Murkowski Stands Up to Ethics Complaint

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
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
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.

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