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Energy bill a special-interests triumph

Page 4 of 9 -- "They have gotten what they wanted from the first day," Noble said. "What all lobbyists know is that it's important to be there when the policy is being drafted, before the laws are being written. By the time the bill's written, it's a little late. You're playing a defensive game."

The conference committee

After Cheney's task force issued its recommendations, the job of drafting the bill went to House and Senate committees, where members of the Republican majority kept many of the proposals intact. Then, in hopes of forging an agreement between the House and Senate, congressional leaders appointed members to a conference committee.

But the conference committee began adding projects that had never appeared in either version of the bill. And lobbyists peppered members of the committee with requests to get favored projects, including Congel's mall, appended to the legislation.

The addition of projects like Congel's especially irks government-waste watchdogs. Even though DestiNY USA had promised to be a model of energy efficiency, critics wonder what a shopping mall has to do with forging a national energy policy.

The greenbonds initiative wasn't part of the original House or Senate bills that went through public hearings and floor debate. It was added by the conference committee, a panel that excluded Democrats for all but two of the meetings held to craft the bill. The final, massive bill was released on a Saturday, giving House Democrats and any Republicans not made privy to the negotiations barely three days to study it before being asked to vote on it on the House floor.

Representative Edward Markey, a Malden Democrat who is a veteran member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he was forced to follow developments in his own committee's bill by talking to Washington lobbyists.

"We could not keep track of what was going on," Markey said. "All we had were leaks. What they did on this energy bill was unprecedented. It was disrespectful of the Democrats, but more importantly of the environmental and consumer groups of the country."

Congel himself is a successful, if controversial, developer who Forbes magazine estimates is worth some $700 million. Congel and his company, Pyramid Management, were sued by dissident partners in 2000 for fraud; the case is still pending. Pyramid ultimately paid more than $800,000 back to a tenant company, The Limited, which claimed the developer had overcharged it by submitting phony tax bills. State and federal prosecutors took no action against the company.

Congel and DestiNY USA failed to respond to repeated requests for comment.

Three other shopping mall projects -- one in Georgia, one in Louisiana (home of the former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Republican Representative Billy Tauzin), and one in Colorado -- would also benefit from the greenbonds proposal, although it takes some sleuthing to figure that out from the language in the bill.   Continued...

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