Kinder's links to bankrupt Enron don't halt support

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

For 16 years, Richard Kinder, the man behind the proposal to build a $250 million power plant in the southwestern portion of Cape Girardeau County, worked at the highest levels of Enron Corp., his last six years there as president.

But no one who is doing business with the billionaire Cape Girardeau native here says that his former link to Enron, which collapsed in the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history last month, should cause concern.

The Cape Girardeau County Commission and other business leaders call Kinder's Enron connection ancient history.

"There's nothing to worry about, oh heavens no," said county commissioner Joe Gambill. "He's got a personal wealth of $1.5 billion. We've got no problem with him at all. As soon as they get the permit, we're ready to go."

Kinder was ranked No. 145 on the Forbes 400 Richest Americans List last year, with $1.5 billion in assets.

He had left Enron six years ago to start his own company, Kinder Morgan Inc.

Kinder reestablished ties of sorts with Cape Girardeau last June with his company's announcement of plans to build a power plant near Crump, Mo. The 550-megawatt plant is proposed for Route U, and would generate electricity with natural gas-powered and steam turbines.

The plant is being held up by the Department of Natural Resources, which wants Kinder Morgan to use selective catalytic reduction to improve the quality of emissions from the power plant.

Kinder Morgan doesn't want to, saying its current proposal would not hurt air quality, though some neighbors are worried. Kinder Morgan has appealed to DNR asking it to rescind the request. That appeal is still pending.

But the fact that Kinder Morgan's president used to run a company that finds itself troubled is not -- and will not -- hold the power plant up.

Comfortable with Kinder

"We're very comfortable with the company's finances and we don't see any problems with Rich being the former head of Enron," said Mitch Robinson, head of the Cape Girardeau Area Industrial Recruitment Association. "We're not worried at all."

Kinder Morgan Inc., is one of the largest energy companies in the United States, operating more than 30,000 miles of natural gas and products pipelines. It has significant retail distribution, electric generation and terminal assets. Combined with Kinder Morgan Energy Partners L.P., the companies have an enterprise value of about $19 billion.

But Kinder got his foot in the door at Enron after getting a law degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia and practicing law. He joined the company in 1980, serving in various management and legal positions with Enron and its affiliates. From 1990-1996, he was company president.

He left Enron in 1996 and joined a company owned by college classmate Bill Morgan. The name was changed from K.C. Liquid Holding Co. to Kinder Morgan. Morgan bought $40 million in equipment from Enron Liquid Pipeline Co. to take with him to the new company.

Kinder Morgan's local attorney, Richard Kuntze of Cape Girardeau, said that Kinder Morgan's success is reason enough to trust the company.

"Look at the performance of Kinder Morgan, it's trading at $56 a share," he said. "The bottom line is the market doesn't view any connection between the current Enron problem and the separate company Kinder Morgan."

Mistaken parallel

Larry Pierce, a spokesman for the Houston-based Kinder Morgan, said to draw any parallel between Richard Kinder and Enron is a mistake.

"He left there six years ago, long before there was any hint of trouble," Pierce said. "When he left Enron, Enron was doing great. It's unfair to make that tie."

Pierce said the two companies are very different. Enron is primarily an energy trader, dealing with the stock market, while Kinder Morgan is an asset-based company. The management philosophy is also very different. Kinder Morgan executives fly commercial rather than in corporate jets like Enron, and they are very cost conscious.

"A reporter in Denver once asked Mr. Kinder if he was trying to start another Enron," Pierce said. "He told the reporter, the truth of the matter was that Kinder Morgan was really going to be an anti-Enron."

Cape Girardeau County commissioner Larry Bock said the connection has no bearing on the project.

"If he had just gotten out six months ago, it would have been a different story," Bock said. "Being gone six years, it doesn't phase his ability to run another company."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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