Coal plant interests give Perry $132,000TXU, governor say contributions unrelated to permitting process
Saturday, October 14, 2006
By WAYNE SLATER / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – Since he signed an order to speed state approval for 16 coal-burning power plants, Gov. Rick Perry has received more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from interests associated with the projects.
None of the governor's rivals in the campaign has received donations from the companies, according to finance reports.
The primary beneficiary of Mr. Perry's order last fall to fast-track the permitting process was Dallas-based TXU, which wants to build 11 new coal-fired plants in Texas.
The utility's political action committees have given Mr. Perry $35,000 since the Oct. 27, 2005, executive order. Retired TXU chairman Erle Nye contributed $2,000 the date the order was signed and another $50,000 since then.
Representatives for TXU and the Perry campaign said the donations were unrelated to the governor's decision.
"Anyone who gives funds to the governor does so based on where he's leading the state and his philosophy of governing," said campaign spokesman Robert Black. "If they have any other reason, they shouldn't give."
Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit group that tracks campaign donations, said big campaign donors are seeking to buy access to state leaders. That enables them to argue for such beneficial decisions.
"When it comes to political power, TXU has excess capacity," said Mr. McDonald.
Environmentalists and many Dallas-area political leaders have said that the plants will pollute too much and that the state should pursue cleaner sources of energy. The governor and others have said that the state needs the energy quickly as the population grows; TXU has pledged to reduce its overall pollution output. The governor also notes that the state has made major investments in cleaner technologies, such as wind energy.
Meanwhile, Democratic challenger Chris Bell sought Friday to make an issue of reports that TXU might have manipulated energy prices.
The Dallas Morning News reported last month that a study commissioned by the Public Utility Commission concluded that one of the state's biggest electricity suppliers probably manipulated the market. The utility was not identified, but details in the report suggested it was TXU.
Mr. Bell called on the governor to direct the commission, whose members he appoints, to identify which company manipulated power supplies.
"While the ratepayers of Texas are asking for help to pay their rising utility bills, Rick Perry chooses instead to protect the identity of a company that is knowingly ripping them off," Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Perry could request such an action, but he has no power to order the utility commission to divulge the company's name.
Kim Morgan, a TXU spokeswoman, said she didn't know whether the Dallas power company was the utility in question. But she said TXU does not manipulate energy supplies.
She defended Mr. Perry's decision to fast-track the permits for the plants.
"As the leader of our state, he was simply trying to step in and say, 'We've got to get power plants on line or my constituents are going to be sitting in the dark,' " she said.
According to campaign reports, Mr. Perry has received at least $324,500 from companies and executives associated with the proposed plants since he became governor in 2000.
In addition to TXU, Sempra Energy has contributed $12,500 to Mr. Perry – $5,000 in the latest report filed Tuesday, according to finance reports.
The political action committee of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, which would benefit as a company that hauls coal to the new plants, gave $40,000 to Mr. Perry after his order to expedite the permitting process. All told, the BNSF committee has given Mr. Perry $71,000 while he's been governor.
TXU is one of the top corporate spenders on lobbying the Texas Legislature. A report from a watchdog group this week said TXU was second only to SBC Corp. (now AT&T) in such spending during the 2005 legislative session.
Cities oppose decision
Ms. Morgan said TXU supports politicians "who promote good public policy. That, in turn, benefits our shareholders, our employees and our customers."
The decision to speed the permitting process has drawn opposition from a coalition backed by officials of 17 cities, including Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and Houston Mayor Bill White.
Ms. Miller said the cities, with a combined population of about 6.2 million or nearly one-third of all Texans, would fight the new coal plants before state regulators or in court. She said carbon dioxide emissions were the big factor in their decision.
Consumer advocate Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen's Texas office said pollution from the new power plants would make it more difficult for North Texas to meet federal clean-air requirements.
"Folks who live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are going to have to make more costly reductions in everything from not being able to use drive-in windows to potentially having to restrict times they drive in order to allow TXU to build all these plants," he said.
TXU said the company is confident that Texas regulators will protect public health when it considers the permits.
CONTRIBUTIONS SINCE FAST-TRACK DECISION
Here's a look at campaign contributions to Gov. Rick Perry since he fast-tracked permits for new coal-fired power plants:
-TXU (political committees and company executives): $87,000
-Burlington Northern Santa Fe (political committee): $40,000
-Sempra Energy: $5,000
SOURCE: Campaign records