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.)

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.

Sincerely,

 

Scott Peterson

Executive Director, 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

 

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

 

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.

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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