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.

Introducing the Checks and Balances Project’s New Executive Director

Scott Peterson, new Checks and Balances Project Executive Director

Scott Peterson, new Checks and Balances Project Executive Director

Hello, I am Scott Peterson, the new Executive Director of the Checks and Balances Project. I want to introduce myself because I know that there’s been a lull in Checks and Balances activities while the Project was between executive directors.

I want to first say that the people who have come before me in this role – Andrew Schenkel, Gabe Elsner and Matt Garrington – did amazing watchdog work. If I can be half as successful as they have been in getting to the bottom of how and why decisions are being made that affect taxpayers and consumers, I’ll be satisfied. I hope to build on their legacy in the months ahead.

I’m drawn to the Checks and Balances Project at a personal level. After years in New York as a spokesman for the financial industry, I now live and work in Virginia full-time. I’ve become increasingly concerned about the global climate crisis, and the efforts by the fossil fuel lobby to block clean energy solutions. As I’ve been more deeply involved in Virginia, I’ve been surprised by just how successful fossil fuel interests have been in blocking progress of clean energy and worse, how few people know about it. In fact, I think that the influence peddling and propaganda by polluting industries is what has contributed significantly to the loss of public faith in government institutions. The Nation says that influence is a $9B a year industry. That’s a staggering figure.

The costs of the influence business to average Americans are real. Look no further than the latest outrage, Ohio Governor John Kasich signing into law a bill “freezing” the growth of clean energy technologies. At the behest of one dirty utility – First Energy – and the Koch Brothers from Kansas, Governor Kasich has put at risk 25,000 clean energy jobs in state that is desperate for economic activity. The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard that Governor Kasich has frozen has saved Ohioans an estimated $1 billion to date.

That’s just one example. Back in my state of Virginia, we give tens of millions of dollars a year in tax money as a subsidy to the coal industry. It’s interesting to note this is the same industry that funds front groups to yell at the solar and wind industries about being supported by popular, pro-clean energy policies. These technologies should “stand on their own feet,” the coal lobby says. I think we can start by having the coal industry take the first step of getting off subsidies. It’s only been on them for, what, the last 150 years?

Lobbyist influence and what I call the legalized corruption of lobbying money has become some “New Normal” that Americans are supposed to accept. I don’t think we should accept it, and that’s why I’ve committed to build on the Checks and Balances legacy in the months ahead.

New pro-fracking group lacks CRED-ibility

Executives at Anadarko and Noble Energy are the board members and the Western Energy Alliance’s communications manager is the spokesperson for a new natural gas group in Colorado. The Center for Western Priorities takes a look at this group and asks the obvious question – is it willing to break ranks with the oil and gas industry, or is it just another empty mouthpiece.

A new industry-backed oil and gas group has sprung up in Colorado, and it’s calling itself CRED (Coloradoans for Responsible Energy Development). According to profiles in the Denver Business Journal and Greenwire, the group was created by top executives at two of Colorado’s biggest oil and gas players. CRED says its purpose is to correct Coloradans’ misunderstandings about the oil and gas industry. But, clever acronyms aside, the group is going to have to prove its CRED-ibility as an impartial, legitimate information source, before anyone’s going to take it seriously. That means acknowledging facts and taking positions even if they conflict with industry talking points.
— (CWP blog post, 9/10/13)

Read the full post and judge this new group for yourself.

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.

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