A U.S. senator is questioning the legality of how developer Franklin L. Haney reportedly tried to hire President Trump's former personal lawyer to help secure $5 billion in federal loan guarantees to finance part of the purchase and construction of TVA's idled Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Hollywood, Alabama.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that oversees the Department of Energy, has asked Energy Secretary Rick Perry for a detailed update on the status and communications related to the request for federal loan guarantees by Haney's Nuclear Development LLC.
Haney, a former Chattanooga developer, is seeking the loan guarantees to help pay for his $111 million purchase of Bellefonte and his multi-billion-dollar plan to finish the twin-reactor plant to sell energy on the grid to U.S. utilities and energy consumers.
Haney's Nuclear Development LLC has already successfully convinced the federal government to grant $2.68 billion in production tax credits if he completes the unfinished nuclear plant on Guntersville Reservoir in Northeast Alabama.
Haney's additional bid for federal loan guarantees also has earned the early support of a number of congressional representatives in the region, including Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks and Tennessee Congressman Chuck Fleischmann. Haney has hired former Alabama Congressman Bud Kramer, former TVA chief operating officer Bill McCollum and former TVA chief nuclear officer Preston Swafford to help plan the completion of the Bellefonte plant and work to secure DOE financial support.
But Duckworth is raising questions about any loan guarantee provided to Haney following a report in the Wall Street Journal that Haney offered to pay Trump's former attorney and so-called "fixer," Michael Cohen, $10 million if he successfully secured the DOE loan guarantee.
Haney, a lifelong Democrat who ran unsuccessfully in the past for both the U.S. Congress and the governor's seat in Tennessee, has also been a major donor to Trump, giving more than $1 million to Trump's inaugural fund and supporting Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club near Haney's home in a former Hearst mansion on the Atlantic Ocean in Manalapan, Florida.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Haney made the $10 million offer to Cohen on Haney's yacht in April, just 10 days before the FBI raided Cohen's files as part of the ongoing special prosecutor's investigation of Russian political influence in the 2016 presidential campaign.
But Haney's attorney, Larry Blust, has denied Haney contracted for Cohen's help with the Bellefonte project.
"Neither Mr. Haney nor Nuclear Development LLC ever entered into a contract with Michael Cohen or his affiliate for lobbying services related to the Bellefonte project," Blust said in a statement.
Duckworth said she wants to know whether Cohen lobbied DOE officials to support Haney's application and speed up the review process "even though public records indicate Mr. Cohen has never registered as a lobbyist."
"This unseemly pay-to-play arrangement raises serious questions of conflict-of-interest, corrupt practices and potential violations of lobbying disclosure laws," Duckworth said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.
Duckworth has asked for a list of all DOE employees who have reviewed the federal loan application and a copy of all memorandums and emails related to the loan request and any communication with Cohen.
Haney has not specified yet who may be financing his plans for Bellefonte, which he agreed to buy from TVA within two years after winning a public auction in November 2016. Haney has offered to pay $111 million for the Bellefonte assets — nearly three times the minimum bid set by TVA but only a fraction of the billions of dollars that TVA has spent over the past four decades building Bellefonte.
TVA suspended work on Bellefonte 30 years ago and finally gave up on finishing the plant altogether two years ago when the federal utility determined it would not need the power that Bellefonte could generate.
Haney's group has until Nov. 14 to close the purchase of Bellefonte, although he could ask for an extension of the pending purchase from TVA.
Nuclear Development LLC plans to spend as much as $13 billion to make the nuclear generators operational and could finish the plant in five to six years, according to a company statement. The project is expected to create as many as 4,000 temporary construction jobs and help support 1,500 permanent jobs once the plant is running.
"The Bellefonte Nuclear Station will help transform communities across the region," Haney said in a statement at the time of his purchase.
Nuclear Development LLC has contracted with the Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin to manage the Bellefonte completion and 22 engineering and design companies came to the plant this summer to discuss how the work could be completed.
Haney called those involved with Bellefonte are "the finest team of nuclear engineers" and said they "will bring Bellefonte to its long-awaited completion" at a much lesser cost than new nuclear reactors now being built in Georgia.
Although TVA suspended most of its construction work at Bellefonte in 1988, the federal utility has maintained its construction permit on the plant.
NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said that Haney's Nuclear Development will have to demonstrate it has the engineering and financial qualification meet the requirements of the construction permit. The NRC has not previously approved the transfer of a construction permit for a nuclear plant, although it has done so for several operating plants.
DOE is still reviewing Haney's loan application and Energy department officials did not respond Tuesday to inquiries about the project. Sean Savett, press secretary for Sen. Duckworth, said the DOE has yet to respond to Duckworth's Aug. 28 letter.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340