June 25, 2015 Leave a comment
Holding government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public
June 22, 2015 Leave a comment
Watchdog Seeks Commissioner Bob Stump’s Phone to Access Content of His Text Messages
June 19, 2015 – Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) announced today that it has sent a letter to the Arizona Corporation Commission to demand immediate access to Commissioner Bob Stump’s phone and other devices that use the (602) 647-0433 phone number. If the Commission refuses to comply by 5:00 p.m. MT on June 26, 2015, C&BP will file a special action in Maricopa County Superior Court to obtain access to the phone and public records that remain on them.
“Commissioner Stump’s text message logs and emails appear to show that he was conducting public business on his private Verizon account to promote the interests of monopoly utilities,” said Scott Peterson, executive director of C&BP. “Now the Commission has hired a high-priced attorney at public expense to assert that the messages are gone. Yet readily available technology or the Commission’s own subpoena powers put these messages within easy reach. Let’s be clear. The Commission can get these messages. They just don’t want anyone to see them.
“We submitted our original records request to Commissioner Stump on March 11, 2015,” Peterson continued. “What are his text messages about that the Commission so desperately wants to protect them?”
Says C&BP attorney Dan Barr: “It would have been far easier for Commissioner Stump to comply with his legal duties under the Public Records Law had he used his Corporation Commission email account instead of texting on his private phone and then apparently deleting many of those texts soon afterward. Nevertheless, those text messages are still on Commissioner Stump’s phone. The Corporation Commission has two choices and only two choices. Either it will comply with the Public Records Law and give us access to Commissioner Stump’s phone so we can extract those texts that are public records from it or we will get a court to order them to do so.”
About Checks & Balances Project
A clean-energy public watchdog blog, C&BP asks questions of government officials, corporate managers and lobbyists who stand in the way of the growth of clean energy. Funding for C&BP comes from clean energy philanthropies and donors.
Contact: Scott Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org
June 8, 2015 Leave a comment
The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) has firmly stated that the content of Commissioner Bob Stump’s text messages are no longer available. In fact, there are ways the commission can obtain text message content, detailed below.
These are public records because they are related to Stump’s job as Corporation Commissioner, a fact that is further confirmed by Stump submitting his personal Verizon account invoices for payment by Arizona taxpayers. The ACC is resisting calls to provide these records. Why? Text logs suggest that former chairman Bob Stump may have been carrying out public business through text messages on his personal phone and does not want the public to see what he was communicating.
Issue a Subpoena
The Arizona constitution empowers the ACC to “act in a Judicial capacity sitting as a tribunal.” Chairman Susan Bitter Smith, like all of the members of the Arizona Corporation Commission, has subpoena power. If she really wanted to know if former Chairman Stump was engaged in illegal electioneering prior to the August 26, 2015, GOP primary election, she could subpoena the text message content from Verizon and read what Stump was texting.
To learn if Verizon provides text message content, I called customer service at (800) 922-0204 on two separate occasions, most recently on May 29, 2015, and asked to speak to a manager or senior customer service representative. Here’s the essence of the conversations:
Q: If Verizon is presented with a subpoena, will it provide text message content?
A: Yes. It doesn’t matter if it’s a criminal or civil case, if Verizon is presented with a subpoena, we will provide text message content.
I was also given the phone number of the Verizon legal department.
Scrape His Phones
Another way for Chairman Bitter Smith to have the truth come out or restore Commissioner Stump’s credibility would be to immediately create a copy of the content of his phone with Oxygen Forensic Suite 2015 7.3, Cellbrite UFED Pro Series, or other products used by investigators worldwide, and release a copy of the results.
Unless Commissioner Stump has destroyed his phone, removed the SIM (data) card, purposefully deleted texts, or updated the operating system software, the text message content and Gmails that we have requested under the Arizona records act still reside on his phone.
We are not interested in text message content or Gmails between Stump and his family and friends. However, as we have detailed previously, information extracted from Stump’s text message logs raise questions about what he was doing in the months leading up to the primary election:
Preserve Stump’s Phone
On June 2, our attorney sent a letter to the ACC’s outside counsel, David Cantelme, asking that Commissioner Stump:
That should not be a problem. After all, the ACC has issued the commissioner another, official T-Mobile phone – which he rarely uses.
Now Chairman Bitter Smith, up to you.
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.
June 3, 2015 Leave a comment
Checks and Balances Project did something yesterday we haven’t done before: we requested records from a well-known consumer protection nonprofit. In a letter to California’s The Utilities Reform Network (TURN), we asked the organization to voluntarily provide communications records with Mike Florio, a public utility commissioner under fire for ethical misconduct who had been its employee for decades.
TURN is the leading California consumer advocacy organization that monitors utilities. On its website, TURN declares: “We Hold Utility Corporations Accountable By Demanding Fair Rates, Cleaner Energy And Strong Consumer Protection.” Its tagline is even more concise: “Lower bills, livable planet.”
To its credit, TURN went to court to force the release of emails between the CPUC and PG&E, the state’s biggest utility. The 65,000+ emails that were ultimately released show a pattern of coziness and possibly illegal behavior that then-CPUC President Mike Peevey had with utility executives. Peevey was not reappointed for a third term in part because TURN repeatedly excoriated Peevy. You can read some of the searing news coverage here, here, and here.
In fact, our analysis of media coverage since January, 2011, found 20 unique, negative quotes from TURN about Peevey, including five calls for his resignation.
Mike Florio was a top lawyer at TURN for 33 years before being appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the CPUC in January 2011. Consumer advocacy and reformers rejoiced when he was chosen and California’s utilities were concerned. But the very emails that TURN went to court to have released have led to a series of revelations about Florio, including a federal grand jury investigation.
TURN, however, has been notably muted about its former star attorney. In fact, in our media analysis, we were able to find only four unique comments by TURN, all moderate and forgiving in tone, about the ethical challenges and possibly illegal behavior of Commissioner Florio.
“Foolish Not Captured”
During a research trip to California for our Captured Regulators Initiative, TURN Executive Director Mark Toney was kind enough to meet with me. We talked about the challenges faced by Commissioner Florio. Mr. Toney said “there is a difference between being foolish and being captured.”
This is a curious position for a reform group that was so aggressive with one commissioner, but not another. It leads to an important question: Is TURN’s personal relationship with Florio more important than consumer protection?
Florio’s History with Turn
Mike Florio volunteered with TURN right after graduating from New York University law school in 1979 and was its first staff attorney. He worked there for 33 years, becoming a widely respected expert in utility issues, before joining the commission where his term runs through 2016.
“Consumers in California now have a CPUC Commissioner they can depend on,” said Toney when Florio was appointed. TURN spokeswoman Mindy Spatt, quoted in Global Power Report on Feb. 3, 2011, said, referencing the San Bruno pipeline explosion, “There is obvious need for a commissioner who will stand up to PG&E, demand answers and hold them accountable, and Mike can serve that role.”
Questionable Conduct Begins Early
But once he joined the CPUC, things seemed to change. Florio was assigned by then-President Peevy to oversee an investigation into the natural gas pipeline disaster in Sept. 2010 in San Bruno, California, that destroyed 38 homes and resulted in eight deaths. In 2012, a state investigation revealed that PG&E had diverted more than $100 million in gas safety and operations money collected from consumers and spent it for executive bonuses and other purposes.
In 2014 and early 2015, emails released by PG&E began to reveal disturbing behavior between former Chairman Peevy and Commissioner Florio with the utility.
In Sept., 2014, TURN’s Executive Director Mark Toney declared: “We are very disappointed” in Florio’s involvement. “We very much hope this is a one-time incident that never happens again.”
One month later, Florio recused himself from PG&E rate cases. In December, San Bruno’s City Manager called for his resignation.
Back Channel Communications with PG&E
“It seems like Florio has forgotten any code of ethics now that he’s a commissioner,” a former CPUC administrative law judge, who asked not to be identified, told me in an interview. “Florio’s personality is to help utilities. But giving the utility the last word is dishonest.”
Back Channel Communications with SoCal Edison
Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said Florio should know better than to communicate in private with utility officials. He has called for him to recuse himself from rate cases involving SoCal Edison.
Efforts to Keep Conceal Back Channel Communications With Edison
On May 25, Commissioner Florio was removed from as the supervising commissioner from the San Onofre investigation.
TURN Went After One Commissioner, Excuses Another
TURN’s stated mission is to protect consumers. When it comes to a member of California’s powerful public utility commission, utility misconduct is incompatible with consumer protection. That’s why we are surprised at TURN’s light treatment of Commissioner Florio’s pattern of ethical lapses.
It is also why we invite TURN to voluntarily release all of its email and text messages with Florio since he took office.
We recognize that there is no legal requirement for TURN to provide the communications we have requested. However, should it become necessary, we intend to use the California Public Records Act force their release.
– – –
TURN Executive Director responded to my letter with the following email on June 4, 2015:
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.
May 29, 2015 Leave a comment
As the Nevada legislative session rolls toward its close on June 1, questions are being raised about the origins of AB330, a bill sponsored by Minority Floor Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D-1). Though currently tabled, the key language of the legislation significantly overlaps a bill passed by the Arizona legislature that, according to our sources, was authored by Pinnacle West, the holding company of the utility Arizona Public Service.
Like the similar Pinnacle West bill that was passed on March 30, 2015, Kirkpatrick’s bill, that was introduced on March 16, would require would impose extensive equipment registration requirements on the rooftop solar industry, something that many say would give an advantage to in-state utilities that are fighting the popular, fast-growing solar industry in Nevada.
While the Assemblywoman is, of course, free to author any bill she chooses, her original bill contained much of the same content as the Arizona legislation. For example:
The Pinnacle West bill has the same provisions:
This raises several questions. First and foremost: Why is this powerful Nevada Democrat pushing legislation that seems to have its origins with an out-of-state utility’s lobbying staff?
Questions for Kirkpatrick
We emailed and called Assemblywoman Kirkpatrick’s office with the following questions, on which we are awaiting comment.
Rooftop solar is booming in Arizona and Nevada, yet curious moves are underway in those states and others to inhibit a technology that the overwhelming majority of Americans say they want. Perhaps we don’t understand the Assemblywoman’s motivation. We look forward to hearing from her.
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.
May 26, 2015 Leave a comment
Recently, Dr. Charles Steele Jr., the president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a civil rights organization co-founded by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Reverend Frederick Shuttlesworth, among other prominent leaders and ministers, authored an op-ed arguing against the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan using unfounded cost claims.
None of his claims are true, of course.
To the contrary and as reported by Utility Dive, an independent study by University of Maryland economists and Industrial Economics, an energy consulting firm found that the Clean Power Plan would result in “a net gain of 74,000 jobs in 2020, and projects that these annual employment gains will increase to 196,000 to 273,000 jobs between 2025 and 2040.” Based on EPA data, the Union of Concerned Scientists found that the benefits of the Clean Power Plan range from $27 billion to $50 billion in 2020 and $46 to $84 billion in 2030. Another report on the Clean Power Plan developed by Harvard University and Syracuse University found that controlling power plant pollution would “save 3,500 lives per year from heart attacks and lung cancer and decrease hospitalizations by 1,000 each year.
Pollution and Communities of Color
On that latter point, it’s important to emphasize that fossil fuel pollution disproportionately harms the health and well-being of communities of color. As the NAACP found:
Given all this, it’s baffling and shocking to learn that the head of an organization dedicated to bettering the lives of African Americans would fight against a policy designed to clear the air of pollutants that harm all people (but communities of color most of all). Yet, that’s exactly what’s happening. You may ask why Dr. Steele would compromise the integrity and values of the organization he represents. The answer is disturbing.
Ties to Energy Interests
The Institute for Southern Studies researched Dr. Steele’s ties to energy interests and learned that he has a very close relationship with the fossil fuel industry. Also, that he overstated the costs of coal ash regulation at an EPA hearing where he represented Working People for Fair Energy, an organization with “close ties to industry interests with a financial stake in fighting coal ash regulation.” At that EPA hearing, Steele cited research from the Affordable Power Alliance, which is affiliated with another organization that “has supported anti-environmental initiatives such as expanded oil drilling while accepting money from Exxon Mobil and other corporations.”
Citing Ebony magazine, the Institute also noted that the funding for SCLC’s $3 million headquarters came from a capital campaign run by Georgia Power president and CEO Mike Garrett, with whom Steele developed close ties during his time in the Alabama State Senate.
Unfortunately, we should expect to hear more dirty energy talking points from Dr. Steele and others who have, or whose organization has, received funding from the fossil fuel lobby. We expect that these individuals will continue attacking clean energy policies that would benefit communities disproportionately impacted by dirty fuels.
It may be educational for Dr. Steele to go back and read the words written by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., about cities “gasping in polluted air and enduring contaminated water.”
Joel A. Francis is a senior fellow at the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.
May 22, 2015 Leave a comment
Checks and Balances Project has received a request from Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission for text message records that indicate that Commissioner Bob Stump of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) may have assisted with dark money funding for two winning, pro-utility candidates in last August’s primary election.
Our original research that uncovered who Stump had been texting with in the weeks leading up to the primary election was derived from records provided by the ACC in response to our records request.
Electioneering of the type possibly indicated by Stump’s text logs may be illegal under Arizona law and could call into question Forese and Little’s elections. We have sent our data to the Elections Commission.
As detailed in our most recent post, Stump exchanged hundreds of texts with Scot Mussi of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, Arizona Public Service executive Barbara Lockwood, and, among others, candidates Tom Forese and Doug Little, who won the primary and general elections against candidates that supported low-cost, consumer solar.
May 20, 2015 Leave a comment
An analysis of the text message metadata of Bob Stump, former chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), reveals in the weeks leading up to the primary election on August 26, 2014, Stump exchanged hundreds of texts with a dark money leader, an attorney tied to Arizona Public Service (APS), an APS executive, and the two pro-utility ACC candidates who ultimately won the primary and general elections. The timing and recipients of Commissioner Stump’s text messages may lend support to the claims of whistleblower Antonio Gill that Stump knew of the dark money scheme.
The office of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is investigating Gill’s allegations. But Brnovich has recused himself after receiving significant help from APS in his election.
