On Monday, under orders from President Barack Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency issued new guidelines targeting plants that burn coal to produce electricity. The proposal is meant to reduce carbon emissions — the main cause of climate change — over the next two decades.
Critics have called Obama’s plan a “war on coal.” Still, the president is adamant. “[T]here are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe. None,” Obama said in his weekly radio address. “It’s not smart, it’s not safe, and it doesn’t make sense.”
At present, the EPA is also proposing, again under orders from the Obama administration, a reduction in renewable fuel mandates. Passed by Congress in 2005, the Renewable Fuel Standard requires transportation fuel to contain a minimum portion of renewable fuel. The plan called for incremental increases in biofuel use until it reached 36 billion gallons by 2022. But in November, the Obama administration announced it would lower renewable fuel mandates for 2014 — the first time that has happened since the law was updated in 2007. The revised, lower numbers will be finalized this month.
In January, a bipartisan group of 30 senators, led by Al Franken of Minnesota, wrote a letter to the EPA demanding no reduction in RFS mandates, but it was ignored. Therefore, the Obama administration plans both to impose harsh regulations on power plants and to lower RFS mandates — at the same time no less — creating an appearance of bureaucratic schizophrenia, if not something worse.
Who could be responsible for such a conundrum? Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., it turns out. According to a Reuters article published in mid-May, the events that lead to the RFS mandates reduction began when the Carlyle Group, the powerful Washington, D.C.-based private equity firm, became concerned about the profitability of two oil refineries it owns in Philadelphia. Lower RFS mandates would help Carlyle’s bottom line.
So Carlyle approached Congressman Robert A. Brady, a Democrat, who represents the district in which the refineries are located. On behalf of Carlyle, Brady met with Biden. “I talked to the vice president,” Brady was quoted by Reuters, “and I told him what the issue was, and he said, ‘We’ve got to try to fix that.’” Biden did whatever he did — actions that so far remain unreported. “And we fixed it,” Brady said.
Getting a politician to take action that is beneficial to Carlyle is nothing new for the company. After all, Carlyle has a history of affiliating with politicians of the highest rank after they leave office. Besides George Bush, the former president, and John Major, the former British prime minister, Carlyle has employed, among others, Frank Carlucci, the former secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan; James A. Baker III, the former secretary of State under Bush; Richard Darman, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under Bush; and Arthur Levitt, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. All conservatives.
Carlyle also accepts investors whose interests often run counter to American domestic and foreign policy. In 1991, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a member of the royal family of Saudi Arabia, used Carlyle as advisers when he bought a $550 million stake in Citigroup to become the bank’s largest shareholder, an investment now worth $1 billion. In 2007, at the direction of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the investment company owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, bought a 7.5 percent stake in Carlyle. Most notoriously, in 2001, on the very same day as the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed almost 3,000 people, Carlyle was holding an investor conference in Washington and the guest of honor was none other than Shafiq bin Laden, the brother of Osama bin Laden.
No wonder Washington was stunned when Reuters reported that Biden’s maneuvering to lower RFS mandates was prompted by the Carlyle Group. So much so that in late May, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, asked the EPA inspector general to investigate the reason for the administration’s sudden turnabout.
By Biden “fixing” the “issue” of renewable fuel mandates — without any input from Congress, which decreed the mandates in the first place — the Obama administration has seemingly undermined the president’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. After all, why attack coal and prop up Carlyle and Big Oil?
Paul Alexander is the author of “Machiavelli’s Shadow: The Rise and Fall of Karl Rove.” His political reporting has appeared in George, Rolling Stone, Salon and The Huffington Post.