This week, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski may offer an amendment limiting the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gasses.
At the same time, Murkowski is also one of the top three Senators in Congress favored by the oil and gas industry, receiving $142,000 in contributions in 2009. Since 2005, Murkowski has received a total of $244,000 from the energy industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
It seems as no surprise that what naturally follows are accusations of undue influence over the Senator on one side and denial of those accusations on the other. What is most apparent is at least an appearance of the possibility of a conflict of interest.
Indeed, one critic, Clean Air Watch president Frank O'Donnell, tells Greenwire (sub. required) that he doubts Murkowski's entire motivation for hobbling the EPA is from the source of her campaign contributions. But "it's hard to avoid the impression that it's a factor," he said. "I don't believe you can buy a senator for $50,000, but you can certainly rent one."
A little help from her friends
Beyond a financial influence over Murkowsi's position on the Clean Air Act, Murkowsi's detractors point at industry lobby influence in drafting legislation. The Washington Post reported last week that two energy lobbyists, Jeffrey Holmstead and Roger Martella, Jr., helped Murkowski write a failed amendment proposal last fall that sought to block the EPA from imposing greenhouse gas regulations on stationary sources for one year.
Holmstead heads up the Environmental Strategies Group at Bracewell & Guiliani. Martella is a partner at Sidley Austin. Two of Holmstead's clients -- Southern Co. and Duke Energy Corp. -- are among Murkowski's largest contributors. Federal lobbying records show that at least five others, including Ameren Corp., Arch Coal, Energy Future Holdings, CSX Corp., and Progress Energy, have also contributed to Murkowski's war chest.
Holmstead acknowledged in an interview working with Murkowski and her staff on the amendment. "I was involved... I certainly worked with her staff," he said, though he denies playing any role in drafting the language for the amendment proposal last fall. Murkowski also maintains that lobbyists held no sway in the text of the document.
Holmstead also says he has no knowledge of his clients campaign contributions, including those made to Senator Murkowski.
Some industry representative have come to the Senator's defense, pointing out that environmentalists are also involved in drafting legislation.
"Senator Murkowski should not be begrudged candid discussions of the Clean Air Act with legal experts any more than her opponents should be criticized for accepting drafting help and contributions from well-heeled environmental groups," said Scott Segal, a lobbyist with Bracewell and Guiliani. Continued...