On 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina Former New Orleans Resident Questions African-American Leaders Siding With Climate Deniers

Evlondo Cooper

Evlondo Cooper

New Orleans has many nicknames: The Crescent City, The Birthplace of Jazz, and The Big Easy. It’s also my hometown but Hurricane Katrina cast me out. In 2005, I was an investigator for the New Orleans district attorney’s office who was invested in making a great city even better. Along with hundreds of thousands of others, I had to flee New Orleans.

This month is the 10-year anniversary of Katrina and its devastating punch, which we now know was made far worse by pollution-driven climate change. I juxtapose its devastation with the potential solutions as this month marks the release of President Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan, which would cut the very pollution that made Katrina so much worse.

Two things are particularly galling to me as someone with first-hand experience in the effects of runaway carbon pollution. The first is that ExxonMobil, the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests that funded climate change denial in the 1990s are now underwriting climate change solutions denial both by fighting the Clean Power Plan and an effort in Florida to allow consumer access to low-cost rooftop solar power.

Photo by Ted Jackson/The Times-Picayune

Photo by Ted Jackson/The Times-Picayune

When Americans across the country turned on their televisions on August 25th 10 years ago and saw thousands dead, hundreds of thousands displaced and a venerable American city underwater, it forced the tough questions about the world we were creating. Many scientists used Katrina as an opportunity to educate the public about how rising sea temperatures were intensifying storms.

By the time Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast in 2012, all but the most stubborn observers were unwilling to say that climate change was playing a role in the growing frequency and severity of extreme weather events.

The numbers are startling, and the evidence is overwhelming. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the United States experienced 178 weather and climate disasters since 1980. The NOAA determined that nearly half of those events have occurred in the 10 years since Katrina and have accounted for almost half a trillion dollars in damage.

But, for me, it’s not just a numbers game; it’s personal. When Katrina hit, New Orleans was one of the few majority African-American cities in the country. So it was mostly African-American families who were killed, displaced, scattered and unable to return.

And, New Orleans isn’t the only place where communities of color have borne the brunt of fossil fuel pollution. Because nearly 40% of those who live near a coal plant are poor African Americans and Latinos, it’s communities of color who are disproportionately affected by the negative economic and health consequences of fossil fuel pollution. The fact that fossil fuel pollution prematurely kills more than 10,000 people a year means that we’re experiencing the equivalent of five Katrinas every year.

Both President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and the Floridians for Solar Choice ballot initiative not only would benefit African Americans and Latinos economically by incentivizing the adoption of job-creating clean energy technology leading to increased jobs, these initiatives would also cut the harmful health effects of fossil fuel pollution by reducing carbon pollution levels.

But here’s the second thing that galls me: Rather than embrace these groundbreaking changes, some in our communities are taking money to fight them. I witnessed this strategy first hand when I attended the recent National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) convention in Hollywood, Florida, earlier this month.

Southeast Florida is Ground Zero for climate change, with Miami streets flooding on sunny days. But Koch sponsorship signage was everywhere as a parade of so-called experts repeated the same falsehoods about climate change science. Leading this charge was NBCC President Harry C. Alfordwho has boasted of taking fossil fuel funding and attacking pollution-cutting policies and technologies our communities – and all of America – so badly need. When I attempted to interview Mr. Alford, he denied that fossil fuel pollution hurts communities of color and bristled at my questions about his funding.

Unfortunately, Mr. Alford isn’t alone. Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Charles Steele and former Florida State Representative Joe Gibbons have both echoed the attacks of the fossil fuel lobby on climate change solutions. All three men have gone largely unchallenged, until now, about how they square taking money from the interests that hurt poor communities while asserting these players have our best interests in mind.

As New Orleans continues to rebuild in Katrina’s wake and South Florida struggles with sea level rise, we can no longer give a pass to any individual or organization that aligns itself against the best interests of our communities. Those who choose to elevate misinformation over truth and profits over people must be held accountable.

Otherwise, we all face a future where we’ll feel like strangers in our own land.

 

Evlondo Cooper, a former Orleans Parish criminal investigator, is a senior fellow with the Checks and Balances Project.

 

Checks and Balances Project Launches Investigation of Nevada PUC Commissioner David Noble

Checks and Balances Project Investigates Nevada Commissioner David NobleMy colleague Evlondo Cooper and I just returned from a six-day fact-finding visit to Nevada, where we met with reporters and editors, civic leaders, and others. Our trip to Carson City, Reno, and Las Vegas was designed to give us a better understanding of the dynamic between the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the state’s largest utility, NV Energy. It is part of our ongoing Captured Regulators Initiative.

Regulatory Capture 

The concept of “regulatory capture” was first described by Noble Prize-winning economist George J. Stigler in 1971. Although the problem is probably older than the Romans, Stigler described it as a situation in which a public agency, created to regulate a powerful industry for the benefit and protection of the public, instead is captured by the very industry it is supposed to oversee.

In Arizona, the Captured Regulators Initiative has uncovered powerful, circumstantial evidence that former Chairman, now Commissioner, Bob Stump and others on the Arizona Corporation Commission are captured by that state’s powerful utility Arizona Public Service (APS) – essentially acting as APS consultants, rather than impartial overseers of large parts of the state’s economy.

First FOIA Request

Checks and Balances Project Investigates Nevada Commissioner David Noble

David Noble

Now we are also turning our attention to Nevada, where Public Utility Commissioner David Noble was described by many people we talked to last week as by far the most “utility friendly” of the three commissioners. One source told us that Noble had been talking to audiences outside of the state about the threat to utilities by rooftop solar, something we will seek to confirm in the months ahead.

On Wednesday, August 19, we attended a PUC meeting in Carson City that Commissioner Noble presided over. Although the meeting was largely procedural, we were surprised at how Noble lashed out at a lawyer from the pro-solar group TASC for being workmanlike during official meetings but antagonistic in public. He struck us as being remarkably thin skinned for a public official whose salary is paid by taxpayers.

We begin our effort to determine if Commissioner Noble is a captured regulator with a request to obtain or review the record of his contacts with NV Energy and the utility trade association, the Edison Electric Institute. We have embedded it in this post in case you want to read it. Due to the importance of this issue to Nevadans at this phase of the state’s high-stakes energy debate, we believe these are critical questions to ask.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog 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.

 

Why Was Barrett Marson Hired as Spokesman for the Arizona Corporation Commission?

No competitive bid process, no conflict vetting, association with checkered efforts – all at considerable expense to Arizona Taxpayers

Why Was Barrett Marson Hired as Spokesman for the Arizona Corporation Commission?

Barrett Marson

On June 19, the day that our attorney, Dan Barr, sent a letter to the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) demanding access to former Chairman Bob Stump’s cell phone, ACC Executive Director Jodi Jerich fired long-time Commission spokesperson Rebecca Wilder.

Rather than comply with our public records request and allow downloading of Stump’s text messages to determine whether not Stump had engaged in illegal electioneering, Stump and the Commission had decided to fight, at considerable expense to Arizona taxpayers

PR Consultant Barrett Marson Hired

Five days later, the ACC hired Barrett Marson to serve as the ACC’s PR consultant at $7,500 per month.

According to records obtained by the Checks and Balances Project show there was no competitive bid process to make sure taxpayers got the best deal on the contract. There is no indication of an effort to ensure Marson had no conflicts of interest. The expensive hiring of Marson raises questions about why he was selected.

Marson is a minor celebrity in Arizona GOP circles. Since October 2013, he has co-hosted “Copper Talk,” a political podcast series. His first interview was with former Arizona Treasurer, now Governor, Doug Ducey. Barrett is a former journalist and director of communications for the Arizona House of Representatives and Dept. of Corrections where, according to his website bio, he “attended four executions.”

Minutes before our deadline, the Commission’s outside counsel David Cantelme, hired at a rate of $300 an hour, let it be known that the Commission had changed tactics. Their new plan was to choose a retired judge and a state police forensic expert to download Stump’s phone, then decide whether any of the texts are public records. The plan backfired when both the state police and Phoenix police refused to get involved.

Meanwhile, Marson wasted little time, directing an elaborate diversionary campaign to take people’s eyes off the unfulfilled public records request.

Ties That Bind

Why Was Barrett Marson Hired as Spokesman for the Arizona Corporation Commission?

Robert Graham

It’s worth noting that Marson has past connections to Arizona GOP Chairman Robert Graham and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s powerful chief of staff, Kirk Adams, through the dark money electoral nonprofit Americans for Responsible Leadership, where Marson was spokesman.

Graham, in the news last week for standing behind a county Republican Party executive who Donald Trump fired as his state director due to racist and religious slurs, was founding chairman of ARL and a director until becoming Arizona GOP chairman in February 2013. The Arizona GOP issued the infamous “Who Is Dan Barr?” attack video, and, according to Graham, created blog posts, a website, and a social media campaign attacking C&BP and defending Stump.

Why Was Barrett Marson Hired as Spokesman for the Arizona Corporation Commission?

