Mr. Cuccinelli: Virginians Deserve an Answer

After siding with Consol Energy in a dispute regarding gas royalties for Virginia landowners, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli received over $100,000 [1] from Consol Energy and its subsidiaries. Our question for Mr. Cuccinelli is simple – given the conflicts of interest in taking money from a company involved in a lawsuit with landowners, will he give the money back?

The Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) attended a forum yesterday with Mr. Cuccinelli at George Mason University’s Arlington Campus (which is also the home to the Koch-funded Mercatus Center), and which was organized by fossil fuel front group, Consumer Energy Alliance.

After the forum, Mr. Cuccinelli took a few questions from reporters before abruptly walking off after C&BP asked about the more than $100,000 he has received from Consol.

Here’s what happened:

C&BP: “You’ve received over $100,000 from Consol Energy since you sided with them? Will you give that money back?

Mr. Cuccinelli: “I did not receive $100,000 since I sided with them. I received $100,000 in contributions since I opposed them.

Mike Stark (from FossilAgenda.com): Then why did they give you $100,000?

Cuccinelli: I’m the only candidate who’s proposed a solution to the gas. [inaudible]

C&BP: I’ve heard you say that before… but do you…

Cuccinelli: If you don’t have an actual question, thank you very much. [Ends press conference after only five reporters out of approximately 30 had asked questions.]

C&BP attempted to get an answer after the press conference before one of the two state troopers escorting Mr. Cuccinelli stopped C&BP from walking towards the Attorney General to ask the question.

Here’s the audio of C&BP trying to get an answer before being stopped by state troopers (fast forward to :27 for the question and interaction with state troopers):

The Virginia landowners who Mr. Cuccinelli has sided against have already asked him to give the money back and C&BP asked him again yesterday. He reacted by walking away from a press conference. Mr. Cuccinelli should answer the question – and clean up any potential conflicts of interest by returning campaign payments from Consol Energy and its subsidiaries, which are currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Virginia landowners.


[1] Mr. Cuccinelli accepted more than $140,000 in Consol contributions after issuing an advisory opinion as Attorney General that limited the jurisdiction of Virginia Gas and Oil Board in June 2010.  That opinion marked the first of several Consol-friendly actions Mr. Cuccinelli has taken as Virginia’s Attorney General. Two months later, in August 2010, Mr. Cuccinelli sided with Consol and against Virginians in a lawsuit to recover improperly withheld royalties. Finally, Mr. Cuccinelli, went to bat for Consol again earlier this year when he issued another advisory opinion that local jurisdictions in Virginia may not use zoning laws to establish a moratorium on fracking until they can be sure their water tables will not be polluted.

Correction: The post originally stated the the forum was hosted by the Mercatus Center. It was hosted by GMU at the Arlington Campus, which is also the home of the Mercatus Center. Regardless, the Koch’s have donated nearly $30 million to GMU and its associated institutes and centers.

C&BP Statement on State Dept. Inspector General Keystone XL Investigation

Today, the State Department Office of Inspector General announced that an investigation into Environmental Resources Management’s (ERM) conflicts of interest would not be completed until January 2014. This announcement indicates that the Keystone XL pipeline decision is facing another delay as a result of ERM lying to the State Department about its connections to TransCanada, the company hoping to build the pipeline.

The Checks & Balances Project and 10 other organizations, called on the Inspector General in April to launch an investigation into ERM’s conflicts of interest. In government documents, ERM claimed that it had no relationship with TransCanada or any other entity with a stake in the project “in the past three years” despite working for TransCanada and other oil companies with a stake in the Canadian tar sands. Unredacted documents revealed proof that ERM had worked for TransCanada during that three year period and lied to the State Department on conflict of interest disclosure forms.

In late May, after receiving a call from a Special Agent at the Office of Inspector General, The Checks & Balances Project announced that the State Department had launched a probe into conflict of interest allegations.

Gabe Elsner, Director of the Checks & Balances Project, released the following statement following news of the State Department’s inquiry and review of these conflicts of interest:

“The public was supposed to get an honest look at the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline. Instead, ERM, an oil company contractor, misled the State Department, in what appears to be an attempt to green light the project on behalf of oil industry clients.  Secretary Kerry must halt this flawed review process and direct the State Department to conduct a full, unbiased review of the Keystone XL pipeline’s impact. The Inspector General should complete a full investigation into ERM’s misleading statements and the State Department should determine appropriate disciplinary actions for ERM to discourage contractors from lying to the federal government in the future.”

Q&A: ALEC’s new tactics to weaken renewable laws

This Q&A originally appeared in Midwest Energy News. 

