TXU lobbying Congress on coal-plant plan

TXU lobbying Congress on coal-plant plan

TXU Corp., facing a string of global-warming bills, is ramping up efforts to lobby the new Congress over its controversial plans to build coal-fired power plants across Texas.

Dallas-based TXU has been betting that lawmakers wouldn’t enact environmental legislation penalizing the company for the 11 plants it wants to build. But Democratic leaders in Congress have already stepped forward to criticize TXU’s plans, promising a fight for the state’s largest power producer.

The TXU executive overseeing the coal plan, Mike McCall, was in Washington this week to meet with lawmakers to press the company’s case.

TXU called the discussions “introductory meetings” with Democrats and Republicans to talk through details of its program, which has drawn fire from critics who say the company should consider other sources or newer technology for the plants.

“Most of the discussions focused on our choice of technology and the methodology behind that choice,” spokeswoman Kimberly Morgan said.

TXU has invested far more attention in Austin, but the company has had its hand in Washington policy debates for decades. In recent years, TXU has focused much of its lobbying on winning helpful provisions in the 2005 energy bill and dealing with clean-air laws in Congress and federal agencies.

But few issues have put such a bright national spotlight on the company, which operates almost entirely inside the state.

“Texas has now become ground zero in the battle over global warming,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington-based group. “And TXU has become in effect public enemy No. 1 among environmental groups.”

The global warming debate on Capitol Hill is still in its early stages. Numerous bills have been introduced and face far better prospects under Democratic leadership than they had under Republicans.

Most proposals would cap emissions of carbon dioxide ”“ the heat-trapping gas blamed for climate change ”“ and create credits based on existing emissions that companies could trade.

But the lack of consensus by supporters of congressional action has key lawmakers and many environmental groups doubtful that both the House and Senate can come together in the next year with legislation that would muster bipartisan support and survive a veto threat from the White House.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee, plans a hearing next week to begin discussing proposals from senators. Ms. Boxer and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, have both criticized TXU’s latest coal plans and warned that the new plants won’t be grandfathered in.

Numerous other senators have proposed legislation to try to find common ground. And House Democrats are planning to create a new committee to address global warming, as several existing panels plan their own hearings.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said no measure will pass the House without provisions requiring dramatic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

Concrete targets ”“ to drive development of new technology and stringent efficiency standards ”“ are key, “if we have any chance that we’re going to avert the damage,” Mr. Waxman said this week.

Ms. Morgan of TXU said the company has “always been actively engaged” in Washington, noting its involvement in the debate over electricity deregulation.

“Anytime there’s a big public policy change, then certainly we’ll be engaged, and we’ll be a resource,” she said. “Some of these members simply don’t live here and don’t have the day-to-day working knowledge of the market and how it’s structured and a detailed look at the company’s plan.”

TXU executives have made contributions to the political campaigns of numerous lawmakers who oversee energy and environmental policy in Congress. TXU political action committees donated more than $315,000 to federal candidates in the 2006 election cycle, the overwhelming majority of that to Republicans, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks funding.

Mr. O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch said that among power companies, TXU has drawn the most congressional scrutiny.

A handful of major utilities, such as Southern Co., share parts of TXU’s position calling for new technology and a more holistic approach that doesn’t punish a single industry.

But numerous others have taken a different course and publicly supported mandatory caps in carbon emissions.

“There’s certainly a growing impetus to send a signal that conventional dirty coal plants should not be encouraged,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

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