Kirk Adams

Gov. Ducey’s Chief of Staff Kirk Adams was president of Americans for Responsible Leadership in 2012 and 2013. A former Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, where he worked with Marson, he also founded Prosper Inc., a 501c (4) non-profit that that received money from Arizona Public Service (APS) to fight net-metering.

The $1 Million California Fine

In October 2013, — while Graham, Adams, and Marson were all associates – the California Fair Political Practices Commission and California Attorney General announced a fine of $1 million – the largest in California history – for an $11 million campaign finance money-laundering violation against Americans for Responsible Leadership and Center to Protect Patient Rights. The illegal contribution was to the Small Business Action Committee. The Center was a front group run by Sean Noble, with whom Stump texted in a burst prior to the August 26, 2014 GOP primary. Almost all of the money has been traced to billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch.

Said Marson, called a “dark-money spinmeister”at the time by the Arizona Republic, “There was no intent to skirt or deceive California officials.”

Kirk Adams called the largest campaign money-laundering violation in California history “a big old nothing-burger.”

ACC is Still Accountable to Arizonans

Marson might have been the best-qualified, lowest-cost service provider the Commission could have hired. But without a competitive bid process and conflict vetting, we are left with only the questions about why he was hired so quickly and with so little screen on his qualifications, pricing, and conflicts.

If Commissioner Stump would have simply fulfilled his legal responsibility to provide the text message records in which he conducted public business – or if Chairman Susan Bitter Smith would have investigated – Arizonans would have been saved tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary contractor expenses.

 

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.

New York Regulator Zibelman Has More Questions to Answer about Conflicts of Interest

New York Regulator Zibelman Has More Questions to Answer about Conflicts of Interest

Audrey Zibelman

On Friday, July 31, we emailed a letter to New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) Chairman Audrey Zibelman, asking her a series of questions that revolve primarily around her relationship with Edward Krapels.

Mr. Krapels is the founder of Anbaric Microgrid, a company that has billions of dollars of contracts pending before the PSC. He was also Ms. Zibelman’s founding partner at Viridity Energy, a privately-held, Pennsylvania-based company.

Ms. Zibelman resigned as chief executive officer of Viridity after she was chosen PSC chair by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in 2013. However, according to Capital (now Politico), Viridity continued work on microgrid control panels for Anbaric. After questions were raised by a Newsday reporter in June, the website reference to the companies’ work together was eliminated, Zibelman cut all remaining ties with Viridity and abandoned her shares in the company.

Anbaric Projects

New York Regulator Zibelman Has More Questions to Answer about Conflicts of InterestIn February 2015, Zibelman met with Krapels about microgrids in New York state. Later, Ziebelman recused herself from a decision about a transmission line being developed by Anbaric, apparently seeking to avoid the appearance of conflict.

But Anbaric has two other, potentially lucrative projects pending before the PSC. So we asked Ms. Zibelman if she will recuse herself from all future decisions affecting Anbaric or any other company she is directly or indirectly affiliated with.

NY Code of Ethics

Because the New York Code of Ethics for public officers so clearly outlines the types of behavior and actions that can lead to improper conflicts, we sent our letter to the commissioner to ensure that she is upholding the highest standards of public integrity. The Code states:

“No officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should disclose confidential information acquired by him in the course of his official duties nor use such information to further his personal interests.”

“. . . state employees should not give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence them or be favored in the performance of official duties. Further, state employees should not pursue a course of conduct which could raise suspicion that they are engaged in acts that are a violation of trust.”

We also called upon Ms. Zibelman to disclose whether she received an ethics opinion from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and, if so, to release that opinion to the public.

Read the entire letter here.

We look forward to Chairman Zibelman’s response.

 

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.

Why are they hiding? Wall Street Journal Ignores Our Request for Disclosure by Op-ed Authors with Fossil Fuel Ties

Koch-Funded Americans for Prosperity Directors Also Hang-Up or Don’t Return Calls

WallStreetJournal-logoEver since we first asked why 94% of mainstream media outlets quoted “experts” from fossil fuel front groups without explaining the source of their funding, news organizations have taken a more honest approach.

But then there’s the Wall Street Journal, where a recent op-ed by two Americans for Prosperity (AFP) officials runs upstream against the current of accountability and transparency.

At the end of a commentary written by two AFP state directors that was published on July 10, 2015, titled, “States Are Unplugging Their Renewable-Energy Mandates,” the Journal printed these bios:

“Mr. Bryson and Mr. Glendening are, respectively, the North Carolina state director and Kansas state director for Americans for Prosperity.”

Wall Street Journal Inquiry

On July 21, Checks and Balances Project sent a letter to WSJ’s Editorial Features Editor Mark Lasswell and asked:

  • Are you aware that Americans for Prosperity is heavily funded by fossil fuel industries groups like American Petroleum Institute and David and Charles Koch?
  • Why was that not disclosed as part of their bios?
  • Don’t you think the Wall Street Journal has a responsibility to disclose those ties as part of Mr. Bryson and Mr. Glendening’s bios, so readers know who is funding AFP and therefore likely influencing AFP’s publicly stated pro-oil and gas industry positions? And their anti-clean energy  positions?
  • Do you support greater transparency on the pages of the Wall Street Journal so readers are informed of the funding that op-ed contributors (and columnists) receive from industries these contributors/columnists champion?
  • Despite our letter and calls placed to his office on July 24 and August 4, Mr. Lasswell has chosen not to respond. This is despite a string of responsible news organizations choosing to publish corrections and provide greater transparency, from the New York Times in 2011 to Newsweek in April 2015.
David Koch

David Koch

Inquiries to Americans for Prosperity

Next, I thought I’d try Donald Bryson in North Carolina. He answered his direct line warily. But when I identified myself, he immediately hung up.

So then I called Jeff Glendening in Kansas. He had no personal voice mail. After trying three times, I finally left a voice mail asking that he call me, explaining why I called. I did the same on the main line, which was also voice mail. No luck.

I tried everyone again on August 4. But they clearly don’t want to talk.

If Lasswell, Glendening, and Bryson are proud of their work and believe in what they are doing, why does transparency frighten them? Why are they hiding their fossil fuel ties?

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog 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.

Arizona Attorney General Brnovich’s Investigators Seize Bob Stump’s Phone

Will It Be a Cover Up? Or a Genuine Attempt to Find Out the Truth?

 

Arizona Attorney General Brnovich’s Investigators Seize Bob Stump’s Phone

Ariz. Attorney General Mark Brnovich

Late yesterday, we learned that investigators from the Arizona Attorney General’s office had taken Bob Stump’s iPhone 5 out of the Arizona Corporation Commission’s safe and removed it as part of a probe into a whistleblower’s allegations of improper activity at the Commission.

That’s a curious development.

According to a confidential source at the Commission, the Attorney General was set to dismiss the whistleblower’s claims until we published on May 20 our findings that former Chairman Stump’s text messages supported the whistleblower’s allegations about Stump. It was thought to be not the right time to sweep it under the rug.

Now, two months later, Attorney General Brnovich’s investigators seem to have changed their minds by deciding to download the contents of Stump’s phone themselves.

We hope that’s the motivation.

Whether the seizure of Bob Stump’s phone and the incriminating text messages it may contain from the Commission’s safe is a good or bad thing will be determined by which Attorney General Brnovich shows up. Will it be the one who got elected with huge campaign contributions from Arizona Public Service, so beholden that he recused himself from the investigation of the whistleblower because of those contributions?  If so, then probe of the Corporation Commission and Bob Stump will likely be slow walked or downplayed, and Arizonans will never learn the truth about Bob Stump’s activities.

But if the one who shows up is an Attorney General who wants to have his career prosecutors go after the truth, then that’s a good thing. Right now, it’s up to Attorney General Brnovich to decide which version of him shows up to handle this seizure and who he serves – APS or the people of Arizona.

 

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.

Checks and Balances Project Welcomes New Senior Fellow Evlondo Cooper

Evlondo CooperMy name is Evlondo Cooper and I’d like to introduce myself as Check and Balances’ new senior fellow. Checks and Balances Project provides an invaluable service by demanding transparency and accountability around issues such as the environment, clean energy and public health. These are issues I care about deeply.

As a former Orleans Parish criminal investigator for nearly three years, I often had to persuade crime victims and witnesses to testify in open court at great personal risk to themselves. Watching these courageous individuals, I realized that people are willing to take brave actions if the truth is on their side and their cause is just.

I hope to use my investigative skills to expose those trying to obscure and distort the truth about climate change and clean energy.

I was displaced by Hurricane Katrina and still carry many unpleasant memories from that difficult time. After the Great Recession began in 2008, I started an economic blog to educate my readers and myself about what led to the collapse of the global economy. Both of these events taught me the necessity of fighting for strong, transparent civic and political institutions committed to upholding the public trust.

