Connecting the political dots in Wes Clark's proposed Pine Bluff fuel facility | Arkansas Blog

Connecting the political dots in Wes Clark's proposed Pine Bluff fuel facility

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WORKING THE CROWD: Lobbyist Rodney Slater (in suit) shakes hands with Highway Director Scott Bennett at a highway event. - GOOD ROADS MAGAZINE
  • Good Roads magazine
  • WORKING THE CROWD: Lobbyist Rodney Slater (in suit) shakes hands with Highway Director Scott Bennett at a highway event.

Read about the project led by Wesley Clark and Rodney Slater to build a $3 billion plant near Pine Bluff to convert gas to liquid fuels? Big deal. Big money. Big politics.

Here's an interesting report on the players in the project from Desmog, a blog devoted to climate science issues.

Energy Security Partners was founded by Clark and has signed a lease on land near Pine Bluff for the plant.

Clark and Slater have old Clinton ties, of course. But this project has bipartisan players as welg.

In February this year, ESP added Andrew Card, former Transportation Secretary during Bush Sr.’s administration and White House Chief of Staff for Bush Jr., to its Board of Directors. Card, a former lobbyist for the automobile industry, is currently President of Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire. A long-time GOP insider, Card recently served as a surrogate to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign.

Why was Card, a leading Republican, added to this group of Democratic entrepreneurs?

For one, Card sits on the Board of Directors of Union Pacific, a freight-rail company that ships fossil fuels and owns a line right on the proposed GTL site. Earlier this month he gave a private, “invitation-only briefing” to executives at the Petroleum Equipment and Services Association’s (PESA) annual meeting. In addition, Card serves as an Advisor for the American Council on Capital Formation, a right-wing think tank that often attacks environmental regulation and promotes LNG projects.

But then the Arkansas angle gets interesting. Highlights from Desmog's reporting:

* ESP in January hired Martha Hill, wife of U.S. Rep. French Hill, a Little Rock Republican, as a lobbyist.

* Andrew Card, coincidentally, was paid for travel by French Hill's re-election campaign. He was also a contributor to Hill's campaign.

* Hill's campaign finance leader was financier Warren Stephens. (The article says Hill "hired" Stephens, which indicates some lack of sophistication about how things work in campaign finance.) Stephens Inc., the article says, once employed Wesley Clark as an adviser.

* French Hill has supported the fossil fuels industry in Congress, notably with support for the Keystone XL pipeline and an end to a ban on crude oil exports.

* French Hill is an investor in fossil fuel and rail carriers. The holdings include Fallon Energy Fund I, owned by Arkansas oil and gas man Bennie Westphal.

* French Hill made $3.2 million when he sold his bank, Delta Trust, to Simmons First National of Pine Bluff and remained on its board through 2014. 

* The Economic Development Corporation of Jefferson County, which is chaired by Simmons' CEO George Makris, has given a $4 million incentive package to ESP. Makris, says Desmog, is also an investor in ESP's project.  For that reason, he didn't participate in the incentive vote by the Corporation. He also told Desmog that it is his personal, not bank, money in ESP. He also said the banking done by the Economic Development Corporation with Simmons was done free of bank charge.

* The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department recently agreed to construction a new interstate highway exit to serve the plant's expected truck traffic. It will cost $5 million. The Highway Department refused to provide information to Desmog on how the developer's request for a interchange was handled in the department, or by whom. Three options were considered, with the expensive interchange winning out.

* Desmog said Rodney Slater had met with the governor's highway funding working group before the interchange budgeting was decided. At that meeting, Highway Commissioner Frank Scott acknowledged Slater's presence and referred to him as "my mentor."

* Also at the meeting was Highway Commissioner Thomas Schueck of Little Rock, whom Clark has credited in his book with providing him valuable "lessons in business." They served together on the Little Rock Airport Commission until Schueck's term expired last year.

* Slater is a former highway commissioner who maintains strong ties to the department. His brother-in-law is former state Sen. Hank Wilkins, unopposed in November for election as Jefferson County judge. Wilkins was a public advocate for Slater's project.

The plant has been touted as creating more than 200 permanent jobs. If all goes well, the article notes, some local people could get much bigger economic benefits. Desmog also has environmental concerns:

While GTL technology does produce cleaner, zero sulfur and lower carbon products, they are still fossil fuels. Not to mention the plant’s heavy reliance on copious amounts of fracked natural gas.

Seems like 1992 all over again — a small, interconnected state where just about everybody knows everybody.


PS: Worth noting that current low gas prices have put a wrinkle in others' ideas about converting it to liquid fuel.

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