A lobbying firm that fought environmental protections and received funding from large utilities, such as Tri-State Generation and Transmission, plans to dissolve. Tri-State provides power to Southwest Colorado through Empire Electric Association and La Plata Electric Association.
The firm, Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG, pronounced you-argh), announced its plans to cease existence last week after a congressional investigation was opened in early April against the group. UARG has formed a committee to assist with the investigation, according a news release.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce is investigating how UARG operates and activities of the group’s former employees who now work at the Environmental Protection Agency. The committee suspects the group’s former lawyers may be continuing to work in the interests of utility companies within the EPA.
UARG was a secretive organization that was run out of the law firm Hunton & Williams and is known for fighting Clean Air Act rules, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. The Clean Air Act governs the emissions of air pollutants, such as mercury.
Tri-State was among the power companies funding the lobbying firm and participated in the leadership of the group. In 2017, Tri-State paid $167,418 to UARG, according to Politico. It was a small slice of the $8.2 million the group received in 2017 from power companies and industry groups.
Many of the power companies that funded the lobbying group rely heavily on coal. About 48% of Tri-State’s power comes from coal, according to the Center for New Energy Economy.
Tri-State did not announce plans to leave the lobbying group as other large utilities did after the congressional investigation was announced.
But in an email to The Durango Herald, Lee Boughey, Tri-State’s spokesman, said the co-op is supportive of UARG’s decision to dissolve because the needs of the industry are evolving. In a formal letter in April, the congressional committee asked Tri-State to respond to a series of questions about its relationship to the lobbying group and the source of money that was paid to UARG. The committee also asked Tri-State for numerous documents related to UARG and the EPA.
Tri-State intends to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, Boughey said.
He did not respond to an emailed question asking for the information that the co-op provided to the congressional committee.
LPEA’s board did not discuss the congressional investigation during its Wednesday meeting, said Guinn Unger, a board member. But in his opinion, UARG’s dissolution is a positive step.
“The transparency of people suddenly seeing what these people were doing really put the pressure on them to change their ways or just dissolve,” he said.