Accuracy Happens: A Fossil Fuel Pundit’s Funding Is Exposed

Charles Koch?…. “His organization just sends me money.”

Something unusual and encouraging just happened, and few people likely noticed.

Accuracy Happens: A Fossil Fuel Pundit’s Funding Is ExposedIn 2013, Checks and Balances Project broke important ground by documenting the remarkable effectiveness of front groups funded by the fossil fuel lobby. In our True Ties report, we uncovered how these groups position themselves as “think tanks” and research organizations, and push fossil fuel lobbyist talking points in energy commentary and news reporting without getting their fossil fuel funding mentioned.

In fact, our True Ties report found that these groups had an astounding 94% success rate delivering on their value proposition to lobbyists – to echo talking points at a public distance. Over a five-year period, we found that the top 60 newspapers in the country cited, quoted, and ran bylines pieces or mentioned the 10 loudest anti-clean energy front groups on average of once every other day either promoting fossil fuels or bashing competing clean energy. They rarely described the front groups as anything more than “think tanks.” When the descriptors deviated from such bland terms, the front groups were given ideological monikers. In only 4% of the cases did news organizations bother to ask about fossil fuel funding.

Enter Professor Randy Simmons of Utah State University.

Simmons got traction recently after securing an opinion piece, “What’s the True Cost of Wind Power?” in Newsweek. The pieces were thoroughly discredited here and here, but Simmons’ piece was quickly posted around the web with a bland, intellectually neutral positioning in his original byline:

Accuracy Happens: A Fossil Fuel Pundit’s Funding Is Exposed

The original byline even asserted “Full disclosure” by disclosing Simmons’ U.S. Energy Department funding.

In stepped Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple with this badly needed piece pushing the question of why a fossil fuel-funded academic was allowed to bash wind energy without any mention of that funding.

Newsweek later updated the Professor’s byline to make it more accurate:

Accuracy Happens: A Fossil Fuel Pundit’s Funding Is Exposed

In the Wemple piece, Simmons asserts that he receives no funding from fossil fuel interests, such as Koch industries.

I Caught Up with the Professor on His Cell Phone

I was curious about the discrepancy, and I was able to catch up with the Professor by cell phone on his way to his classroom.

“Why did your bio at the end of your Newsweek piece not include that you are the Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy?” I asked him.

Simmons explained that the Koch Professorship was for a five-year term that ended in 2013. When I pointed out that his LinkedIn profile said otherwise, he responded, “My dean has been after me to get rid of that.”

I asked Simmons if he was still a senior fellow at the Property and Environmental Research Center, as the Newsweek bio stated. He admitted he is.

“Are you aware that the Center is has been funded by the Kochs and Exxon-Mobil?”

“No,” Simmons declared definitively. “It’s never received fossil-fuel funding.”

Hmm. That statement was not accurate.

“What is your relationship with Charles G. Koch?” I asked.

“I’ve never met the man,” Simmons asserted. “His organization just sends me money.”

So here is a professor who takes money from the Kochs, argues against wind energy, and denies that a fossil fuel-funded “center” where he is a senior fellow is, in fact, funded by fossil fuel lobby.

“Do you admit that the Koch’s are opposed to clean energy?”

“No, I wouldn’t say they are,” Simmons responded quickly. “They don’t lobby against it. They’re just against subsidies.”

That was also inaccurate, as the evidence clearly points otherwise.

I asked him why, when discussing subsidies, he didn’t mention the massive subsidies for fossil fuels?

“I’ve been told there are straight up subsidies and normal depreciation,” the professor said, and went on to say that he would soon be examining subsidies in depth.

I asked if he would include subsidies for coal, oil, and natural gas.

“Perhaps,” he said. “We’re considering it.”

Would that new study be funded by the Kochs?

“They will be one of the funders,” he replied. Simmons had reached the door of his classroom. His T.A. was waiting and he had to sign off.

The last time I checked, Professor Simmons still hadn’t bothered to change his LinkedIn profile. But, the good news is the Kochs seem to be committed to tracking dirty energy subsidies. That might make some fairly big news.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a Virginia-based 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.

Desperate Fossil Fuel Interests Seek to Undermine Clean Energy Choices in Communities of Color

By Joel A. Francis

Too often, African American voices are excluded from discussions about the critical issues facing our country. Energy is no exception. That is why I was pleased to recently attend a conference of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE). While in attendance, however, I developed concerns that workshops did not address issues facing African American families that are directly attributable to our nation’s reliance on fossil fuel energy sources.

Desperate Fossil Fuel Interests Seeking to Undermine Clean Energy  Choices in Communities of ColorThe NAACP developed a report that shows how fossil fuels play a significantly harmful role in the health of African American and other communities of color. Segregation and economic deprivation has forced generations of African American families to live in some of the least desirable areas. More than two-thirds of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal plant. This puts our community at a much greater risk for the health problems associated with exposure to the toxic chemicals these plants spew. African American children are three times as likely to be admitted to the hospital for, and twice as likely to die from, asthma as compared to white children.