Now, I’m proud and humbled to finally work with Checks and Balances Project, dedicated to informing the public about how and why decisions are made, asking tough questions and holding policymakers, corporate managers and lobbyists accountable. The days ahead promise to be quite interesting.

Evlondo Cooper, Senior Fellow, Checks and Balances Project

(Note: Senior Fellow Joel Francis is on leave from the Project for personal reasons.)

University of Virginia Study Finds 11 Major Flaws in Coal Center’s Energy Analysis Relied Upon by Gov. McAuliffe and Legislature

University of Virginia Study Finds 11 Major Flaws in Coal Center’s Energy Analysis Relied Upon by Gov. McAuliffe and Legislature

Gov. McAuliffe announces Energy Plan (photo: Craig Carper)

In a study released last week, energy expert Dr. William Shobe of the University of Virginia dismantles the key, state-sanctioned analysis of how Virginia should meet the requirements of the federal Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions.

That analysis, produced last fall by a team led by Dr. Michael Karmis, director of the Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech, is part of the Virginia Energy Plan and is relied upon by Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the legislature as they make decisions about the state’s energy future.

“In short, the report is almost certainly worse than no study at all because it misstates likely costs, analyzes irrelevant options, and gives short shrift to the cases that really matter,” writes Shobe.

A professor of public policy and director of the Center for Economic and Policy Studies, Dr. Shobe’s research focuses on climate change, greenhouse gas markets, and auction design. Shobe was part of the team that designed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for nine Northeast states, a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions that has generated $1.3 billion in economic benefits and 14,000 job-years over the past three years.

“Old Boy” Selection Process

Is Karmis Too Conflicted to Analyze How Virginia Can Respond to Fed’s Clean Power Plan?

Michael Karmis, Ph.D

Last fall, we questioned why Dr. Karmis – who is an international consultant to the coal industry – had been chosen by the McAuliffe Administration’s Dept. of Mines, Minerals & Energy (DMME) to write a 199-page analysis of how Virginia should best meet the requirements of the federal Clean Power Plan.  By repeatedly evading my basic questions about how and why he was chosen, Karmis and DMME only heightened suspicions about what appears to be an “old boy” selection process heavily influenced by the fossil fuel industry.

But now it is clear that the process was more than unseemly: the sloppy, coal-friendly conclusions of Karmis’ report are contributing to Virginia status as an also-ran in clean energy development.

Notable problems Shobe found with Karmis’ analysis include:

  • Double counts compliance costs by about $400 million annually because the authors added together two different estimates of compliance costs.
  • Made a calculation mistake that cut the estimated benefits of emission reductions by more than 40%.
  • Used inappropriate and incomplete economic analysis in estimating total economic costs and associated job losses, inflating cost and job losses.
  • Misinterpreted, on at least two occasions, analysis provided by the EPA in the EPA’s regulatory impact analysis of its proposed rule.

(For a full list of errors, click here.)

In addition to reviewing Karmis’ analysis, Professor Shobe makes useful recommendations to ensure state agencies such as DMME, the Dept. of Environmental Quality, and the State Corporation Commission are able to properly assess studies presented to them.

An Impartial Coal Expert? 

Virginia is having a critical conversation about Clean Power Plan compliance options and strategies. Citizens must ask themselves: should the Commonwealth’s policymakers continue to rely upon an energy analysis produced by coal expert Michael Karmis that we now know is utterly flawed?

Last November, I concluded a post by asking whether Dr. Karmis was too conflicted to write a document the governor and legislature would depend upon as an unbiased, informed look at how the state can best respond to the Clean Power Plan. By submitting a report with flawed methodology, basic factual errors and biased conclusions in favor of the coal industry, it seems the answer regarding Dr. Karmis’s conflicts is a resounding yes.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog 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.

Utah State’s Ryan Yonk: Same Soup, Different Bowl

Koch-backed research fellow prepares to push misinformation in front of Ohio RPS study committee.

Utah State’s Ryan Yonk: Same Soup, Different Bowl

Ryan Yonk

Since being burned for a misleading op-ed that he wrote for Newsweek, Utah State University (USU) Prof. Randy Simmons is letting his colleague, Dr. Ryan Yonk, bat “cleanup.” But if Yonk’s work on behalf of Koch-funded organizations goes unchallenged, Ohio’s economy and environment will likely suffer the consequences.

Despite the renewable-energy and energy-efficiency standards passing with bipartisan support and that proved to be hugely beneficial for Ohio, there has been a concerted effort by the fossil fuel industry to weaken or repeal them. The latest example is a state legislative hearing set for next Monday (July 20th) where many of the invited speakers, like Professor Ryan Yonk, have a hidden agenda funded by out-of-state fossil fuel interests.

Background on Ohio’s RPS Freeze and Study Committee

Last year, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a law that froze the successful renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The RPS requires the increased production of energy from renewable sources. While ostensibly giving lawmakers time to study this anti-RPS law, the policy has led to a number of negative consequences for the state, according to a report published by the Center for American Progress (CAP). Business leaders interviewed by CAP have reported having to lay off or freeze the hiring of new employees, move operations to other more renewable-energy supportive states or cancel projects as a result.

As the Energy Mandates Study Committee, made up of state Ohio Senate and House members and the chair of the Public Utilities Commission, gathers information for its final recommendations due September 30th, the usual anti-clean energy suspects are rearing their heads, touting the same discredited research, funded by the same fossil fuel front organizations. The Strata Institute, founded by Ryan Yonk, Randy Simmons and Chris Fawson, is one of the most visible and disreputable. Strata has published similar misleading studies on RPS laws in North Carolina and also Kansas.

Uncloaking the Funding Sources of Fossil Fuel Pundits

As I mentioned earlier, Simmons, the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at USU, was recently involved in a scandal that stemmed from his failure to disclose his ties with the Koch brothers in his April 11th op-ed for Newsweek. During my interview with him shortly after, he made a number of inaccurate statements regarding his cozy relationship with the Kochs, but ultimately admits to his funding ties to them when pressed:

Utah State’s Ryan Yonk: Same Soup, Different Bowl Koch-backed research fellow prepares to push misinformation in front of Ohio RPS study committee.

Maybe this is why Strata is sending Ryan Yonk to promote Strata’s hidden agenda before the study committee next Monday.

Despite the dubious assertions in the Strata report, studies have shown the benefits of RPS far outweigh the costs. For example, wind energy significantly reduces energy prices for consumers and transmission lines benefit customers, among others.

The questionable rigor of Yonk’s USU report on Ohio’s RPS, coupled with his work for another Koch-funded group, the Mercatus Center, means that he has serious problems with the credibility of his research. For example, his report ignores the fact that the RPS was put in place to balance Ohio’s energy portfolio and hedge against fluctuations in coal and natural gas prices.

Study Committee Members: Beware of the Source

With this in mind, why would they send him before the Ohio study committee instead of Randy Simmons? Is it because Yonk has a lower profile right now, and his appearance would not draw as much scrutiny?

Before making their final recommendations about the future of the RPS, it is vital that the members of the RPS study committee and the public have complete transparency about the true agenda of the Koch brothers, Strata and, especially, Ryan York.

Ohio’s future deserves more than just smoke and mirrors. Learn more about the Energy Mandates Study Committee here.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog 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.

How Long Will the Commission Stall Before Downloading Bob Stump’s Cell Phone?

How Long Will the Commission Stall Before Downloading Bob Stump’s Cell Phone?

Arizona Corp. Commission Executive Director Jody Jerich

It’s been one month since we learned that Bob Stump, former chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), “routinely deleted” text messages on his government-funded cell phone “not long after he received them.”

Through our public records counsel, Dan Barr, we informed the Commission that despite the deletions, Stump’s text messages could probably still be found on his phone’s hard drive. We proposed a leading, Valley-based electronics forensic expert who is on the state-approved vendor list. But that suggestion was ignored. We then proposed Detective Kathy Enriquez of the Phoenix Police Department, certified as an expert by the Dept. of Homeland Security, Mobile Digital Investigations program. Two weeks ago, the Commission’s outside counsel, David Cantelme, rejected our suggestion of Det. Enriquez.

Commission Executive Director Jody Jerich asked the Arizona Dept. of Public Safety for help, but they turned her down. Last week, Jerich is reported to have changed her mind and asked Phoenix Police Chief Joseph Yahne for permission to allow Det. Enriquez to perform the download of the phone.

But still no answer

Jerich has stated she is concerned that the phone’s “chain of custody” not be violated. However, the phone needs never to leave the sight of Ms. Jerich or her designate, so the chain of custody need never be in question. The entire process can be videotaped. Det. Enriquez has offered to take the day off to download the phone.

Why the delay?

