Senator Murkowski announced yesterday she plans to introduce legislation to weaken upcoming safeguards that would protect Americans from mercury pollution and other dangerous emissions from coal fired power plants. Those mercury safeguards, which are expected to be announced within the next week, would save thousands of lives and prevent tens of thousands of illnesses every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
It's always dismaying to see an elected official working on behalf of corporate polluters at the expense of people's health and vulnerable communities, but it isn't too surprising in Murkowski's case. Almost two years ago, Murkowski was caught letting Jeffrey Holmstead, a coal industry lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani, help write legislation attacking the Clean Air Act. This latest effort to weaken the Clean Air Act's mercury protections is just more of the same from Murkowski.
Bracewell & Giuliani lobbyists Jeffrey Holmstead and Scott Segal have also been leading the attacks against the mercury safeguards, lobbying on behalf of some of the most polluting utility companies like Southern Company and Energy Future Holdings. Unfortunately, it's not clear exactly which companies they represent, since much of this lobbying is done under the guise of a coal industry front group called the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council" that won't reveal its member companies. And apparently even its members companies aren't all behind the ERCC's extreme attacks. After we sent Duke Energy a letter last week about ERCC's attacks on the mercury safeguards, a spokesman for the company explained that "as with many organizations we are affiliated with, we don’t agree with them on every issue."
Companies that have been openly and aggressively opposing the mercury safeguards, however, seem to see an ally in Murkowski, and have given her plenty of campaign cash. According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Southern Company was one of Murkowski's top contributors, giving $26,500 to help her win her last election, while Energy Future Holdings contributed $10,150. In fact, for the 2010 election Murkowski received over $400,000 from electric utilities, more than any other industry, followed by lobbyists and the oil and gas industries.
When it comes to the dirty work of attacking clean air protections, polluters have plenty of options - lobbyists, industry front groups, and even some politicians.