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11.02.11

Senator's Clean-Coal Bonanza

Stimulus law opponent Sen. Mike Enzi has proposed earmarks and tax breaks for clean coal, and wrote letters seeking federal funding for carbon-capture projects while his son, Brad, works for a prominent player in the industry.

Sen. Mike Enzi opposed the stimulus law that President Obama used to fund his clean-energy initiative. But on the sidelines of the debate, the Wyoming Republican has staged a full-court press to get the government to spend money to spur so-called clean-coal projects that capture carbon emissions and store them underground for ages.

Enzi has written several letters seeking Energy Department funding for nascent home-state carbon capture and sequestration projects, and used earmarks to try to get Congress to set aside federal money for research at the University of Wyoming, according to records reviewed by The Daily Beast. And in 2009 he introduced a law with a Democratic colleague, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, which sought to ease the liability concerns of companies experimenting with early clean-coal projects. “Carbon sequestration could provide endless possibilities for Wyoming coal,” Enzi boasted in July 2009, when he introduced the Carbon Storage Stewardship Trust Fund Act.

Turns out, the legislation would not only be good for Wyoming, it also would help energy companies like the one that has employed the senator’s son, Brad, specifically for research on carbon-capture projects.

Since 2006, Brad Enzi has been an executive in charge of the Wyoming office of North American Power Group, a Colorado energy firm that for years has been developing a carbon-capture project for the Two Elk Energy Park in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. The firm got $1.2 million in grants under the 2009 stimulus law for some of its carbon-capture work, which included $128,000 in compensation for Brad Enzi’s services, records show.

Sen. Enzi’s office declines to say whether the senator or his staff has ever met with his son’s company, but it insists all the funding he has sought for clean-coal projects was unrelated to his family interests. “The projects Senator Enzi advocated for are not related to the North American Power Group other than in the tangential manner that some of them are interested in coal,” spokesman Daniel Patrick Head told The Daily Beast.

Brad Enzi declined to be interviewed, but in an email he downplayed the extent of his relationship with Washington and federal money. “As an employee of North American power I do not receive payment from the government, I get a salary from the company and the company is reimbursed [by the government] for my time.” The company declined comment.

Federal spending records obtained by the local news Web site WyoFile show North American Power Group charged the stimulus-funded project about $128,000 for Brad Enzi’s work on the project.

A Washington watchdog says the senator’s advocacy for an industry that employed his son smacked of nepotism. “He certainly has an appearance problem if not an actual conflict of interest,” says Melanie Sloan, executive director for the Washington group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It’s really what we see so often, and it’s why Americans are so disgruntled with politics. It’s because members of Congress are so often seen acting in the interests of their friends and family.”

Beyond the question of ethics, Sen. Enzi’s involvement in seeking clean-coal monies fits a pattern of other fiscally conservative Republicans who have railed against runaway federal spending while seeking money from the very programs they often criticize. Newsweek reported this week that five dozen of the most fiscally conservative Republicans—from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to presidential hopefuls Rick Perry and Ron Paul—wrote letters pressing the government for money from the stimulus or other federal programs since President Obama took office.

Enzi, the white-haired Republican from Wyoming, has been broadly against government spending and propping up risky industries. He voted against the 2009 Recovery Act that included funding for renewable energy and energy-efficiency research. He supported calls to investigate Solyndra, the California solar company that received a half-billion dollar federal loan before going bankrupt. And just last week, he proposed a bill to repeal the federal ban on incandescent light bulbs scheduled to go into effect in January.

But on clean coal, Sen. Enzi has been an advocate for federal help.

The same month that Brad Enzi did his first work covered by the Department of Energy grant, his father introduced the legislation designed to drastically prop up carbon-capture research in coal-rich states like Wyoming. The proposed law, which Congress never passed, offered a safety net of federal money to build new carbon-capture plants and ramp down old coal-burning facilities.

“The purpose of this Act is to create a program for managing the financial risk, or liability, of the long-term storage of CO2.” Enzi said in a press release at the time. “This program will offer the private sector with a framework for how legal and financial responsibilities for commercial carbon storage operations will be addressed.”

The senator’s advocacy for the industry, however, went much further.

According to letters obtained by Newsweek and The Daily Beast, Enzi appealed five separate times in 2009 for federal funds from the Recovery Act and other federal energy programs for research on carbon capture and Smart Grid implementation in Wyoming.

“He certainly has an appearance problem if not an actual conflict of interest.”

Beginning in March of 2009, several weeks after voting no on the Recovery Act and calling it “bailout baloney,” Enzi sought stimulus funding from several senior Department of Energy officials for a coal-to-liquids research facility in Wyoming.

“This project will provide exciting new economic and employment opportunity for this community and the surrounding areas,” Enzi wrote that year. “At its peak construction period, the project will create approximately 2,300 jobs. After construction is finished, the project will employ 450 people to run the facility.”

A spokesperson for the Medicine Bow project declined to discuss the status of the project or how many jobs had been created.

Despite Enzi’s voting against the Recovery Act, which was the source of some of the money he was seeking, his spokesman, Daniel Patrick Head, says the senator asked for stimulus funds only after the Recovery Act had been approved “and there was no stopping it.”