Sierra Club — “Embattled former EPA head Scott Pruitt is a lobbyist in Indiana. This is who he works for.”

Emily Hopkins and Chris Sikich, Indianapolis Star, April 23 2019

In the final days of the legislature, an Indiana coal company has retained the support of a high-powered ally in its effort to pass legislation that would keep Indiana’s coal-fired plants from closing as planned.

Scott Pruitt, who was President Trump’s first head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has been tapped by Hallador Energy Company. Hallador, which is the parent company of RailPoint Solutions LLC and Sunrise Coal, Indiana’s second largest coal company, is pushing, for a moratorium on new electric generation projects in Indiana. 

Pruitt’s lobbying is an “attempt to protect the ratepayers of Indiana from Vectren and NIPSCO rate increases,” Rebecca Palumbo, vice president of corporate affairs for Hallador, said in a statement. Pruitt registered as a lobbyist in the state on Thursday. Palumbo said the company was asking the legislature to add the moratorium language as an amendment to the state budget.

Rep. Ed Soliday talks with a colleague on the starting day of legislative session at the Indiana Statehouse, Indianapolis, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. (Photo: Jenna Watson/IndyStar)

NIPSCO and Vectren have both presented plans to state regulators that suggest closing their coal plants could save ratepayers a combined billions of dollars over the long run, but that could raise rates in the short term. Vectren has requested permission to build a natural gas plant, and NISPCO has requested approval to purchase wind power. Both cases are pending.

“Vectren and NIPSCO are arguing that the IURC should close plants based on Obama-era rules that Trump and his EPA are in the process of unwinding,” Palumbo said in the statement. “Who better than Scott Pruitt to aid the Indiana legislature on what Trump energy policy will look like?”

Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, had initially added a moratorium as an amendment onto a Senate water utility bill in April. At the time it was unclear who supported the amendment — Soliday took no testimony on the amendment, which passed out of committee.

The proposed moratorium quickly received criticism from several directions. Kerwin Olson, executive director for the Citizen’s Action Coalition, a consumer advocacy group, called the measure a “Hail Mary” to save coal in the state.

Mark Maassel of the Indiana Energy Association, which represents Indiana’s five investor-owned utilities, called the amendment “terrible policy” that locked his members into decades-old technology. And Caryl Auslander of Indiana Advanced Energy Economy said the measure “favors the heavy-hand of government over public transparency at the expense of a modern advanced energy system.”

The amendment was so unpopular that, despite being proposed by the chair of the House utilities committee and endorsed by Governor Eric Holcomb, it was easily defeated on the House floor by a Democrat’s amendment stripping moratorium language from the bill.

At the time, Soliday emphasized that his moratorium amendment was not about coal.

“Whoever’s been spreading that is clueless,” he said at the April 3 meeting of the House utilities committee.

Whatever Soliday’s intentions, however, it has since then become increasingly clear that the coal industry, and specifically Hallador Energy, has had a seemingly singular stake in seeking the moratorium.

One week after Soliday’s amendment was defeated on the House floor, Pruitt registered as a lobbyist in the state.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt listens as President Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington on June 21, 2018. Pruitt, a former Oklahoma state senator and two-term Republican attorney general, resigned suddenly July 5, 2018 amid ethics investigations, including ones examining his lavish spending on first-class airline seats and a $43,000 soundproof booth for making private phone calls. (Photo: Evan Vucci, AP)

Mark Maassel of the Indiana Energy Association, which represents Indiana’s five investor-owned utilities, called the amendment “terrible policy” that locked his members into decades-old technology. And Caryl Auslander of Indiana Advanced Energy Economy said the measure “favors the heavy-hand of government over public transparency at the expense of a modern advanced energy system.”

The amendment was so unpopular that, despite being proposed by the chair of the House utilities committee and endorsed by Governor Eric Holcomb, it was easily defeated on the House floor by a Democrat’s amendment stripping moratorium language from the bill.

At the time, Soliday emphasized that his moratorium amendment was not about coal.

“Whoever’s been spreading that is clueless,” he said at the April 3 meeting of the House utilities committee.

Whatever Soliday’s intentions, however, it has since then become increasingly clear that the coal industry, and specifically Hallador Energy, has had a seemingly singular stake in seeking the moratorium.

One week after Soliday’s amendment was defeated on the House floor, Pruitt registered as a lobbyist in the state.

According to multiple sources who received the language, Pruitt was proposing a “compromise” that he hoped to be added as an amendment to the state budget. The latest amendment requires utilities seeking to retire their coal plants in response to federal regulation to specifically cite what regulations require those retirements.

“We are asking the legislature to add two sentences to the budget bill that prevent the IURC from making decisions based on rules that the EPA is currently reconsidering, and in some instances has already reversed,” said Hallador’s Palumbo in the statement.

Pruitt’s efforts, however, have been unconvincing.

Asked whether the language offered by Pruitt brought him any closer to supporting the amendment, IEA’s Maassel said, “it really does not.”

“It’s poorly crafted to begin with,” he added. “Clearly it’s very late in the session so we don’t have time to work on it. There are many issues with the language.” 

“Not one person we’ve talked to or heard from — except for Scott Pruitt and Rail Point — thinks the moratorium will benefit ratepayers,” Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber, said in a statement.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said he doesn’t think legislation will be revived to add a moratorium on new electric generation.

He said he received a phone call from a lobbyist asking to revive the legislation. The lobbyist, Bosma said, told him Pruitt would be willing to come to Indiana to push the legislation. Bosma declined to identify the lobbyist.

Bosma said he did not meet with Pruitt and is unaware of any lawmaker who did speak with him.

“I find it highly unlikely the moratorium, after being defeated on the House floor, would be put someplace else and everyone would agree to that,” he said.

Bosma said the lobbyist shared statistics that the moratorium would save taxpayers money.

“They had some great statistics on savings to ratepayers and I said, ‘well that would have been really good thing to broadcast before it was voted on.’”


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