Politico Acknowledges Energy Op-Ed Writer's Conflict of Interest


After inquiries from Media Matters, Politico has updated an op-ed on energy policy authored by former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) to acknowledge his role at a law firm that represents energy companies that would benefit from the policies he supported in the piece.

In his November 4 op-ed, Stupak argued that as part of a "grand bargain," congressional proposals "must include significant segments in regard to energy consumption and our environmental footprint," including an increased focus on "clean coal," natural gas, and renewable energy sources.

Politico originally identified Stupak as only "a Democrat from Michigan" who "served in Congress on the House Energy and Commerce Committee." But Stupak is currently a partner at Venable LLP, where he represents clients in the energy industry. Venable's energy practice includes clients in the "clean coal," natural gas, and renewables sectors.

Asked for comment on why Stupak's conflict of interest had not been disclosed, Politico managing editor Bill Nichols responded, "It's a totally fair point; we should have disclosed that to readers and we'll update the piece to do that and acknowledge the error." Nichols also said Politico plans to run a correction in Monday's print edition.

Stupak's original description from Politico has since been replaced with the following text: "CORRECTION: An earlier version of this opinion piece failed to note that Bart Stupak is employed by a law firm that does work in the energy sector."

In April of 2011, Stupak joined Venable "as a partner in the Legislative and Government Affairs Group." His profile on the Venable website notes:

As Congressman to Michigan's First Congressional District for 18 years, Mr. Stupak developed a deep understanding of issues that directly affected his constituents, including matters related to energy, healthcare, telecommunications and international trade. As an attorney at Venable, he is in a unique position to provide clients with well-informed, extensive counsel that is based on a thorough knowledge of these industries and related legislation.

Venable lists "Energy" as one of Stupak's "areas of practice."

Venable highlighted Stupak's op-ed on the firm's Energy news page alongside other news stories that mention the firm.

In his op-ed, Stupak writes that "[e]ach party needs to acknowledge that its current energy policy contains both advantages and limitations," and calls on both parties to come together to pass legislative initiatives which would benefit Venable's clients:

Stupak writes: "Democrats must admit that securing natural gas through hydraulic fracking is a boon to rural economies. Republicans must concede that fracking, as confirmed by a recent Government Accountability Office report, poses health and environmental concerns and the federal government has a role in regulating this potentially dangerous activity. After all, what good is cheap natural gas if it results in contamination of our lakes, rivers, streams and drinking water?"

Venable connection: Venable's Energy practice website states that the firm has an "industry focus" on consumers and producers of natural gas, natural gas pipelines, and transportation and storage of natural gas. Notably, Venable represents Noble Energy, whose website boasts about their presence in the Marcellus Shale (an underground rock formation present in several northeastern states), which Noble describes as "among the lowest cost domestic shale plays." Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method of extracting natural gas from formations like the Marcellus Shale.

OpenSecrets reports that Noble has paid Venable $560,000 for federal lobbying so far in 2012. In 2011, Noble paid Venable $650,000 for federal lobbying.

Stupak writes: "Democrats cannot ignore coal as an abundant and affordable energy supply. Republicans must urge the coal industry to develop more effective 'clean coal' technologies to protect the environment."

Venable connection: Venable represents the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. The group says that it "believes that the use of coal, America's most abundant energy resource, is essential to providing affordable, reliable electricity for millions of American consumers and a growing domestic economy." The New York Times reported that members of the Coalition "include coal producers like Peabody Energy and Arch Coal."

Stupak writes: "Republicans cannot ignore that wind, solar, battery technology and biofuels offer real opportunities to bolster our economy and position America on the forefront of the new energy revolution."

Venable connection: Venable's Energy practice website states that the firm has an "industry focus" on "Renewable energy-biomass, geothermal, hydro, solar, wind" and that they have experience representing a solar power firm in state and federal regulatory and legislative initiatives. Venable also represents the Solar Energy Industries Association, which describes itself as "the national trade association in the U.S." whose "member companies research, manufacture, distribute, finance, and build solar projects domestically and abroad."

Posted In
Environment & Science, Energy
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