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.

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.

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