Two senators, governor write letters on behalf of Buffett, NV Energy to federal regulators

A letter from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to federal regulators, appearing to tell them to expedite Warren Buffett's purchase of NV Energy, raises questions -- and not just his use of "impact" as a verb.

Reid's July 23 communication with federal regulators precedes last week's letters from Sen. Dean Heller and Gov. Brian Sandoval on behalf of the state's utility monopoly, just in case those folks didn't know that NV Energy and Buffett had friends in high places.

Reid is very careful in his letter not to overtly urge the Federal Energy Regulation Commission to approve the deal, which was announced while a Reid-backed bill pushed by the utiity monopoly was whooshing through the Legislature.

If ever the hoary cliche "carefully worded letter" applied, this one is it. (The missive was mentioned today in a report on the transaction headlined, "Why is Harry Reid supporting Warren Buffett's energy bid?"

Reid asks FERC, chaired by Nevadan Jon Wellinghoff (whom Reid recommended for the post), to "give close consideration" to the deal. As if the FERC would give it distant consideration otherwise? Message sent, senator, with your usual two-by-four subtlety.

The rest of the missive is Reid tacitly pushing expeditious approval of the transaction on the utility/Buffett timeline and then a paragraph gushing about the Buffett subsidiary that is purchasing the utility.

This is a classic Prince Harry move: After pounding the utility for its coal plants, then essentially forcing it to shut them down, the majority leader helps craft a key legislative initiative for the company and now is helping to shepherd through the largest transacton in its history.

No permanent friends, no permanent enemies.

When I asked Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman if it might be inappropriate for a senator to interfere in the regulatory process, she replied, "Inappropriate to weigh in with agencies from time to time when their actions will affect Nevadans and our economy? That’s part of his job."

Indeed, that is what I would expect her to say, and it is how elected officials generally respond to such questions. And I don't doubt that the argument will resonate with some people.

The Sandoval and Heller letters, attached here, are similar in content, with the junior senator's written on Friday using a Reid-like construction, asking FERC to "closely consider" the transaction. (Indeed, some of the verbiage is nearly identical to the Reid letter. Plagiarism or collaboration?)

So I gather these federal bureaucrats don't look at these deals closely unless a U.S. senator or governor tells them to?

Sandoval's letter, dated July 31, is the only one that overtly comes out in favor of the deal. "I am writing in support of the proposed acquisition...." the governor begins, before lapsing into the same "financial stability" arguments that Reid and Heller made.

It's so nice when the highest-ranking elected officials in the state work together on a major donor's behalf. (Pay no attention to contribution proximity; I am sure it's coincidental.)

Excuse me -- I meant the people's behalf. Of course.