The two winning ACC candidates, Republican Commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little, ran against two pro-solar Republicans, Vernon Parker and Lucy Mason supported by TUSK (“Tell Utilities Solar Won’t be Killed). Parker and Mason expressed their belief before the primary that APS was donating to the Arizona Free Enterprise Club to support their opponents. The utility has not denied involvement with the campaign.
New information uncovered by Checks and Balances Project records requests reveal that Stump has exchanged 100 texts with Scot Mussi, president and sole board member of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. His organization was a big spender in electing Little and Forese, and was second only to another dark money group, Save Our Future Now.
Others whom Stump texted with in the weeks before the important primary election were Garry D. Hays, an attorney affiliated with APS’s Arizona Solar Deployment Alliance, and Barbara Lockwood, APS’s General Manager for Regulatory Policy and Compliance.
As Commissioner Stump received reimbursement for his Verizon cell phone on which he sent and received text messages, if he was organizing funding for Little’s and Forese’s campaigns, was he involved in illegal electioneering using public funds?
What is the content of Stump’s text messages with Mussi, Hays, Lockwood, and the two commissioners? We hope to find out very soon. According to a Verizon senior customer representative, if the text messages are subpoenaed by an attorney, and a judge agrees, the entire text of the messages will be provided.
Overall, Stump sent or received 36,762 texts during a 17-month period from roughly July 2013 to March 2015 – the most contentious period of solar debate in Arizona.
In previous posts, Checks and Balances Project has demonstrated:
During an earlier two-month period – October through November 2013 – when Arizona became the first state to establish a monthly utility fee for residential rooftop solar customers, Stump sent or received 7,832 text messages. That’s an average of 70 text messages per day! Who was he texting with during this period? We may know soon.
As part of our Captured Regulators Initiative, Checks and Balances Project is scrutinizing the actions of public utility commissioners in several states. Electric utilities around the nation are now attempting to replicate Arizona’s historic rooftop solar fee in a wave of attacks on net metering. But does that effort by utilities benefit the overwhelming majority of consumers who want low-cost solar or the financial interests of government-supported monopoly utilities?
May 7, 2015 Leave a comment
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was rightly questioned for holding out on efforts to get policy-relevant emails she sent from a personal email account during her term at the U.S. State Department.
So far, Commissioner Bob Stump, his Policy Advisor Amanda Ho, and the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) legal staff appear to be engaging in Clintonian-style slow-walking of basic public records requests.
Despite our request on March 11, 2015, for public or private email records of Amanda Ho, Commissioner Stump’s policy aide, about solar energy or net metering in Arizona with any representatives of Arizona Public Service Company, we’ve been met with silence.
It took nine days and a phone call for Stump’s office to acknowledge our March 11, 2015 records request. After we announced that C&BP had retained Arizona’s leading public records attorney to prepare a lawsuit to enforce public access to public records, the responses have been dripping in from former Chairman Stump. But nothing so far from Ms. Ho.
Stump Relies on APS’s Lockwood
According to the ACC to date:
While the emails with APS’ Lockwood seem chummy, the real question concerns the commission’s assertion that Stump emailed the utility so little and Ms. Ho emailed not at all.
To put this into context, we looked at tape of ACC meetings at which former RUCO Special Projects Advisor Lon Huber appeared. The footage provides ample evidence of Stump frequently using his smart phone during ACC meetings, presumably for text or email communications. Here’s a sample:
Why it Matters
It’s worth noting that during Stump’s chairmanship, Arizona became the first state to establish monthly fee payables to a utility by consumers who want low-cost rooftop solar. Stump turned over the chair’s gavel to Susan Bitter Smith on January 15. His term as Commissioner ends in 2016.
In a previous post, we’ve demonstrated that the top officers of APS – who are registered as lobbyists with the Secretary of State – met with the Commissioner repeatedly during the 17 month period of our records request – which was the hottest period of the solar debates.
The number of meetings that have been blacked out from Commissioner Stump’s public calendar is significant.
Yet Stump declares that neither he nor his policy aide ever emailed these top officers – not even from his private Gmail account where, judging from what seems like a very limited set that has been provided to us, over half of his emails to APS originate.
Under Arizona Records Law, if you are a public official, you have an obligation to respond fully to records requests. This is fundamental legal right of the public and it needs to be enforced. Regrettably, we may be forced to find out through a court what Commissioner Stump and his Policy Aide Amanda Ho may be hiding.
May 5, 2015 Leave a comment
The Arizona Republic published on Sunday, May 3, 2015, a lengthy front-page article by Reporter Ryan Randazzo that examines continuing questions of impropriety by the Arizona Corporation Commission, including allegations by whistleblower Antonio Gill.
Among the claims by Gill are that former Commission Chairman Gary Pierce took part in approximately 14 secret meetings, which Gill arranged as his assistant, with Donald E. Brandt chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of Pinnacle West and Arizona Public Service (APS). Gill alleges some of these conversations broke rules on ex-parte or unauthorized communications during rate review cases.
The second half of the article contains what is perhaps the most explosive charge. In September 2013, Pierce successfully advocated for APS’ position that the commission should stop exploring retail competition for electricity. One month later, APS’ top lobbyist, Jessica Pachecho, reserved a room at Phoenix Country Club for a fundraiser for Justin Pierce, Gary’s son, who was running for secretary of state. Justin Pierce lost and opponents claim about $465,000 was funneled through dark money groups to support Justin Pierce by APS – an allegation the utility has not responded to.
In our Captured Regulators Initiative, Checks and Balances Project is looking at former Chairman and current Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump. During his chairmanship, Arizona became the first state to establish a monthly fee payable to a utility by consumers who want low-cost rooftop solar. It was a high-stakes fight for APS, the state’s dominant utility, and one the utility badly wanted to win.
The Randazzo article details four meetings by Stump with APS CEO Don Brant and one with former President Don Robinson over eight years.
Supplemental information derived from our records requests show that the estimate in the Arizona Republic’s article of APS’s lobbying force working the commission is quite conservative.
In just the 17 month period from July 12, 2013 through March 10, 2015, Commissioner Stump met with APS’ Don Brandt, Chief Operating Officer Mark Schiavoni, Senior Vice President Jeff Guldner, or Manager Stacy Aguayo at least 12 times. All are registered with the Arizona Secretary of State as APS lobbyists. Were we able to total up meetings over eight years with all commissioners, we expect the numbers would be much higher.
Other meetings with APS representatives who are not registered lobbyists but involved in specific projects are not included in this total. They include meetings with no specific person indicated, such as a Sept. 3, 2014 entry, “APS meeting re: Supplemental Application (Utility-owned DG) in the RE…”; a meeting with Barry Aarons, a former registered APS lobbyist, who met with the Commissioner on Sept. 11, 2014, to discuss “APS filing solar panels”; and meetings with APS’ Barbara Lockwood, General Manager for Regulatory Policy and Compliance, who met with Stump 13 times since March 2014.
The number of meetings on Commissioner Stump’s public calendar that have been hidden or “redacted” from public view is quite large. For example, in the two month period after Don Brandt met with Commissioner Stump on July 30, 2014, there are 172 meetings on the commissioner’s calendar. Yet 50 meetings or 29% of the total are blacked out or redacted.
Under Arizona Records Law, if you are a public official, you have an obligation to respond fully to records requests. This is a fundamental legal right of the public, and it needs to be enforced.
In many states, commissioners have been lured to ally themselves with the industries they are charged with regulating over public interest. There is a term for this, created by Nobel Prize winning Economist George J. Stigler over 50 years ago: “Regulatory capture.”
Is this what has happened in Arizona? In the days and weeks ahead, we hope to find out.
April 29, 2015 Leave a comment
Something unusual and encouraging just happened, and few people likely noticed.
In 2013, Checks and Balances Project broke important ground by documenting the remarkable effectiveness of front groups funded by the fossil fuel lobby. In our True Ties report, we uncovered how these groups position themselves as “think tanks” and research organizations, and push fossil fuel lobbyist talking points in energy commentary and news reporting without getting their fossil fuel funding mentioned.
In fact, our True Ties report found that these groups had an astounding 94% success rate delivering on their value proposition to lobbyists – to echo talking points at a public distance. Over a five-year period, we found that the top 60 newspapers in the country cited, quoted, and ran bylines pieces or mentioned the 10 loudest anti-clean energy front groups on average of once every other day either promoting fossil fuels or bashing competing clean energy. They rarely described the front groups as anything more than “think tanks.” When the descriptors deviated from such bland terms, the front groups were given ideological monikers. In only 4% of the cases did news organizations bother to ask about fossil fuel funding.
Enter Professor Randy Simmons of Utah State University.
Simmons got traction recently after securing an opinion piece, “What’s the True Cost of Wind Power?” in Newsweek. The pieces were thoroughly discredited here and here, but Simmons’ piece was quickly posted around the web with a bland, intellectually neutral positioning in his original byline:
The original byline even asserted “Full disclosure” by disclosing Simmons’ U.S. Energy Department funding.
In stepped Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple with this badly needed piece pushing the question of why a fossil fuel-funded academic was allowed to bash wind energy without any mention of that funding.
Newsweek later updated the Professor’s byline to make it more accurate:
In the Wemple piece, Simmons asserts that he receives no funding from fossil fuel interests, such as Koch industries.
I Caught Up with the Professor on His Cell Phone
I was curious about the discrepancy, and I was able to catch up with the Professor by cell phone on his way to his classroom.
“Why did your bio at the end of your Newsweek piece not include that you are the Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy?” I asked him.
Simmons explained that the Koch Professorship was for a five-year term that ended in 2013. When I pointed out that his LinkedIn profile said otherwise, he responded, “My dean has been after me to get rid of that.”
I asked Simmons if he was still a senior fellow at the Property and Environmental Research Center, as the Newsweek bio stated. He admitted he is.
“Are you aware that the Center is has been funded by the Kochs and Exxon-Mobil?”
“No,” Simmons declared definitively. “It’s never received fossil-fuel funding.”
Hmm. That statement was not accurate.
“What is your relationship with Charles G. Koch?” I asked.
“I’ve never met the man,” Simmons asserted. “His organization just sends me money.”
So here is a professor who takes money from the Kochs, argues against wind energy, and denies that a fossil fuel-funded “center” where he is a senior fellow is, in fact, funded by fossil fuel lobby.
“Do you admit that the Koch’s are opposed to clean energy?”
“No, I wouldn’t say they are,” Simmons responded quickly. “They don’t lobby against it. They’re just against subsidies.”
That was also inaccurate, as the evidence clearly points otherwise.
I asked him why, when discussing subsidies, he didn’t mention the massive subsidies for fossil fuels?
“I’ve been told there are straight up subsidies and normal depreciation,” the professor said, and went on to say that he would soon be examining subsidies in depth.
I asked if he would include subsidies for coal, oil, and natural gas.
“Perhaps,” he said. “We’re considering it.”
Would that new study be funded by the Kochs?
“They will be one of the funders,” he replied. Simmons had reached the door of his classroom. His T.A. was waiting and he had to sign off.
The last time I checked, Professor Simmons still hadn’t bothered to change his LinkedIn profile. But, the good news is the Kochs seem to be committed to tracking dirty energy subsidies. That might make some fairly big news.
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a Virginia-based watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.
April 22, 2015 Leave a comment
By Joel A. Francis
Too often, African American voices are excluded from discussions about the critical issues facing our country. Energy is no exception. That is why I was pleased to recently attend a conference of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE). While in attendance, however, I developed concerns that workshops did not address issues facing African American families that are directly attributable to our nation’s reliance on fossil fuel energy sources.
The NAACP developed a report that shows how fossil fuels play a significantly harmful role in the health of African American and other communities of color. Segregation and economic deprivation has forced generations of African American families to live in some of the least desirable areas. More than two-thirds of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal plant. This puts our community at a much greater risk for the health problems associated with exposure to the toxic chemicals these plants spew. African American children are three times as likely to be admitted to the hospital for, and twice as likely to die from, asthma as compared to white children.
Regrettably, a discussion of the harmful impact of fossil fuel pollution on communities of color was noticeably absent from the conference’s proceedings. What is worse is that many speakers denigrated one of the best solutions to the pollution problems plaguing African American communities: renewable energy sources such as solar.
The conference was an opportunity to educate attendees about the costs and benefits of ALL energy sources. Unfortunately, attendees may have left with a skewed perception. Although numerous independent studies have shown that solar energy provides benefits to all electricity consumers on the grid, fossil fuel utilities were pushing a deceptive argument that misrepresents the benefits of solar energy to communities of color. The utility companies’ thinly veiled attempts to present clean energy sources as a racial issue was shameful. It became clear that their real motivation was shaping a discourse that protects energy monopolies.
Fortunately, people like Reverend Nelson Johnson of Faith Community Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, see through and are calling out the inaccuracies propagated by utilities. Reverend Johnson recently co-authored an open letter to the CEO of Duke Energy to “Stop Targeting African Americans with Your Anti-Solar Campaign.” He talked about having been visited three times by people pushing propaganda that “solar hurts the poor.” The Reverend questioned the motives behind Duke Energy’s attacks on solar and called on the utility to stop “this duplicitous corporate behavior.”
Apparently, establishment of a cleaner alternative is a threat to the status quo and a threat to the utility companies’ domination of the energy market. While these fossil fuel companies continue to pollute the air above and the land surrounding our communities, they are intent on sustaining our dependence on them through placing misleading campaigns to slow the growth of a viable and pollution-free alternative.
Joel A. Francis is a senior fellow at the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public.
April 15, 2015 Leave a comment
Fossil Fuel Disinformation Campaign Driven by Profit Motives, Not Concern for Minority Communities
By Joel A. Francis
Last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released an important new report, Bridging the Clean Energy Divide, that refutes highly misleading fossil fuel claims about clean energy policies and communities of color.
The report also calls attention to the large potential benefits of clean energy to fixed- and low-income individuals, including:
There are a myriad of negative health impacts dirty energy imposes on low-income communities and communities of color. As the report, Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People, by the NAACP, Indigenous Environmental Network and Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, also shows, “overall, a small number of coal power plants have a disproportionately large and destructive effect on the public’s health, especially on the health of low-income people and people of color.” That’s partly due to the fact that “coal power plants tend to be disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color.”
