’s a nasty one because these are ex-Bush officials who spent their entire careers in power trying to obstruct the same laws, and now they’re working for the polluters.
But Senator Murkowski says Greenpeace and other environmental groups are way off base. She says the lobbyists only gave legal advice, and were among many people consulted.
We then took that draft amendment and we discussed it with some of our Democratic colleagues, we discussed it with some of the experts in Clean Air Act, and attempted to ensure we were not raising any issues in terms of unintended consequences with the language.
But Kert Davies with Greenpeace says it doesn’t matter who else Murkowski’s team talked to. He says the lobbyists have much to gain if the legislation goes their way. Davies filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee Tuesday.
The fact that they’ve consulted numerous groups or they’ve chimed on this count of how or what to be done with EPA’s authority is really inconsequential. The revelation that heavy polluter industry lobbyists have had their hands on steering wheel of the Senate effort to undermine the EPA is something that has to be reckoned with.
One of the lobbyists under scrutiny is Jeff Holmstead, who heads the Environmental Strategies Group with the lobbying firm Bracewell-Guiliani. He says his involvement was always out in the open, and Democratic staffers attended one of his conference-calls.
It’s just kind of silly to say that somehow industry lobbyists were the ones who wrote this. That’s just not true. So um we were consulted, and I like to think we gave them good advice, but we were not the ones behind it certainly.
Holmstead says eyeballing legislation is typical for lobbyists who’ve held jobs with past administrations. He wasn’t paid by the Senate OR by his energy company clients for his work.
I would say doesn’t happen to me every day but certainly in terms of the way Washington works this happens constantly all the time. That members of congress and more typically their staffs reach out to people in town who are experts in a certain area to make sure they understand exactly what it would mean because these statutes are pretty complicated.
Murkowski’s staffer Robert Dillon says the ethics complaint filed by Greenpeace is a red herring from the issue of E-P-A regulations.
You know it’s very easy to make a complaint against somebody. It’ll never go anywhere, it’ll never get anything. But they can make headline, saying oh, there’s an ethics complaint about Senator Murkowski.
In 2008 the Senate Ethics Committee received 85 complaints. In that same year only 10 cases warranted preliminary inquiry, and 2 of those lead to private letters of admonition.