Letter to TURN


June 2, 2015


Mark W. Toney, Ph.D.

Executive Director

TURN—The Utility Reform Network

785 Market St., Suite 1400

San Francisco, CA 94103


Dear Mark:

It was good to sit down with you while I was in San Francisco and learn more about TURN’s relationship with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and Commissioner Mike Florio. I appreciate the time you took to meet with me.

Since then, we have been focused on our Captured Regulators Initiative. In Arizona, we have been finding what we think are some important facts about the extent to which regulators have favored the major state utility, Arizona Public Service, over homeowners’ interests in low-cost rooftop solar.

Here are a couple of articles to give you a sense of what we call the “captured regulator” problem:

As for California, we recently completed an analysis of some of the more controversial actions of former CPUC President Michael Peevey and current Commissioner Mike Florio, including judge-shopping efforts to help PG&E.

We noticed that while TURN was severe in its criticism of then-President Peevy, the response to Florio’s transgressions from your organization has been muted, and you have not called for his resignation.

In fact, our analysis of media coverage since Florio was appointed to the CPUC in January, 2011, found 20 unique, negative quotes from TURN about Peevey, including five calls for his resignation. By contrast, we were able to find only four comments by TURN, all moderate and forgiving in tone, on the ethical challenges and possibly illegal conduct of Florio, who now is under a federal investigation.

When we met, you asserted to me that when it came to Peevey and Florio, “there is a difference between being foolish and being captured.” Yet Florio’s involvement in the judge shopping scheme is not the only point of concern about his conduct.  Florio circumvented rules against back channel, ex parte communications with a PG&E lobbyist that resulted in a $130 million windfall for the utility. Most recently, it was revealed that Florio was present when former President Peevy lobbied Southern California Edison executives to give $25 million to UCLA to fund greenhouse gas research and advised an Edison executive not to report it, as required by law.

Legal experts have been shocked by Commissioner Florio’s behavior and the discrepancy between your response to Peevey versus Florio seems stark.

To promote transparency and understanding, Check & Balances Project invites TURN to release all communications any representative of TURN has had with Commissioner Florio since he left your organization and joined the CPUC. This includes emails and text messages.

I fully recognize that TURN has no obligation to do this. However, providing these communications may remove questions regarding your relationship with Commissioner Florio and your continued refusal to call for his resignation.

Please know that it is my intent under California records law to seek the release of these records. We believe they will be helpful to understand the extent to which Commissioner Florio has been captured by California’s utilities or stands on the side of the consumers that TURN says it seeks to protect.

Thank you again for your time. I look forward to your response.



Scott Peterson

Executive Director, Checks and Balances Project

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.


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


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.



Scott Peterson


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.”


“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.

Ken Cuccinelli’s Conflict of Interest Problem: The CONSOL Energy Campaign Contributions Timeline

The unfolding controversy around Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s involvement with CONSOL Energy Inc., a Pittsburgh-based fossil fuel (oil, gas and coal) company, has focused on the widely criticized assistance his office provided the company. It also has focused on the total amount of money Cuccinelli has received from CONSOL.

When forced to respond to C&BP recently, Cuccinelli has asserted the company “gave me $100,000 after I opposed them.” A comparison of the timing of contributions and actions that favored CONSOL paint a very different picture.

Ken Cuccinelli and Consol Energy Campaign Contributions

In the first eight years of Mr. Cuccinelli’s political career (state senate), his campaigns received a total of $3,500 from CONSOL. However, once elected to Attorney General, his office began taking actions that favored CONSOL and disadvantaged southwestern Virginia landowners who hadn’t been paid by CONSOL. A comparison of the timelines of actions and money show a pattern of accelerating support as favorable actions increased, bringing a total of $140,000 to Cuccinelli after the actions favorable to CONSOL began.

In June 2010, Mr. Cuccinelli issued an advisory opinion that limited the jurisdiction of the Virginia Gas and Oil Board that forced Virginia landowners to go to court over royalty payments, a move clearly in CONSOL Energy’s favor.

Two months later, in August 2010, his office sided with CONSOL and against Virginians in a lawsuit to recover improperly withheld royalties, helping the out-of-state oil company defend against a claim by Virginia landowners.