Three big facts hang over the entire situation:

  1. Checks and Balances Project has uncovered compelling, circumstantial evidence that Commissioner Stump might have been illegally coordinating the August 26, 2014 GOP primary election with key dark money electoral scheme players. The roster includes: ACC then-candidates now Commissioners Forese and Little, their campaign manager Alan Heywood, dark money electoral groups, and Arizona Public Service (APS). If true, this could be a violation of campaign election laws.
  2. According to an email with the subject, “Brewing legal dispute – public records request,” provided by the Commission in response to our records request, Ms. Jerich began looking for outside counsel on April 23, 2015 – the day after receiving a request from Checks and Balances Project attorney Dan Barr for Stump’s complete cell phone records.
  3. As the Arizona Republic editorial board recently pointed out, the ACC could use its subpoena powers to demand APS to open its books for a review of any dark money electoral spending.

What was Bob Stump texting about with Forese, Little, Heywood, dark money captains Mussi and Noble, and APS’s Lockwood?  If there is nothing on the phone and nothing to hide, then why the foot-dragging and delay?

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog 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.

The Only Way for Stump to Clear His Name: Produce the Text Messages

The Only Way for Stump to Clear His Name: Produce the Text MessagesCommissioner Bob Stump must be praying that today’s examination of his state-owned iPhone 5 produces his text messages.

Checks and Balances Project has presented powerful circumstantial evidence of coordination. The only way that Stump can clear his name is to produce the actual texts that prove he was not coordinating the August 2014 GOP primary election with Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) candidates Forese and Little, their campaign manager Alan Heywood, dark money electoral groups, and Arizona Public Service.

The Only Way for Stump to Clear His Name: Produce the Text Messages

(May 5-December 29, 2014)

The timing of the texts and the fact that he isn’t texting some of these “friends” outside the period of high activity before the primary when Noble and Heywood enter the fray makes Stump’s explanation extremely dubious. In his recent public statements, he only references his friendship with Scot Mussi of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. What about the others, Mr. Commissioner?

Stump used a method to communicate that he thought no one would ever discover, especially when he “immediately deleted the messages.” But it has backfired on him. The only way that he can convince people that he was not coordinating is to produce the texts that he thought that he has destroyed.

If the ACC does not recover the text messages, Stump is left with is a lame “my dog ate my homework” excuse.

Friday’s Exam

According to the Commission, a retired Superior Court judge and a state police force staff member will gather on Friday at ACC offices to download existing text messages from Commissioner Bob Stump’s cell phone.  The downloaded results will then be reviewed to determine which messages are public records, and they will then provide the messages to us in response to our records request.

Based on conversations we have had with our technology forensics expert, one of two things is going to happen as a result of this process:

Scenario 1, the “non-court scenario”: Stump has not been successful in his attempts to destroy the text messages. The messages are successfully downloaded. The outsiders (who, it’s worth noting, have been picked by the ACC) are not willing to tolerate gamesmanship in screening the resulting messages. Checks and Balances Project gets the messages and they match the logs that ACC has provided. Arizonans finally get to the bottom of the seemingly damning pattern and timing of messages Stump had with key players in last year’s dark money electoral scheme.

Scenario 2, the “we have to go to court scenario”: Stump has taken steps to destroy the text messages off his SIM card, or they were not transferred from his old iPhone 3…

“It was literally crumbling in my hands and was not recyclable,” Stump told the Arizona Republic’s Ryan Randazzo. Crumbling? How does that happen?

… and they have not survived the switches he has made from one, taxpayer-reimbursed cell phone to the next. Or, the messages are there, but the ACC puts a heavy screen on what is a “public” record. We get an anemic set of text messages that doesn’t come close to matching the text log provided by the Commission previously.

The expensive and thoroughly unnecessary game playing by the ACC results in us having to go to court, and we succeed in convincing a judge to review the download of Stump’s text messages. We get them, analyze them, and release the results to the public online. Here as well, Arizonans finally get to the bottom of what Stump said in those text messages.

Scenario 3, the “we’re left with circumstantial evidence scenario”:  there’s nothing of value found by the exam of Stump’s cell phone and Verizon cannot provide us with text message content. Attorney General Brnovich doesn’t investigate. No one in the Arizona legislature pursues the matter. Bob Stump and the Commission breathe a sign of relief as he continues to maintain that his mad texting was just to arrange trips to the symphony and the like with friends.

That would lead us to the next chapter of this sorry saga. After all, text messages aren’t the only method of uncovering definitive evidence that Commissioner Stump may be a captured regulator.

diceFor a growing list of Commission members, staff and contractors, the question now emerging is: Do you want to stake your respective reputation and credibility by defending Bob Stump’s extensive (and potentially illegal) involvement with all the key players in last year’s dark money electoral scheme?

It might be your dice to roll, but it’s still a gamble. The days ahead will be interesting nonetheless.

P.S. Dear ACC outside counsel David Cantelme: We are still awaiting the list of Stump’s purely personal phone numbers, so we can remove them from the list of Stump’s most frequent text message contacts. It’s been nearly a week since you said you would deliver them to our attorney. The removal offer stands.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog 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.

Reader’s Tip Further Decreases Commissioner Bob Stump’s Credibility

Reader’s Tip Further Decreases Commissioner Bob Stump’s Credibility

Newly uncovered information based on a tip from a reader shows that not only was former Chairman Bob Stump of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) texting with four key players in the dark money electoral scheme prior to the August 26, 2014, primary election, he was also in contact with Alan Heywood – the campaign manager of pro-utility candidates Tom Forese and Doug Little.

In fact, the day after Stump exchanged a last text message with Sean Noble, who in the past has served as a conduit for the Koch Brothers dark money network, Stump exchanged 18 texts in just 24 hours with Heywood.

Then, his texts with the other central players soon stopped. According to Stump’s text message log, the following day, he texted for the last time with Scot Mussi, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club and candidate (now Commissioner) Forese. Several days later, Stump stopped texting with his Arizona Public Service liaison, Barbara Lockwood, for nearly two months.

This was one month before the primary – what could be plenty of time to flush money into the campaigns of winning candidates Forese and Little. The ultimate origins of more than 75% of the spending on the ACC race that benefited Forese and Little has been a secret. But it should be noted that Noble’s largest client last year was Arizona Public Service.

We charted the texting frequency below, and the distribution pattern hardly looks like what you would expect for arranging a social function, unless Stump was planning something like a small wedding with just these six people attending:

Reader’s Tip Further Decreases Commissioner Bob Stump’s Credibility

(July 7-August 16, 2014)

Reader’s Tip Further Decreases Commissioner Bob Stump’s Credibility

(May 5-December 29, 2014)

Arizona election law prevented candidates Forese, Little, and their campaign manager Heywood from directly coordinating with APS, the Free Enterprise Club, and the Koch network. But it appears that Stump may have been doing it for them – communicating with the dark money electoral funders, APS, the candidates, and, now we know, their campaign manager.

This new information about Heywood deepens suspicions that the former Chairman may well have been at the very center of a dark money electoral scheme to elect pro-APS, anti-solar Republicans. If true, Stump’s actions may be a violation of Arizona election law.

Criticism of Publishing Text Log

Our decision to publish Bob Stump’s full text log, a public record provided to us by the Commission in response to our March 11 records request, has not been without criticism (here and here). Commissioner Stump has blamed us for his failure to have the ACC staff redact purely personal contacts – which we didn’t seek, didn’t want, and have no way to identify – and for his choice to conduct public business via text messages on his cell phone. Our offer to Stump to remove the purely personal contacts stands. ACC outside counsel, David Cantelme, has not sent those personal contacts, as he committed to doing.

All that said, our invitation to C&BP readers to identify others on the list has paid off. And, the results aren’t helpful to Commissioner Stump’s credibility.

Remember that when the news first broke of Stump’s extensive texts, Stump asserted the contacts were of a nature that was either personal or universal, i.e., he texts with everyone. Stump now-famously said:

“We have been trying for months to coordinate a double-date to the Phoenix Symphony.”

This dismissal line is now considerably harder to make, thanks to sources who provided us with names matching up to a dozen additional numbers on the full logs.

Heywood’s Phone

Heywood’s cell phone number was wrongly identified in a recent post as belonging to Investment Prime, where he is President and CEO. He is also chairman of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We confirmed through multiple sources that the number is Heywood’s personal cell. Another number previously labeled as Investment Prime we now know belongs to former ACC Chair Gary Pierce – a business associate of Heywood.

Unnecessary Taxpayer Expenses

The Commission has subpoena authority to ask Verizon for the content of the text messages. Any one of the five commissioners could do so today, free of charge. Instead, Stump and the ACC have:

  • Hired a high-priced lawyer, David Cantelme, to obfuscate the right by law of public access to public records for a cost in May alone of $5,428.
  • Contracted a high-profile public relations firm, Marson Media, to represent the ACC after firing its staff spokesperson Rebecca Wilder.
  • Hired the mediation firm of Scott, Skelley and Muchmore to “supervise” the download of text messages – assuming they haven’t been tampered with – at the cost of $475 per hour.
  • Secured the Arizona Dept. of Public Safety’s forensic unit to do the cell phone exam.