It’s also because the combustion of coal emits many toxic pollutants – sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particulates, mercury, arsenic, lead and uranium to name just a few.
According to the NAACP, “African Americans are hospitalized for asthma at three times the rate of whites, and the death rate from asthma is 172 percent higher for African-Americans than for whites.” That is due largely to coal-fired power plant pollution. Fine particulates are especially harmful, as they “can cause premature death in people with heart or lung disease, as well as cause chronic bronchitis, irregular heart conditions, and aggravated asthma.”
In stark contrast, clean energy emits no pollutants at all, and thus has no adverse health impacts, saving both lives and high medical costs for the people who can least afford them. Even better, as NRDC notes, energy efficiency improvements “allow low-income households to lower their energy costs without sacrificing service…reducing bills for all.”
How much money?
Research cited in the report shows multi-family housing owners and residents could save “up to $3.4 billion every year.” Given that more than half of “very low-income renters” live in multifamily housing, energy efficiency would provide a major gain for low-income families and communities of color.
As for the claim that renewable energy is only affordable by higher-income people, the research counters that narrative. In fact, with smart policies, such as net metering, which study after study shows has more benefits than costs, all families can reap the rewards.
For instance, NRDC cites community solar power, “which pools the resources of multiple community members and allows people to purchase as little or as much renewable energy as they wish.” Another benefit of community solar is that it can be placed in inhabitable places, such as “repurposed toxic, abandoned, or unsightly spaces or on large, well-situated rooftops, which may aid the rehabilitation of existing buildings” – perfect for poor, possibly blighted, areas.
Finally, NRDC notes the positive economic impact of clean energy, with an analysis finding that policies similar to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan could create more than 274,000 jobs around the country. Even better, these are good jobs, “accessible to those without advanced degrees,” and with a “typical wage for someone employed in a clean energy industry—about $44,000…13 percent higher than the national typical wage.”
The bottom line is that clean energy means a healthier environment, greater savings, increased consumer choice and the creation of good jobs. Can the fossil fuel industry say the same?
To be blunt, if the fossil fuel lobby really cared about low-income individuals and communities of color, they’d locate their toxic plants elsewhere, hire from these communities at greater rates and stop their attempts to undermine clean energy, including disinformation campaigns aimed at “disconnect[ing] communities of color from solar.” The fact that they aren’t doing any of those things is extremely revealing as to what’s motivating them.
Joel A. Francis is a senior fellow at the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public.
April 13, 2015 Leave a comment
NV Energy parent bluntly admits that rooftop solar programs cut into utility profits
by Scott Peterson
Nevada has more solar jobs per capita than any other state and with 300+ days of sunshine per year, the sky could be the limit for carbon-free energy production from rooftop solar. Then why is NV Energy, Nevada’s largest utility, lobbying to limit its growth?
A recent article in the Las Vegas Sun, Solar industry squares off with Warren Buffett and NV Energy, explains how it comes down to protecting monopoly-utility profits.
In his article, Reporter Kyle Roerink writes how a senior vice president of NV Energy’s Iowa-based parent company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, bluntly admitted at an energy conference last year that rooftop solar programs cut into utility profits.
3% Participation Limit
In Nevada, there is a limit to how many residential customers can participate in solar net metering programs. That limit is 3% of all utility customers consuming energy during periods of peak demand. The solar industry says that limit could be reached by the end of the year. NV Energy, which was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway Energy in 2013, is lobbying Nevada government officials hard to ensure that the limit is not increased. Currently, there is no bill in the Nevada legislature to increase the 3% limit and the 2015 session ends soon.
Like other electric utilities, NV Energy owes its profits to its government-protected monopoly position and it is doing whatever it can to maintain that privileged position. That includes standing in the way of competition and choice for Nevada’s power-consuming public, in part by pushing to maintain the cap on the number of Nevadans who can get paid a fair market price for the rooftop solar power they generate.
NV Energy fully understands the benefits of utility-scale solar power, with the company’s website touting utility-scale solar projects like Crescent Dunes (110 megawatts) and Nevada Solar One (69 megawatts). In other words, NV Energy’s high-paid corporate executives are perfectly happy to benefit from the extra profits they make due from the return on investments from new utility-scale solar power projects. But residential rooftop solar – well, that’s another matter.
According to a study by Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission, solar power net metering has not cost Nevada ratepayers a penny, but has actually saved them millions of dollars.
In 2014, Nevada’s solar industry saw a stunning 146% growth in jobs. Yet if NV Energy gets its way, that future growth is threatened. That should be completely unacceptable, and people need to tell their legislators and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval loudly and clearly right now.
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a Virginia-based watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public.
April 10, 2015 Leave a comment
I am excited for this opportunity to continue my earlier work advocating for a healthier climate future. Much has changed since my last foray when I challenged the Koch Brothers to debate the merits of California’s landmark AB 32, the law aimed at reducing California’s carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020.
One thing remains the same: the reality that our dependence on fossil fuels is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.
The science is settled and clear and demands we take steps to secure a healthier environment. We must push back against the bought and paid for propaganda of the fossil fuel industry. Just as no one who believes that the world is flat would be taken seriously, so too should we rebuke those who claim that the jury is still out on climate change or that it would be too damaging to our economy to address now.
I look forward to working with the Checks and Balances Project to further expose these modern-day flat-earthers and the significant impact they and their financial largesse have on our nation’s policy discussions around climate change.
Joel A. Francis
Senior Fellow, Checks and Balances Project
March 23, 2015 Leave a comment
Today, the Checks and Balances Project sent a letter to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich asking that he investigate whether or not Arizona Public Service (APS) is connected with efforts by the Virginia-based Taxpayers Protection Alliance to conduct a door-to-door push poll designed solely to discredit the residential solar industry in Arizona.
If APS is connected, we ask that the Attorney General determine the extent to which APS has used ratepayer funds to underwrite this effort to protect its status as a highly profitable, incumbent monopoly.
Our request for an investigation was sparked by an article in Friday’s Arizona Capitol Times titled, “Looking for Trouble in All the Solar Places” (subscription required). In the article, Virginia-based Taxpayer Protection Alliance President David Williams acknowledged he’s really after people’s negative experiences.
This takes places as Arizona Public Service Co. prepares a request for regulators that would increase monthly fees on solar companies, according to news reports.
Arizonans deserve to know whether or not APS hired the Taxpayers Protection Alliance directly or through the front group, American Encore. Formerly known as the Center to Protect Patient Rights, American Encore is run by Mr. Sean Noble who, during the 2013 net metering debate, APS acknowledged funneling money to in order to bolster APS’s position.
To read the full text of the letter, click here.
Checks and Balances Project
March 13, 2015 Leave a comment
This article by Joby Warrick was originally posted by the Washington Post on Sunday, March 7, 2015.
“The utilities are fighting tooth and nail,” said Scott Peterson, director of the Checks and Balances Project, a Virginia nonprofit that investigates lobbyists’ ties to regulatory agencies. Peterson, who has tracked the industry’s two-year legislative fight, said the pivot to public utility commissions moves the battle to friendlier terrain for utilities. The commissions, usually made up of political appointees, “have enormous power, and no one really watches them,” Peterson said.
February 25, 2015 Leave a comment
Influence pedaling in America is a $9 billion a year industry. It’s as big as Major League Baseball or NASA’s Mars spacecraft program, changing from direct meetings with lawmakers to a vertically integrated set of businesses that work every stage of government decision making – including the shaping of public opinion.
Many have charted the size, scope, and growth of the influence peddling industry. There’s the definitive, 25-part Washington Post series on the emergence of modern mega-lobbying firms. Ross and Amter’s definitive history of the chemical lobby The Polluters. Merchants of Doubt, by Oreskes and Conway, that laid bare the growth of the lobbyist-funded think tank industry. There are also definitive books by then-reporter Jeff Birnbaum’s, including The Money Men: The Real Story of Fund-raising’s Influence on Political Power in America – though Birnbaum later joined the influence business himself.
The point is that as a growth industry, influence peddling needs to find new ways to grow to accommodate the ever-expanding ranks for former staff and public officials who want to make big money after their public “service.”
So it was only a matter of time before previously sleepy public offices, such state assembly offices, state public utility commissions, and writers of obscure cost-benefit analyses became part of the influence peddling playbook. That’s particularly true now that the big shifts in the energy industry are under way. Rooftop solar on people’s homes has been declared a “mortal threat” by the lobbying arm of the utility industry, which has launched a very concerted effort to penalize their customers for buying less of their product.
Regulatory Capture in State Agencies
In many states, commissioners have been lured to ally themselves with the industries they are charged with regulating. There is a term for this, created by Nobel Prize winner Economist George J. Stigler over 50 years ago: “Regulatory capture.”
The financial crisis of 2007-2009 can be explained partly as a problem of regulatory capture. Regulators were so enamored by Wall Street’s risk prevention mechanisms and their way of life that they failed to recognize the enormous risks that were being taken right under their noses until it was too late.
In Virginia, the State Corporation Commission (SCC) is charged with regulating Dominion Resources, a monopoly utility and the Commonwealth’s most powerful corporation. Yet last October, two senior staff members of the SCC wrote a comment letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP is intended to reduce carbon pollution. Although it gives states wide latitude in cutting the pollution and independent studies show it will save money and create clean energy jobs, the staffers attacked the CPP as “arbitrary, capricious, unsupported, and unlawful.” They are thought to have taken Dominion’s 2013 Resource Plan as the basis for their frontal assault.
Utilities nationwide have captured Public Utility Commissions, in whole or in part, just like Dominion has enveloped its own in Virginia. This effort is seems to be encouraged by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the utility industry trade group based in Washington, DC.
In January, 2013, EEI released a man-the-battle-stations white paper that said solar panels on residential or commercial roofs that are not utility-owned or utility-purchased would lead to a death spiral for the utility industry. Since then, the effort to smother the solar baby in its cradle has been stepped up.
With renewable portfolio standards, net metering and the CPP, the next two years will decide how many clean energy jobs and energy efficiency savings Americans will see. The stakes are high.
The Checks and Balances Project has noticed that in a number of states, utility commissioners are acting almost as consultants to the utilities they are charged with overseeing. The range of favoritism is wide – from casual remarks to open assistance to help a regulated utility shop for a favorable state judge. There seems to be an emerging trend, which is why we are launching a systemic look to see what’s going on in state public utility and state corporation commissions. Where the influence is going, so should the oversight accountability.
We’re launching our Captured Regulators initiative by asking questions about these officials:
Are there public utility commissioners, public service commissioners or state corporation commissioners in your state that you think are captured by the utility industry? Or commissioners you have questions about like Audrey Zibelman of New York or Virginia’s Mark C. Christie?
If so, tell us more. Send us an email to email@example.com.
Executive Director, Checks and Balances Project
January 22, 2015 Leave a comment
Virginia Democratic Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-35) is a man of strong opinions when it comes to government ethics standards – basically, that we shouldn’t have any. That was clear (again) when I spoke on Jan. 10 at the Fairfax County Delegation’s Annual Public Meeting.
Senator Saslaw presided. It was an opportunity for citizens of the state’s largest county, like me, to speak to their state senators and delegates before the legislature convened in Richmond on Jan. 14. It happened one week after the historic sentencing of former Governor Bob McDonnell for two years for corruption and bribery. This sad episode showed convincingly that Virginia operates largely on the honors system when it comes to ethics and that the honors system doesn’t work anymore.
I thought it would be a great chance to raise the issue of ethics reform with the most powerful Democrat in the Virginia legislature. The results were revealing.
I was speaker number 43. Each speaker was allocated three minutes and generally received a simple “Thank you,” from Senator Saslaw. I began with a quick explanation of the founding of Checks and Balances in 2009 by people who were concerned about how investigative journalism had shrunk while a tidal wave of lobbying money from the fossil fuel industry undermined the growth of clean energy. (See the entire video here.)
I noticed I had not gotten Saslaw’s attention, as he was talking with others on the panel. But I went on, saying that I wanted to talk about the sad state of ethics in the Commonwealth.
Corruption Risk Scorecard
I pointed out that according to the State Integrity Investigation’s Corruption Risk Scorecard, Virginia ranks 47th out of the 50 states with an overall grade of F.
I seemed, by that point, to have gotten the Minority Leader’s attention. I know I had the attention of Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34), whose ethics reform bills would limit campaign contributions and gifts. Sitting near him was Delegate Marcus Simon (D-53), who was planning on introducing a bill to limit what campaign contributions could be spent on. Simon was quoted in the Fairfax Times as saying:
“If you can go and spend leftover campaign funds on whatever you want, it’s not really any different than taking a bribe.”
None of those proposals went far enough, I asserted. “There’s simply too much coziness allowed with corporations. The General Assembly should pass a law that restricts members from accepting any political contributions from corporations with legislation pending before the legislature.
“Last year, North Carolina installed 13 times the solar photovoltaic capacity as Virginia has in its entire history,” I said. Yet two days before, “the Winchester Star reported that a 20-megawatt solar array—capable of powering 20,000 homes—was scuttled in Clark County. The developer blamed Dominion Virginia and other utilities for their lack of interest in buying the electricity.”
I pointed out that last year, Dominion was the largest donor to state-level politicians with over $1.3 million in campaign contributions.* “No wonder Dominion Virginia gets its way when it comes to energy in Virginia,” I stated.
I had Senator Saslaw’s attention now. In fact, he appeared to be glaring at me.
“Senator Saslaw,” I said. “Last year you were quoted as saying, ‘You can’t legislate ethics…”
“That is correct,” Saslaw interjected.
“… either you’re dishonest or not, OK?’ End quote. I hope you have reconsidered that position…”
“I have not,” the Minority Leader responded.
“…The time to get working on improving Virginia’s “F” grade is now.”
Sen. Saslaw, who said he generally did not comment after speakers, declared that in the 38 years he’d been in office, there had been six or seven episodes that had made the newspapers and “none of them involved lobbyists or a campaign contribution.”
I paused, wondering foolishly if his reform-minded colleagues might come to my aide. “May I respond to that?”
“Nope,” he declared.
Not certain I had heard him correctly, I asked, “No? Or Yes?” The Minority Leader repeated that he would not give me permission to respond.