By 

ALEC40Though bills meant to revoke or undercut renewable standards in numerous states failed last session, clean energy advocates say the model Market Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act proposed by ALEC’s energy task force during the conference pose a fresh threat.

The Market Power Renewables Act argues for a “voluntary market” that would allow people to invest in renewable energy if they choose without instituting mandates, and it claims that such an approach could lead to more renewable energy development overall.

The Renewable Energy Credit Act would expand the types of energy that would count toward credits. It would also remove caps on the proportion of an RPS that can be met through credits – a provision now enshrined in many states’ laws. And it would also allow the renewable standard’s full term – for example through 2025 – to be met in advance by bulk purchases of credits to meet future requirements.

The ALEC conference also included presentations by the American Petroleum Institute on local hydraulic fracturing bans; offshore energy as “good sense and good cents”; nuclear energy’s role in baseload electricity production; and the U.S. EPA’s “assault on state sovereignty,” hosted by a representative of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Gabriel Elsner, director of the pro-clean energy watchdog Checks and Balances Project, was among the advocates banned from ALEC’s meeting in Oklahoma City in May. Elsner was in Chicago for the recent conference, in an effort to learn more about state legislators’ and corporate executives’ ties with ALEC. The Checks and Balances Project also collaborated with the Center for Media and Democracy and Greenpeace to publicize ALEC’s confidential agenda and proposed model bills.

Midwest Energy News spoke with Elsner during his visit.

Midwest Energy News: Given that ALEC was unable to pass its bills last year, how serious a threat do these model bills pose to RPS standards and to renewable energy development as a whole?

Elsner: ALEC completely failed in 2013 to weaken or eliminate RPS laws. We’ve seen that because there’s bipartisan support for clean energy. Businesses and communities are seeing local economic development and job creation because of these laws.

ALEC’s new model legislation is a stealth attack on RPS’s. They are framed in a way that makes them seem pro-clean energy, but would open up RPS’s to allow sources of electricity – from large hydropower to landfill gas — to be included in state laws that are supposed to incentivize clean energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal. The net effect would be reduced incentives for local, clean energy development in states that adopted this new bill.

ALEC’s proposed “Market-Power Renewables Act” doesn’t mention hydropower or landfill gas – how do you figure it would allow such energy to be counted toward RPS compliance?

This bill as written would open up the market to the different registries that regulate renewable energy credits. For example, in Kansas, your renewable energy credits are regulated by a different entity than in California. But if Kansas passes this law, they could buy RECs from hydropower plants in California or Oregon to fulfill the entire RPS.

That’s already allowed in some states, how would this law be different?

I looked at the regional registries for RECs listed in the model bill. REC registries define renewable energy differently – some include hydropower plants as large as hundreds of megawatts. Others include landfills gas and biomass projects.

ALEC’s new model bills would create a lowest common denominator that would weaken the traditional RPS’s by allowing out-of-state RECs to fulfill the entire RPS. If building a wind turbine in Kansas cost a dollar and five cents but you could go out and buy an REC for a dollar from a hydropower plant in Maine, the utilities would go out and buy a credit and not build the local clean energy project. It would eliminate the economic benefit and jobs in the state.

Palmer-House-Phillip-CantorWhat exactly is an ALEC model bill and where does it go from here?

The bills were discussed by the ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force on Friday and voted on by a combination of corporate representatives like AEP and Exxon Mobil and legislators who sit on the task force. Once it passes the task force, a bill goes to the executive board of ALEC. [If the board approves,] it becomes a model bill and is sent out to ALEC legislators across the country.

Who are ALEC legislators?

ALEC doesn’t publish a list of which legislators are members. The Center for Media and Democracy has compiled a list at ALECExposed.org. Right now, we know that about 25 percent of all state legislators are members of ALEC. Legislators who attacked RPS’s last year were in Chicago for the conference.

At the conference ALEC also discussed a model resolution supporting grid modernization. This would appear to put ALEC on the same page as clean energy groups. Is their support really a way to introduce curbs on improving the grid or promoting renewables on the grid?

It would be great if utilities were for grid modernization because it could lead to more clean energy development, smart meters, net metering. But more likely is that members of the ALEC energy task force are supporting grid modernization to maximize the benefits to the utilities at the expense of ordinary consumers.

It’s also a model resolution – not model legislation – so it lacks any details on what pieces of grid modernization they would actually support. The model resolution supports cost recovery by utilities, but would they support the increased use of smart meters and net metering?

If model bills don’t benefit the utilities and other fossil fuel interests funding ALEC, it’s probably not going to pass the task force.

ALEC calls for the possibility of buying renewable energy credits from businesses and private citizens. Might this in a sense further the goal of distributed energy and create incentives for people or businesses to generate their own renewable energy?

