Sen. Lamar Alexander attacks local newspaper for criticizing his vote for EPA rules

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander is attacking a newspaper in his state for criticizing his vote to help President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency implement what the paper considers an economically devastating regulation.

On June 20 Alexander was one of five GOP senators who voted to allow the EPA to implement Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology regulations, which will force coal energy plants to install giant scrubber-like materials inside smokestacks to capture and cleanse carbon particles.

The upgrade cost could fall on company employees and coal miners in the form of layoffs, as well as on businesses that might have to pay more for energy.

Business leaders – including Obama’s own Small Business Administration – have pointed out how this regulation, contrary to EPA estimates, will be economically disastrous. In a lengthy letter to EPA Director Lisa Jackson last summer, Obama’s Small Business Administration’s advocacy office wrote that the EPA “may have significantly understated” the economic “burden this rulemaking would impose on small entities.”

The other four Republican senators who voted in favor of the regulations were Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Susan Collins of Maine.

Had those Republicans voted the other way – in favor of a resolution Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe sponsored that would have blocked EPA implementation of the MACT regulations – the regulations would have been blocked. That’s because five Democrats – Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Warner of Virginia and Jim Webb of Virginia – voted with the majority of Republicans on the measure.

Alexander’s vote prompted a local newspaper in Tennessee – the Chattanooga Times Free Press – to look into the situation. The paper found that shortly after Alexander’s vote in favor of the EPA regulation, a liberal environmentalist organization – the Environmental Defense Fund – launched a $200,000 ad campaign to thank Alexander for his vote.

After making the discovery, the Times Free Press ran an editorial on July 9 titled “Lamar sells out,” in which the paper lays out the economic impact of the regulation and how Alexander is getting $200,000 worth of friendly ads from a liberal group for voting in favor of it. “How much is a vote worth?” the piece leads off. “Tennesseans now know the answer since Sen. Lamar Alexander traded his vote in defense of the wrongheaded, ridiculous Utility MACT regulation in return for $200,000 in ads courtesy of an alarmist environmental outfit.”

That editorial didn’t sit well with Alexander: He sent in a letter responding to it, accusing the paper of printing inaccuracies aimed at smearing him and demanded a retraction.

“Never would I have imagined that the first newspaper to accuse me of a felony would be the Free Press, which has a distinguished reputation for high standards and fairness,” Alexander wrote. “Your editorial charges that I ‘traded’ my clean air vote in return for $200,000 in television ads. If you have evidence, let’s have it. If not, the honorable thing to do is retract it. Your charge is harmful, malicious and untrue.”

“The truth: When the U.S. Senate voted on clean air on June 20, the only ads running that I knew about were attacking me as ‘anti-coal,’” Alexander added. “Later, two groups ran ads thanking me for supporting clean air. One of these was a conservative group, one an environmental group. I did not coordinate with any of these groups on their ads. Your editorial not only is untrue. It is inaccurate, reckless and misleading.”

In response to Alexander’s letter, the Times Free Press fired back again, sticking to its guns. The paper accused Alexander of trying to silence it. “No one likes to receive criticism for choices they make,” said a new editorial that ran alongside Alexander’s letter on Thursday. “Still, this page was saddened and disappointed to receive the letter – printed elsewhere on this page – that you authored in an attempt to silence criticism of you.”

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