- The Washington Times - Monday, February 22, 2016

A pro-energy advocacy group is seeking to incinerate the Clean Power Plan after releasing more emails showing a key Environmental Protection Agency official collaborating behind the scenes with leading environmental activists.

In a 20-page report released Monday, the Energy & Environment Legal Institute chronicles another round of communications between environmentalists and Michael Goo, former EPA Office of Policy associate administrator, who used a private email account to discuss options on regulating coal-fired power plants.

“The EPA taking direction from outside parties demonstrated a closed mind and a process that was not transparent and not part of the official record. This is against the law,” said David Schnare, general counsel for the institute. “The law should be returned to the EPA for proper consideration.”

The institute submitted a brief Friday requesting permission from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to file a supplemental brief arguing that the Clean Power Plan “needs to be sent back to the EPA for an honest restart” in light of the disclosures.

The agency is already under fire for letting environmental advocacy groups play roles in drafting the sweeping rule without disclosing their involvement.

“Using his private email, rather than his official EPA email, Mr. Goo secretly shared these draft options with lobbyists and high-level staffers at the Sierra Club and the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) who in turn, like Natural Resources Defense Council staff, told him how to alter the policy that was ultimately implemented in the Rule,” E&E said in the report.

The emails, obtained by E&E Legal, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a law student through Freedom of Information Act requests, lay out “for the first time a pattern of ex parte communications by EPA officials,” E&E Legal said in a statement.

“This report affirms in stark and disturbing detail that the necessary, clear line between special interests and government does not exist at EPA,” E&E report author Chris Horner said in a statement.

EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said Monday that the agency, which is mired in litigation over the rule, would not comment on the report.

The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Clean Power Plan from taking effect two weeks ago pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by two dozen states challenging the rule’s legality.

A cornerstone of the Obama administration’s climate change agenda, the plan is aimed at reducing by 32 percent emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2020, a regulatory goal that critics say would increase electricity costs by forcing the closure of most plants.

Since the Supreme Court’s Feb. 9 stay, 18 states have suspended their plans for complying with the rule while 20 are moving toward compliance and nine are still debating how to proceed, according to a Monday report in E&E Publishing.

The latest report centers on Mr. Goo, a former attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council who in 2011 headed the working group tasked with preparing the initial memo on regulating coal-fired plants. In emails from his private Yahoo server, he shared drafts and discussed options with a Sierra Club lobbyist and top Clean Air Task Force official.

The EPA failed to disclose the emails in its Notice of Public Rulemaking on the Clean Power Plan, even though Mr. Goo turned over the communications before leaving to take a position with the Energy Department in 2013, according to the report.

David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, made no apologies for the organization’s advocacy on behalf of reduced emissions in a Monday statement.

“NRDC advocated for a plan to cut carbon pollution in a way that maximized utility flexibility and minimized cost,” Mr. Goldston said. “We stand behind our work to ensure citizen input in public policymaking.”

Stuart Ross, a spokesman for the Clean Air Task Force, said Monday that he could not comment on ongoing litigation.

The institute report includes a 2011 email exchange between Mr. Goo and Conrad Schneider, advocacy director for the Clean Air Task Force. After Mr. Goo forwarded him an “options memo” being preparing for the EPA administrator, Mr. Schneider chided him for mixing up units of measurement.

“These show Goo outsourcing ‘agency expertise,’ which he plainly did not possess, to CATF,” according to the report.

The next day, Mr. Goo sent an email to Sierra Club lobbyist John Coequyt that included the Clean Air Task Force revisions, the report said.

The report added that Mr. Conrad became so “enmeshed” in the rule-making process that he raised concerns about a rule that might not go far enough and wind up extending the life of coal plants. He also asked Mr. Goo about behind-the-scenes agency deliberations.

“As we have been discussing the concept of a unit efficiency standard internally among the crew at CATF, the concern has been raised that, if done incorrectly, such a standard might inadvertently end up extending the lives of coal units,” Mr. Schneider said in an email dated May 5, 2011. “Can you send enough detail on what people are thinking that we can analyze the policy? We will hold close.”

Eight days later, Mr. Goo sent the working group’s options to the EPA’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, but continued to correspond on his private email server with environmental groups about the rule-making process.

Although the lawsuit filed by the states focuses on the role of the federal government, the issues raised in the private email exchange are “fundamentally different” because they document a “long-running violation of procedural due-process requirements,” the report says.

“It offers documentary evidence going to the heart of the way this administration has engaged in rule-making, not just for the Clean Power Plan” or for greenhouse gases, the report concludes. “The Administration has outsourced the executive powers to groups that have private agendas and invited them to draft rules or the bases of rules which the entire country must live under. This is not permissible under our system.”

The EPA has come under criticism in the past from Republicans, led by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, for what they describe as a too-chummy relationship with top environmental groups.

The Clean Power Plan, “portrayed as one driven purely by science and expertise was in reality driven by special interest groups operating behind the scenes,” the report said.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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