Missing the Point
Sen. Saslaw clearly missed the point. When it came to “effective monitoring of lobbying disclosure requirements,” “ethics enforcement,” or “legislative accountability,” Virginia got straight F grades. No wonder there have been no scandals involving lobbyists or campaign contributions that had made the papers.
I returned to my seat, but before I could sit down, Senator Saslaw bounded up the aisle toward me. He walked up and leaned in within inches of my face. He told me that he had been interviewed by the FBI who told him that the way he handled campaign contributions was not corrupt.
“Senator, from everything I have learned, you are one of Dominion’s biggest apologists,” I said.
He seemed not to understand, so I repeated the word “apologist.” He then explained how he had gotten Virginia Dominion President Robert Blue and a solar chieftain together to try and work out their differences. I countered with the fact that the Sierra Club’s climate and energy scorecard had given Senator Saslaw an overall grade of D, while three Republican delegates received B’s.
“Well,” Senator Saslaw huffed. “Everyone knows they’re crazy!” He invited me to visit him in Richmond, then walked off.
Who is That Guy?
Later, a teenager sat down next to me who was also attending the meeting. He told me he was a Boy Scout, working on his Eagle Scout rank.
“I thought that was really rude how that guy cut you off,” he said. “Who is he?” I explained that he was the Democratic leader in the Virginia state senate. He looked incredulous, shook his head, and walked away.
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a Virginia-based watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public.
(* Note: I should have said “largest corporate donor in 2013.” A report of Dominion’s contributions to state politicians in the second half of 2014 was submitted to the State Board of Elections on January 15. Totals for 2014 are not yet available on the VPAP website. )
January 21, 2015 Leave a comment
The American Energy Alliance announced on Jan. 8 “the nation’s first and only free-market congressional energy accountability scorecard.” But how much of their new scorecard will be devoted to getting mature, highly profitable fossil fuel industries off corporate welfare?
In AEA’s announcement, it declares the new Scorecard will “educate lawmakers” and “empower the American people,” while holding our representatives accountable for their votes on important energy issues. The first issue that it demands lawmakers vote for is the Keystone XL pipeline.
Would an organization that believes so strongly in free markets and stands so firmly against subsidies for the wind industry also declare itself uniformly against subsidies for the oil, gas, and coal industries?
After all, that seems to be the principle of free markets as AEA defines them. If wind energy producers must “stand on their own two feet,” then shouldn’t fossil fuel producers, as well?
$18.5 Billion for Fossil Fuel Subsidies
According to an analysis by Oil Change International, the federal government’s subsidies for fossil fuel exploration and production have increased by 45% since 2009 to $18.5 billion per year.
AEA’s President Thomas Pyle declared in a statement published on its website on Dec. 17 that subsidies like the wind production tax credit (PTC) are like “taking money out of the pockets of hardworking Americans to stuff the stockings of foreign corporations and wealthy investors.” Pyle said we must “unwind this culture of cronyism.”
After more than a century of subsidies by the federal government to encourage the growth of oil, gas and coal, we have to wonder. Is Pyle serious about eliminating energy subsidies? Or is his demand of accountability just a bunch of wind?
I called the American Energy Alliance’s spokesperson Chris Warren and asked him if the scorecard would include lawmakers’ votes against fossil fuel subsidies.
No Straight Answer
“We’re going take these on a vote by vote basis,” said Warren. “I can’t give you a straight answer.”
I tried again. Would the AEA score votes on subsidies for the oil, gas, and coal industries?
“We’re against subsidies in general,” Warren declared. “We believe in free markets. Energy industries should be able to stand on their own two feet and compete.”
So, the American Energy Alliance is against all subsidies. Who knew? Maybe their scorecard might have some value after all.
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a Virginia-based watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public.
January 15, 2015 Leave a comment
This op-ed was originally posted by the Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Virginia, on Sunday, January 4, 2015.
by Scott Peterson
Is this the time for leniency? Former Gov. Bob McDonnell is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge James Spencer on Jan. 6. But with Virginia ranked 47th out of 50 states on the State Integrity Investigation’s Corruption Risk Score Card, the answer is “no.” To be blunt, McDonnell should serve time in prison.
Why? A signal needs to be sent that we’ve turned a corner and corruption will no longer be tolerated in the commonwealth. What better place to start than with McDonnell, convicted last September of 11 counts of corruption for accepting $120,000 in sweetheart loans, lavish vacations and golf outings from a Richmond businessman?
It’s not just that he is the first Virginia governor to be convicted of a crime. Let’s face it. The “Virginia Way” is in peril. For years, the Virginia Way referred to the commonwealth’s efficient and well-managed government. Virginia was different from other states like Louisiana, Illinois or Rhode Island.
But those states all convicted and sentenced corrupt former governors Edwin Edwards, George Ryan and Edward DiPrete to prison. Because of that and other reforms, they now all rank ahead of Virginia on the Corruption Risk Score Card.
The U.S. probation office recommends a minimum of 10 years and a month in prison. McDonnell’s lawyers are pleading for community service. It is hard to believe they are serious.
For anyone who cares about Virginia’s reputation for having a clean business environment, this signals a dangerous lack of accountability. This is an issue that is bigger than just one man.
Although former Gov. McDonnell tried to blame his actions on his wife, the members of the jury did not buy that line of defense. They rightly concluded that the governor’s wife didn’t make him use Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams’s plane to travel to a political event, listen to the CEO pitch his tobacco-based Anatabloc supplement product on the way back, then recommend it to Virginia’s secretary of health and human resources. He chose to do that. Those facts are getting lost in coverage of character letters and calls for leniency.
McDonnell rejected a deal offered by prosecutors to plead guilty to a single count of lying to a bank in exchange for a reduced sentence of up to three years in prison or probation. But he arrogantly refused the prosecutor’s demand that he sign a statement acknowledging his guilt.
Whose advice should the judge follow when he hands down former governor’s sentence?
How about the former governor himself? In 2011, McDonnell issued a public statement on the sentencing of former Del. Phil Hamilton, who had been convicted of corruption.
“Virginia has long been a state marked by honest, transparent and ethical governing by both parties. Today’s judgment is a reminder that no one is above the law. So too was the jury’s verdict after this trial, and so too should be this court’s sentence.”
Former Del. Hamilton is now serving a 9 1/2-year sentence in prison.
December 22, 2014 Leave a comment
This op-ed originally appeared in the Virginian-Pilot and PilotOnline.com.
By Scott Peterson
© December 21, 2014
For years, Virginians had confidence that their state government was run efficiently and well – at least compared to other states. “The Virginia Way” set us apart from other states with seemingly incorrigible corruption in their capitols.
All that has changed recently with a series of events that is deeply shaking public confidence.
It is not just the dramatic corruption conviction of once-popular former Gov. Bob McDonnell, but a series of ugly disclosures that have changed how we think business is done in Richmond.
There was the CONSOL Energy scandal in which an assistant attorney general provided legal advice to help an out-of-state energy company to fight Virginia landowners who were owed millions for gas extraction. There was the federal probe into offers of jobs to then-Sen. Phil Puckett and his daughter if the senator resigned his seat – thus changing partisan control of the Senate.
The State Integrity Investigation ranked Virginia 47th out of 50 states on its Corruption Risk Report Card.
This month’s scandal is news that the Virginia Tobacco Commission gave $30 million to a partner of Dominion Resources Inc., to construct a natural gas pipeline to a new $1.3 billion natural gas-fired power plant Dominion is building in Brunswick County. The commission’s staff recommended $6.5 million. Dominion is listed as a beneficiary on the Tobacco Commission grant application and is co-signer of the contract.
How was the grant increased by $23.5 million to benefit Dominion – one of the richest and most politically well-connected corporations in Richmond?
According to a draft report by the state Inspector General’s office obtained by The Associated Press, Tobacco Commission staffers said there was pressure from McDonnell’s office to boost the award. But McDonnell’s lawyers said he did not lobby the Tobacco Commission. Dominion said it didn’t, either. Hmmm.
The Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission was established in 1998 when Virginia received its portion of a settlement with 46 states and the four largest tobacco companies. Forty percent went to the General Fund and 10 percent to reduce tobacco use and obesity. The rest of the money was put into a $1 billion endowment fund run by the Tobacco Commission to generate cash for community revitalization grants in Southwest and Southside Virginia.
The Tobacco Commission’s chair is Terry Kilgore, a powerful Republican delegate from Virginia’s far southwestern corner. With $122,000 in campaign contributions from Dominion, Kilgore received more money from Dominion than any member of the House of Delegates. Terry’s twin brother, Jerry Kilgore, a former Virginia attorney general and GOP nominee for governor, is a partner with Dominion’s Richmond law firm, McGuireWoods.
So far this year, Dominion is the largest donor to state-level politicians, operating three different accounts, with over $1.3 million in contributions. Dominion has donated more than $9 million over the years to Virginia Democrats and Republicans.
The Virginia Way was fundamentally a public trust that our elected officials would not behave like those in other states. Though that trust has been severely injured, we cannot give up trying to restore it. We can and should demand that steps be taken to make this situation right.
Dominion and its pipeline partner, Transco, a subsidiary of the Houston, Texas-based The Williams Companies, must give back the money. They don’t need what is essentially a welfare check to continue eroding public confidence.
The General Assembly should pass a law that restricts members from accepting any political contributions from organizations and corporations with legislation pending before the legislature. The $100 cap on gifts that Republicans and Democrats are proposing is not enough.
Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw – no stranger to money from Dominion – said last year, “You can’t legislate ethics… either you’re dishonest or you’re not, OK?” Saslaw is wrong that Virginia doesn’t need strong ethics laws, but in one sense he was right. Either Virginia is going to decide to be an honest place to govern, live and do business, or it’s not. It’s time for all of us to decide if The Virginia Way can be saved.
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a Virginia-based watchdog that holds government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public.
November 19, 2014 Leave a comment
Professor Michael Karmis is evading basic questions about whether clean energy experts were consulted in his critical cost-benefit analysis of how Virginia can meet its federal Clean Power Plan (CPP) goals. This raises the possibility that Dr. Karmis, director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research, is shielding donors from legitimate public scrutiny.
The cost-benefit analysis was mandated by the legislature, is relied upon by the Governor, and is included in the Virginia Energy Plan. As we’ve reported before, Karmis is a curious choice to author this foundational document. The Clean Power Plan gives states wide flexibility on how to meet standards. Logically, such an analysis should consider a variety of solutions to cut power plant pollution, including fast-growing renewable energy sources that have created 290,000 jobs in neighboring mid-Atlantic states in recent years.
Yet, Karmis’s Coal Center is heavily oriented to only one, highly-polluting energy source – coal. The Center’s website lists a number of significant players in the coal industry as Sponsors that provide “generous financial contributions.” High ranking members of those same companies serve on the Center’s Advisory Board. Of its eight in-house “experts,” seven have strong financial ties to the coal industry – but none to clean energy sources.
State law mandated that Karmis’s Center be consulted, but not be the lead author of the analysis – a big difference in the level of power a coal-centric perspective would have in driving the process.
On Oct. 9, Karmis told me by phone in my only conversation with him, just as he was about to leave for a “site visit” to a West Virginia coal mine, that he had consulted renewable energy experts, but was unable to say who they were due to a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) signed with Virginia’s Dept. of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME). Professor Karmis said that if DMME’s Energy Director Al Christopher, who “coordinated” the study, gave him permission to tell me who he consulted with, then he would be “glad to tell you.” Unfortunately, several subsequent attempts to obtain that permission from Mr. Christopher went unanswered. Here’s an example:
A Freedom of Information Act request sent to DMME on Sept. 29, 2014, produced records showing that an unusual non-disclosure agreement was the result of a request from a Mr. Hayes Fromme to Mr. Christopher. Fromme is an advisor to the Secretary of Commerce and Trade, and the McAuliffe Administration’s point person in creating the Energy Plan. The purpose was to prevent “outside people seeing the study prior to release.”
Professor Karmis, on the other hand, could see reasons of his own for a non-disclosure agreement. In the following Sept. 15 email, Karmis’s top aide John Craynon explains Professor Karmis had “already had a contact” about the cost-benefit analysis his Coal Center and hand-picked consultants were producing and wanted an NDA to “minimize what we need to say.”
In response to a FOIA I sent to Virginia Tech on Oct. 3, the justification for not providing me with the information I requested was the non-disclosure agreement.
Is Professor Karmis shielding his Center’s coal industry donors from scrutiny about their involvement with the analysis of how Virginia can meet its Federal Clean Power Plan goals? If so, this is a highly inappropriate action.
It raises important questions about who hired Dr. Karmis to author the document, if others were allowed to bid, and how much Professor Karmis’s Coal Center was paid? More on that soon.
November 3, 2014 Leave a comment
In my recent post, “Is Coal Center Too Conflicted to Analyze How Virginia Responds to Fed’s Clean Power Plan?” I raised questions about who in Virginia government chose a professional coal advocate to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of how Virginia should best meet the Clean Power Plan standards.
The advocate in question is Virginia Tech’s Michael Karmis. He runs the Center for Coal and Energy Research and has extensively consulted with the coal industry. His Center is sponsored by:
The Center’s “Advisory Board” includes the Virginia Dept. of Mines, Minerals and Energy Director Mr. Conrad Spangler, along with the major players in the state’s fossil fuel industries, including:
Of its eight staff experts, all appear to be closely tied to the coal industry. Neither Dr. Karmis, nor anyone else on the Center’s staff have any discernable experience with energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, which have in recent years created 290,000 jobs in neighboring Mid-Atlantic states.
Foundation Document but No Analysis of Renewables
The cost-benefit analysis that Dr. Karmis was hired is a foundation document for informing how the state will respond to the federal Clean Power Plan standards (CPP). The Governor, his staff, and the Virginia legislature will heavily rely on its findings over the next year, and they were already included in the State Energy Plan, released on Oct. 1, 2014.
In Section 3 of the analysis, Commercially Available Technology (page 49), renewables are not included:
On pages 94-95, Dr, Karmis writes:
“There have not been adequate studies or analysis to demonstrate the practicality of such expansion [of renewable power generation] within Virginia, and few efforts are currently ongoing which can be used as positive examples of the capability of the Commonwealth to meet demand using renewable sources. A study conducted by Virginia Tech in 2005 assessed various sources of renewable power for Virginia, and concluded that… cost and applicability for Virginia must await a detailed assessment.”
