U.S. House panel investigating DTE, other utilities, for industry group ties

By: - April 11, 2019 3:56 pm

DTE headquarters, Detroit via Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Detroit-based DTE Energy Co. is one of eight utility companies under investigation by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, according to a statement on Thursday by the committee.

The committee, which is chaired by U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), is investigating the involvement of DTE and other utilities around the country with the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG). The committee called UARG “a secretive front group funded by utility companies and devoted to rolling back Clean Air Act (CAA) regulations.”

More broadly, the committee members are probing whether two officials with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — who previously worked as attorneys and lobbyists for UARG — are continuing to “illicitly serve their old client,” while also working for the EPA.

William Wehrum is currently assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA. David Harlow is the environmental regulatory body’s senior counsel for the Office of Air and Radiation.

Under President Donald Trump, the EPA and other environmental regulatory agencies have undergone periods of sweeping deregulation. On Wednesday, the president signed two executive orders easing regulations on oil pipelines, while tying the hands of state officials.

Earlier on Thursday, the U.S. Senate confirmed a former oil lobbyist to head the Department of the Interior, David Bernhardt.

In their letter to DTE chair and CEO Gerrard Anderson, Pallone and subcommittee Chairs Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) note that DTE in 2017 contributed $301,827 “to fund UARG activities.”

The sources of UARG’s funding from utilities like DTE and other industry groups totaled $8.2 million in 2017, as Politico first reported.

“UARG has avoided any transparency, with details of its funding and internal organization only recently revealed,” the three committee leaders wrote to each of the utilities. “Because of your company’s participation in UARG, we are writing to request certain materials from your company to assist the Committee in its investigation of these issues.”

In an emailed statement to the Advance, DTE said it’s looking into the requests of the committee and touted its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2040.

“DTE, along with most other energy companies, participates in industry groups, such as UARG, as well as with several environmental groups,” the company said. “They work with us to advocate for appropriate and reasonable regulations that ensure we have strong environmental standards and the ability to serve our customers. As part of the investigation, they are seeking information from the industry and we are reviewing their requests.”

Specifically, the committee has requested that DTE share scores of documents related to its financial relationship with UARG as well as answer questions about the sources of its funding for the group and whether that is “consistent with your obligations to ratepayers.”

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.