Trump dines with energy lobbyist whose client seeks power bailout

Energy companies lined up for Jeff Miller's services after Rick Perry, his former boss, was named Energy secretary.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry's former campaign manager Jeff Miller is now a lobbyist for FirstEnergy Solutions, which is seeking an emergency bailout from the Department of Energy. CREDIT: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images
Energy Secretary Rick Perry's former campaign manager Jeff Miller is now a lobbyist for FirstEnergy Solutions, which is seeking an emergency bailout from the Department of Energy. CREDIT: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images

A GOP lobbyist and strategist, who managed Rick Perry’s 2016 presidential bid, reportedly dined with President Trump Wednesday night. The dinner comes at the same time as an affiliate of one of the lobbyist’s clients, FirstEnergy Service Co., is seeking emergency intervention by the administration to save its coal and nuclear power plants.

Jeff Miller, president of lobbying firm Miller Strategies LLC, attended a dinner in Washington, D.C. organized by America First Action, a pro-President Trump super PAC. Over the past year, Miller has lobbied for numerous energy companies, including FirstEnergy Service Co., a subsidiary of Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp.

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FirstEnergy Solutions, an affiliate of Miller’s client, FirstEnergy Service Co., filed for bankruptcy protection on April 1. FirstEnergy Service Co., which was not part of the bankruptcy filing, provides legal, financial, and other corporate support services for its parent company FirstEnergy Corp.

Two days prior to the bankruptcy filing, FirstEnergy Solutions sent a letter to Miller’s former boss, and now head of the Department of Energy (DOE), Rick Perry, urging him to issue a power emergency in the eastern U.S. so that the company could make money off its coal and nuclear plants.

The letter followed a failed effort by Perry in 2017 to get the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to subsidize coal and nuclear plants that had 90 days of fuel on site. The commission rejected the request in January. FERC’s new chairman, Kevin McIntyre, who voted against the bailout proposal, had FirstEnergy as a client at his law firm of Jones Day, where he was a partner, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Perry has not hinted at how he will rule on the company’s request, although having his former campaign manager in his ear as a well-paid lobbyist can’t hurt FirstEnergy Solutions’ chances.

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Miller has been credited with Perry’s political reinvention — the square glasses and helping him remember all the agencies he’ll cut. Perry now heads one of those agencies, and FirstEnergy Solutions is hoping the former governor of Texas will use his power to help the company return to its profitable days.

Many industry observers appeared bewildered by FirstEnergy Solutions’ emergency request. The top trade group for the oil and gas industry, for example, was highly critical of FirstEnergy’s request. The American Petroleum Institute called on FirstEnergy “to stop misleading the public on the future of its power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania.”

FirstEnergy hired Miller in August 2017 and paid him a total of $220,000 for the rest of the year to work on “issues associated with organized electricity markets.” Miller remained a FirstEnergy lobbyist when Perry proposed the bailout of coal and nuclear plants in September 2017 and continues working on behalf of FirstEnergy today.

Scott Amey, an attorney with Project on Government Oversight, told ThinkProgress in an interview last year that Miller’s past work for Perry helped him quickly build up a large client base. “If he has a personal relationship with the secretary of energy that’s going to be a selling point for him,” Amey said.

Jeff Miller, former campaign manager for former Rick Perry's 2016 presidential bid, listens to Perry address the National Press Club Luncheon July 2, 2015 in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Jeff Miller, former campaign manager for former Rick Perry's 2016 presidential bid, listens to Perry address the National Press Club Luncheon July 2, 2015 in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Miller had not responded to ThinkProgress’ request for comment on his lobbying on behalf of FirstEnergy.

Southern Co., the primary sponsor of a troubled nuclear power plant project in Georgia, also hired Miller to lobby on its behalf. The company paid Miller $200,000 in 2017 for his services, presumably for his access to Perry and other members of the Trump administration, according to lobbying records. Southern Co. is relying on $3.7 billion in DOE-backed loans to build a nuclear power plant in Georgia.

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Miller’s other clients last year included the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nation’s top nuclear power lobbying group; Occidental Petroleum Corp.; Dow Chemical Co.; and Valero Energy Corp.

Over a nearly two-year period, Miller served as campaign manager for Perry’s 2016 run for the Republican nomination for president. In January 2016, Perry, doing poorly in the polls, ended his campaign and endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for the nomination.

Miller also helped guide Perry through the Senate confirmation process to become Energy secretary, according to an E&E News report.

FirstEnergy was formed in 1997 through the merger of Ohio Edison Co. and Centerior Energy Corp. Over the next 15 years, it sought to shrink its regulated business, where public utility commissions approved reliable returns, with the goal of producing even bigger profits in its unregulated unit.

At the time, FirstEnergy was seeking to follow the lead of Enron, which was taking many risky steps to extract big financial returns from newly competitive electricity markets. Enron crashed and burned in 2001 when it filed for bankruptcy as a result of its poor strategic decisions and financial shenanigans.

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FirstEnergy has also made many strategic mistakes over the years, including transferring its power plants from its regulated utility subsidiaries — where it could get stable returns on its investments — into an unregulated subsidiary, FirstEnergy Solutions. In 2011, FirstEnergy also acquired Allegheny Energy, a merger that turned out to be disaster because Allegheny Energy owned several uneconomic coal plants.

By betting on coal and failing to diversify, FirstEnergy Solutions was forced to file for bankruptcy protection last weekend.

In a recent op-ed, Dick Munson, director of Midwest clean energy for the Environmental Defense Fund, wrote, “FirstEnergy long has been trying to make up for its bad business decisions, and the utility giant now wants taxpayers or ratepayers to cover its mistakes with giant subsidies.”