In theory this could lead to increased use of clean energy by opening up a voluntary market for RECs. But it’s more likely that opening the RPS to large existing hydro and other sources of electricity would water down the market and undermine in-state clean energy development.

It’s important to point out that RPS’s are already driving clean energy investment. In Kansas alone, it resulted in $3 billion of private sector investment in clean energy last year. These policies are working – if the members of ALEC really want to support clean energy they should work to increase the RPS standards.

The ALEC energy task force also passed a resolution to oppose a carbon tax. How much political significance does this have, especially given that ALEC works on the state level, and a carbon tax would be federal?

[The resolution] is a problem because it is a message to our national representatives in Congress. If state legislatures start passing resolutions against a carbon tax, it would send a strong message to people in Washington, D.C. that a carbon tax is not politically feasible.

What do groups hope to accomplish by publicizing ALEC’s agenda and model bills?

Transparency is always a good thing. ALEC for far too long has operated behind closed doors – lobbying our state legislators on behalf of their corporate members. The Checks and Balances Project is trying to bring accountability to that process by showing the public that major fossil fuel interests are working to impact our energy policy through ALEC.

Have these efforts had an impact already, such as with the failure of the bills in the past year?

I think that they have certainly mobilized people who are in favor of clean energy. ALEC’s attacks on clean energy mobilized businesses and other allies to defend these important policies. I think these attacks on something as popular as clean energy is also having an impact on ALEC itself, with many corporations deciding to leave ALEC because of the controversy surrounding the organization.

In regards to ALEC’s energy work, it’s no surprise that they are launching the next attack on clean energy policies. ALEC is a front group representing major fossil fuel interests, that see the growth of the clean energy industry as a long-term competitive threat.

Fossil Fuel Interests Continue Attacks on Clean Energy Policies

This response was originally posted at National Journal’s Energy Insiders blog, which asked energy experts this week, “How Bright Is Renewable Energy’s Future?”

The outlook for clean energy remains strong because smart investments like state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are combining with technological innovation to produce tremendous growth for the industry and tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs. These policies have successfully stood up to forceful attacks from entrenched fossil fuel interests in more than a dozen states in the past year. Washington should take note that the public supports and wants more energy from renewable sources.

At the state level, fossil fuel interests have worked through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to weaken or eliminate RPS, because the clean energy industry poses a competitive threat to their market share. State renewable energy standards are projected to add enough new renewable power capacity by 2025 to power 47 million homes.

So, it’s no surprise that fossil fuel interests like American Electric Power, Peabody Coal, ExxonMobil and others are working to rollback renewable energy laws. These corporations that sell electricity produced from coal and natural gas are in direct competition with electricity generated from clean energy sources. This year, ALEC members and fossil fuel-funded front groups worked to rollback RPS laws in at least 13 states. But, a bipartisan coalition of business leaders, farmers and clean energy advocates stopped them in their tracks. Of all the bills proposed by ALEC members to weaken or eliminate RPS, 0 out of 13 passed, including in key target states like Kansas, Missouri and North Carolina.

Despite failing completely in 2013, ALEC’s energy task force met last week to propose new model bills that would effectively gut RPS laws by allowing large, existing hydro and landfill gas and other electricity sources from out-of-state to count towards the Renewable Portfolio Standards. The Market-Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act would let utilities meet the clean energy standards by purchasing credits from out-of-state companies instead of generating or buying their own clean energy. In effect, the new model bills would eliminate incentives for in-state clean energy investment that are creating jobs and economic opportunities. Since their inception 10 years ago, RPS laws have leveraged over $100 billion in private sector investment in clean energy in 29 states.

ALEC and fossil fuel-front groups are lobbying our state representatives and spreading disinformation behind closed doors to attack pro-clean energy laws. With energy policy mostly stalled at the federal level, fossil fuel-funded attacks on the state level will continue and likely ramp up in the future, posing a major threat to the clean energy industry and the policies that support its growth.

Hickenlooper’s Fifth Misdeed: Recording a misleading radio ad for oil & gas lobbyists

In 2012, Gov. John Hickenlooper recorded a misleading radio ad paid for by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. In the ad, the governor parses his words to make the claim that Colorado has not had a single instance of drilling and fracking contaminating groundwater, since 2008.

“In 2008, Colorado passed tough oil and gas rules. Since then, we have not had once instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing.” – Gov. John Hickenlooper

The records show that Gov. Hickenlooper’s claim is a nice, industry-friendly talking point. But, it’s entirely misleading when it comes to the facts about spills in the Centennial State.

