Utility lobbyists play while the rest of us pay

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Let’s give credit where credit is due. I want to acknowledge the accomplishments of the Republican leadership this session. Politicians are often criticized for not living up to their promises. This session, Speaker Steve Sviggum went above and beyond the call of duty to meet his obligations to a very special group of lobbyists.

On February 8, 2006, the _Star Tribune’s_ Dane Smith reported that two House Republican chairmen sent out a fundraising letter to utility and fossil fuel lobbyists citing past “accomplishments” of “blocking the renewable-energy standard”. The letter urged them to contribute $200 to $300, because they expected the same legislation to come back again this year. In the same article House Speaker Steve Sviggum defended his caucus: “I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is not pay-to-play in our legislature.” Republican leaders were correct: the 20 percent Renewable Electricity Standard legislation did come back this year. But it also appears that paying sure helps utility and fossil lobbyists to play.

Recent polls show that almost 90 percent of Minnesotans support a 20 percent Renewable Energy Standard, and national polls rank energy as one of the most important issues for Americans. Minnesotans understand that creating a 21st Century Energy policy is good public planning that will help to make our state more energy independent. Minnesota construction, manufacturing, and agricultural industries realize the economic benefits of reversing the $20 billion dollars per-year our state exports to purchase energy. Joining the other twenty states that have already adopted a Renewable Electricity Standard is good for the economy, good for our families, and creates energy independence.

The Minnesota Senate listened to Minnesotans and passed an Omnibus Energy Bill that included the 20 percent Renewable Electricity Standard by a bi-partisan 53 to 12 margin this session. Good for them! So what’s the problem? One hundred and sixty special interest lobbyists paying big dollars to play in our legislature. That’s the problem – yours and mine.

As WCCO TV’s Pat Kessler reported on May 4, 2006:

“In fact, last year alone, Minnesota’s big energy lobby – big electricity, big gas, big oil and big coal – spent $4.4 million at the Capitol.

That’s almost $22,000 per year, per legislator for Capitol access.”

And, according to Kessler, what do they spend all the money fighting? “The big energy companies, however, continue to fight against a bill requiring them to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020.” They have 160 lobbyists working to stop this legislation.

Yet, Speaker Sviggum looked a reporter straight in the eye and said: “it is not pay-to-play.” If that is true, why then for a second year did the very popular 20 percent Renewable Electricity Standard not even get a hearing with a committee vote in the House? Why then did Speaker Sviggum kill the entire Omnibus Energy bill? That’s right, after manufacturing, construction, and agricultural groups succeeded in passing the 20 percent Renewable Electricity Standard in the Senate, Speaker Sviggum promised utility and fossil fuel lobbyists he would not pass any energy legislation, because these lobbyists feared the immensely popular 20 percent Renewable Electricity Standard would be attached. Voters need to give credit where it is due.

_Aaron Peterson (DFL-Madison) is the House author of the Renewable Energy Standard (HF 1798)._

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