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Energy bill a special-interests triumph

Page 5 of 9 -- Called the "brownfields demonstration program for qualified green building and sustainable design projects," the greenbonds section in the bill makes no mention of the specific projects or states. But the guidelines conform to no other projects, according to both congressmen and watchdog groups who have studied the bill.

"They weren't named, but everyone knew who they were, based on the language," said Keith Ashdown, vice president for policy at Taxpayers for Common Sense. A Republican senator joked that the bill might as well have required that one of the projects be located in a venue "whose nickname is the 'Cajun State,' " to underscore that one of the projects would be in Shreveport.

Congel has been an aggressive advocate for government financing of his project. He set up a political action committee, the Green Worlds Coalition Fund, which has raised $82,897, much of which has been contributed to Bush's campaign and the campaigns of congressmen key to the energy bill. In addition, Congel, his family, and employees of DestiNY USA and Pyramid contributed an additional $69,084 to congressional campaigns and to Bush, according to filings analyzed by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The project's proponents also have made a big investment in lobbying, spending $140,000 last year and $60,000 this year to convince Congress -- which already gave DestiNY USA $1.7 million last year for construction around the development site -- to approve the greenbonds proposal.

Meanwhile, Congel labored to help key lawmakers. Congel, his family, and business associates gave heavily to Representative Bob Beauprez, a Colorado freshman who also wants financing assistance for a development project in his district. Congel also hosted a fund-raiser attended by Cheney.

While most of Congel's and DestiNY USA's campaign contributions went to Republicans, the project's advocates have also looked out for New York's Democratic senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, both of whom received contributions from the Green Worlds PAC and from Congel himself.

Schumer, in a seemingly contradictory tactic common in Washington, fought mightily to get the greenbonds provision included in the energy bill, even as he was also battling to defeat the entire bill.

"I thought it was a good project," Schumer said of the $2.2 billion DestiNY USA, which developers claim will bring more than 100,000 long-term, tourism-related jobs to economically troubled upstate New York.

Schumer said he nonetheless opposed the energy bill because it gave relief from liability to producers of a gasoline additive that has poisoned groundwater in New York and other states.

On the House side, Representative James Walsh, a Syracuse Republican, has been championing the DestiNY project, which would be located in his district. Walsh, who said he went to high school with Congel, defended the project as a valuable prototype of how a mall can be powered with renewable energy such as solar power.   Continued...

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