During a two-week span in July 2011, eight eastern Kentucky politicians signed supportive but misleading letters seeking to advance the cause of a proposed biomass-burning plant in Perry County.
Most of the letters were brief, just three or four paragraphs. And unless they were laid side-by-side, it would be easy to miss the fact that they all contained virtually the same wording, paragraph by paragraph.
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting found that at least some of the legislative letters were crafted by advocates with a lot of skin in the game: ecoPower Generation, the company seeking to build the plant in Perry County, and its chief legislative supporter, state Sen. Brandon Smith of Hazard.
All eight letters significantly inflated the actual number of jobs that the project allegedly would create. And none addressed the significant environmental pollution that would result from the plant’s emissions.
Though such letters are common in politics, these had an impact. They were considered two years later by the state Public Service Commission when it reviewed, and eventually approved, a contract involving ecoPower.
The letters, which were sent to another state agency, were accompanied by a report from Gary Crawford, ecoPower’s chief executive office. In that report, Crawford asserted that the company “has received many favorable comments from policymakers” and others about the project, and that ”there was “near universal recognition of its benefits.” (Read Crawford’s letter)
Crawford did not mention that the alleged benefits were misrepresented, or that potential problems were ignored, or that ecoPower had asked at least some of the politicians to write the letters and also provided some with drafts or suggested material.
Smith and Crawford acknowledged in recent interviews that they “probably” had a hand in drafting at least some of the letters. Democratic Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, one of the legislators who signed a letter, said Crawford asked him to write it.
Asked whether ecoPower had supplied the politicians with a draft letter, Crawford replied, “Not all of them, but some of them, probably… I would think that could be a possibility.”
Smith, who also signed one, said he may have shared a suggested draft with some of his colleagues.
Others who signed letters included U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers; Greg Stumbo, speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives; and Rocky Adkins, the House majority floor leader. All three refused to discuss their letters.