August 13, 2009
BHP BILLITON and two US energy companies operating in Australia have been caught up in a lobbying scandal that was aimed at defeating the landmark US climate change bill but is now under investigation by a congressional committee.
The scandal involves 12 forged letters sent to members of Congress urging them to vote against the US climate change bill. The bill, which was passed by the US House of Representatives in June, is designed to cut America's greenhouse gas pollution and promote clean energy.
The forged letters were purportedly sent by grassroots groups in coalmining districts to three Democratic members. But a Washington lobby firm working on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity admitted that an employee forged the letters and faxed them.
BHP Billiton is a prominent member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity along with Peabody Energy, America's biggest coal company which owns mines in NSW and Queensland, and Chevron Mining which has two major gas projects in north west Australia.
The Democratic congressman Ed Markey, who co-sponsored the US climate change bill, announced an investigation into the forged letters calling them ''an appalling abuse'' and saying his committee would be examining the scope and extent of fraud in the lobbying campaign against the bill.
A spokesman for BHP Billiton in Australia declined to comment on the scandal but the chief executive of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, Stephen Miller, told The New York Times his group was ''outraged'' by the actions of the lobbying firm, Bonner and Associates.
''Based on the information we have, it is clear than an employee of Bonner's firm failed to demonstrate the integrity we demand of all our contractors and subcontractors.''
The firm's boss, Jack Bonner, said it had fired the employee responsible for sending the letters. It has previously been criticised for dubious tactics.