Cocktails with Frank

Frank Maisano wants to buy me a drink.

Just a quick beer or two, he says in smooth tones. We need a little face time to clear up some “misconceptions” about the Desert Rock Power Plant. When he flies into town from his East Coast office, he’ll drop me a line.

As you may already know, Frank is the face of Desert Rock. Anyone who’s dropped into a story on the proposed power plant has seen his name. And if you’ve seen his name you know that Frank thinks (scratch that, sincerely believes) that the Four Corners is desperately in need of a fourth coal-fired power plant. The view from his D.C. office is that our future hinges on another point source of pollution, and without Desert Rock, the West is in big trouble.

Ironically, Maisano is not even directly affiliated with Desert Rock. He doesn’t do turbines, scrubbers, cooling ponds or transmission lines. Nope, Frank is a “media strategist” for Rudy Giuliani’s law firm and has represented a long list of illustriously dirty clients over the years – Enron, Chevron-Texaco and Dynegy among them.

Pre-Giuliani, Frank actively fought reforms for the nation’s worst polluters with the Global Climate Coalition (a badly misnamed industry front). He went on to strategize for the Nuclear Energy Institute, and as the spokesman for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council (another sadly misnamed shill), he lobbied against the Environmental Protection Agency in favor of cheaper, less-regulated coal power. In the present day, Maisano is the largest and most persuasive of Desert Rock’s talking heads.

In Frank’s world, Desert Rock will in fact improve the Four Corners air we breathe, do no harm to endangered fish or further taint the region’s bodies of water with additional mercury. Instead, the “state-of-the-art” facility will make the entire Navajo Nation wealthy beyond belief, all the while nobly meeting the West’s growing demand for electricity. I assume Frank will fill-in some of the blanks over drinks, but first I’d like to add a little spin of my own to our meeting.

Assuming he agrees, I want to have our initial cocktail at ground zero, there at the edge of the Navajo Nation, in between the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station. At the stroke of midnight – just as the EPA goes to sleep and the two plants crank up the stacks under the cover of darkness – Frank and I will crack open a couple of domestics. King of Beers in hand, we’ll discuss the state of local air quality and the need for a fourth plant in the region. For this meeting, I’ll recommend we don white dinner jackets (or lab coats – anything that shows the soot) and take a couple of before-and-after chest x-rays. Who knows? Frank may even want to bring his kids.

The following morning, we’ll hop in our rented Cadillac Eldorado (we’ll want to keep good emissions going throughout the trip) and follow the transmission corridor southwest to Phoenix, that charming burg of nearly 2 million people. While in the Southwest’s largest metropolis, I’d like to have my first drink – something pricy that’s traveled overseas – poolside at the lavish Phoenician Resort. With luck, we’ll arrive in Phoenix in time for air-conditioner season, a nine-month spell where indoor malls become the top recreation areas and the 100,000 or so outdoor pools are still heated at night to provide optimum swimming temperatures. In front of this backdrop, I’m sure Frank will give me a better picture of the West’s growing energy needs.

From Phoenix, we’ll go back into the Eldorado and burn nearly 30 gallons of unleaded on our journey northwest to Sin City. It seems only appropriate that we should end our little tour in Las Vegas, the likely terminus of the Desert Rock transmission line and the area that will benefit the most from degraded Durango air quality. By now, Frank and I are hitting the top-shelf tequila (depressing times call for desperate measures). After a couple of reposados, he could explain why it’s essential that the Las Vegas strip (that’s a 4-mile stretch of road) consumes enough energy to power a city of 350,000. Bottoms up. We’ll then take in a show or two, lose some dollars at the tables and pass out with the lights still on in our rooms before pointing the Caddy for home.

But alas, Frank wants to meet in Durango, a small town with a smog problem that’s trying to fight off another coal-fired power plant.

And as it happens, on one Wednesday this winter, the call comes right when the Telegraph is enjoying a little post production therapy – two, high-octane local draughts – at Lady F’s. Session complete, I pass by a table with two guys sporting brief cases and return to the office to check messages before heading off on the pedal home. And there Frank is, waiting for me on the answering machine.

“Hi, Will. Frank Maisano, here. I’m in town and we’re here right now at 4 o’clock at … what’s the name of this place? … Oh yeah, Lady Falconburger’s. I’d love it if you could join us.”

I look down at a clock that reads 4:45 p.m. Oops, sorry I missed you. Maybe next time, Frank.

– Will Sands