Critics have said that this finding clashes with the business world realities of rapidly dropping prices for solar and wind energy.
The selection of Dr. Karmis begs some straightforward questions:
On Oct. 9, I contacted Dr. Karmis by phone in his office to ask him the questions above. He was between meetings and was only able to speak with me for very short period of time. Dr. Karmis told me that he had consulted renewable energy experts in producing the cost-benefit analysis, but he could not tell me who they were because there was a non-disclosure agreement. If Al Christopher, director of energy of Virginia’s Dept. of Mines, Minerals and Energy DMME), gave him permission, he would be glad to tell me. Karmis told me Christopher had “coordinated” the study.
I had sent Freedom of Information Act requests to DMME and Virginia Tech in pursuit of these and other questions. In response, DMME sent me emails and other records that I am in the process of analyzing. The response from VT was disappointing.
I caught up with Mr. Christopher in Richmond on Oct. 14, prior to Gov. McAuliffe’s unveiling of the Energy Plan. Christopher said that state law required that Dr. Karmis write the cost-benefit analysis, and that I should look at the statute, which I’ve posted here. The law in Section 1 A says only that Dr. Karmis’ Coal Center be “consulted,” not that Dr. Karmis should write the entire cost-benefit analysis – a big difference.
I sent Mr. Christopher an email asking for a clear answer about whether or not Dr. Karmis was free to answer my question about which renewable energy experts Dr. Karmis had consulted, but have received no reply.
I have also asked Mr. Christopher in a follow-up email to tell me where in the law he was “required” to hire Dr. Karmis to write the cost-benefit analysis, but again with no reply.
This morning, I left a message at Mr. Christopher’s office to confirm he received my emails. I have not received a reply to any of my emails to him or my voice mail. I will continue to press for answers.
October 31, 2014 Leave a comment
A front-page story in The Washington Post today states that the Brookings Institution “has grown more reliant on corporations, wealthy individuals and foreign entities,” and that “number of recent Brookings studies have been singled out for criticism by academics and others, some of whom attribute the research results to Brookings’s association with corporate donors and other wealthy interests.”
In a letter of inquiry to the Brookings Institution’s Energy Security Initiative (ESI) Director Charles K. Ebinger on Oct. 9, the Checks and Balances Project asked several pertinent questions. We have yet to receive a reply to that letter, but the Post’s article seems to confirm several of our concerns. The letter is attached to this post.
Eight of the nine experts listed on the ESI website have professional backgrounds in the oil, gas or utilities industries. Of those eight, all but one are former industry executives or consultants, while the remaining one is a former government official who promoted shale oil.
Certain Brookings fellows seem to be misinformed about renewable energy. Amory B. Lovins, Chief Scientist at Rocky Mountain Institute, wrote that Charles R. Frank, Jr., whom Brookings describes as “a nonresident senior fellow,” wrote in a working paper published in May “that new wind and solar power are the least, and new nuclear power and combined-cycle gas generation are the most, cost-effective ways to displace coal-fired power—just the opposite of what you’d expect from observing market prices and choices.” Today’s investigation by the Post underlines my concerns by stating that, “Energy companies have escalated their giving to Brookings in recent years, and its Energy Security Initiative has built a team of experts made up in large part of individuals with oil and utility industry ties.”
A chart included with the article shows that Xcoal Energy & Resources, Shell, Statoil, Chevron, and ExxonMobil all donated at least $100,000 each to Brookings in 2013. In addition, several oil-rich countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have donated at least $500,000 each to Brookings.
Lovins noted that by simply updating “the nine most egregiously outdated figures” in Frank’s analysis for Brookings, the rankings would be reversed, with renewable energy offering more net benefits than the other sources. Unfortunately, Brookings’ venerable reputation meant that their misinformed analysis was nonetheless amplified by The Economist.
In January 2013, Director Ebinger, who has “served on the boards of oil and gas companies” according to his biography, called on “pusillanimous” government officials to “stand up” to the renewable energy industry, while making no mention of the incentives that other energy sources receive.
Ebinger, in his own writings at Brookings, misses the cost savings that renewable energy provides to consumers, both on their electric bills and in avoiding costly health impacts; and how rapidly it is expected to shoulder the majority of America’s energy needs as its cost plummets.
The Brookings Institution has been considered a pillar of establishment thought-leadership. That’s why the Post’s investigation, and Brooking’s lack of a response to my letter is so disturbing.
The Checks and Balances Project
October 16, 2014 Leave a comment
I was in Richmond for Gov. McAuliffe’s unveiling of the 2014 Virginia Energy Plan. There, I had an opportunity to pursue questions about why Dr. Michael Karmis, Director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Coal Research, was chosen to write the critical cost-benefit analysis for Virginia’s response to the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP).
A cost-benefit analysis would normally be an obscure, bureaucratic document. But this year the Virginia legislature mandated a cost benefit analysis be included in the third annual state energy plan. How Virginia responds to the federal CPP standards is a big deal. People ask me why a coal backer was tasked with writing this foundational document that the legislature will rely upon. I typically respond, “Good question!”
As I see it, here are some important questions that need to be answered:
On pages 94 and 95 of his cost-benefit analysis, Dr. Karmis states:
“The EPA’s proposed rules would encourage development of renewable power generation within the state. There have not been adequate studies or analysis to demonstrate the practicality of such expansion within Virginia, and few efforts are currently ongoing which can be used as positive examples of the capability of the Commonwealth to meet demand using renewable sources…. [T]he cost and applicability for Virginia must await a detailed assessment.”
But Governor McAuliffe and people in the Virginia business community are pointing out that Virginia has fallen behind other Mid-Atlantic states, which created a combined 290,000 clean energy jobs in recent years. North Carolina added, in just one year (2013), 335 MW of solar capacity—roughly 18 times Virginia’s total installed solar capacity. Most of the additions were by residents and other private investors.
|Maryland||North Carolina||New Jersey||
Installed capacity measured in megawatts (MW). One megawatt is equal to 1,000 kilowatts (kW).
*Estimated. There is so little solar in Virginia that no one really keeps track.
I spoke with Dr. Karmis by phone at his Virginia Tech office on Oct. 9th. Dr. Karmis’s center lists a large number of significant players in the coal industry as sponsors that provide “generous financial contributions.” I asked him what renewable energy expertise he had used in his work. He claimed that he had consulted with renewable energy experts while writing the analysis, but he was unable to tell me who due to a nondisclosure agreement he had signed with DMME. Dr. Karmis said that DMME’s Energy Director Al Christopher “coordinated” the analysis and asserted that if Mr. Christopher allowed him to tell me who he consulted with, then he would be “glad to tell me.” Unfortunately, however, Karmis told me that he would be away at a visit to a West Virginia coal mine until the day of the formal unveiling of the State Energy Plan and would be unable to speak to me until after then.
On Tuesday, during the plan’s unveiling in Richmond, I was able to catch up with Christopher. He asserted that Dr. Karmis had consulted with renewable energy experts that are on the coal-industry sponsored center at Virginia Tech. Christopher also stated that DMME was required to hire Dr. Karmis’s Center.
Later, I read the legislation that Christopher referred to. In Section 1A it states:
“The Division [of Mines, Minerals and Energy], in consultation with the State Corporation Commission, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the Center for Coal and Energy Research, shall prepare a comprehensive Virginia Energy Plan….”
Notice the phrase “in consultation with.” DMME was to consult with Karmis’s coal center. Some people might take that to mean getting input on drafts.
I learned more by reading the Fiscal Impact Statement that states in Section 8:
“DMME has indicated that [sic] would need to hire expert consultants with skills and knowledge not currently available in house to conduct a comprehensive analysis.”
Did Christopher take that to mean he had to hire Dr. Karmis?
The Virginia legislation required there be “(d), an analysis of… (iii) the commercial availability of technology required to comply with such regulations.” Yet Dr. Karmis’s anaylsis focuses almost entirely on coal technology, with only a short section on energy efficiency and nothing on renewable energy. The federal Clean Power Plan suggests four tools that can be used to achieve carbon pollution reduction:
Going forward, as the discussion of Virginia’s compliance with the federal CPP heats up, it is important to understand more about why Dr. Karmis and his team were chosen to write the pivotal cost-benefit analysis. I have submitted two Freedom of Information Act requests; one to DMME and another to Virginia Tech. Perhaps we will learn more.
Executive Director, The Checks and Balances Project
September 30, 2014 Leave a comment
Earlier this year, the Virginia legislature passed a bill that requires the McAuliffe Administration to evaluate the costs and benefits to the state of complying with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. That plan would require Virginia to reduce carbon emissions by 37.5% by 2030 from 2012 levels. Carbon pollution from such sources as coal-burning power plants are fueling climate change and resulting sea level rise in areas such as southeastern Virginia.
The Administration tasked its Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) to produce the analysis. DMME hired Michael E. Karmis, PhD.
Professor Karmis is a curious choice. He is considered the state’s leading academic expert in coal, with an international reputation. He is the director of Virginia Tech’s Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research, and founder of the Appalachian Research Initiative for the Environment Sciences, whose partners include leading lights of the coal industry: Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal, Cliffs Natural Resources, MEPCO, Natural Resource Partners, Patriot Coal Corporation, and TECO. Karmis is also a director of The Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health, Inc. based in Bristol, Virginia. He is an active consultant to the mining industry. Karmis is the go-to man if you want to know just about anything related to coal in the Commonwealth.
But is Michael Karmis the man to conduct an impartial analysis of the costs and benefits of complying with the EPA plan? Especially considering that the EPA plan calls for sharply reducing carbon pollution from existing coal-fired plants that generate electricity? Were other less invested in the fossil fuel industry even considered?
Does Karmis have a conflict of interest?
To learn more about Professor Karmis’ contract to produce the analysis, I filed, on behalf of the Checks and Balances Project, a Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with DMME. I requested copies of any and all records, including meetings, emails, and phone logs, related to the contract and a host of Virginia officials.
With sea levels rising faster in southeast Virginia than in any other area along the East Coast, Virginia deserves an unbiasded look at the costs and even greater benefits of meeting the EPA’s standards. Unfortunately, an independent assessment from someone who makes his living as a “clean coal” expert is questionable.
Hopefully, the FOIA I filed yesterday will shed some light.
Executive Director, The Checks and Balances Project
September 10, 2014 Leave a comment
This week the American Energy Alliance and its President Thomas J. Pyle released a slanted poll meant to deliberately deceive the public by forgetting about 150 years of subsidies paid to the oil, gas, and coal industries. Its questions were carefully written to manufacture public opposition to tax credits that would spur the growth of the wind energy industry, as well as the EPA’s proposal to cut carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.
“The federal government has been giving special treatment to green energy for decades either directly through handouts like the wind [Production Tax Credit] or indirectly through red tape like EPA’s proposed power plant rule,” Pyle wrote in an email to The Hill.
I sent an email to Mr. Pyle and asked him about the poll. Nearly half of the 30 questions asked directly or indirectly about clean energy policy support. “I’m curious why you spent so much time on these types of questions when you didn’t ask any questions directly about welfare checks for fossil fuel companies?” I asked. I eagerly await his response.
As a former lobbyist for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and for Koch Industries, Pyle should be intimately aware of the lavish subsides given to the fossil fuel industry. A report issued in April 2014 by Oil Change International shows that subsidies to oil, gas, and coal exploration and production companies continue to grow and totaled some $21.6 billion in 2013 alone. In fact, the fossil fuel exploration and production subsidies have increased by 45 percent since 2009.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that Koch Industries co-owner and CEO Charles Koch founded AEA’s parent organization, the anti-clean energy Institute for Energy Research (IER), according to documents recently uncovered by Republic Report. Most of the Koch fortune comes from the oil and gas industry.
As for the poll itself, it was conducted by MWR Strategies, a company that also lobbies for the fossil fuel industry. According to OpenSecrets.org, MWR Strategies was paid $470K from Koch; $570 from American Electric Power, and $770K from Southern Company. That, together with the nature of the poll questions themselves, calls into question the validity of the poll.
Why are they all so afraid of clean energy? We’re curious.
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks & Balances Project , a watchdog group that holds government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public.
August 27, 2014 Leave a comment
An overwhelming majority of Ohioans strongly oppose a plan proposed by FirstEnergy Corp. and American Electric Power for their customers to pay more for electricity generated by old, coal-fired and nuclear plants and instead wants more investment in wind farms and solar arrays.
Support for energy-efficiency is also very high in Ohio, with more than two-thirds saying the state should be spending more on such programs.
The survey of customers of American Electric Power and FirstEnergy Corp. was conducted August 7-9 and was commissioned by The Sierra Club and Public Citizen.
The proposed plan by AEP and FirstEnergy would, if approved by Ohio regulators, guarantee that the 36-year old Davis-Bessie nuclear plant and the W.H. Sammis coal plant, built in 1959, continue in operation. The plan is opposed by 75% of the utilities’ customers, according to the poll.
The results of the poll are interesting in light of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s recent signing into law legislation that freezes the state’s renewable energy program. The new law also authorizes a two-year study period to determine the value of clean energy.
Why did Gov. Kasich become the first governor in the nation to do so? Perhaps when we receive a response to our latest records request, we’ll find out.
August 20, 2014 Leave a comment
When Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed legislation two months ago to freeze the state’s renewable energy portfolio, the message he sent was heard coast-to-coast. On Monday, The Boston Globe was the latest to weigh in. In an editorial titled, “States should not take Ohio’s lead on freezing renewable energy standards,” the Globe editorial board declared:
“Ohio’s goal, set in 2008, was to have 12.5 percent of energy come from renewable sources by 2025. That’s a modest target, but significant nonetheless. Ohio is on the front lines of the fight against greenhouse-gas emissions, with a whopping 69 percent of its electricity coming from the dirtiest of fossil fuels, coal.
While low-income consumers may be loath to pay a penny more for electricity in order to curb climate change, they should at least appreciate the benefits of supporting home-grown sources; Iowa, for example, gets more than 27 percent of its electricity from wind power.”
So why did Gov. Kasich sign the freeze, making him the first governor to do so nationwide? We’re curious.
