In the month following its declaration of bankruptcy and its request for an emergency order to support coal and nuclear plants, FirstEnergy Solutions spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying, documents show.
Lobbying filings show a bill of $230,000 for FirstEnergy Solutions with top lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld so far in 2018. In total, FirstEnergy spent about $750,000 on activities with the firm, billed under work on “energy regulation” as well as federal and state government affairs. FirstEnergy did not work with Akin Gump in 2017.
“The court filing includes fees for all services provided to FirstEnergy Solutions, including restructuring advice, corporate advice, regulatory advice, etc. The lobbying report includes only fees for lobbying services,” said a FirstEnergy Solutions spokersperson. “FirstEnergy Solutions has not engaged Akin Gump in connection with the 202(c) application or with advocating for relief under any other federal statute.”
Akin Gump’s invoice for May 30 through April 30, which it filed as part of FirstEnergy Solutions’ bankruptcy proceeding, shows that the firm billed for time spent in communication with members of Congress and in calls with the Department of Energy and the White House regarding FirstEnergy's Section 202(c) request.
The lawmakers Akin Gump contacted hail from coal states including Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Among those lobbying for FirstEnergy on behalf of the firm was Sam Olswanger, a former staff member for Republican Representative Daniel Webster of Florida, who has roots in West Virginia.
The Energy and Policy Institute, a renewable energy advocacy organization, annotated the recent filing and argued it showed the “high-priced campaign” FirstEnergy has waged to secure emergency assistance for coal and nuclear. It’s a market intervention that many in the energy industry, particularly the clean energy space, vehemently oppose.
“We welcome President Trump’s support and his recognition of the critical role that our plants play in the security and resilience of the nation’s electrical system. We look forward to reviewing Secretary Perry’s order when it is issued. While this marks an important first step, until timing and details of the order are clear, additional support at the state level will be necessary to protect the jobs in Ohio and Pennsylvania,” said Don Moul, President of FirstEnergy Solutions Generation Companies and Chief Nuclear Officer, in a statement.
The White House and the Department of Energy did not respond to request for comment regarding the filing.
Between 2008 and 2017, FirstEnergy Corp. spent an annual average of about $2.05 million on lobbying. Its spending hasn’t dipped below $1.8 million since 2011.
This year, Akin Gump seems to have found an audience with the administration. On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that the administration is preparing to use Section 202 of the Federal Power Act and the Defense Production Act to “stop the further premature retirements of fuel-secure generation capacity” from coal and nuclear.
And Akin Gump isn’t the only one working on the coal and nuclear bailout. Jeff Miller, a former adviser to Rick Perry who maintains close ties to the Trump administration, has signed clients including FirstEnergy Solutions parent company FirstEnergy Corp. since moving to Washington and founding his lobbying firm Miller Strategies last year.
In a Q1 2018 filing, Miller noted that his firm was lobbying the Energy Department, the Executive Office of the President and the U.S. House of Representatives on “issues related to grid resilience” for FirstEnergy.
In addition to the $330,000 FirstEnergy paid Miller in 2017 and so far in 2018, according to filings, the firm has also received $60,000 each from the Nuclear Energy Institute and Southern Company. A $110,000 lobbying filing for Pacific Electric & Gas mentions issues such as “climate resilience” that Miller’s firm brought before the Department of Energy, Executive Office of the President, and the U.S. House of Representatives.
While it’s not unusual for a company to hire lobbyists to pursue its interests in the halls of influence, Miller’s previous ties to the Trump administration are worth noting. As the Associated Press has reported, Miller ran Perry’s presidential campaign just two years ago and helped him through his confirmation process as Energy Secretary.
He has also contributed to the campaign coffers of Greg Pence, Mike Pence’s brother, who just won a congressional primary in Indiana. The president of America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC (political action committee), also confirmed to the AP that Miller works with the group as a volunteer.
On Friday, after Bloomberg broke the news that the administration was planning to move forward with plans to prop up coal and nuclear, President Trump asked Perry to draw up recommendations to do so.
During a Tuesday conference in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Energy Information Administration, the Department of Energy spoke for the first time since the memo release. Comments from Undersecretary of Energy Mark Menezes indicate DOE is sticking to the administration’s script.
"The president rightly views grid resilience as a national security issue,” he said, adding that closing nuclear and coal plants means “we’re losing more than grid resiliency; we’re losing energy security.”
This story has been updated to reflect comment from FirstEnergy Solutions.