From August 2010 through April 2012, Cuccinelli’s office (through a Senior Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pigeon) began secretly providing legal research and advice to CONSOL’s attorneys regarding the lawsuit, outside of the scope of the AG office’s official capacity. The Virginia Inspector General is now investigating to determine whether the AG’s office misused taxpayer funds.

Finally, Mr. Cuccinelli, helped CONSOL again earlier this year when he issued another advisory opinion that barred local jurisdictions from using zoning laws to establish fracking moratoriums.

Our weekly wrap on the top 5 energy stories for the week of July 29th

COGA CEO Tisha Schuller supports front group claim that trees cause smog

Colorado Oil and Gastrees cause smog copy Association CEO Tisha Schuller said she wanted to depolarize the debate around fracking and drilling, and even said she’d be touring Colorado communities to do just that. So it was disappointing, if not surprising, when her group helped publicize industry front group Energy In Depth’s (EID) attacks on Denver Post reporter Bruce Finley. Finley came under fire from EID for his story on new requirements for companies surveying for oil and gas on residents’ land and for shining a light on industry propaganda. The EID piece went so far as to contend that trees cause smog. Rather than seize the opportunity to help set the record straight about the negative effects of oil and gas, Schuller’s group tweeted her support of EID’s lies. If Schuller truly wants to help depolarize the debate, she’ll distance herself from EID.

Group tours Dinosaur National Park to discuss proposed drilling

As concerned parties wait to learn whether or not Colorado BLM Director Helen Hankins will again try to lease land next to Dinosaur National Park’s visitor center for oil and gas drilling, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet brought together industry, politicians experts, including Park Ranger Jim Gale, to discuss the project on a two-day river trip through Dinosaur National Park. Others on the trip included: Colorado State Senator Gail Schwartz and a representative from the water commission. Gale blogged on the impact their surroundings’ beauty had on the entire group. But, questions remain about the fate of the park and whether the Colorado BLM is up to the task of balancing protecting the park with oil and gas development.

Water shortages among top concerns in Colorado

This week The Coloradoan asked five people—experts, an activist, and politicians—their views on the greatest environmental threats tCache La Poudre River copyo the state. Climate change, water shortages, air and water quality and the expansion of oil and gas were top environmental concerns.

Despite the group’s concerns, surprisingly most believed there were steps Coloradoans and the state could take to lessen the effect of environmental threats. Solutions ranged from greater protection of rivers, Coloradoans making their views known during elections, water conservation, and better oil and gas regulation.

Oil and gas royalty rates from the 1920s shortchange taxpayers

In a recent The Hill op-ed, Jim Baca, highlighted the up to hundreds of millions of dollars taxpayers are losing out on due to oil and gas onshowoodrow wilson copyre royalty rates that have not been updated since the 1920s when Woodrow Wilson was president. Citing data from the Center for Western Priorities’ (CWP) recent report, “A Fair Share: The Case for Updating Federal Royalties,” Baca writes that the federal government is required to evenly split royalty revenue with states where oil is produced. Yet, the federal government charges oil and gas companies only 12.5 percent, lower than the 16.67 percent to 25 percent charged by the energy-rich states Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. These states are losing out on an estimated $400-$600 million dollars in revenue as a result of the government’s undercharging, the report says.

According to President Obama’s estimates, over the next 10 years updating the onshore royalty rate would generate $2.5 billion in net profit for the U.S. Treasury.

And, the good news is the Department of the Interior has the authority to raise the onshore rate to one that’s fair to taxpayers. It wouldn’t be the first time the agency raised rates, having previously raised the offshore rate from 12.75 percent to 18.75 percent under the Bush Administration.

With the President estimating an economic boost in the billions and the Department of the Interior having the power to do so, it’s time to charge a rate that’s fair to states and to taxpayers.

Cornell Professor and oil and gas engineer: gas is not “clean”

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Cornell Professor Anthony Ingraffea  discussed the negative impact of gas-produced methane on our air and water and says that if we really want to address climate change, as outlined in President Obama’s recent speech, we’ll support the scaling of renewables such as solar. However, he adds that support for renewables needs to be coupled with policies that recognize the threat from oil and gas leaks and emissions.


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