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Energy bill a special-interests triumph

Page 3 of 9 -- The bill first began to come together as an outgrowth of Cheney's energy task force, a committee of Washington officials that met in private to draft a sweeping national energy policy shortly after Bush took office.

A study by the nonpartisan General Accounting Office last year found that the energy task force received advice from private "energy stakeholders," mainly the petroleum, coal, nuclear, natural gas, and electricity industries. The report said it was unable to determine the extent of the influence these industries had on policy, because of the limited information made available to the GAO.

But other records released under a court order show that 15 energy-related entities known to have had contact with the task force ended up winning provisions in the energy policy that would benefit them.

The Edison Electric Institute, which had contact with the task force 14 times and spent $12 million lobbying Washington last year, secured a historic deregulation of the electricity industry analysts believe could be worth billions of dollars.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, which won billions in tax credits and projects, had 19 contacts with the task force and dumped $1,280,000 into lobbying efforts in 2003. The nuclear industry also would benefit from an extension and expansion in the energy bill of the Price Anderson Act, which caps the financial liability nuclear power plant owners face in case of a nuclear accident. While no new nuclear power plant has been commissioned in decades, the bill envisions a rebirth of the controversial power source.

Southern Company, an electricity company that spent $990,000 on lobbying, would benefit from relaxed regulations on emissions of mercury, a toxin released from power plants. Southern's executive vice president and a paid lobbyist met with the task force, according to records released pursuant to a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Environmental Protection Agency, which is set to issue final rules next year, estimated that the deregulation of mercury rules would save US power plants a total of $2.7 billion.

Members of the American Petroleum Institute, which had contact with the task force six times and spent $3,140,000 lobbying last year, would be eligible for billions in tax breaks and subsidies to encourage domestic oil production.

Environmentalists, who were shut out of the task force, won little in the final package after spending a small fraction of what the energy industry spent on lobbying. The League of Conservation Voters, for example, spent just $46,516 on lobbying last year; the Natural Resources Defense Council spent $920,000, and the Union of Concerned Scientists $150,000, according to an analysis of lobbying reports.

Industries that had contact with Cheney's task force had a critical advantage, said Larry Noble, an analyst for the Center for Responsive Politics, because they were able to plead their cases in the early stages of the development of the energy policy.   Continued...

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