WASHINGTON (CNN) - Democratic Rep. Edward Markey, chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, grilled witnesses Thursday on what he called "fraudulent letters" sent to Congress on energy and climate legislation before a crucial House vote on the issue.
The select committee said on it's Web site that its members and staff discovered more than a dozen fraudulent letters sent to members of Congress by the consulting company Bonner & Associates, on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), that claimed electricity rates would rise under a House bill. On its Web site, ACCCE describes itself as a partnership of industries involved in producing electricity from coal.
According to the select committee's Web site, the legislation would have "minimal costs" to consumers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "found the overall impact on the average household would be 22 to 30 cents per day ($80 to $111 per year) - or less than the cost of a postage stamp a day," the committee Web site says.
The legislation in question, co-sponsored by Markey, ultimately passed the House on June 26 - but in a close vote of 219 to 212. The legislation, which says it aims to "create clean energy jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce global warming pollution and transition to a clean energy economy," is now before the U.S. Senate.
At the hearing, Markey and Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Washington, focused their criticism on Steve Miller, president and CEO of ACCCE, and Bonner & Associates.
"It seems to me you were trying to kill the bill. That's what translates to these letters," Markey said to Miller. "These letters don't reflect a desire to communicate with voters."
Miller conceded that he was "profoundly disappointed" that members of Congress weren't notified that they had received misinformation.
But his group, Miller added, is now implementing a new ethics code requiring that "anything we can't verify in 24 hours will require [us] to notify the member." He also stated that the letters talked about an increased cost to consumers in the bill, but it didn't quantify how much.
"I'd also add that those letters don't urge opposition to the bill," he said.
Inslee later examined the use of telephone calls made to constituents by Bonner & Associates workers that referenced the rise in electric rates. A memo sent to those employees, Inslee said, instructed "them to tell them (citizens) that electrical rates could double due to pending legislation in Congress."
But Miller argued the document cited by Inslee was an early training document that he believed was dropped from the language used in the calls.
Miller also told the committee that he would be happy to send a letter to each organization that Bonner & Associates reached out to on the issue "as a follow-up to this hearing to say to them that if in fact that someone on behalf of Bonner and Associates said that their electricity rates would double here … that that is not a position that has ever been taken."
Asked if ACCCE would reach out to senators now debating a climate-change bill about the misleading information, Miller said he was uncertain he could reach out to all 100 members.
"But I will tell you and other members of the committee that we will be extremely responsible in any assertions we make to cost, that we will share with members of the United States Senate … that there is a clear range of belief on what these price increase may be," Miller said.