Clean Air Villain of the Month

June 2002


Testifies Against Cleaning Up Pollution That Harms Its Clients

(Washington, D.C. June 12, 2002) - The nonprofit Clean Air Trust today named Catholic Charities of Cleveland as the clean air "villain of the month" for June 2002.

The Ohio-based group was cited because it testified today in the United States Senate in opposition to legislation aimed at reducing harmful pollution from coal-burning electric power plants.

The Catholic Charities' testimony "raises numerous questions," said , executive director of the Clean Air Trust.

Catholic Charities' position was "truly startling," said O'Donnell, because its eight-county service area in Northeast Ohio includes 185,000 people who suffer from asthma, including 36,000 children, according to American Lung Association statistics. Nearly all of these children live in neighborhoods hardest hit by pollution generated by power plants in the Cleveland area.

The Cleveland area regularly experiences unhealthful levels of ozone, or smog. For example, in 2000, the Cleveland area recorded 39 days with unhealthful levels of smog.

At a hearing today before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the president of Cleveland Catholic Charities Health and Human Services complained about the high cost of electricity and its impact on the poor. He asserted that cleanup legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) would have a "negative impact on millions of people in our country and in my state of Ohio."

O'Donnell noted that the Catholic Charities president cited only statistics provided by the electric power industry's lobbying arm, the Edison Electric Institute.

"This creates the unfortunate appearance that Catholic Charities of Cleveland was acting as a front for the electric power industry," said O'Donnell. "It also raises questions about its connections to the electric power industry."

O'Donnell noted that it was a "curious coincidence" that the group's fund-raising arm, Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Foundation, includes on its board of trustees one H. Peter Burg, Chairman and CEO of FirstEnergy Corp., which is being sued by the Justice Department for alleged violations of air pollution requirements. FirstEnergy is a prominent member of the Edison Electric Institute.

FirstEnergy's PAC (to which Burg has contributed) has given 2002 cycle campaign contributions to several senators on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, including Senators George Voinovich (R-OH), Bob Smith (R-NH), James Inhofe (R-OK), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Bob Graham (D-FL).

Privately, Burg has also contributed this campaign cycle to Senator Bob Smith, to the Edison Electric Institute's PAC, to Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) and to various members of the House of Representatives.

Catholic Charities of Cleveland is no stranger to political controversy. In 2000, it hosted presidential campaigner George Bush, who was then reeling from primary defeats by John McCain and a controversial speech that Bush had made at Bob Jones University. Bush used a Catholic Charities facility to make another speech that helped right his campaign right before the crucial "Super Tuesday" primaries.

Much of Catholic Charities' budget comes from the federal government in the form of contracts.

Catholic Charities of Cleveland also gave an award in 2000 to Senator Voinovich, who apparently arranged for the group to testify today.