If it’s approved for an air-quality permit by the TCEQ, White Stallion Energy Center’s “clean coal” facility in Matagorda County would churn out an estimated 10 million tons of CO2 annually. The plant would send significant amounts of smog and acid rain-causing compounds, as well as soot and mercury, into the air. While the EPA has expressed concerns to the TCEQ over plans to build the plant 19 scant miles south of the smog-suffused Houston-Galveston area, White Stallion has something the feds don’t: Dan Pearson.
Late last month, the Bay City Tribune reported that the former executive director defended White Stallion against EPA scrutiny at an event held by the company in Matagorda County. Pearson called the EPA’s criticism “politics” and its permitting process enforcement “policy on the fly,” according to the Tribune.
It’s nothing new. Ex-regulators lobbying for industry interests is a Texas tradition, and Pearson is just one classic case in point. White Stallion hired him in 2008 on a contract paying under $10,000, according to the Texas Ethics Commission. (The commission reports lobbyist earnings in tiered ranges.) In 2009, Pearson’s contract with the company jumped to the $25,000 to $49,999.99 range, where it remains.
Since 1993, former TCEQ higher-ups—including commissioners, general counsels, and a deputy director–have earned as much as $32 million lobbying for the industries they once policed. Four of the five former executive directors became lobbyists soon after leaving their positions, with companies such as Waste Management Inc. paying agency alums hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby as only insiders can.
“With very few exceptions, the executive directors and commissioners go to work for the polluters after they leave,” says Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.
Last year, Schneider and others successfully opposed the appointment of former TCEQ Commissioner John Hall to become administrator of the EPA’s Region 6, which includes Texas and four other states. Hall’s career path might have given EPA officials pause. In 1995, while on the commission, Hall approved the expansion of an enormous landfill in Ferris, Texas, owned by Waste Management. In 1997, he began lobbying for the company, which had paid him $625,000 to $1.25 million as of 2009. (See chart.) Total industry lobby payments to Hall number between $5.29 million and $9.75 million, according to Texans for Public Justice. When Hall became frontrunner for the EPA position, Schneider was alarmed.
“We thought it would be a dangerous turn of the revolving door to send him back into public service,” Schneider says. Hall comes in second in earnings among TCEQ revolvers as of 2009, trailing only Pearson ($4.48 million to $11.3 million). Hall was ultimately bypassed by the EPA.
Andrew Wheat, research director for Texans for Public Justice and an Observer contributing writer, has spent the past decade monitoring the revolving door in Texas government.
“If you sit there in the environmental agency supposedly in charge of regulating polluters in this state and you’ve already toyed with the idea of becoming a revolving door lobbyist, how could that not affect your behavior?” Wheat says. “You don’t want to slam down a future client—you want to ingratiate yourself to those people to ensure you’re going to have the kind of inflated salary these people report time and time again after they hit the revolving door.”
Lobbying isn’t the only career path for TCEQ alums. Another option, taken by former General Counsel Pam Giblin and former Deputy Director Lydia Gromatzky, is working for the law firms that represent Texas polluters, such as Baker, Botts & Bean or Beveridge & Diamond, respectively. (The former had been named oil and gas law firm of the year by Who’s Who Legal for four years running as of 2009. The latter successfully argued before the Supreme Court in 2008 to limit punitive damages paid by Exxon Mobil Corp. for the massive Exxon Valdez supertanker oil spill.)
Or, like former Executive Director Margaret Hoffman, you can get a job with Chevron Corp. as chief environmental counsel. Once you’ve served at TCEQ, the possibilities are limitless.
|Anthony Grigsby||Executive Director, |
|Lobbyist representing oil and gas companies for Baker & Botts LLP, which represents major oil and gas firms. Now assistant state attorney general. Total lobbying haul: $835,000-$1.59 million.*|
|Dan Pearson||Executive Director, |
|lobbyist for utilities, refineries, cities and companies including White Stallion Energy Center, LLC. (See Agency of Destruction.) Total lobbying haul: $4.48 million-$11.3 million.|
|Jeff Saitas||Executive Director, |
|Lobbyist for oil, gas and energy companies including Valero and radioactive waste outfit Waste Control Specialists LLC. Total lobbying haul: $3.43-$6.99 million.|
|Glenn Shankle||Executive Director, |
|Lobbyist for Waste Control Specialists and garbage companies IESI and Waste Management Inc. Total lobbying haul: $125,000-$210,000|
|John Hall||Chair, |
|Lobbyist for companies including Waste Management Inc. and Fina Oil and Chemical Co. Total lobbying haul: $5.29 million-$9.75 million.|
|Rafael B. Marquez||Commissioner,|
|Lobbyist for companies including the Texas Chemical Council Inc. and Gas Leak Solutions. Now works for Carl Griffith Associates Inc., which helps companies minimize environmental penalties and fines. Total lobbying haul: $35,000-$155,000.|
|Barry R. McBee||Chairman,|
|Lobbyist for oil and gas companies. Now vice chancellor for governmental relations at the University of Texas System. Total lobbying haul: $310,000-$460,000.|
|Kathleen Hartnett White||Chair, |
|Director of Center for Natural Resources at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing think tank. Was paid less than $10,000 to lobby for the foundation in 2009.|
* The Texas Ethics Commission reports lobbyists’ earnings in tiered ranges.