Exclusive: Proposal to water down climate bill would favor Obama aides’ former employer

Posted: June 21, 2010 in Law, Money, Politics

John Byrne
June 21, 2010

We are ‘proud to be the president’s utility,’ company’s lobbyist says

Rahm Emanuel, chief of staff to President Barack Obama, said in little-noticed remarks Friday that his administration will consider a climate change bill that only includes carbon caps on electric utilities.

“The idea of a ‘utilities only’ [approach] will also be welcomed,” he said, while “a wide range of ideas will be discussed.”

The proposal would be a boon to the oil and steel industries, as well as US manufacturers, who have argued that capping their carbon emissions would reduce their competitiveness overseas. President Obama has taken heat from liberals after a primetime speech on the BP oil spill failed to include aggressive proposals for climate change laws.

A watered-down, utilities-only climate change bill would greatly leverage the profitability of US nuclear power generator Exelon, an Illinois-based company that provides the largest share of power from nuclear reactors of any company in the United States. Exelon operates six active nuclear reactors in Obama’s home state.

Prior to joining the Obama Administration, Emanuel actually helped create Exelon by advising on the merger of two companies that merged. Exelon also employed senior White House adviser David Axelrod as a consultant.

Obama’s top aide Emanuel has been intricately involved in Democrats’ legislative efforts on climate change.

According to a Forbes article published in December, Exelon CEO John Rowe emailed personally with Emanuel on the eve of a vote last year.

Forbes wrote: “Emanuel e-mailed Rowe on the eve of the House vote on global warming legislation and asked that he reach out to some uncommitted Democrats.”

An Exelon lobbyist told the magazine they considered themselves “the President’s utility.”

“We are proud to be the President’s utility,” Elizabeth Moler, Exelon’s chief lobbyist, was quoted as saying. “It’s nice for John to be able to go to the White House and they know his name.”

Citing a securities analyst, Forbes said the House version of a climate change bill (which will almost certainly be curtailed in the Senate) would increase Exelon’s share value by $14, or nearly 30 percent.

The utilities-only approach may be the only climate change bill Democrats could get the votes to pass in the Senate.

“The utilities-only idea is anathema to many environmentalists, who see it as an inconsequential half measure. But to pragmatists, it may be the best the Senate can do on climate change – and even then, it would be a heavy lift,” the Wall Street Journal noted Friday. “Since such a large percentage of carbon emissions come from coal-fired power plants, the idea is to bring utilities under an emissions cap and make them purchase tradable credits for their carbon emissions. If and when a limited cap-and-trade system got up and running, it could be expanded to other industries.”

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