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Easy being green

13 December 2011 By Daniel Indiviglio

Imagine buying stock in a company and then being in position to help change the law to enhance its value. Welcome to the U.S. Congress. A fuel subsidy proposal, if passed, would enrich Representative Nancy Pelosi because of her stake in a “green” firm that stands to benefit. It’s the latest sign that congressional trading rules are in desperate need of an overhaul.

Amid the flurry of legislation Congress is rushing to complete by year’s end is the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2011, or NATGAS Act. The proposal would, among other things, provide subsidies for driving vehicles powered by natural gas.

Clean Energy Fuels is one company that needs the government’s helping hand. It operates natural gas fueling stations for trucks. Clean Energy even said in its most recent quarterly earnings report that the success of its business plan depends in part on federal tax credits on natural gas. When a Senate version of the bill was introduced last month, Clean Energy shares jumped 15 percent.

Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens owns a big slug of the company and has been on a campaign advocating for the legislation. The billionaire is oddly aligned with Pelosi, though her stake is smaller. The Democrat’s asset disclosure indicates she owns as much as $100,000 of Clean Energy stock. And earlier this year, she listed the NATGAS Act as one of the priorities for her “Make It In America” agenda.

Pelosi wouldn’t be the first lawmaker to gain financially from her legislative post. The sticky problem of congressional insider trading has been getting more attention on the back of studies showing that stock portfolios modeled on the trading of legislators regularly beat the market.

But the problem goes even deeper, as evidenced by the NATGAS Act. Pelosi wouldn’t be guilty of insider trading. Her influence as a lawmaker would merely help her profit. Getting rid of such undue perks should be the kind of agenda item that could unite far-reaching constituencies, from members of the Tea Party to those Occupying Wall Street.

 

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