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At a January hearing, Mr. Waxman promised the USCAP ideas would be written into climate legislation.

USCAP’s members include environmental advocacy groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund and corporate giants such as PepsiCo Inc. and Ford Motor Co., in addition to many of the nation’s top energy providers.

Critics say the little-noticed provision affecting the Duke Energy coal plant is a prime illustration of the close links between industry and environmental lobbies and the bill’s authors.

Supporters of the exemption say it would protect energy companies from having to scrap coal projects well under way. Critics say the provision amounts to the same type of handout Democrats accused Republicans of approving eight years ago.

Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams would not disclose whether his company requested the language, but said an exemption makes sense.

“When you’re building a plant, it’s not good practice to have legislation that somehow retroactively hinders the permit,” Mr. Williams said. “You can’t operate a business that way.”

The House draft bill says any coal plant that obtains final construction approval after Jan. 1, 2009, must meet the stringent pollution control rules. Duke Energy has two new coal projects under way, both of which obtained their permits in January 2008.

Duke Energy Chief Executive Officer Jim Rogers has been an influential voice in the Hill debate over climate change. When he testified last month on a panel of USCAP members, he did not mention the provision, which directly affects the Cliffside plant.

The exemption would benefit 45 other coal facilities that are under construction or have received permits (including a second Duke Energy project in Indiana), but Duke Energy is the only affected company that belongs to USCAP.

Many environmentalists have chafed at new coal plant construction, calling the term “clean coal” a “dirty lie.” More than 40 environmental activists were arrested outside the Cliffside plant protesting the coal project late last month.

“It is just the most blatant hypocrisy,” Jim Warren, executive director of North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network and one of the 44 protesters arrested, said of Mr. Rogers’ environmental proclamations.

Mr. Rogers told North Carolina public officials in 2007 that he would actively lobby to exempt the Cliffside plant from stricter pollution standards.

“So you’re going to be lobbying in Congress essentially to have Cliffside be grandfathered?” Gudrun Thompson, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, asked during a January 2007 hearing on the project.

Mr. Rogers said he thought the plant would be grandfathered “because it’s perceived by the government as we perceive it, as a clean coal plant.”

Committee staff confirmed that the provision exempting the Duke coal project was drawn from the USCAP blueprint.

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