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

 

Virginia FOIA re Michael Karmis PhD.

September 29, 2014

 

Tarah Kesterson

Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME)

P.O. Drawer 900

Big Stone Gap, VA 24219

 

RE:  Request for records under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act

 

Dear Ms. Kesterson:

My name is Scott Peterson. I am the Executive Director of the Checks and Balances Project, a government and industry watchdog group. In accordance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2 -3700 et seq.), I am requesting copies of any and all records, including meetings, emails, and phone logs, related to a request for proposal, preliminary negotiations, and a contract between the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) and Professor Michael E. Karmis of Virginia Tech to conduct a cost benefit analysis as required by the legislature for Virginia to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. Contracts are open records. If the cost benefit analysis is being done pro bono by Karmis, there is also no reason for that to be kept secret.

I also seek any and all public records, including records of meetings, emails, and phone logs, between DMME Energy Division Director Al Christopher and 1) Office of the Governor Policy Director Anna James, 2) Office of the Governor Deputy Policy Director Jay Swanson, 3) Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources Evan Fienman and 4) Hayes Framme of the Office of the Secretary of Commerce and Trade about or to Dr. Karmis and any representatives of the above parties since January 2, 2014.

If there are any fees for searching or copying these records, please inform me if the cost will exceed $200. The Virginia Freedom of Information Act requires a response to this request be made within five business days.  If access to the records I am requesting will take longer than this amount of time, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records. If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.

If you have any questions or require additional information in order to process my request, please do not hesitate to contact me at scott@checksandbalancesproject.org. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter.

 

Sincerely,

Scott Peterson

 

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.

Columbus Dispatch: Group says Kasich evading records request

The Columbus Dispatch | Your Right to Know: Public records, open meetings and free-speech issues: Group says Kasich evading records request, by: Randy Ludlow – August 13, 2014 11:34 AM

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.

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