Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers made the news this week as part of an unusual coalition of corporate executives and environmental organizations calling on the federal government to impose limits on greenhouse gases. Known as the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, the coalition has issued a blueprint titled "A Call for Action" promoting a cap-and-trade approach to controlling carbon dioxide emissions.

"We can and must take prompt action to establish a coordinated, economy-wide market-driven approach to climate protection," the coalition said in a letter to President Bush. Besides North Carolina-based Duke, the coalition's other members are Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, DuPont, Environmental Defense, Florida Power & Light, General Electric, Lehman Brothers, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, PG&E, PNM Resources and the World Resources Institute.

But at the same time Rogers is burnishing his green credentials by calling for limits on carbon emissions, he's pushing a plan for his company to increase such pollution.

Rogers testified last week at a public hearing convened by the N.C. Utilities Commission on Duke's proposal to build two new coal-fired units at its existing Cliffside facility in Rutherford County, N.C. The commission's initial hearings, held last summer, were reopened after Duke realized its original $2 billion cost estimate for the project was too low. It's now estimated that the project -- which employs old-fashioned, heavily polluting technology -- will cost more than $3 billion and as much as $4 billion, with the expense borne by ratepayers.

And though Rogers is calling on the federal government to impose new pollution limits nationally, he has said he wants his existing plants -- as well as the new Cliffside units -- exempted from those limits. He's already successfully lobbied the state to create special loopholes for his company: The N.C. General Assembly last summer agreed to exempt Duke's proposed units from a rule under the state's Clean Smokestacks Act that prevents utilities from getting air pollution credits for improvements paid by consumers.

Rogers' impressive clout apparently got even the USCAP to back away from some of its original statements critical of coal power, the Charlotte Observer reports:

A group of CEOs and environmentalists lobbying Congress to address global warming toned down its proposal Monday because it appeared to target a Duke Energy Corp. coal-fired power project and others around the country.

[...]

[USCAP] initially said last week it would "strongly discourage" future coal-fired power plants that cannot "easily capture" carbon dioxide. That would apply to the two 800-megawatt coal-fired units Duke is planning for its Cliffside facility west of Charlotte and to others around the country.

Rogers spent last week defending Cliffside at hearings before the N.C. Utilities Commission in Raleigh, and the project's apparent contradiction with the mission of the coalition.

In response to the criticism of Duke and other power companies, the coalition added a section to its Web site that says individual projects were never targets of the group.

Among those blasting Rogers' apparent hypocrisy is Jim Warren, executive director of the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, one of six environmental and consumer organizations opposing Duke's plans. Warren said in a statement issued on last week's hearings:

Rogers' approach seems to be "damn the torpedoes." He talks about small, uncertain concessions to energy efficiency, largely as public-relations cover for new plant construction. If he succeeds, it will jeopardize the state's economy, prevent the infusion of thousands of clean-energy jobs, and continue a sorry record of corporate influence over North Carolina decision-makers. No rational, democratic society should allow such a course, which would also keep us speeding into the abyss of climate change.

The commission plans to make its decision on Duke's proposal by the end of February.

Meanwhile, N.C. Gov. Mike Easley (D) this week took a step that appears to ensure the utility commission will be sympathetic to utilities' interests: He appointed as a new member attorney Ed Finley from the law firm Hunton & Williams, which counts among its clients Progress Energy, North Carolina's other major power company.