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Obama all too cosy with nuclear company Exelon

Ties to Obama Aided in Access for Big Utility, NYT  By ERIC LIPTON August 22, 2012  WASHINGTON — Early in the Obama administration, a lobbyist for the Illinois-based energy producer Exelon Corporation proudly called it “the president’s utility.” And it was not just because it delivers power to Barack Obama’s Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago.

Exelon’s top executives were early and frequent supporters of Mr. Obama as he rose from the Illinois State Senate to the White House. John W. Rogers Jr., a friend of the president’s and one of his top fund-raisers, is an Exelon board member. David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s longtime political strategist, once worked as an Exelon consultant, and Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago mayor and Mr. Obama’s former chief of staff, helped create the company through a corporate merger in 2000 while working as an investment banker.

With energy an increasingly pivotal issue for the Obama White House, a review of Exelon’s relationship with the administration shows how familiarity has helped foster access at the upper reaches of government and how, in some cases, the outcome has been favorable for Exelon.

White House records show that Exelon executives were able to secure an unusually large number of meetings with top administration officials at key moments in the consideration of environmental regulations that have been drafted in a way that hurt Exelon’s competitors, but curb the high cost of compliance for Exelon and its industry allies……. White House officials and top executives at Exelon, which operates the nation’s largest fleet of nuclear power plants, say the relationship does not reflect favoritism, but rather a shared vision of moving the nation toward a cleaner energy future…… the relationship between Mr. Obama and Exelon has been mutually beneficial.   The ties go back at least to Mr. Obama’s tenure in the Illinois State Senate, when he befriended an Exelon lobbyist named Frank M. Clark. Exelon’s employees, including Mr. Clark, were among the biggest financial supporters of Mr. Obama’s United States Senate campaign, with donations also from Mr. Rowe, then the company’s chief executive, and others in the executive suite, campaign finance records show. Exelon’s employees have contributed at least $395,000 to Mr. Obama’s federal campaigns. By far the strongest link is with Mr. Rogers, the Exelon board member and family friend. ….  He is one of Mr. Obama’s biggest campaign donation bundlers, having raised more than $500,000, and has co-hosted several fund-raisers,……

Another Obama bundler is William A. Von Hoene Jr., who oversees Exelon’s legal and lobbying team out of Chicago, despite Mr. Obama’s rule against accepting contributions from lobbyists. Mr. Von Hoene is not a registered lobbyist, although records show he attended a White House meeting to push Exelon’s cause.

Exelon executives and its political action committee have also donated to Mitt Romney, and the committee has given more to House Republicans than Democrats over the last two years.

But the relationship with the Obama administration was so strong that Exelon boasted about it after the election…… Exelon’s efforts peaked in 2011, White House meeting records show. Mr. Rowe flew to Washington in March, and met with William M. Daley, then Mr. Obama’s chief of staff; Cass Sunstein, then the head of the White House office that oversees all federal regulations; Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and Gina McCarthy, the agency’s top air pollution official. Exelon’s competitors were seeking extra time to comply with the rule, which the administration was under a court order to issue. Exelon and its industry allies argued against any extension…… In the weeks before the draft rule was issued, Exelon lobbyists attended two other White House meetings, records show, giving it greater White House access than any other company or environmental group trying to influence the outcome….

At the same time, Exelon was working with other power companies to block or weaken a provision of proposed clean water regulations that were also under review. The E.P.A., aiming to prevent water intakes at power plants from killing fish and other aquatic life, was proposing regulations that the companies feared would require extensive renovations.

Exelon lobbyists and their allies, over the last year, have again secured unusual access to White House meetings, pressing for dozens of changes, even proposing how to redraft entire sections of the regulation, according to its written presentations to the E.P.A.

Days after a March 2011 meeting with Exelon executives, a White House official instructed the E.P.A. official in charge of drafting the water intake rule to rewrite major portions, according to White House e-mail records.

The E.P.A. official, Mary T. Smith, was called to a meeting shortly after lobbyists for Exelon and industry associations appealed for changes, and told to rewrite the regulation, agency e-mails show…..  The rewrite effectively narrowed the circumstances under which nuclear plants would be required to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to eliminate the hazard for aquatic life.  The final water intake rule has been delayed, but of the eight meetings the White House regulatory review team has held on the proposal, Exelon representatives or lobbyists have been at four — again, more than any other company or environmental group, records show…….
If Exelon’s agenda just happened to overlap with administration environmental policy, there are other instances where the company scored more direct victories……  Exelon has joined with other companies to try to prevent the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from requiring new filters on vents at boiling water reactors to prevent discharges of radioactive steam during an accident, as happened in Japan. Company officials predicted in June that they would prevail and avoid costly retrofits by offering an equally effective alternative…..

September 27, 2012 - Posted by | politics, USA

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