Lobbyist’s Energy Work Irks Some in Coalition

Posted July 25, 2005 at 6:16pm

Among the many winners in the energy bill now making its way through a House-Senate conference are public utility districts home to hydropower facilities.

Thanks to a coalition called the Alliance for Hydropower Licensing Reform — and the group’s one lobbyist, Joel Malina of Wexler and Walker Public Policy Associates — about a dozen such districts are set to gain new authority to challenge federal requirements for establishing new hydropower projects.

But on the verge of a victory six years in the making, several members of the hydropower alliance are worrying about whether their lobbyist bit off more on the energy bill than he could chew.

On top of his work for the hydropower alliance, Malina has also been representing the COMPETE Coalition, a recently formed group of energy companies that want greater deregulation in electricity markets.

In the short term, virtually everyone involved agrees that the interests of Malina’s two alliances do not clash.

In the long term, however, the outlook gets a little murkier. Members of the hydropower alliance worry that COMPETE members could become potential rivals. While the local districts favor state regulation of their electricity markets, energy companies in the COMPETE coalition are lobbying for federal regulation through regional markets.

“I don’t know everything about what [COMPETE] is doing, but certainly they include some things we wouldn’t agree with or promote,” said Bill Dobbins, general manager of the Douglas County Public Utility District in Washington state, an alliance member.

Dobbins raised the issue last week with Malina, who responded by e-mailing alliance members information about COMPETE and his work for them.

Malina acknowledged that “some of the members of my alliance are concerned about” his work for COMPETE. But, he added, “they should be thrilled — we’re about to be successful.”

Malina, a former Broadway actor and later an aide to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), said his “services are rented. The hydro alliance rented me for hydro issues; COMPETE rented me for their issues. Our mission with COMPETE is not about harming hydropower’s interests.”

Malina said that besides Dobbins, he has not heard negative feedback from any members. And Dobbins said he is mostly satisfied with Malina’s response to his concerns, though he said he wishes Malina had notified alliance members of his work for COMPETE when he took on the coalition as a client.

“Had he asked then, I would have told him I preferred he didn’t take them on,” Dobbins said. “But I guess the guy has got to make a living.”

COMPETE, for its part, doesn’t consider Malina’s work with the hydropower alliance to be problematic.

“There’s obviously no direct conflict,” said David Brown, a lobbyist with Exelon Corp., one of the founding members of COMPETE. “If COMPETE members had an issue or conflict with the hydro agenda, it would have been discussed.”

The dispute highlights the complexity at work in the energy bill, which, if passed, would be the first comprehensive update to the nation’s energy policy in years. The bill addresses such a vast array of issues that clients with narrow interests may see conflicts looming with other industry players.

Malina took on COMPETE as a client when the group formed in February. At the time, it included only six energy companies. That list has grown considerably since, and the group posted a membership list on Monday that ran in excess of 60 companies, including 7-Eleven and Wal-Mart.

While Malina is the only Washington lobbyist working for the hydropower alliance, he joins a substantial team working for COMPETE that includes the Nickles Group, the firm founded by former Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), and William Massey, a former commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission who’s now a lobbyist with Covington and Burling.

Efforts by the coalition to strip states of their jurisdiction over energy markets have been met with harsh criticism from consumer groups, who argue the change would enrich energy companies at ratepayers’ expense.

“It’s unquestionably going to lead to higher prices,” said Public Citizen’s Tyson Slocum.

Slocum said the coalition stands to reap a major victory in the energy bill, which includes language encouraging FERC to offer incentives for companies to join regional electricity markets.

Malina countered that his group has largely played defense in the debate, seeking only to strike from the bill Senate language that would have prohibited FERC from requiring companies to join regional markets. In that, he said, they have succeeded.