CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Sen. Mike Enzi said his son didn't benefit from the senator's position in landing a job with a company that received almost $10 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a carbon-capture project that never got off the ground.
Enzi, a Republican seeking his fourth term in office, was questioned about his son Brad Enzi's involvement in the Two Elk Energy Park on Thursday at a Wyoming Public Media debate in Riverton.
The study at the site of the Two Elk Energy Park, about 15 miles east of Wright in the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming, received almost $10 million in economic stimulus grants from the Energy Department. The U.S. Department of Energy last year declined to release records on the project on the grounds that a legal investigation is underway and that releasing documents could compromise the probe.
Two Elk developer North American Power Group, based in Greenwood Village, Colorado, halted the carbon-capture study a couple of years ago. Carbon-capture technologies are intended to limit pollution blamed for global warming.
Scientists involved in the research had said they expected a well to be drilled so they could field-test data they'd gathered, but the study never progressed to that phase.
Brad Enzi has worked as a vice president for North American Power. The company has repeatedly delayed construction at the site, and an official with the state's Industrial Siting Division said this spring that the state was still waiting to hear a timetable for building the plant.
Anne MacKinnon of WyoFile, an online journalism site, asked Sen. Enzi whether Wyoming voters should be offended that his family seems to benefit financially from his Senate position, noting also that Brad Enzi's ex-wife has been paid by the senator's campaign to work as a fundraiser.
"Your son was paid a lot to be the public face for a company that ate over $7 million in federal stimulus money but did nearly nothing on a so-called energy project near Gillette called 'Two Elk,' " MacKinnon said. "None of it of course is illegal, but it seems inappropriate, and shouldn't Wyoming voters be offended?"
Enzi responded that his son never received any benefits from him. "He works for a company, he has the right to work for a company, and that company benefited from some federal dollars, but ones I voted against," he said.
Three Republican candidates challenging Enzi said they believed the situation was inappropriate.
Bryan E. Miller of Sheridan, a retired Air Force officer and energy consultant, said such conflicts seem built into the current structure of government.
"The situation is designed right now to allow companies to get a lot of money from the government through regulatory systems," Miller said. "The Department of Energy in particular has got a lot of money that they give out to organizations that I don't think they should."
Candidate Thomas Bleming of Lusk, a self-described soldier of fortune, said he believes the situation should be brought before a federal attorney.
"The purveyors of this stimulus money, $9.9 million, they got it from the federal treasury. And in the end, they didn't do anything about it. It was a grand scam," Bleming said. "I feel that this is one more nail in the coffin."
Candidate Arthur Bruce Clifton of Cheyenne, an oil company worker, said he didn't believe that senators should be allowed to invest in the stock market.
"It's no different," he said. "They get insider information that they can capitalize on. If we put a limit to all of this, they can kind of control it. But you'll never get away from the criminal side of it. You just won't. People are greedy."
Afforded a chance to respond, Enzi said, "A son doesn't have a choice of who their father's going to be. And they develop their own talents. And they should be able to use their own talents. Those have to be within bounds. My son and I never talk about his job there."