Public Accountability

The revelation about Commissioner Stump’s 18 texts with Alan Heywood during same period of a flurry of text activity with Scot Mussi, Tom Forese, Doug Little, Sean Noble and Barbara Lockwood raises obvious questions about Commissioner Stump’s actions that must be answered. Members of the public should demand answers from the four other Corporation Commissioners as to whether they are concerned about Commissioner Stump’s conduct, and if so, what they plan to do about it. All of them have subpoena power to get to the bottom of these questions if they desire to discover the truth.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog 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.

 

Can Chairman Stump Have it Both Ways? Only the Records Will Tell

Can Chairman Stump Have it Both Ways? Only the Records Will TellIn several news stories, The Arizona Daily Star on May 21, The Arizona Republic on May 22, Greentech Media on May 26, and Utility Drive on May 27, former Chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), Bob Stump, complained that excerpts from text message logs his agency provided were “cherry picked” to suggest he was at the heart of a dark money electoral scheme in 2014 to elect pro-utility members to the Commission. Stump asserted that the facts would show he was an equal opportunity texter.

“I would note that Checks and Balances… is cherry-picking text logs to paint an absurdly distorted picture.” – Stump to Arizona Daily Star.

“Stump told The Arizona Republic that the communications were not about the election, and said the group had cherry-picked a few text messages to distort the story.” – Stump to Arizona Republic.

In response to the Chairman’s concerns, we have published the full text log and names identified to date here.

Far from clearing Commissioner Stump, the full logs show a more damning fact set, particularly an overlap of texting with dark money electoral group head Scot Mussi, APS lobbyist Barbara Lockwood, Koch Industries operative Sean Noble, and then-candidate (now Commissioner) Tom Forese, and more.

Look Over Here!

The best we can tell, that’s why Commissioner Stump is now attempting to switch the subject with a victim play by railing about the opposite of “cherry picking,” the publishing of the full text logs.

According to Chairman Stump in today’s Arizona Republic story by Ryan Randazzo, the act of publishing the public records what we were given by the Commission is an invasion of his privacy and an “out of bounds” attack on his family members.

Inconvenient Facts

Before Mr. Stump invests more in playing the victim, it’s important to consider some inconvenient facts:

  • The request did nothing to the ACC’s ability – and its responsibility – to sift out Mr. Stump’s private messages from public business he chose to transact on his taxpayer-funded cell phone.
  • We have no interest in Mr. Stump’s personal life. We are out to enforce public access to public records.
  • We also have no ability – or responsibility – to know the roster of Mr. Stump’s friends and family to screen the list. That responsibility rested on the ACC, and it chose not to do so. We asked for public records that we said we’d publish, and we published them.
  • Nonetheless, we instructed our attorney, Dan Barr, to ask the ACC’s outside attorney, David Cantelme, to give us the names of any family members of friends with whom Mr. Stump had strictly personal business. Mr. Barr did so in a conversation with Mr. Cantelme, who said he would ask Mr. Stump. As of this writing, we are still awaiting a response. However, the offer stands to give us those names and numbers so we can review, evaluate and act on them.
  • The evaluating step is important because Mr. Stump has strained credulity by claiming that he needed over 70 text messages with dark money electoral group director, Scot Mussi, to arrange a trip to the symphony.
  • Mr. Stump might be asserting that the Checks and Balances Project is “left wing,” but the Commissioner can take comfort in knowing that a growing roster of Democratic officials (here, here and here) also dislike the inconvenient questions asked of them.

Free the Text Messages Content!

Probably the most important fact is that all of this back-and-forth is unnecessary, including the Commission’s hiring of an outside, taxpayer-funded attorney, David Cantelme; and an outside PR firm (we are investigating the hiring of these outside firms and their costs to Arizonans).

This is a straightforward matter with a straightforward resolution. The Commission already has the subpoena power to ask Verizon to provide the text messages that we are told don’t exist. In fact, in all likelihood, they do. With literally a phone call and the strike of a “send” button, the ACC could have the list of text messages and provide them to us.

Finally, I would like to thank all the citizens who are stepping forward to help us identify the unknown parties with whom Commissioner Stump had been exchanging text messages. More about that soon.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog 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.

Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump ContactsToday, we publish the entire, 240-page log of Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump’s text messages in a searchable format. We are also looking for the public’s help in identifying senders or receivers of text messages who we could not identify.

Further analysis of the text message logs of Arizona Corporation Commission’s Bob Stump provides new insights into the pattern of contacts by the former chairman.  Click here to access and updated list of all the names we’ve tentatively identified to date and their number of texts.  Click here to find the entire searchable log.

We converted the text message log, provided by the Commission in response to our March 11 records request, into an Excel Spreadsheet. We then searched open source records including Google, LexisNexis, and Spokeo to determine the owners of phone numbers with whom Stump exchanged text messages.

New analysis has yielded some striking insights that we list below.

We could not identify many numbers. If you recognize any we have not identified, please send us your findings to: capturedregulator@checksandbalancesproject.org. We protect the identity of sources.

Last August’s Primary Election

Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

In the months leading up to Arizona’s primary election on August 26, 2014, in which two sets of Republican candidates were pitted against each other – one pro-rooftop solar, the other pro-utility – our initial investigation showed indications that Stump was in extensive contact with many players in the dark money election scheme that helped elect the pro-Arizona Public Service candidates.

The pattern of those text messages suggest Stump not only knew, but also raises the question of whether he could have been coordinating the election of winning GOP candidates (now commissioners) Doug Little and Tom Foresee with APS’ Barbara Lockwood, and Scot Mussi, the head of the dark money electoral group, Arizona Free Enterprise Club. Arizona Public Service (APS) is widely believed to have funded much of the dark money election scheme.

Enter Sean Noble

Stump contacted Koch Industries operative Sean Noble in a concentrated period weeks before the Republican candidate selection

A new examination of the text logs shows that then-Chairman Stump first reached out to Sean Noble, executive director and president of American Encore, a 501(c) 4 nonprofit reported to be a conduit for the Koch Brothers donor network, on July 17. They corresponded regularly through 18 texts in the next eight days then stopped. This period was five weeks before Arizona’s primary to select Republican candidates for the Commission. At no other time from May 1, 2014, through March 11, 2015, did Stump and Noble text each other, according to the log.

Full Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Noble, Mussi messages overlap; more extensive texting with dark money electoral group

The text messages with Noble overlap the time period during which Chairman Stump was texting with Scot Mussi, president and sole board member, of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. Checks and Balances Project had previously reported that Mussi and Stump exchanged 46 texts. Our recount shows the prior number was conservative. The actual number is higher: 73.

Full Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Messages with APS’s Lockwood relegated to primary election season

Four days before Stump first texted Sean Noble, he reached out to APS’s  general manager of regulatory affairs and compliance Barbara Lockwood on July 13, 2014. Over the next 15 days, until July 31, the Chairman and Lockwood would swap 44 texts, then stop for nearly two months.

Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Something seems to have happened during the final two weeks of July. Stump was texting Noble, whom he stopped on July 24; Mussi, whose last text was on July 26; and candidate, now Commissioner Tom Forese, with whom he stopped texting on July 26.

 

Text Message Log Provides New Insights Into Stump Contacts

Lon Huber Texts

1,806 texts exchanged with Lon Huber, consultant to AZ Residential Utility Consumer Office (RUCO).  

The mission of RUCO  is to serve Arizona’s Residential Utility. Essentially, it is supposed to be the advocate for Arizona consumers, who, it should be noted, overwhelmingly want access to low-cost rooftop solar. One of the most  frequent text contacts for Stump on his taxpayer-reimbursed phone was a key RUCO consultant, Lon Huber. The logs show that Stump and Huber exchanged 1,806 text messages – an average of over five a day over the 11 month period the records cover. Huber debated solar industry attorney Court Rich at Solar Summit 2014, arguing for the benefits of government-supported monopoly untilities competing in the low-cost rooftop solar market against private enterprise.

Conclusion

The full text logs and the analysis provided here provide a thicker cast of Stump’s text contacts. They also show an even less flattering set of facts than the contacts reported to date for an elected body supposed to be neutrally overseeing large parts of the Arizona economy on behalf of its citizens.

When Stump’s text messages are finally released and if suspicions of electioneering turn out to be correct, it’s not just Bob Stump who could potentially be at fault. It’s also commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little – perhaps others on the Commission and staff, as well.

This is very likely why this same set of players at the ACC now asserts that it should control the discovery and release of the text messages that it very clearly doesn’t want the public to see. The fact remains that the Commission already has the subpoena power to order Verizon to release the text message content immediately. The messages are, literally, a phone call away.

The Arizona Corporation Commission’s gamesmanship from last week continues to suggest a deep-seated fear of public access to public records.

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog 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.

