For Ren­dell, Jes­sup plant might prove fer­tile

The Times-Tribune - - Op-ed - BY ROD­ER­ICK RAN­DOM

For­mer Gov. Ed Ren­dell plays pol­i­tics at the high­est lev­els so his last-minute in­ter­est in a rel­a­tively small power plant in Jes­sup sur­prised more than a few peo­ple.

Look a lit­tle deeper and maybe the for­mer Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man’s in­ter­est gets clearer.

In case you missed it, Mr. Ren­dell wrote an opin­ion col­umn fa­vor­ing In­ven­ergy Ther­mal De­vel­op­ment LLC’s pro­posed Jes­sup nat­u­ral gas plant. The Times-Tri­bune pub­lished the col­umn Tues­day and wrote a story about it just a day be­fore the Jes­sup coun­cil took the first step to­ward back­ing a zon­ing amend­ment that could even­tu­ally al­low In­ven­ergy to build the plant.

Mr. Ren­dell said he was not paid by In­ven­ergy or any­one as­so­ci­ated with the pro­ject, and we’ll take him at his word, but he’s no vir­gin here.

His most be­nign in­ter­est is his long-held belief that the state — and the na­tion, for that mat­ter — is bet­ter off switch­ing to al­ter­na­tive forms of energy. As gover­nor, he pushed the state to buy up to 20 per­cent of its elec­tric­ity from wind, so­lar and other al­ter­na­tive energy sources. Nat­u­ral gas, be­cause it’s still a fos­sil fuel, isn’t viewed as al­ter­na­tive energy by many en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, but it pro­duces less globe-warm­ing car­bon-diox­ide emis­sions than coal-pow­ered plants. Mr. Ren­dell knows that and said that, re­fer­ring to the In­ven­ergy pro­ject as one that con­tin­ues to move the state to­ward cre­at­ing “good-pay­ing, mid­dle-class jobs while mov­ing to­ward a cleaner energy econ­omy.”

What he didn’t say is the law firm he works for loves clean energy, too.

Af­ter he left the gover­nor’s of­fice, he re­joined Bal­lard Spahr LLP of Philadelphia, where Mr. Ren­dell was a part­ner for three ye ar s af­ter his sec­ond term as Philadelphia mayor ended and be­fore his days as gover nor. When he re­turned there in 2011, a firm news re­lease s ai d he was re­join­ing as a part­ner, but now he’s listed as a spe­cial coun­sel. His bi­og­ra­phy on the firm’s web­site calls him “a cham­pion for progress in the area of al­ter­na­tive energy.” We’ll give him that. Bal­lard Spahr, ac­cord­ing to its web­site, rep­re­sents “pro­duc­ers and dis­trib­u­tors of elec­tric­ity from re­new­able and other sources, op­er­a­tors of re­gional whole­sale energy mar­kets, nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­ers, and large in­dus­trial con- sumers of nat­u­ral gas.”

Not to men­tion they “also rep­re­sent un­der­writ­ers, pri­vate is­suers, banks, and oth­ers who in­vest in energy as­sets.”

One com­pany Bal­lard Spahr has rep­re­sented and hopes to keep rep­re­sent­ing, ac­cord­ing to one doc­u­ment we f ound, is NRG Energy, a huge al­ter­na­tive and con­ven­tional energy com­pany. Dur­ing the first quar­ter of this year, NRG Energy’s main sub­sidiary joined In­ven­ergy in ac­quir­ing a ma­jor­ity stake in Spring Canyon II and III, a wind-power farm in north­east Colorado.

Theres noth­ing wrong with any of this. NRG and In­ven­ergy can hook up on projects, and Mr. Ren­dell can back what­ever projects he wants. It’s a free coun­try, but he isn’t in­ter­est-free when it comes to Jes­sup. That’s not all. As a politi­cian, no one raised cam­paign money bet­ter than Ed Ren­dell. His cam­paigns broke records for fundrais­ing in Penn­syl­va­nia gu­ber­na­to­rial races.

Some of his con­trib­u­tors even live here. One big one, es­pe­cially. Since 2005, real- es­tate devel­oper Wil­liam F. Ri­naldi of Moosic con­trib­uted $66,072 to Mr. Ren­dell’s cam­paigns for gover­nor and the gover­nor cam­paign’s suc­ces­sor po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee, Keep­ing Amer­ica Com­pet­i­tive, which is based in Philadelphia. His most re­cent con­tri­bu­tion, $5,000, came in De­cem­ber 2013.

That was 14 months af­ter In­ven­ergy signed an op­tion to buy the land where its Jes­sup power plant will go. The Pom­pey Coal Co. owns the land.

Old- t i mers prob­a­bly re­mem­ber Pom­pey. Pom­pey is a coal-era relic. Formed in June 1931, the com­pany mined coal. It pretty much went out of busi­ness, but its land hold­ings stayed with the owner’s de­scen­dants. In the last few years, they sold their in­ter­ests in the acres where the plant would go to Pom­pey.

Wil­liam F. Ri­naldi is Pom­pey’s pres­i­dent.

Again, there’s noth­ing wrong with any of this. Peo­ple can con­trib­ute to any­one they want to. As long as politi­cians don’t openly trade the con­tri­bu­tions for fa­vors to their donors, this is all per­fectly le­gal.

Mr. Ren­dell might not even re­al­ize that one of his big con­trib­u­tors is in­volved in the deal. Heck, he had a lot of even big con­trib­u­tors, some of them a lot big­ger. (That guy in Dun­more comes to mind.)

Be­sides, Mr. Ren­dell said it was the In­ven­ergy folks who asked him to weigh in, not Mr. Ri­naldi, who has the deal with In­ven­ergy.

It’s doubt­ful Mr. Ren­dell’s op-ed swayed any­one on Jes­sup’s coun­cil. Af­ter all, he wasn’t the first to tell coun­cil mem­bers they should vote to pave the way for In­ven­ergy.

Maybe he has another, greater pur­pose in mind. Mr. Ren­dell is chair­man of Katie McGinty’s cam­paign for the U.S. Se­nate next year. She’s go­ing to need a lot of money. The for­mer state en­vi­ron­men­tal sec­re­tary loves al­ter­na­tive energy, too. She re­ally pushed it in her year on the job, but Mr. Ren­dell is the rain­maker when it comes to rais­ing cam­paign money.

He was al­ways great at rais­ing money from busi­ness in­ter­ests for his cam­paigns, in­clud­ing from the gas in­dus­try.

Ed Ren­dell backed that lit­tle power plant in Jes­sup, but he’s a com­pli­cated guy who loves to paint the larger pic­ture.

BO­RYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tri­bune pol­i­tics re­porter, writes Ran­dom Notes, which has ap­peared weekly since Novem­ber 1895.


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