GE, Duke Energy, Exelon Can’t Quit Their Self-Serving ‘Green’ Politics

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grassy dollar signU.S. Climate Action Partnership members General Electric and utilities Duke Energy and Exelon Corporation are addicted to the politics of gaming environmental regulatory policy so they can make millions off mandates and subsidies, often at the expense to taxpayers and their own customers.

The latest example was the three companies’ purchase of tables at the second annual Teddy Roosevelt Dinner, hosted by Republicans for Environmental Protection in Washington. This year GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who as Utah governor a couple of years ago led the charge to bring his state into the Western Climate Initiative regional cap-and-trade agreement, keynoted the dinner.  Looks like the companies have a hard time giving up on political losers, considering that Huntsman has only 39 percent name recognition and has 2 percent support among Republican voters, leading Gallup pollster Frank Newport to identify him as the likely next Tim Pawlenty.

REP honored Exelon at the dinner for exemplary “environmental leadership,” mainly thanks to its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (REP erringly calls it “carbon” rather than carbon dioxide) in order to fight the unproven catastrophic global warming theory attributed to the greenhouse nature of the mostly naturally occurring gas. "Exelon is demonstrating that reducing harmful emissions is an integral part of a broader, market-driven strategy that will diversify our country's energy choices, reduce costs, and foster economic growth through investments in advanced energy technologies," said Rob Sisson, president of REP. Unfortunately Sisson ignores the fact that, as President Obama said on the campaign trail in January 2008, electricity rates must “necessarily skyrocket” under cap-and-trade. He also overlooks the fact that so-called “investments” in “green” advanced energy technologies have required billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, and are currently being implemented by the Obama administration, which has led to a continuing economic malaise.

But years ago Exelon, rather than fight the foolishness and uselessness of coerced carbon dioxide reductions, instead jumped in whole-hog in support of such regulations. As CEO John Rowe said in a Nov. 2009 speech in Chicago, he had worked on the issue since 1992 when he testified before Congress in favor of a carbon (dioxide) tax, “When there was no immediate economic benefit to my company, which was largely coal-based.” Over the previous decade Rowe said his company had sold “most of our inefficient fossil fuel plants” (although they must have been useful to somebody, if they paid for them), and invested $5 billion in nuclear reactors. 

Today Exelon owns the largest nuclear fleet in the nation, the third-largest in the world, has 20 percent of the total U.S. nuclear capacity, with approximately 93 percent of its electricity generation coming from nuclear. If any utility is positioned to benefit from carbon restrictions and cap-and-trade, it’s Exelon. As USA Today reported in February 2010, Rowe “is so dialed in that the Obama administration tapped him to lobby lawmakers on legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” When asked by the newspaper whether Congress would pass legislation to cut carbon (dioxide) emissions, Rowe responded, “I’m very depressed.”

Like Rowe Duke Energy CEO James Rogers told his board in 2007 that he planned to “decarbonize” (that is, de-carbon dioxidize) the company by 2050. As a result he has engaged in extensive efforts to push cap-and-trade, gain favorable regulations and tax incentives for his company’s alternative energy projects, and he’s personally pledged support (with Duke shareholders’ money at stake) to bring the 2012 Democratic National Convention to Charlotte – where Duke’s headquarters is – all of which has been well documented by NLPC. Despite political policy losses and public rejection of hidden taxes on electricity to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Rogers still panders to the environmentalist agenda, unless Duke stands to make some money by screwing them. Supporting Republicans for Environmental Protection is just a continuation of Duke’s crony capitalism, albeit a hopeless bet on a group that would embrace Jon Huntsman as their standard-bearer. 

And then there is General Electric and CEO Jeffrey Immelt, whose “subsidy suckling” (thanks, Tim Carney) and cap-and-trade support are legendary. As Washington Examiner reporter Carney has said about the multiple business arms of GE, “They all reach out for government favors.” GE was the biggest-spending individual corporation lobbyist last quarter ($6.77 million), and worked government regulations in their favor on transportation (President Obama’s light rail initiative), energy (wind turbines, thanks to Enron, and light bulbs), and dozens of other of its business interests.

Carney explains how GE stood to benefit from cap-and-trade, other than with wind energy:

But most important in this gambit might be Greenhouse Gas Services, a joint venture between GE and power giant AES. GHGS creates and trades in greenhouse-gas credits. As of now, some companies do this voluntarily. Under cap-and-trade manufacturers and other energy consumers would be required to buy GHG credits.

After 2 ½ years in office, Immelt is now so close to the administration that President Obama appointed him as head of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Crony capitalism is what GE, Exelon and Duke Energy all have in common, and their joint presence in support of Republicans for Environmental Protection and Jon Huntsman highlight just what their activism is all about: Betting on long-term losers in favor of short-term gain, although in this case the short-term outlook appears to be a political loss as well. 

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and is executive director of American Tradition Institute.