 

What is in Commissioner Stump’s text messages?

stump deadline

Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Susan Bitter Smith Could Provide Bob Stump’s Text Message Content – If She Wants To

Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Susan Bitter Smith Could Provide Bob Stump’s Text Message Content – If She Wants To

Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Susan Bitter Smith

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 

Cellebrite

CNN/Money

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:

Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Susan Bitter Smith Could Provide Bob Stump’s Text Message Content – If She Wants To

Preserve Stump’s Phone

On June 2, our attorney sent a letter to the ACC’s outside counsel, David Cantelme, asking that Commissioner Stump:

  • Not delete any texts, photos, messages or any data in general.
  • Not remove the battery, sim or data cards.
  • Not update the software on the phone. This includes the operating system or applications.
  • Keep the phone in a dry area away from extreme temperatures and direct sunlight.
  • To the extent possible, discontinue use of the cell phone, by placing it in airplane mode or in a Faraday bag.

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.

Is TURN’s Relationship with California Utility Commissioner Mike Florio More Important than Consumer Protection?

Is TURN’s Relationship with California Utility Commissioner Mike Florio More Important than Consumer Protection?

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.

Commissioner Florio

Is TURN’s Relationship with California Utility Commissioner Mike Florio More Important than Consumer Protection?

Commissioner Mike Florio

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.

Is TURN’s Relationship with California Utility Commissioner Mike Florio More Important than Consumer Protection?“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.

Judge Shopping:

  • Florio intervened to help PG&E get the judge it wanted to hear a $1.3 billion rate-setting case to pay for safety measures after the San Bruno disaster. When an administrative law judge was assigned that was not to PG&E’s liking, Florio wrote to PG&E regulatory executive Brian Cherry, “I’m horrified!” and “I’ll do what I can” to reassign the judge the utility wanted to avoid.
  • Several of the emails released demonstrate a direct line of communications and appearance of cooperation between Florio and Cherry. The PG&E lobbyist was fired following the release of emails. PG&E was later fined $1.05 million for judge-shopping.
  • In April 2014, PG&E was indicted by the federal government for alleged criminal violations. In Sept. 2014, CPUC levied a $1.4 billion fine against PG&E for safety violations.

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

  • In February 2015, a new email revealed that Florio circumvented rules in 2012 that requires commissioners to meet with all parties of a rate case when PG&E’s Cherry asked to meet with him. Commissioner Florio scheduled their meeting just three days before the corresponding CPUC hearing, leaving no time for the cities of San Bruno, San Francisco, or TURN to respond. At the hearing, Florio proposed a last-minute change in PG&E’s favor that resulted in a $130 million Christmas 2012 gift for the utility.
  • Florio claimed he was unaware of CPUC rules against back-channel communications with utilities, despite his years as a supervising attorney for TURN.
  • “Amazing how I’ve become ‘an apologist for PG&E’ in just three short years, isn’t it?” Florio wrote to PG&E’s Cherry.

“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

  • Then in March 2015, a new email was revealed that had been uncovered by former San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre, who is suing the CPUC over San Onofre nuclear power plant shutdown costs. It told of how Commissioner Florio held a previously secret, regular 1:30 Wednesday call with the management of Southern California Edison, majority owner of the San Onofre plant.
  • In another, Florio discussed a rate-setting case with Edison Vice President Akbar Jazayeri , when the executive asked if their interaction was allowed under rules that prohibited ex parte communications. “Thank you Akbar – I was just trying to follow through on the training you’ve given me over the years!!” Florio insisted to him it wasn’t a problem.

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

  • As part of the San Onofre nuclear power plant shutdown negotiations, Florio was present at two previously secret discussions during which former President Peevy lobbied Edison executives to contribute $25 million toward greenhouse gas research at UCLA, where Peevy had been named to an advisory board.
  • In a sworn affidavit released this month, Edison Energy President Ron Litzinger said he called Florio after the first meeting to ask whether the meetings should be made public. Florio told Litzinger to keep meetings the meetings secret, “saying he was passing along instructions from [former President] Peevy’s chief of staff.”

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: 

Is TURN’s Relationship with California Utility Commissioner Mike Florio More Important than Consumer Protection?

 

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.

Nevada Minority Floor Leader’s Bill Appears to Borrow Content from Arizona’s Pinnacle West Legislation

Nevada Minority Floor Leader’s Bill Appears to Borrow Content from Arizona’s Pinnacle West LegislationAs 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:

Nevada Minority Floor Leader’s Bill Appears to Borrow Content from Arizona’s Pinnacle West Legislation

 

The Pinnacle West bill has the same provisions:

Nevada Minority Floor Leader’s Bill Appears to Borrow Content from Arizona’s Pinnacle West Legislation

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.

  • What public problem is this bill intended to address?
  • What evidence exists of the problem?
  • How do you explain the overlap in language between your bill and the Pinnacle West bill?
  • Who first approached you about sponsoring this bill?
  • Who provided the original draft?
  • Which lobbyists working in favor of your bill have you worked with? Who or what companies were they representing?
  • Do any of these lobbyists represent companies or interests that have provided contributions, gifts or perks of any sort to you or your staff?

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.

SCLC CEO Sides With Fossil Fuel Lobby Against Clean Energy

SCLC CEO Sides With Fossil Fuel Lobby Against Clean Energy 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:

  • 78 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal plant in comparison to 56 percent of whites;
  • 71 percent of African Americans live in counties that do not meet federal air pollution standards, while only 58 percent of whites do and;
  • Not coincidentally, asthma, worsened by pollution, affects African Americans at greater percentages than whites (i.e., 36 percent higher rate of incidence, three times higher rate of hospitalization and two times higher rate of deaths).

SCLC CEO Sides With Fossil Fuel Lobby Against Clean Energy 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.

Citizens Clean Elections Commission Requests Text Message Data for Investigation of Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump

Citizens Clean Elections Commission Requests Text Message Data for Investigation of Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump 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.

 

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.

Bob Stump’s Text Messages Support Whistleblower’s Allegation that Arizona Corporation Commissioner Knew of Dark Money Scheme

Analysis of Bob Stump’s Text Messages Support Whistleblower’s Allegation that Arizona Corporation Commissioner Knew of Dark Money SchemeAn 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.

Arizona Free Enterprise Club

Analysis of Bob Stump’s Text Messages Support Whistleblower’s Allegation that Arizona Corporation Commissioner Knew of Dark Money SchemeNew 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.

small chart

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?

Secrets Uncovered

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?

 

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.

 

Bob Stump of Arizona Corporation Commission Used Personal Email for Public Business During Hottest Period of Solar Debates

10.16.13 time 1.39.19Former 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:

  • Despite being a young, tech-savvy and ambitious statewide politician, the commission initially asserted that Stump sent only two emails to any representative of Arizona Public Service for nearly a year and a half on the hottest topic before the ACC at the time – low-cost rooftop residential solar energy for consumers. That’s two emails in a nearly year and a half.
  • When our attorney, Dan Barr of Perkins-Coie, pressed the commission for a more truthful accounting six weeks after our initial request, the ACC provided 10 more emails from Stump to APS.
  • Of the 12 total emails, all of which were with Barbara Lockwood, APS’s General Manager for Regulatory Policy and Compliance, seven were from Stump’s personal Gmail account and included the following subjects:
    • Lockwood passing along an email from the pro-solar TUSK (“Tell Utilities Solar Won’t be Killed) group about phone banking for pro-solar, Republican candidates for the commission (who were ultimately defeated).
    • Stump asking for studies on solar versus fossil fuel subsidies. Lockwood responded later, “We haven’t been able to find anything worthwhile.”
    • Stump informing Lockwood about an anti-utility bill headed to the Arizona legislature.
    • Stump asking Lockwood for materials that he can use at an Edison Electric Institute conference. “Any materials you can send as soon as possible would be great,” writes the Commissioner.

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.

Commission Video

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:

11.14.13 time 3.02.24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10.16.13 time 3.02.28

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.14.14 time 2.39.30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

Arizona Captured Regulators Controversy Grows

Arizona Captured Regulators Controversy GrowsThe 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.

Explosive Charge

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.

Additional Information

Arizona Captured Regulators Controversy GrowsIn 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.

Arizona Captured Regulators Controversy GrowsIn 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.

Hidden Meetings

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.

 

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.

Accuracy Happens: A Fossil Fuel Pundit’s Funding Is Exposed

Charles Koch?…. “His organization just sends me money.”

Something unusual and encouraging just happened, and few people likely noticed.

Accuracy Happens: A Fossil Fuel Pundit’s Funding Is ExposedIn 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:

Accuracy Happens: A Fossil Fuel Pundit’s Funding Is Exposed

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:

Accuracy Happens: A Fossil Fuel Pundit’s Funding Is Exposed

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.

Desperate Fossil Fuel Interests Seek to Undermine Clean Energy Choices in Communities of Color

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.

Desperate Fossil Fuel Interests Seeking to Undermine Clean Energy  Choices in Communities of ColorThe 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.

New National Report Underscores Health and Economic Benefits of Clean Energy to People of Color and Low-Income Communities

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:

  • well-paying jobs in the clean energy industry;
  • lower energy costs through energy efficiency;
  • better health and lower health care costs due to reduced fossil fuel pollution; and
  • greater reliability in terms of power prices.
Department of Energy Engineer at Work.