August 18, 2014 Leave a comment
Today the Checks and Balances Project filed a second request for records for information into the reasons behind Governor Kasich’s decision to freeze clean energy jobs in the state. This request comes after the Kasich administration’s legal team ducked the clear questions asked in our first request.
Our new request asks for:
“any and all public records of conversations and/or emails pertaining to Senate Bill 310 and/or mention the word “energy” between Governor Kasich, his staff and representatives of the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity between January 1, 2014 and the present.”
“public records of conversations and/or emails pertaining to Senate Bill 310 between Governor Kasich, his staff and employees or lobbyists employed by Ohio investor-owned utilities: AES, American Electric Power, Duke Energy and First Energy. This request is effective for the dates between January 1, 2014 and the present.”
We have made this request in light of significant lobbying spending by Ohio utilities and by the Koch Brothers. FirstEnergy alone has donated more than $800,000 to the Governor and legislature during this legislative session. We are also curious about a $12,155 donation (the maximum allowed donation under Ohio campaign finance law) made by David Koch, of Koch Industries, Inc. to Governor Kasich’ 2014 re-election campaign.
Ohioans deserve to know why Governor Kasich decided to sign SB 310 despite the fact that it could cost Ohio consumers $1.1 billion dollars (PDF), put 25,000 Ohio jobs at risk, was overwhelmingly opposed by Ohioans, major editorial pages in the state, and a significant number of major Ohio businesses.
You can read a full copy of the request here.
August 11, 2014 Leave a comment
After more than a month of waiting, Governor Kasich’s administration has responded to our request for answers to basic questions
about the clean energy job freeze, SB 310. Our ask was simple and clear. What we got back can charitably called an evasion. The response we received is from an administration that doesn’t want to be honest with the public.
Our request seeks written public record of contacts the governor and/or his staff may have had with the Koch Brothers and the groups they fund, and with Ohio utilities. Our request is limited to records relating to Governor Kasich’s decision to freeze the state’s popular and successful renewable energy and energy standard.
Our request pertaining to the Koch Brothers asks for:
“…copies of public records of conversations and/or emails pertaining to Senate Bill 310 between Governor Kasich, hi staff and
representatives of organizations that are known to receive financial support from Charles and David Koch , as well as their respective family foundations. This includes but is not limited to the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity.” (emphasis added).
Governor Kasich’s response ducks our question:
“The Governor’s Office has no public records responsive to your request for any emails or meetings between the Governor, his staff and Charles and David Koch or representatives of their foundations” (emphasis added).
Tellingly, their response leaves out ALEC and Americans for Prosperity, as well as any of the other front groups that may receive Koch money.
They also dodge our request about conversations with the utilities. They have decided to duck behind legalisms rather than be transparent with the public.
They say that our request in this matter “does not provide enough guidance as to the specific records we are seeking”.
We simply want to know what their record of contact was with utilities that pushed for this freeze on clean energy jobs. Governor Kasich pushed this freeze despite opposition from the business community, criticism from the state’s editorial pages, and in the face of overwhelming support from the public.
We believe our request is self-evident, but we are working on a clarification for Governor Kasich’s office. Governor Kasich is doing the public a disservice by playing a bureaucratic cat-and-mouse game about the state’s energy jobs future. This is doubly true as we’ve seen two recent examples of clean energy manufacturers opting to site in surrounding states, and not in Ohio.
When we made this records request, we were hopeful that the Kasich administration would look at it as an opportunity to be honest with Ohio voters. The response we received makes it clear that they instead prefer to hide their actions from the public.
You can read the Kasich administration’s full response here.
August 7, 2014 Leave a comment
It has now been more than one month since the Checks and Balances Project made a formal request for information from Governor Kasich. We asked that his administration make public records of discussions they may have had with Koch Industries representatives and Ohio utilities in the run up to the Governor’s freeze of the state’s popular and successful renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. We remain hopeful that Governor Kasich will come clean about his record.
On Tuesday, we made an effort to remind the Kasich administration about our request. We tried to get in touch with Sam Porter, Kasich’s Assistant Chief Counsel, and were told he was in a meeting. More than 48 hours later, we have not received any word back.
We made our initial records request in light of a recent $12,155 donation (the maximum allowed donation under Ohio campaign finance law) made by David Koch, of Koch Industries, Inc. to Governor Kasich’ 2014 re-election campaign, as well as the thousands of dollars in campaign donations the Governor has received from utilities such as First Energy and other Ohio utilities. Ohioans deserve to know why Governor Kasich decided to sign SB 310 despite the fact that it could cost Ohio consumers $1.1 billion dollars (PDF), put 25,000 Ohio jobs at risk, was overwhelmingly opposed by Ohioans, major editorial pages in the state, and a significant number of major businesses.
You can download a PDF of our FOIA submission here.
July 25, 2014 Leave a comment
Ohio utility FirstEnergy was a major supporter of freezing the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. The company has made more than $600,000 in campaign donations in the past two years to Ohio elected officials.
The Checks and Balances Project is concerned that this money is coming from FirstEnergy customers. We want to ensure that ratepayer money isn’t being used by this monopoly to raise FirstEnergy customers’ monthly bills. Below is a copy of a letter sent by the Checks and Balances Project to the FirstEnergy board of directors on behalf of FirstEnergy customers:
July 25, 2014
FirstEnergy Board of Directors
c/o Vice President and Corporate Secretary
76 South Main Street
Akron, OH 44308-1890
To the FirstEnergy Board of Directors,
I am writing on behalf of your customers regarding concerns that you are using their money to lobby for legislation that will increase customer electricity bills. Specifically, I am referring to your company’s support of recently passed Senate Bill 310. As you know, this legislation freezes the state’s successful and popular renewable energy and energy efficiency standards.
You should also know that last year, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio found that cutting renewable energy and energy efficiency standards could cost Ohio consumers more than $1.1 billion dollars. Furthermore, the same study found that these standards have already lowered electricity bills by 1.4%.
This is no doubt why the standards have been so popular. A majority of Ohioans, major businesses and the state’s leading newspapers supported maintaining the standards in place.
Notably, your company did not. In fact, FirstEnergy lobbied extensively against the standards. You also put your money where your mouth is to an impressive degree. Financial records show your company and its employees have donated nearly $600,000 to Ohio politicians since July of 2012.
As a regulated monopoly, you have a responsibility to ensure that you charge ratepayers a fair price for electricity because your customers have no choice but to be your customer. Certainly, you have the right to lobby for policies that are in your shareholders interests. But, it is unseemly and unfair to customers to use customer money to lobby for policies that raise their bills. Your actions are more questionable, given your recent decision to end your energy efficiency programs.
I should note as well, this is not the first example of your company potentially using customer resources against their own interests. As reported by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, your company sent a letter to customers urging them to support the renewable energy and energy efficiency standards freeze.
I urge you to ensure your customers that you are not using their monthly electricity bills to raise their energy bills.
Scott Peterson, Checks and Balances Project Executive Director
July 17, 2014 Leave a comment
Cross-posted from the National Journal’s Energy Insider’s Blog.
by Scott Peterson
Senator Manchin’s legislation is yet another government handout for the coal industry. It is a great example of the way the coal and other fossil fuel industries have used their financial resources to game the system to get favorable legislation. Senator Manchin is a favorite of the fossil fuel industry, having received more than $1.4 million from the sector in campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
This legislation also highlights the fossil fuel industry’s double standard when it comes to federal support for energy sources. While the industry and its allies routinely claim that renewable energy should not get government support, they seem to have no problem with taking massive subsidies for themselves.
Take for example the American Coal Council’s criticism of renewable portfolio standards. It says it maintains its support of a ‘diverse energy supply’, premised on ‘free market’ principles. Or, to quote Jason Hayes, Associate Director of the American Coal Council, speaking about the wind production tax credit. “Lets get rid of the subsidies, let the production tax credit expire, and let energy resources compete on a level playing field.”
It is easy to say you want a level playing field when that field is already so tilted in your favor. A recent report by Oil Change International found that government subsidies of the fossil fuel industry totaled more than $21 billion dollars last year just for fuel exploration. When you combine that with the fact that the fossil fuel industry has received subsides for more than a century, it is hard to take the industry’s professed distaste for subsidies seriously.
Perhaps the fossil fuel industry should finally put taxpayer money where the industry’s mouth is. If the fossil fuel industry were being honest in their antipathy toward energy subsidies, they would tell Senator Manchin to support that self-stated commitment for the free market by letting the industry stand up for itself.
July 16, 2014 Leave a comment
Today the Checks and Balances Project released a new web video asking Governor John Kasich to answer a records request we made seeking information regarding his decision to freeze the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. This records request was filed two weeks ago. The only response we have received from the Kasich administration was a confirmation of receipt.
We have filed this request in light of the recent significant campaign contributions Governor Kasich has received from the fossil fuel industry, including the maximum allowable donation from David Koch of Koch Industries. Our records request seeks any and all communications Governor Kasich and his senior staff might have had with fossil fuel interests, and the state’s investor-owned utilities, in the run up to his decision to gut clean energy expansion in Ohio by signing Senate Bill 310.
Senate Bill 310 freezes Ohio’s popular renewable energy and energy-efficiency standard. His action puts at risk 25,000 clean energy jobs and more than $1 billion in savings for Ohio consumers. Watch the video below.
July 2, 2014 Leave a comment
Today the Checks and Balances Project filed a request for information from Ohio Governor John Kasich regarding communications he and his senior staff might have had with fossil fuel interests in the run up to his decision to gut clean energy expansion in his state. In June, the Governor signed SB 310, a bill that put a “freeze” on the state’s popular and successful renewable and energy-efficiency standard.
The Checks and Balances Project is seeking documentation of any and all written and email communication from Governor Kasich and his staff to representatives of Koch Industries, Inc. and the lobbying organizations they are known to financially support, as well as between the Governor, his staff and the state’s investor-owned utilities.
We have made this request in light of a recent $12,155 donation (the maximum allowed donation under Ohio campaign finance law) made by David Koch, of Koch Industries, Inc. to Governor Kasich’ 2014 re-election campaign. Ohioans deserve to know why Governor Kasich decided to sign SB 310, despite the fact that it could cost Ohio consumers $1.1 billion dollars (PDF), put 25,000 Ohio jobs at risk, was overwhelmingly opposed by Ohioans, major editorial pages in the state, and a significant number of major businesses.
This would not be the first time that the fossil fuel industry and the Kasich administration have been closely intertwined. In 2012, it was revealed that the Kasich’s Ohio Department of Natural Resources coordinated with fossil fuel industry players, including Halliburton and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association to promote oil and gas drilling in state parks.
Governor Kasich is frequently mentioned as a potential Presidential candidate. With this request, he has an opportunity to explain his administration’s cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry and allay concerns that he is working on his next job at the expense of Ohio jobs. You can download a PDF of our FOIA submission here.
June 30, 2014 Leave a comment
Hello, I am Scott Peterson, the new Executive Director of the Checks and Balances Project. I want to introduce myself because I know that there’s been a lull in Checks and Balances activities while the Project was between executive directors.
I want to first say that the people who have come before me in this role – Andrew Schenkel, Gabe Elsner and Matt Garrington – did amazing watchdog work. If I can be half as successful as they have been in getting to the bottom of how and why decisions are being made that affect taxpayers and consumers, I’ll be satisfied. I hope to build on their legacy in the months ahead.
I’m drawn to the Checks and Balances Project at a personal level. After years in New York as a spokesman for the financial industry, I now live and work in Virginia full-time. I’ve become increasingly concerned about the global climate crisis, and the efforts by the fossil fuel lobby to block clean energy solutions. As I’ve been more deeply involved in Virginia, I’ve been surprised by just how successful fossil fuel interests have been in blocking progress of clean energy and worse, how few people know about it. In fact, I think that the influence peddling and propaganda by polluting industries is what has contributed significantly to the loss of public faith in government institutions. The Nation says that influence is a $9B a year industry. That’s a staggering figure.
The costs of the influence business to average Americans are real. Look no further than the latest outrage, Ohio Governor John Kasich signing into law a bill “freezing” the growth of clean energy technologies. At the behest of one dirty utility – First Energy – and the Koch Brothers from Kansas, Governor Kasich has put at risk 25,000 clean energy jobs in state that is desperate for economic activity. The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard that Governor Kasich has frozen has saved Ohioans an estimated $1 billion to date.
That’s just one example. Back in my state of Virginia, we give tens of millions of dollars a year in tax money as a subsidy to the coal industry. It’s interesting to note this is the same industry that funds front groups to yell at the solar and wind industries about being supported by popular, pro-clean energy policies. These technologies should “stand on their own feet,” the coal lobby says. I think we can start by having the coal industry take the first step of getting off subsidies. It’s only been on them for, what, the last 150 years?
Lobbyist influence and what I call the legalized corruption of lobbying money has become some “New Normal” that Americans are supposed to accept. I don’t think we should accept it, and that’s why I’ve committed to build on the Checks and Balances legacy in the months ahead.
September 10, 2013 Leave a comment
Executives at Anadarko and Noble Energy are the board members and the Western Energy Alliance’s communications manager is the spokesperson for a new natural gas group in Colorado. The Center for Western Priorities takes a look at this group and asks the obvious question – is it willing to break ranks with the oil and gas industry, or is it just another empty mouthpiece.
A new industry-backed oil and gas group has sprung up in Colorado, and it’s calling itself CRED (Coloradoans for Responsible Energy Development). According to profiles in the Denver Business Journal and Greenwire, the group was created by top executives at two of Colorado’s biggest oil and gas players. CRED says its purpose is to correct Coloradans’ misunderstandings about the oil and gas industry. But, clever acronyms aside, the group is going to have to prove its CRED-ibility as an impartial, legitimate information source, before anyone’s going to take it seriously. That means acknowledging facts and taking positions even if they conflict with industry talking points.
— (CWP blog post, 9/10/13)
Read the full post and judge this new group for yourself.
September 9, 2013 1 Comment
The unfolding controversy around Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s involvement with CONSOL Energy Inc., a Pittsburgh-based fossil fuel (oil, gas and coal) company, has focused on the widely criticized assistance his office provided the company. It also has focused on the total amount of money Cuccinelli has received from CONSOL.
