The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 15, 2016 8:51 pm

Power and utility

Gov. Mike Pence is in Japan this week, traveling with a delegation that includes five executives of the state’s biggest utility companies. They share the governor’s interest in drawing new business to Indiana, but they also share an interest in fighting federal clean air regulations.

With nearly $2 million in campaign contributions and donations to the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the utility companies enjoy access to the governor that few other Hoosiers are allowed, including Hoosiers who want Pence to reconsider his rejection of carbon standards intended to fight pollution. Hoosiers who believe climate change is imperiling lives, health and economic well-being are at a disadvantage.

As a member of Congress, Pence faced restrictions on campaign contributions. Individuals or a business’ political action committee can’t give more than $5,400 to a federal candidate in a single election cycle.

As governor, however, Pence has collected more than $160,000 from utility companies and their related political action committees, according to The Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly.

More important, those contributors have given nearly $2 million to the IEDC Foundation, which has spent more than $600,000 for the governor to lead utility executives and others to Japan, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Israel and China over the past two years.

The foundation also paid for an event at a corporate suite at Yankee Stadium last month, where Pence entertained business prospects along with executives from NIPSCO, Indiana Michigan Power, Duke Energy and other utility companies.

The tab for Yankees tickets and food for 65 people totaled $24,000, while $6,500 more was spent on travel and accommodations for the governor and IEDC staff.

The governor has a long and consistent record of fighting government regulation; it’s not surprising his re-election campaign attracts the support of coal and power company executives. As the single biggest source of carbon pollution, power plant operators are the loudest critics of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

What should concern Hoosiers, however, is in the access those executives have to Pence, who has been outspoken in his criticism of tougher pollution standards. As Indiana and other states battle floods, wind storms and other weather extremes resulting in death and destruction, the governor should show some willingness to listen to views beyond coal and utility company officials.

Kerwin Olson, executive director for Citizens Action Coalition, told Kelly he wasn’t surprised by the money going to Pence’s campaign and the IEDC foundation.

“Utilities have always been big contributors at the State­house,” Olson said. “In order to maintain favorable reg­u­latory conditions, you have to shake hands and make friends.”

But Olson also offers a logical route for the governor to take if he truly believes Indiana’s economy will be harmed by the Clean Power Plan.

Pence could develop a carbon reduction plan before the federal government imposes one that is too costly or forces the state to buy emission allowances from another state. Indiana has until 2018 to come up with a plan.

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