Renewables create jobs; Department of Energy Engineer at Work.

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.”

Coal Power Plants Negatively Impact the areas in which they are placed.

Coal Power Plants Negatively Impact the areas in which they are placed.

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.

Nevada’s Surging Rooftop Solar Growth Threatened by Warren Buffett’s Investments in Nevada Utility

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?

Nevada’s Surging Rooftop Solar Growth Threatened by Warren Buffett’s Investments in Nevada Utility

Photo by Peter Yang

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.

Utility-Scale Solar

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.

 

Checks and Balances Project Welcomes New Senior Fellow Joel Francis

Joel A. Francis, Senior Fellow, Checks and Balances Project

Joel A. Francis, C&BP Senior Fellow

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

Checks & Balances Project Calls On Arizona Attorney General to Investigate Anti-Solar Push Poll

Checks & Balances Project Asks Arizona Attorney General for Investigation

Ariz. Attorney General Mark Brnovich

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.

 

Scott Peterson

Executive Director

Checks and Balances Project

 

Washington Post: Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar

This article by Joby Warrick was originally posted by the Washington Post on Sunday, March 7, 2015.

Excerpt:

“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.

Patterson Clark and Joby Warrick/The Washington Post.

Patterson Clark and Joby Warrick/The Washington Post.

 

Checks and Balances Project Launches Captured Regulators Initiative

Checks and Balances Project Launches Captured Regulators InitiativeInfluence 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 accChecks and Balances Project Launches Captured Regulators Initiativeommodate 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.

Death Spiral                                                                              

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.

Checks and Balances Project Launches Captured Regulators InitiativeNew Captured Regulators Initiative

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 capturedregulator@checksandbalancesproject.org.

 

Scott Peterson

Executive Director, Checks and Balances Project

Virginia Minority Leader Saslaw Again Declares His Opposition to Ethics Reform

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.

Saslaw-Peterson split screen 1.10.15Senator 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.”

Other members of the legislature have ethics reform bills. The Republican leadership has proposed reforms, as has Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe.

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. )

Will the American Energy Scorecard Ask Lawmakers to Reject All Subsidies?

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?

ScorecardIn 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.

tom_pyleAEA’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.

 

Op-Ed: Leniency for McDonnell would send wrong signal

This op-ed was originally posted by the Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Virginia, on Sunday, January 4, 2015.

by Scott Peterson

McDonnellIs 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.

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.

Is Virginia Tech’s Coal Center Director Evading Questions to Shield Donors?

Is Virginia Tech’s Coal Center Director Evading Questions to Shield Donors?

(Photo credit: Kingsport Times News)

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.

Is Virginia Tech’s Coal Center Director Evading Questions to Shield Donors?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.

Evasion of Basic Questions

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:

email Scott re permission

The Plot Thickens

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.”

email Hayes requests NDA

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.”

email re Karmis wants NDA

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.

email VT Norris re NDA

Major Questions Remain

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.

Scott Peterson

Executive Director

Questions Multiply Around Virginia’s Hiring of Coal Advocate to Write Key Energy Study

The Christopher- Karmis Mystery Continues

Dr. Michael Karmis

Dr. Michael Karmis

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:

VCERC sponsors 11.3.14

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:

  • Improving the Efficiency of [coal] Power Generation (p.51)
  • Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage Technology Assessment (p.63)
  • CCUS in VA (pg. 72)
  • Energy Efficiency Technology (p.74)

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.

Questions

The selection of Dr. Karmis begs some straightforward questions:

  • Who made the decision to hire Dr. Karmis?
  • Doesn’t Virginia have someone with experience in a range of energy sources and efficiency expertise to conduct this critical cost-benefit analysis?
  • Was anyone else considered for the task of writing this vitally important study?
  • What was Dr. Karmis paid, if anything, to do this study?
  • Were there clean energy experts that Dr. Karmis consulted with?
  • And, does the coal lobby’s money that heavily underwrites Dr. Karmis’ “Center” and his salary make him too conflicted to write an objective analysis?

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.

dmme_logoI 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.

Christopher email snip 10.14.14

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.

 

Scott Peterson

Executive Director

Brookings’ So-Called “Energy Security Initiative” Gets Scrutiny

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.”

Letter to Brookings Charles K. Ebinger 10.9.14

Letter to Brookings Charles K. Ebinger 10.9.14

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.

Scott Peterson

Executive Director

The Checks and Balances Project

Is Coal Center Too Conflicted to Analyze How Virginia Responds to Fed’s Clean Power Plan?

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).

Is Karmis Too Conflicted to Analyze How Virginia Can Respond to Fed’s Clean Power Plan?

Michael Karmis, Ph.D

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:

  • Why was Dr. Karmis chosen?
  • Why did Dr. Karmis choose Clean Air Markets LLC, J. E. Cichanowicz Inc., and Chmura Economics and Analytics and no firms with renewable energy experience?
  • Did Dr. Karmis consult with any renewable energy experts during his execution of the cost benefit analysis?
  • Did anyone on Dr. Karmis’s staff provide input on renewable energy in preparation of the analysis? If so who are they and what are their credentials?
  • Why did Dr. Karmis not ask his Virginia Tech colleague and renewable energy expert Dr. Saifur Rahman for his input on renewable energy?
  • Did any lobbyists recommend to Dept. of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) that Dr. Karmis be hired?
  • Was Dr. Karmis too conflicted to write a document the Governor and legislature will depend upon as an unbiased, informed look at how Virginia can best respond to the CPP?

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
  1. Virginia
Tennessee Virginia
Solar 142 592 1,337 N/A 74 13-18*
Wind 120 0 9.6 583 29 0

 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:

  • Making existing coal plants more efficient.
  • Using existing gas plants more effectively.
  • Increasing renewables and nuclear energy.
  • Increasing end-use energy efficiency.

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.

 

Scott Peterson

Executive Director, The Checks and Balances Project

Why Did the McAuliffe Administration Hire Dr. Michael Karmis?

Why Did the McAuliffe Administration Hire Michael E. Karmis?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? 

Checks and Balances Project Virginia FOIA

Click on this image to see the FOIA

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.

 

Scott Peterson

Executive Director, The Checks and Balances Project

 

Fossil Fuel Front Groups’ Flawed Poll Ignores Century of Fossil Fuel Welfare

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.

Fossil Fuel Front Groups’ Flawed Poll Ignores Century of Fossil Fuel WelfareI 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.

Lavish subsidies

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.

Koch… Again?

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.

How Natural Gas Drilling Contaminates Drinking Water Sources [Infographic]

How Natural Gas Drilling Contaminates Drinking Water Sources

How Natural Gas Drilling Contaminates Drinking Water Sources

New Poll Shows Ohioans Want More Renewable Energy, Oppose Older Coal-Fired Plants

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.

New Poll Shows Ohioans Want More Renewable Energy, Oppose Older Coal-Fired Plants

Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.

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.

Kasich Actions Against Clean Energy Jobs Raising Eyebrows Across the Country

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 boston globerenewable 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.”

Support for the clean energy industry in Ohio is especially important light of the 25,000 jobs that were created there from 2009-2013 and the 12,400 jobs that were lost in July.

So why did Gov. Kasich sign the freeze, making him the first governor to do so nationwide? We’re curious.

Checks and Balances Project Re-files Records Request to Combat Kasich’s Evasion

Checks and Balances Project Re-files Records Request to Combat Kasich’s EvasionToday 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.”

and:

“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.

Kasich Evades Questions on Energy Jobs Freeze

Kasich Evades Questions on Energy Jobs Freeze

Ohio Governor John Kasich

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 alec-logo-sm
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.

One Month Later, No Response from Gov. Kasich

One Month Later, No Response from Gov. KasichIt 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.

An Open Letter to FirstEnergy

 

first energy.narOhio 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
FirstEnergy Corp.
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.

Sincerely,

Scott Peterson, Checks and Balances Project Executive Director

Export-Import Bank Bill A Giveaway That Highlights Hypocrisy

Cross-posted from the National Journal’s Energy Insider’s Blog.

by Scott Peterson

 

wmd-coal-mineSenator 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.

New Video Asks Governor Kasich to Answer the FOIA

CBP.logoToday 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.

Checks and Balances Project Seeks Answers from Governor Kasich

CBP.logoToday 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) john Kasichmade 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.

Nevada Open Records Act Request: Commissioner David Noble

 

Evlondo Cooper

Checks and Balances Project

1820 N. Fort Myer Drive, Suite 510

Arlington, VA 22209

 

VIA EMAIL AND HAND-DELIVERY

 

August 25, 2015

 

Peter Kostes

Public Information Officer

State of Nevada Public Utilities Commission

1150 E. William Street

Carson City, NV 89701

 

Dear Mr. Kostes:

I am a Senior Fellow with the Checks and Balances Project (http://checksandbalancesproject.org/), a government and industry watchdog blog. Pursuant to Nevada’s Public Records Act (Nevada Revised Statutes § 239.010 et. seq., “NPRA”), I am writing to request records of all communications between Commissioner David Noble and any representatives of NV Energy or the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), including but not limited to communications regarding solar energy or net metering in Nevada.