A review of the Colorado Oil and Gas Information System shows that approximately 20 percent of all spills in 2012 resulted in water contamination; 22 of those spills impacted surface water, while 63 impacted groundwater. Fifty-seven percent of spills during the year occurred within 1,500 feet of surface water, and 28 percent of the spills occurred within 500 feet of surface water. Thirty-seven percent of spills – 147 of 402 – occurred less than 50 feet from the shallowest ground water, eight percent occurred between 50 and 100 feet from groundwater, and 9 percent occurred more than 100 feet from groundwater.

In June of this year, Bruce Finley at the Denver Post reported that, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Commission records, 179 oil and gas industry spills occurred in the state, just during the first half of 2013. In 26 of those spills, groundwater was contaminated, and 15 of them directly polluted ponds and creeks.

In one of the highest profile spills, people living near Parachute Creek learned in March that an ongoing hydrocarbon spill near Williams Midstream’s Parachute Gas Plant dumped more than 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbons into the ground.

Today, the Parachute Creek spill has been ongoing for more than six months, and testing in July shows that levels of benzene – a carcinogen – are elevated, again. Parachute Creek is a tributary to the Colorado River, a main water source for the region, and the benzene levels in the creek exceed state water quality standards.

In a second well-known spill that occurred in June, WPX Energy reported the release of 2,100 gallons of water that had been polluted by the drilling and fracking process. The spill occurred two miles south of the Colorado River, and most of the contaminated water was absorbed into the soil.

When Gov. Hickenlooper plays word games, like he did in COGA’s radio ad, he’s following industry’s lead. They like to parse the term fracking and then claim it’s never hurt water supplies. This is the sort of wordplay usually heard from teenagers explaining why they didn’t actually break curfew. The entire drilling and fracking process contaminates water – groundwater and otherwise – removing millions of gallons from the water cycle, in addition to what it pollutes on the surface.

Gov. Hickenlooper is being dangerously dishonest with Coloradoans when he says that fracking has never contaminated groundwater. He needs to stop prioritizing oil and gas companies over the safety of the people who elected him.

This is the fifth installment in our blog series “Hickenlooper’s Misdeeds” which shines a spotlight on how Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of the health of Colorado families and local communities.

After Fossil Fuel Front Group Attacks on Clean Energy Fail, New Model Bill Emerges to Weaken RPS Laws

ALECFossilFuelFundersMembers of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), including fossil fuel corporations and front groups, will meet in Chicago this week to discuss their next round of attacks on clean energy policies. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), The Checks & Balances Project (C&BP) and Greenpeace released ALEC’s confidential model bills and agenda ahead of their Annual Meeting taking place in Chicago, that include a new anti-clean energy model bill, “The Market-Power Renewables Act.”

 “A little sunlight is a powerful force for good. ALEC is trying every trick in the book to keep the agenda of their upcoming meetings secret,” said Nick Surgey of The Center for Media and Democracy. “They are even claiming every state’s public record laws don’t apply to them. This is preposterous. The ALEC documents that CMD obtained show that ALEC is continuing to scheme on behalf of fossil fuel corporations, working together to undermine state’s efforts to promote renewable energy production.”

 “The Market-Power Renewables Act” will likely serve as the model for another round of attacks on state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in 2014 following ALEC’s failure to weaken or eliminate clean energy policies this year. The new bill would significantly weaken state clean energy laws by broadening the eligible electricity sources to include existing, large hydroelectric power plants, biomass, biogas and other sources of electricity.

 “Fossil fuel-backed efforts to rollback clean energy laws in states across the country have failed, including in at least three critical battleground states,” said Gabe Elsner, Director of C&BP. “It’s no surprise that ALEC is pushing a new model bill that would eliminate incentives for in-state investments in clean energy. These policies are boosting investment in the clean energy industry and creating jobs, which poses a major threat to fossil fuel interests.”

Despite a robust lobbying effort from fossil fuel corporations and fossil fuel-funded front groups, ALEC and its allies lost in the critical battleground states of Kansas, North Carolina and Missouri. Bipartisan majorities defeated ALEC’s model legislation this year, after ALEC legislators in at least 13 states sponsored or co-sponsored legislation to weaken or eliminate RPS laws.

But despite complete failure in 2013, ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Director Todd Wynn indicated that attacks on clean energy laws would resume in 2014.

 “Fossil fuel-funded front groups connected to the Koch-funded State Policy Network and ALEC advocated to repeal or weaken RPS laws in at least 14 states,” said Connor Gibson of Greenpeace. “Many of these front groups published flawed economicreports written by the fossil fuel-funded Beacon Hill Institute to inflate the cost of RPS and ignore the economic benefits of the pro-clean energy laws.”

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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