When forced to respond to C&BP recently, Cuccinelli has asserted the company “gave me $100,000 after I opposed them.” A comparison of the timing of contributions and actions that favored CONSOL paint a very different picture.
In the first eight years of Mr. Cuccinelli’s political career (state senate), his campaigns received a total of $3,500 from CONSOL. However, once elected to Attorney General, his office began taking actions that favored CONSOL and disadvantaged southwestern Virginia landowners who hadn’t been paid by CONSOL. A comparison of the timelines of actions and money show a pattern of accelerating support as favorable actions increased, bringing a total of $140,000 to Cuccinelli after the actions favorable to CONSOL began.
In June 2010, Mr. Cuccinelli issued an advisory opinion that limited the jurisdiction of the Virginia Gas and Oil Board that forced Virginia landowners to go to court over royalty payments, a move clearly in CONSOL Energy’s favor.
Two months later, in August 2010, his office sided with CONSOL and against Virginians in a lawsuit to recover improperly withheld royalties, helping the out-of-state oil company defend against a claim by Virginia landowners.
From August 2010 through April 2012, Cuccinelli’s office (through a Senior Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pigeon) began secretly providing legal research and advice to CONSOL’s attorneys regarding the lawsuit, outside of the scope of the AG office’s official capacity. The Virginia Inspector General is now investigating to determine whether the AG’s office misused taxpayer funds.
Finally, Mr. Cuccinelli, helped CONSOL again earlier this year when he issued another advisory opinion that barred local jurisdictions from using zoning laws to establish fracking moratoriums.
August 30, 2013 Leave a comment
After siding with Consol Energy in a dispute regarding gas royalties for Virginia landowners, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli received over $100,000  from Consol Energy and its subsidiaries. Our question for Mr. Cuccinelli is simple – given the conflicts of interest in taking money from a company involved in a lawsuit with landowners, will he give the money back?
The Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) attended a forum yesterday with Mr. Cuccinelli at George Mason University’s Arlington Campus (which is also the home to the Koch-funded Mercatus Center), and which was organized by fossil fuel front group, Consumer Energy Alliance.
After the forum, Mr. Cuccinelli took a few questions from reporters before abruptly walking off after C&BP asked about the more than $100,000 he has received from Consol.
Here’s what happened:
C&BP: “You’ve received over $100,000 from Consol Energy since you sided with them? Will you give that money back?
Mr. Cuccinelli: “I did not receive $100,000 since I sided with them. I received $100,000 in contributions since I opposed them.
Mike Stark (from FossilAgenda.com): Then why did they give you $100,000?
Cuccinelli: I’m the only candidate who’s proposed a solution to the gas. [inaudible]
C&BP: I’ve heard you say that before… but do you…
Cuccinelli: If you don’t have an actual question, thank you very much. [Ends press conference after only five reporters out of approximately 30 had asked questions.]
C&BP attempted to get an answer after the press conference before one of the two state troopers escorting Mr. Cuccinelli stopped C&BP from walking towards the Attorney General to ask the question.
Here’s the audio of C&BP trying to get an answer before being stopped by state troopers (fast forward to :27 for the question and interaction with state troopers):
The Virginia landowners who Mr. Cuccinelli has sided against have already asked him to give the money back and C&BP asked him again yesterday. He reacted by walking away from a press conference. Mr. Cuccinelli should answer the question – and clean up any potential conflicts of interest by returning campaign payments from Consol Energy and its subsidiaries, which are currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Virginia landowners.
 Mr. Cuccinelli accepted more than $140,000 in Consol contributions after issuing an advisory opinion as Attorney General that limited the jurisdiction of Virginia Gas and Oil Board in June 2010. That opinion marked the first of several Consol-friendly actions Mr. Cuccinelli has taken as Virginia’s Attorney General. Two months later, in August 2010, Mr. Cuccinelli sided with Consol and against Virginians in a lawsuit to recover improperly withheld royalties. Finally, Mr. Cuccinelli, went to bat for Consol again earlier this year when he issued another advisory opinion that local jurisdictions in Virginia may not use zoning laws to establish a moratorium on fracking until they can be sure their water tables will not be polluted.
Correction: The post originally stated the the forum was hosted by the Mercatus Center. It was hosted by GMU at the Arlington Campus, which is also the home of the Mercatus Center. Regardless, the Koch’s have donated nearly $30 million to GMU and its associated institutes and centers.
August 23, 2013 Leave a comment
Today, the State Department Office of Inspector General announced that an investigation into Environmental Resources Management’s (ERM) conflicts of interest would not be completed until January 2014. This announcement indicates that the Keystone XL pipeline decision is facing another delay as a result of ERM lying to the State Department about its connections to TransCanada, the company hoping to build the pipeline.
The Checks & Balances Project and 10 other organizations, called on the Inspector General in April to launch an investigation into ERM’s conflicts of interest. In government documents, ERM claimed that it had no relationship with TransCanada or any other entity with a stake in the project “in the past three years” despite working for TransCanada and other oil companies with a stake in the Canadian tar sands. Unredacted documents revealed proof that ERM had worked for TransCanada during that three year period and lied to the State Department on conflict of interest disclosure forms.
In late May, after receiving a call from a Special Agent at the Office of Inspector General, The Checks & Balances Project announced that the State Department had launched a probe into conflict of interest allegations.
Gabe Elsner, Director of the Checks & Balances Project, released the following statement following news of the State Department’s inquiry and review of these conflicts of interest:
“The public was supposed to get an honest look at the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline. Instead, ERM, an oil company contractor, misled the State Department, in what appears to be an attempt to green light the project on behalf of oil industry clients. Secretary Kerry must halt this flawed review process and direct the State Department to conduct a full, unbiased review of the Keystone XL pipeline’s impact. The Inspector General should complete a full investigation into ERM’s misleading statements and the State Department should determine appropriate disciplinary actions for ERM to discourage contractors from lying to the federal government in the future.”
August 13, 2013 2 Comments
This Q&A originally appeared in Midwest Energy News.
Though bills meant to revoke or undercut renewable standards in numerous states failed last session, clean energy advocates say the model Market Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act proposed by ALEC’s energy task force during the conference pose a fresh threat.
The Market Power Renewables Act argues for a “voluntary market” that would allow people to invest in renewable energy if they choose without instituting mandates, and it claims that such an approach could lead to more renewable energy development overall.
The Renewable Energy Credit Act would expand the types of energy that would count toward credits. It would also remove caps on the proportion of an RPS that can be met through credits – a provision now enshrined in many states’ laws. And it would also allow the renewable standard’s full term – for example through 2025 – to be met in advance by bulk purchases of credits to meet future requirements.
The ALEC conference also included presentations by the American Petroleum Institute on local hydraulic fracturing bans; offshore energy as “good sense and good cents”; nuclear energy’s role in baseload electricity production; and the U.S. EPA’s “assault on state sovereignty,” hosted by a representative of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Gabriel Elsner, director of the pro-clean energy watchdog Checks and Balances Project, was among the advocates banned from ALEC’s meeting in Oklahoma City in May. Elsner was in Chicago for the recent conference, in an effort to learn more about state legislators’ and corporate executives’ ties with ALEC. The Checks and Balances Project also collaborated with the Center for Media and Democracy and Greenpeace to publicize ALEC’s confidential agenda and proposed model bills.
Midwest Energy News spoke with Elsner during his visit.
Midwest Energy News: Given that ALEC was unable to pass its bills last year, how serious a threat do these model bills pose to RPS standards and to renewable energy development as a whole?
Elsner: ALEC completely failed in 2013 to weaken or eliminate RPS laws. We’ve seen that because there’s bipartisan support for clean energy. Businesses and communities are seeing local economic development and job creation because of these laws.
ALEC’s new model legislation is a stealth attack on RPS’s. They are framed in a way that makes them seem pro-clean energy, but would open up RPS’s to allow sources of electricity – from large hydropower to landfill gas — to be included in state laws that are supposed to incentivize clean energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal. The net effect would be reduced incentives for local, clean energy development in states that adopted this new bill.
ALEC’s proposed “Market-Power Renewables Act” doesn’t mention hydropower or landfill gas – how do you figure it would allow such energy to be counted toward RPS compliance?
This bill as written would open up the market to the different registries that regulate renewable energy credits. For example, in Kansas, your renewable energy credits are regulated by a different entity than in California. But if Kansas passes this law, they could buy RECs from hydropower plants in California or Oregon to fulfill the entire RPS.
That’s already allowed in some states, how would this law be different?
I looked at the regional registries for RECs listed in the model bill. REC registries define renewable energy differently – some include hydropower plants as large as hundreds of megawatts. Others include landfills gas and biomass projects.
ALEC’s new model bills would create a lowest common denominator that would weaken the traditional RPS’s by allowing out-of-state RECs to fulfill the entire RPS. If building a wind turbine in Kansas cost a dollar and five cents but you could go out and buy an REC for a dollar from a hydropower plant in Maine, the utilities would go out and buy a credit and not build the local clean energy project. It would eliminate the economic benefit and jobs in the state.
What exactly is an ALEC model bill and where does it go from here?
The bills were discussed by the ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force on Friday and voted on by a combination of corporate representatives like AEP and Exxon Mobil and legislators who sit on the task force. Once it passes the task force, a bill goes to the executive board of ALEC. [If the board approves,] it becomes a model bill and is sent out to ALEC legislators across the country.
Who are ALEC legislators?
ALEC doesn’t publish a list of which legislators are members. The Center for Media and Democracy has compiled a list at ALECExposed.org. Right now, we know that about 25 percent of all state legislators are members of ALEC. Legislators who attacked RPS’s last year were in Chicago for the conference.
At the conference ALEC also discussed a model resolution supporting grid modernization. This would appear to put ALEC on the same page as clean energy groups. Is their support really a way to introduce curbs on improving the grid or promoting renewables on the grid?
It would be great if utilities were for grid modernization because it could lead to more clean energy development, smart meters, net metering. But more likely is that members of the ALEC energy task force are supporting grid modernization to maximize the benefits to the utilities at the expense of ordinary consumers.
It’s also a model resolution – not model legislation – so it lacks any details on what pieces of grid modernization they would actually support. The model resolution supports cost recovery by utilities, but would they support the increased use of smart meters and net metering?
If model bills don’t benefit the utilities and other fossil fuel interests funding ALEC, it’s probably not going to pass the task force.
ALEC calls for the possibility of buying renewable energy credits from businesses and private citizens. Might this in a sense further the goal of distributed energy and create incentives for people or businesses to generate their own renewable energy?
In theory this could lead to increased use of clean energy by opening up a voluntary market for RECs. But it’s more likely that opening the RPS to large existing hydro and other sources of electricity would water down the market and undermine in-state clean energy development.
It’s important to point out that RPS’s are already driving clean energy investment. In Kansas alone, it resulted in $3 billion of private sector investment in clean energy last year. These policies are working – if the members of ALEC really want to support clean energy they should work to increase the RPS standards.
The ALEC energy task force also passed a resolution to oppose a carbon tax. How much political significance does this have, especially given that ALEC works on the state level, and a carbon tax would be federal?
[The resolution] is a problem because it is a message to our national representatives in Congress. If state legislatures start passing resolutions against a carbon tax, it would send a strong message to people in Washington, D.C. that a carbon tax is not politically feasible.
What do groups hope to accomplish by publicizing ALEC’s agenda and model bills?
Transparency is always a good thing. ALEC for far too long has operated behind closed doors – lobbying our state legislators on behalf of their corporate members. The Checks and Balances Project is trying to bring accountability to that process by showing the public that major fossil fuel interests are working to impact our energy policy through ALEC.
Have these efforts had an impact already, such as with the failure of the bills in the past year?
I think that they have certainly mobilized people who are in favor of clean energy. ALEC’s attacks on clean energy mobilized businesses and other allies to defend these important policies. I think these attacks on something as popular as clean energy is also having an impact on ALEC itself, with many corporations deciding to leave ALEC because of the controversy surrounding the organization.
In regards to ALEC’s energy work, it’s no surprise that they are launching the next attack on clean energy policies. ALEC is a front group representing major fossil fuel interests, that see the growth of the clean energy industry as a long-term competitive threat.
August 12, 2013 Leave a comment
This response was originally posted at National Journal’s Energy Insiders blog, which asked energy experts this week, “How Bright Is Renewable Energy’s Future?”
The outlook for clean energy remains strong because smart investments like state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are combining with technological innovation to produce tremendous growth for the industry and tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs. These policies have successfully stood up to forceful attacks from entrenched fossil fuel interests in more than a dozen states in the past year. Washington should take note that the public supports and wants more energy from renewable sources.
At the state level, fossil fuel interests have worked through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to weaken or eliminate RPS, because the clean energy industry poses a competitive threat to their market share. State renewable energy standards are projected to add enough new renewable power capacity by 2025 to power 47 million homes.
So, it’s no surprise that fossil fuel interests like American Electric Power, Peabody Coal, ExxonMobil and others are working to rollback renewable energy laws. These corporations that sell electricity produced from coal and natural gas are in direct competition with electricity generated from clean energy sources. This year, ALEC members and fossil fuel-funded front groups worked to rollback RPS laws in at least 13 states. But, a bipartisan coalition of business leaders, farmers and clean energy advocates stopped them in their tracks. Of all the bills proposed by ALEC members to weaken or eliminate RPS, 0 out of 13 passed, including in key target states like Kansas, Missouri and North Carolina.
Despite failing completely in 2013, ALEC’s energy task force met last week to propose new model bills that would effectively gut RPS laws by allowing large, existing hydro and landfill gas and other electricity sources from out-of-state to count towards the Renewable Portfolio Standards. The Market-Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act would let utilities meet the clean energy standards by purchasing credits from out-of-state companies instead of generating or buying their own clean energy. In effect, the new model bills would eliminate incentives for in-state clean energy investment that are creating jobs and economic opportunities. Since their inception 10 years ago, RPS laws have leveraged over $100 billion in private sector investment in clean energy in 29 states.
ALEC and fossil fuel-front groups are lobbying our state representatives and spreading disinformation behind closed doors to attack pro-clean energy laws. With energy policy mostly stalled at the federal level, fossil fuel-funded attacks on the state level will continue and likely ramp up in the future, posing a major threat to the clean energy industry and the policies that support its growth.
