- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When the Environmental Protection Agency announced new smokestack standards for coal-burning power plants this summer, former Virginia Gov. George Allen, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, was quick to oppose the move.

“These backdoor tax hikes have real economic impacts on Virginia families and businesses, destroying jobs and sending electricity rates soaring,” he said on his campaign website.

But as Mr. Allen advocates for the coal industry on the campaign trail, a financial disclosure form shows that as recently as last year, he was working as a consultant for a major coal company.

After he lost his Senate seat in 2006, Mr. Allen opened his own consulting firm, George Allen Strategies. His client list included Alpha Natural Resources, one of the country’s largest coal producers, according to a financial disclosure form Mr. Allen recently filed with the Senate.

The company and the Allen campaign say the consulting arrangement ended last year. Mr. Allen declared his candidacy for the Senate on Jan. 24 this year.

After the EPA regulations were announced, Mr. Allen’s campaign website posted an article by TriCities.com that quoted the chief executive of Alpha Natural Resources as saying the new EPA regulations could increase electricity rates by 25 percent.

Rep. H. Morgan Griffith, Virginia Republican, was quoted in the same article criticizing the EPA regulations, saying they would cost jobs in southwestern Virginia. Mr. Allen agreed: “Congressman Morgan Griffith is absolutely right,” he wrote in a statement on his campaign website.

“The working men and women should not have to suffer at the hands of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats at the EPA,” he wrote, adding that the agency shouldn’t have the authority to “unilaterally impose harmful regulations that stand in the way of our economic recovery.”

But environmental groups say they are troubled by the fact that Mr. Allen recently worked as a consultant for a major coal producer.

“The larger truth is that the industry is very powerful, and that’s one of the issues we run up against,” said Nick Sifuentes, press secretary for the Sierra Club, which backs the EPA rules. Beth Kemler, Virginia state director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said if Mr. Allen has benefited financially from the coal industry, “voters should be concerned about that connection.”

But a spokeswoman for Mr. Allen’s campaign said he was an advocate for coal long before he started his consulting work.

“George Allen has been a long-term advocate for nearly two decades for coal and energy,” said Katie Wright, a spokeswoman for the Allen campaign. “He’s always advocated for energy freedom, including coal technology, from the beginning of his career until now, both in the private and public sectors.”

When Mr. Allen was governor from 1994 to 1998, the coal industry provided about 10,000 jobs and now, hit by recession and regulations, that figure is down to fewer than 5,000 jobs, Ms. Wright said. She said the industry continues to provide “a huge economic impact” in Virginia through “jobs and affordable electricity to Virginia families and businesses.”

Alpha Natural Resources spokesman Rick Nida declined to comment on the nature of the consulting work. He said the company had had only “incidental” contact with Mr. Allen since the consulting arrangement ended. Asked what sort of incidental contact, Mr. Nida said he had seen Mr. Allen at groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

Mr. Allen disclosed the consulting work with Alpha Natural Resources under a section of his Senate ethics form listing sources of income in excess of $5,000. The forms require candidates to report sources of compensation to the candidate or his or her business.

The forms show that overall, Mr. Allen earned $347,787 last year through his work at George Allen Strategies. He also received $5,000 in speaking fees each from the Ohio Coal Association, Hampden-Sydney College and the Republican Central Committee of Harford County, Md.

He received $20,000 from the American Energy Freedom Center, a nonprofit group Mr. Allen launched in 2009 and where he served as chairman until December 2010. He received $20,000 in director fees from Lee Technologies in Fairfax.

Mr. Allen also disclosed consulting work on behalf of Will Interactive, Navigators Global, Reliable Partners and Peabody Investment Corp.

Navigators Global and Reliable Partners were identified as clients of George Allen Strategies in lobbying forms on file with the Senate.

Mr. Allen’s firm hired a principal of George Allen Strategies on a contract basis to lobby for both clients.

Because the lobbyist, former Allen aide Paul Unger, was not an employee of the firm, but rather a contractor lobbying through his own firm in Washington, George Allen Strategies was not required to register as a lobbying firm with Congress.

Aside from Mr. Unger and Mr. Allen, George Allen Strategies lists two other principals: Tim Nussbaum, Mr. Allen’s executive assistant, and Puneet Ahluwalia, who is described on the firm’s website as advising on economic, financial and energy issues.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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