Environmental groups backing Perry

July 22, 2008 3:48:46 PM PDT
Republican Gov. Rick Perry's quest to curb the nation's ethanol appetite is gaining him unlikely allies, including liberal environmental groups and companies that benefit from biofuel subsidies. Some longtime supporters encouraged his fight against the ethanol mandate and have given big campaign donations to Perry, who has championed coal plants and opposed new ozone restrictions.

But three national groups -- Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Working Group and Friends of the Earth -- also are supporting him. They have told federal regulators they back Perry's effort because ethanol production contributes to global warming.

Perry asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in April to reduce the requirement to blend 9 billion gallons of biofuels with gasoline this year. Diverting corn to make ethanol hurts livestock producers and contributes to higher food prices, he says.

Perry hasn't endorsed the biggest concern of environmentalists -- that industry emissions cause climate change.

"We didn't look into what other positions he took on other issues," Sandra Schubert, chief lobbyist for the Environmental Working Group, told The Dallas Morning News in Monday's editions. "Governor Perry may be more concerned about the economic impact to his state. We are very concerned about the food crisis and environmental impacts to his state."

Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Perry, said the governor didn't coordinate his waiver policy with environmental groups but said that he welcomed their support.

Perry's waiver request has given him a platform to challenge national energy policy. The EPA is trying to meet a Thursday deadline to rule on the request but may have to delay its answer because it has received so many public comments, according to EPA and congressional officials.

At a Washington news conference June 24, Perry appeared with influential trade groups critical of ethanol, such as the National Chicken Council. Perry's flight to Washington was funded by poultry executive Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim, who also donated $100,000 in March to the Republican Governors Association, which Perry leads.

Castle said Pilgrim's contributions didn't drive the governor's decision to seek the waiver. Perry has opposed ethanol mandates since July 2007, she said.

Some environmentalists have hesitated to jump on Perry's bandwagon because of what they see as his administration's ambivalence about cracking down on big polluters.

"For some environmental groups, the track record of the governor on most environmental issues is not one that would motivate them to get out and back something that he's requesting," said Ken Kramer, director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Kathleen Hartnett White, Perry's former chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, told a Texas House committee that state efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions would be "pointless, at best, and counterproductive, at worst."

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