August 7, 2013 Leave a comment
In 2012, Gov. John Hickenlooper recorded a misleading radio ad paid for by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. In the ad, the governor parses his words to make the claim that Colorado has not had a single instance of drilling and fracking contaminating groundwater, since 2008.
“In 2008, Colorado passed tough oil and gas rules. Since then, we have not had once instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing.” – Gov. John Hickenlooper
The records show that Gov. Hickenlooper’s claim is a nice, industry-friendly talking point. But, it’s entirely misleading when it comes to the facts about spills in the Centennial State.
A review of the Colorado Oil and Gas Information System shows that approximately 20 percent of all spills in 2012 resulted in water contamination; 22 of those spills impacted surface water, while 63 impacted groundwater. Fifty-seven percent of spills during the year occurred within 1,500 feet of surface water, and 28 percent of the spills occurred within 500 feet of surface water. Thirty-seven percent of spills – 147 of 402 – occurred less than 50 feet from the shallowest ground water, eight percent occurred between 50 and 100 feet from groundwater, and 9 percent occurred more than 100 feet from groundwater.
In June of this year, Bruce Finley at the Denver Post reported that, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Commission records, 179 oil and gas industry spills occurred in the state, just during the first half of 2013. In 26 of those spills, groundwater was contaminated, and 15 of them directly polluted ponds and creeks.
In one of the highest profile spills, people living near Parachute Creek learned in March that an ongoing hydrocarbon spill near Williams Midstream’s Parachute Gas Plant dumped more than 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbons into the ground.
Today, the Parachute Creek spill has been ongoing for more than six months, and testing in July shows that levels of benzene – a carcinogen – are elevated, again. Parachute Creek is a tributary to the Colorado River, a main water source for the region, and the benzene levels in the creek exceed state water quality standards.
In a second well-known spill that occurred in June, WPX Energy reported the release of 2,100 gallons of water that had been polluted by the drilling and fracking process. The spill occurred two miles south of the Colorado River, and most of the contaminated water was absorbed into the soil.
When Gov. Hickenlooper plays word games, like he did in COGA’s radio ad, he’s following industry’s lead. They like to parse the term fracking and then claim it’s never hurt water supplies. This is the sort of wordplay usually heard from teenagers explaining why they didn’t actually break curfew. The entire drilling and fracking process contaminates water – groundwater and otherwise – removing millions of gallons from the water cycle, in addition to what it pollutes on the surface.
Gov. Hickenlooper is being dangerously dishonest with Coloradoans when he says that fracking has never contaminated groundwater. He needs to stop prioritizing oil and gas companies over the safety of the people who elected him.
This is the fifth installment in our blog series “Hickenlooper’s Misdeeds” which shines a spotlight on how Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of the health of Colorado families and local communities.
August 1, 2013 Leave a comment
Gov. John Hickenlooper continues to oppose local efforts to protect residents from oil and gas drilling pollution, going so far as to sue local governments and taxpayers.
In his most recent action, the Hickenlooper-appointed Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission openly joined the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry lobby-group headed-up by CEO Tisha Schuller, in the administration’s second lawsuit against the city of Longmont.
As drilling operations encroach more and more on suburban and urban residential neighborhoods, Colorado communities have taken steps to protect residents while the Hickenlooper administration has actively opposed stronger health and safety protections.
In a February interview for CBS affiliate 4 News, Gov. Hickenlooper said that he would, “have to” sue every city and county that passes a fracking ban.
However, local elected officials aren’t taking the governor’s attacks lying down. In June, after Gov. Hickenlooper helped kill bills in the legislature to improve drilling and fracking regulations, 100 current and former local electeds signed a letter to Gov. Hickenlooper that read, “We would like to work with you in crafting an improved approach to addressing oil and gas development in Colorado.”
The letter went on to read, “We are concerned that the State’s positions do not adequately address the growing outcry from our citizens who are concerned about the health and safety of their families, the livability of neighborhoods, and the long-term economic vitality of our communities.”
As far as we know, that meeting hasn’t happened. As a former mayor of the City of Denver, one would think Gov. Hickenlooper would support local control and the right of municipalities to protect residents from dangerous oil and gas operations.
Ironically, he recently admitted that “oil and gas is an industrial process that none of us want in our backyard.”
As long as he insists on making oil and gas companies a priority over the health of Colorado families, he should expect local officials and residents to get involved. The least he could do is stop wasting taxpayer money on lawsuits fighting communities from doing the job he’s failed to do, protect Colorado.
This is the fourth installment in our blog series “Hickenlooper’s Misdeeds,” which shines a spotlight on how Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of the health of Colorado families and local communities.
July 30, 2013 Leave a comment
It appears that Colorado oil and gas lobbyists are back to playing their old games of lies and misinformation.
Monday, the industry-sponsored, blatantly anti-science group Energy in Depth (EID) put out new propaganda in an attempt to distract from the truth of how damaging oil and gas operations are to western air quality. In an interesting twist, EID’s Simon Lomax chose to attack Denver Post environmental reporter Bruce Finley as a means of casting doubt on the studies and data Finley references in his stories. Lomox spent a great deal of time and a lot of column inches cherrypicking to try and refute the negative effects of oil and gas drilling pollution on air quality. Our favorite line here at C&BP is when Lomax blames trees for smog.
“…and, not for nothing, those percentages don’t even include the biggest source of smog-forming emissions, which is the “biogenic” category – meaning trees and other vegetation.”
— Simon Lomax, “What Bruce Finley Failed to Mention About Air Quality,” Jan. 29, 2013
EID is a front group that was launched in 2009 by the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) – a.k.a the natural gas lobby. It has a team that works in various energy producing states where citizens are rightly concerned about the impacts of oil and gas to clean air, clean water, and property values.
It was disappointing to see that Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) CEO Tisha Schuller decided to insert her group into the theatrics. It was just over a month ago that Schuller began her “charm offensive,” announcing that she would tour Colorado in an attempt to depolarize the debate around drilling and fracking near communities. One way for her to do that would be to publicly distance herself and her organization from disinformation producers like EID. Instead, COGA retweeted EID’s claims.
Speaking of claims, here are a few other facts regarding fracking and air quality that EID would much rather the public wasn’t aware of.
Front groups like EID detract from the real conversation around fracking and drilling in the west. Unfortunately, it seems as if industry is turning to them out of fear, as more western communities move to install common sense protections for their residents. If people like COGA’s Tisha Schuller really want to have a depolarized conversation, they need to publicly distance themselves from groups like EID.
Instead, Schuller is doing what every other mouthpiece for Big Oil does, spreading lies and misinformation so that the oil and gas companies she represents can continue to pollute.
July 26, 2013 Leave a comment
The House Natural Resources Committee met Wednesday to debate a number of bills related to wilderness protection and energy issues. Among these bills were Congressman Doug Lamborn’s H.R. 1965 and Representative Scott Tipton’s H.R. 1394.
Rep. Lamborn’s bill mandates leasing quotas for oil and gas companies, encourages speculation, and bars the public, local officials and others from protesting potentially dangerous leasing decisions. It also endangers western water supplies and local economies by encouraging reckless oil shale speculation on public lands. Rep. Tipton’s bill essentially establishes energy development as the primary use of public lands. This would jeopardize the billion-dollar outdoor recreation and tourism industries, as well as the hundreds of thousands of Western jobs they create.
These bills have already faced outcry from Westerners who use these endangered public lands. Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development noted that it is senseless to make more land available when the oil and gas industry already has more than 7,000 unused drilling permits.
It was reported this week that more than 2,000 gallons of benzene contaminated water spilled from a well south of New Castle earlier this month. In another incident, a malfunctioning well sprayed gas and oil nearly 1,000 feet onto a neighboring farmer’s field. These incidents highlight the risks involved in fossil fuel development and demonstrate the need for this development to be properly regulated.
In the last legislative session, Governor Hickenlooper stalled bills that would have increased the number of well inspectors in the state and increased fines for companies who were negligent. This week’s news should raise further questions about who Governor Hickenlooper is working for, Coloradans, or oil and gas companies.
A new report from The Wilderness Society highlights a dozen landmarks that are threatened by the encroachment of oil and gas drilling. These sites include Arches National Park in Utah and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The report calls on the Department of the Interior and Members of Congress to protect these American treasures. Jim Gale, founding member of Park Rangers for Our Lands, was quoted in the report saying:
“Our National Parks protect America’s treasures, our natural and cultural heritage, and we need to insure their protection from the harm that comes from oil and gas drilling. Arches National Park should not be surrounded by drill rigs. It seems obvious but apparently we need to keep reminding the oil and gas industry and the federal government, so Park Rangers for Our Lands will do just that.”
The Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) released a faulty analysis of the proposed Department of the Interior fracking rule. It overestimates the annual cost of the rule by over $310 million.
John Dunham & Associates, the firm that completed the study, claims that the proposed rule would cost companies $345 million annually. But, the firm arrived at this figure by misrepresenting the report in a way that inflates costs nearly ten-fold. The report makes assumptions about a rule that wouldn’t actually apply to gas drilling and uses that misapplication to grossly inflate the costs of the proposed rule.
The state of Wyoming is in the process of requiring baseline testing of groundwater for areas where drilling of oil and gas would take place. As the state decides how the testing will proceed, landowners want to ensure that there are the proper accountability measures included in these rules so that oil and gas companies who do contaminate ground water are punished for violations.
June 22, 2015 Leave a comment
PHOENIX — A watchdog group has been told it can’t examine state Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump’s text messages because they were deleted and the phone used to send and receive them was destroyed.
The texts in question are believed to be between Stump and political candidates and the head of a “dark money group.”
David Cantelme, an attorney hired by the Arizona Corporation Commission, told the group that the agency can’t comply because the records “do not exist” — at least not any more. He said Stump “routinely deleted” messages of state business from his commission-issued phone “once their administrative or reference value ended.”
Attorney Daniel Barr, who represents the Checks and Balances Project, which wants to review the messages, said that practice “shows a clear disrespect and disregard for the Public Records Law.”
But Barr said what Stump did — or thought he did — doesn’t matter, saying technology is available to retrieve deleted information.
Cantelme, however, said the phone Stump was using at the time — up to the 2014 election — is not available, because the commissioner has since opted for a more modern iPhone5.
“His iPhone3 had deteriorated and become damaged and disabled, and he disposed of it as unusable after he began using the iPhone5,” Cantelme wrote to Barr. “Thus the iPhone3, first issued to Commissioner Stump in 2010, no longer exists.”
Barr, however, said there’s still a way to retrieve the information. And on Friday he told the commission to give him access to Stump’s iPhone 5 by this coming Friday or face a lawsuit.
“The commission can get these messages,” Scott Peterson, executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, said in a prepared statement. “They just don’t want anyone to see them.”
June 3, 2015 Leave a comment
June 2, 2015
Mark W. Toney, Ph.D.
TURN—The Utility Reform Network
785 Market St., Suite 1400
San Francisco, CA 94103
It was good to sit down with you while I was in San Francisco and learn more about TURN’s relationship with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and Commissioner Mike Florio. I appreciate the time you took to meet with me.
Since then, we have been focused on our Captured Regulators Initiative. In Arizona, we have been finding what we think are some important facts about the extent to which regulators have favored the major state utility, Arizona Public Service, over homeowners’ interests in low-cost rooftop solar.
Here are a couple of articles to give you a sense of what we call the “captured regulator” problem:
As for California, we recently completed an analysis of some of the more controversial actions of former CPUC President Michael Peevey and current Commissioner Mike Florio, including judge-shopping efforts to help PG&E.
We noticed that while TURN was severe in its criticism of then-President Peevy, the response to Florio’s transgressions from your organization has been muted, and you have not called for his resignation.
In fact, our analysis of media coverage since Florio was appointed to the CPUC in January, 2011, found 20 unique, negative quotes from TURN about Peevey, including five calls for his resignation. By contrast, we were able to find only four comments by TURN, all moderate and forgiving in tone, on the ethical challenges and possibly illegal conduct of Florio, who now is under a federal investigation.
When we met, you asserted to me that when it came to Peevey and Florio, “there is a difference between being foolish and being captured.” Yet Florio’s involvement in the judge shopping scheme is not the only point of concern about his conduct. Florio circumvented rules against back channel, ex parte communications with a PG&E lobbyist that resulted in a $130 million windfall for the utility. Most recently, it was revealed that Florio was present when former President Peevy lobbied Southern California Edison executives to give $25 million to UCLA to fund greenhouse gas research and advised an Edison executive not to report it, as required by law.
Legal experts have been shocked by Commissioner Florio’s behavior and the discrepancy between your response to Peevey versus Florio seems stark.
To promote transparency and understanding, Check & Balances Project invites TURN to release all communications any representative of TURN has had with Commissioner Florio since he left your organization and joined the CPUC. This includes emails and text messages.
I fully recognize that TURN has no obligation to do this. However, providing these communications may remove questions regarding your relationship with Commissioner Florio and your continued refusal to call for his resignation.
Please know that it is my intent under California records law to seek the release of these records. We believe they will be helpful to understand the extent to which Commissioner Florio has been captured by California’s utilities or stands on the side of the consumers that TURN says it seeks to protect.
Thank you again for your time. I look forward to your response.
Executive Director, Checks and Balances Project
June 2, 2015 Leave a comment
So, I see that the then-chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission was playing digital footsiewith both an Arizona Public Service executive and the guy who runs a dark money group widely suspected of being a front for APS during last year’s elections.
I, for one, am shocked. Shocked, I tell you, that the commission – the folks who determine how much you will pay for electricity — is apparently nothing more than a wholly owned subsidiary of the electric utility it’s supposed to regulate.
Why do I say that, you ask? Well, let me count the ways.
It’s widely believed that APS purchased a pair of seats on the five-member commission last year by secretly funneling millions of dollars through the Arizona Free Enterprise Club and a second dark-money group.
And that APS kicked in $438,395 via AzFEC to help then-Commissioner Gary Pierce’s son, who was running for secretary of state.
Meanwhile, Pierce is under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office after a commission staffer questioned his cozy ties with Don Brandt, the head of APS parent company Pinnacle West.