LOBBYING:

Another company leaves 'mixed messaging' coal alliance

Clarification appended.

Another member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity is leaving the coal-and-utility trade group, citing concerns about whether the alliance wants to obstruct legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

Alstom Power, a French company that makes parts for power plants and is working on carbon sequestration, said it is leaving ACCCE immediately.

"We have resigned from ACCCE because of questions that have been raised about ACCCE's support for climate legislation," said Tim Brown, an Alstom spokesman. The French company, which is partnering with U.S. utilities on power-plant projects, said that it wants to "remove any doubt about our full support" for a climate bill.

The move comes less than a week after Duke Energy Corp. said it was withdrawing from ACCCE because of powerful members of the group that are unwilling to support climate legislation. Alstom's decision also shrinks ACCCE's membership as the Senate returns and ACCCE lobbies the Senate on its version of climate legislation.

"ACCCE is a broad and diverse coalition, composed of more than 40 members, who are working to advance the public policy dialogue on critical issues relating to energy, environmental and economic policies," ACCCE spokeswoman Lisa Camooso Miller said. "From time to time, individual coalition members may have different perspectives with regard to important policy positions."

"As key Senate committees are establishing timelines for September, many companies are evaluating their positions and the coalitions in which they participate," Miller added. "This is to be expected when the issue is as complex and important as climate change."

But Alstom's decision widens the divide between utilities, power businesses and coal companies that have pushed for climate legislation and the trade group that has voiced many concerns about a bill.

Both Alstom and Duke belong to the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an alliance of businesses, environmental groups and other organizations lobbying Congress to mandate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. CAP in its blueprint for action urges Congress to "quickly" enact legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

There are now just two companies that belong to both ACCCE and U.S. CAP: Caterpillar and General Electric Co.

Forged-letters debacle

The move comes about a month after ACCCE found itself embroiled in a controversy over forged letters to House members asking them to reject the bill put forward by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

An employee of a subcontractor, Bonner & Associates, sent letters purporting to be from senior citizen centers and organizations for the elderly. They urged lawmakers "to help protect seniors and other consumers in your district from higher electricity bills. Please don't vote to force cost increases on us, especially in the volatile economy."

Brown, however, said the scandal did not play "a significant role" in Alstom's decision to leave ACCCE.

Duke also said the forged letters were not the reason it left ACCCE. Duke resigned its membership in the group because it did not want to be at "cross purposes" with its goals as a company and a member of U.S. CAP, Duke spokesman Tom Williams said.

"While some individual members of ACCCE are working to pass climate change legislation, we believe ACCCE is constrained by influential member companies who will not support passing climate change legislation in 2009 or 2010," Duke said in a statement. "This became increasingly apparent during and after the debate on the Waxman/Markey legislation in the U.S. House in recent months. This is not consistent with Duke Energy's work to pass economy-wide and cost effective climate change legislation as soon as possible."

At the time of the House vote, ACCCE opposed Waxman-Markey.

"We are seeking additional changes to the bill," ACCCE spokeswoman Miller said. "Specifically, we want to assure greater consumer protections against unnecessarily high electricity costs.

"We believe cap and trade could be part of a climate bill," Miller added. "We are not opposed to it."

Duke and Alstom probably got provisions that they wanted in Waxman-Markey, and now need to protect those provisions in a Senate bill, said Kenneth Green, resident scholar with the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

"They don't want the hassle of being affiliated with a mixed-messaging group," Green said.

At the same time, he said, Duke and Alstom still get some benefit from the work ACCCE does to protect the coal industry. But as groups leave ACCCE and pull out their money, the trade group's power is lessened, Green said.

The Alstom decision gives a new weapon to environmentalists who have been attacking ACCCE for weeks.

Josh Dorner, spokesman for the Clean Energy Works campaign, an alliance of environmental, labor, faith, veteran and business groups, said the rejection of ACCCE by Alstom shows that "their extreme policies are making them too radioactive for these corporations. They're using questionable tactics and are outside the mainstream of the debate."

It is also "more evidence," Dorner said, that ACCCE does not want a climate bill. "The right bill for ACCCE is no bill at all. It's hard to envision a bill that they'd support."

Alstom to focus on U.S. CAP

Alstom had been considering leaving ACCCE "for a while," Brown said, but decided now based on "the questions about ACCCE's support that have been raised over the last several weeks." The decision by Duke, Brown said, "is part of the reason why we looked at it, why we looked at the pros and cons" of staying in ACCCE.

Alstom now will put more energy into its U.S. CAP involvement, Brown said.

"We can focus our resources on supporting groups that are 100 percent aligned with our policy objectives, such as U.S. CAP," Brown said.

Caterpillar did not respond to a request for comment.

GE, which is involved in energy production, transmission and distribution, said there are differences between its goals on climate legislation and those of ACCCE. But for now, the company is keeping its membership in the trade group.

However, the company is "looking at our membership in ACCCE on a regular basis," GE spokesman Peter O'Toole said. "If it's not in the best interest of shareholders for us to be a member, then we won't be a member.

"We're having discussions within GE and ACCCE right now," O'Toole said.

O'Toole would not say specifically how GE's goals on climate policy differ from those of ACCCE but said that "ACCCE doesn't reflect our view on climate legislation."

"We want something done now," O'Toole said. "Maybe it's an issue of urgency."

ACCCE does "want something to happen," O'Toole added. "It's a very difficult operation with very different constituencies that represent mammoth parts of the economy. Getting it right for all those different sectors is very difficult."

Clarification: This story was changed to state that ACCCE opposed Waxman-Markey. An ACCCE spokeswoman in an interview Wednesday said that ACCCE was not opposed to Waxman-Markey but later in the day said that was an error and ACCCE at the time of the vote opposed the bill.

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