Time Period

This request seeks records created and/or received during the following time period:

  • February 17, 2012, through today.

Records Sought

As indicated above, I am requesting all records evidencing or regarding communications or meetings between Commissioner David Noble and any representatives of NV Energy and/or EEI. This request should be interpreted broadly and includes but is not limited to:

  • Text messages in which Commissioner Noble might have conducted public business with or otherwise communicated with any NV Energy and/or EEI representative. Please produce messages that pertain to public business, regardless of what device the message was sent or received on.
  • Emails between Mr. Noble and any NV Energy and/or EEI representative that discuss or mention solar energy or net metering, irrespective of the device or email address Mr. Noble or the NV Energy and/or EEI representative were using.
  • Phone logs for the above-referenced dates.
  • All meetings calendars for the above-referenced dates, electronic or paper, irrespective of device.
  • Any communications made by other electronic means (such as, without limitation, electronic chat and instant messaging), or other means of contemporaneous interactive communication, that Commissioner Noble might have used to conduct public business with a NV Energy and/or EEI representative.

For the purposes of this request, please interpret “representative” broadly to include NV Energy and/or EEI employees, agents, consultants, lobbyists (paid or unpaid), attorneys, or anybody else acting on behalf of either NV Energy and/or EEI.

Please also provide copies of all responsive records, regardless of how created or stored or what device, phone number, or email address they were created, sent or received from, if they pertain to the topics above. As the Nevada Supreme Court has explained, “public record” must be interpreted broadly to further the important purposes of the NPRA:

The NPRA provides that all public books and public records of governmental entities must remain open to the public, unless “otherwise declared by law to be confidential.” NRS 239.010(1). The Legislature has declared that the purpose of the NPRA is to further the democratic ideal of an accountable government by ensuring that public records are broadly accessible. NRS 239.001(1). Thus, the provisions of the NPRA are designed to promote government transparency and accountability.

Reno Newspapers, Inc. v. Gibbons, 127 Nev. Adv. Op. 79, 266 P.3d 623, 626 (2011).

Production Instructions

For electronic records, please provide the records in their original electronic form attached to an email or downloaded to an electronic medium. I can provide the electronic medium and arrange to pick up the records. For hard copy records, please attach copies to an email as a .PDF or I can arrange to pick up the hard copies. I am seeking information as it becomes available; please do not wait to fill the entire request, but send each part or contact me as it becomes available.

If you intend to charge any fees for obtaining copies of these records, please contact me immediately (no later than five (5) days from today) if the cost will exceed $50. I can also arrange to have the records inspected in person. As you know, no fees can be charged for a request to inspect records (Nev. Rev. Stat. § 239.010 mandates that “all public books and public records of a government entity must be open at all times during office hours to inspection by any person…”).

In any case, I am requesting a waiver of all fees because the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest. This will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. The records may be written about and published to the Internet.

If access to the records I am requesting will take longer than a reasonable amount of time, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or be able to inspect the requested records.

If you deny access to any of the records requested, please explain your basis for doing so in writing within five (5) days, citing the specific statutory provision or other legal authority you rely upon to deny access. NRS § 239.011(1)(d).

Please err on the side of fully providing records. Nevada’s Public Records Act requires that its terms be construed liberally and mandates that any exception be construed narrowly. NRS § 239.001(2), (3).

Please also redact or separate out the information you contend is confidential rather than withholding records in their entirety, as required by Nev. Rev. Stat. § 239.010(3). Again, please cite the statutory provision you rely upon to redact or withhold part of a record and keep in mind that you have the burden of showing that the record is confidential. NRS § 239.0113.

Please provide the records or a response within five (5) business days pursuant to Nev. Rev. Stat. §239.0107. Again, please email your response to evlondo@checksandbalancesproject.org rather than U.S. Mail so I can review as quickly as possible.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation with my request. Please contact me with any questions whatsoever.

Regards,

 

Evlondo Cooper

Senior Fellow

Checks and Balances Project

Top Headline, August 24

in the news

Excerpt from KJZZ (8/24/15): “Utility Regulator’s Business Ties Called Into Question” :

Bitter_Smith

Bitter Smith, a Republican, is a registered lobbyist for Cox Communications, a status she’s held long before her 2012 election to the commission.

Cox is regulated for cable by the Federal Communications Commission and local municipalities. But because it also offers telephone services, Cox is regulated by the corporation commission, which oversees the local telecommunications industry.

That caught the eye of a Washington D.C. watchdog group called the Checks and Balances Project, which has been in a highly publicized struggle with the commission this year for access to Commissioner Bob Stump’s cell phone records.

Checks and Balances raised conflict questions about Bitter Smith to KJZZ, which then conducted independent research and reporting that included a review of various public documents, tax records and interviews with Bitter Smith, former commissioners, a former attorney general, and various ethics and Constitutional law experts and attorneys.

Top Headline, August 18th, 2015

azcentral

Excerpt from The Arizona Republic (8/17/15): “Our View: Can commissioners be bought? Here’s a test” 

The moment of truth — consideration of a fee increase for rooftop-solar customers of Arizona Public Service — is upon Arizona’s all-Republican Corporation Commission.

The moment is an uncomfortable one. Two of the sitting commissioners are widely believed to have enjoyed as much as $3.2 million in “dark money” campaign support last year from APS, and more than a few critics suspect the utility tail is wagging the regulatory dog….

They are not the only commissioners compromised by events from last year’s campaigns.

A Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group has been struggling for months to obtain text messages from the cellphone of another commissioner, Bob Stump, who the group suspects may have acted as an intermediary between the independent campaign groups and the GOP candidates.

Top Video Headline, August 17, 2015

Video from 12 News (8/14/15).

Top Headlines, August 17, 2015

in the news

herald

Excerpt from The Sierra Vista Herald (8/13/15): “Utility regulator wants change in public records law”

State utility regulator Bob Burns wants lawmakers to tighten up the state’s Public Records Law, possibly setting up a “gatekeeper” who would have to approve — and could deny — requests.

Burns, a former state Senate president, said his concerns started with the ongoing battle for the text messages of fellow commissioner Bob Stump. The Checks and Balances Project is questioning a series of texts just ahead of the 2014 Republican primary.

Burns said that what already is known about the pattern of Stump’s tests “certainly looks a little bit strange” and may merit the kind of requests made of the Arizona Corporation Commission for the contents.

eagle

Excerpt from Arizona Eagletarian (8/14/15): “Does the Arizona Legislature DARE to attempt limiting Public Records access?”

Once looked to for sound reasoning in the ongoing saga of Trash Burner Bob Stump and his dubious (and clandestine) communications with Koch-addict Sean Noble, Arizona Public Service president Don Brandt and Brandt’s newest wholly-owned corporation commissioners Little and Forese — Bob Burns now says it’s time to shut down public records access for pains in the government bee-hind like the Checks and Balances Project.

azcentral

Excerpt from The Arizona Republic (8/15/15): “Elected official: Keep the sunlight out” 

As reported last week in the Arizona Capitol Times, Corporation Commissioner Bob Burns is exasperated after fighting for three months with a Washington, D.C.-based open government group seeking another commissioner’s telephone text messages.

So, rather than just give the Checks and Balances Project what it wants, Burns proposes the opposite approach: Require the courts to approve public-records requests.

In other words, he wants to require search warrants.

Burns should step back, take a deep breath and consider that worthy adage warning that “hard cases make bad law.”

azcentral

Excerpt from The Arizona Republic (8/15/15): “New Arizona utility regulators to face first APS case on solar rates”

The changes would affect only new solar customers, not those who installed solar before the fees were approved in 2013 or those who pay the 70-cent fee today. They also would not affect solar water heating, only solar electric.

Controversy surrounding the issue increased dramatically last year when Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little won election backed by $3.2 million in advertising by independent political groups supporting them and opposing the other Republicans in the race.

Forese and Little’s Republican primary challengers were backed by the rooftop-solar industry.

APS has declined to answer repeated questions about whether it was funding those campaigns.

12news

Excerpt from 12 News (8/16/15): “Solar vote tests APS’ clout over regulators”

Almost two years ago, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a controversial plan by APS to raise rates on solar customers.

Since that vote in November 2013, the elected officials who regulate the state’s largest utility, and the utility itself, have come to be seen in a very different light:

* Utility monopoly APS as a political gorilla in Arizona with untold and undisclosed cash to spend to elect the five members of the commission that sets its rates — and ours.

* The all-Republican Corporation Commission as a captive of APS. One current Corporation Commissioner – Bob Stump — and a former Corporation Commissioner — Gary Pierce — are being investigated by Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office over allegations they got too cozy with APS.

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