Regrettably, a discussion of the harmful impact of fossil fuel pollution on communities of color was noticeably absent from the conference’s proceedings. What is worse is that many speakers denigrated one of the best solutions to the pollution problems plaguing African American communities: renewable energy sources such as solar.

The conference was an opportunity to educate attendees about the costs and benefits of ALL energy sources. Unfortunately, attendees may have left with a skewed perception. Although numerous independent studies have shown that solar energy provides benefits to all electricity consumers on the grid, fossil fuel utilities were pushing a deceptive argument that misrepresents the benefits of solar energy to communities of color. The utility companies’ thinly veiled attempts to present clean energy sources as a racial issue was shameful. It became clear that their real motivation was shaping a discourse that protects energy monopolies.

Fortunately, people like Reverend Nelson Johnson of Faith Community Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, see through and are calling out the inaccuracies propagated by utilities. Reverend Johnson recently co-authored an open letter to the CEO of Duke Energy to “Stop Targeting African Americans with Your Anti-Solar Campaign.” He talked about having been visited three times by people pushing propaganda that “solar hurts the poor.” The Reverend questioned the motives behind Duke Energy’s attacks on solar and called on the utility to stop “this duplicitous corporate behavior.”

Apparently, establishment of a cleaner alternative is a threat to the status quo and a threat to the utility companies’ domination of the energy market. While these fossil fuel companies continue to pollute the air above and the land surrounding our communities, they are intent on sustaining our dependence on them through placing misleading campaigns to slow the growth of a viable and pollution-free alternative.

 

Joel A. Francis is a senior fellow at the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public.

New National Report Underscores Health and Economic Benefits of Clean Energy to People of Color and Low-Income Communities

Fossil Fuel Disinformation Campaign Driven by Profit Motives, Not Concern for Minority Communities

By Joel A. Francis

Last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released an important new report, Bridging the Clean Energy Divide, that refutes highly misleading fossil fuel claims about clean energy policies and communities of color.

The report also calls attention to the large potential benefits of clean energy to fixed- and low-income individuals, including:

  • well-paying jobs in the clean energy industry;
  • lower energy costs through energy efficiency;
  • better health and lower health care costs due to reduced fossil fuel pollution; and
  • greater reliability in terms of power prices.
Department of Energy Engineer at Work.

Renewables create jobs; Department of Energy Engineer at Work.

There are a myriad of negative health impacts dirty energy imposes on low-income communities and communities of color. As the report, Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People, by the NAACP, Indigenous Environmental Network and Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, also shows, “overall, a small number of coal power plants have a  disproportionately large and destructive effect on the public’s health, especially on the health of low-income people and people of color.” That’s partly due to the fact that “coal power plants tend to be disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color.”

It’s also because the combustion of coal emits many toxic pollutants – sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particulates, mercury, arsenic, lead and uranium to name just a few.

According to the NAACP, “African Americans are hospitalized for asthma at three times the rate of whites, and the death rate from asthma is 172 percent higher for African-Americans than for whites.” That is due largely to coal-fired power plant pollution. Fine particulates are especially harmful, as they “can cause premature death in people with heart or lung disease, as well as cause chronic bronchitis, irregular heart conditions, and aggravated asthma.”

Coal Power Plants Negatively Impact the areas in which they are placed.

Coal Power Plants Negatively Impact the areas in which they are placed.

In stark contrast, clean energy emits no pollutants at all, and thus has no adverse health impacts, saving both lives and high medical costs for the people who can least afford them.  Even better, as NRDC notes, energy efficiency improvements “allow low-income households to lower their energy costs without sacrificing service…reducing bills for all.”

How much money?

Research cited in the report shows multi-family housing owners and residents could save “up to $3.4 billion every year.” Given that more than half of “very low-income renters” live in multifamily housing, energy efficiency would provide a major gain for low-income families and communities of color.

As for the claim that renewable energy is only affordable by higher-income people, the research counters that narrative. In fact, with smart policies, such as net metering, which study after study shows has more benefits than costs, all families can reap the rewards.

For instance, NRDC cites community solar power, “which pools the resources of multiple community members and allows people to purchase as little or as much renewable energy as they wish.” Another benefit of community solar is that it can be placed in inhabitable places, such as “repurposed toxic, abandoned, or unsightly spaces or on large, well-situated rooftops, which may aid the rehabilitation of existing buildings” – perfect for poor, possibly blighted, areas.

Finally, NRDC notes the positive economic impact of clean energy, with an analysis finding that policies similar to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan could create more than 274,000 jobs around the country. Even better, these are good jobs, “accessible to those without advanced degrees,” and with a “typical wage for someone employed in a clean energy industry—about $44,000…13 percent higher than the national typical wage.”

The bottom line is that clean energy means a healthier environment, greater savings, increased consumer choice and the creation of good jobs. Can the fossil fuel industry say the same?

To be blunt, if the fossil fuel lobby really cared about low-income individuals and communities of color, they’d locate their toxic plants elsewhere, hire from these communities at greater rates and stop their attempts to undermine clean energy, including disinformation campaigns aimed at “disconnect[ing] communities of color from solar.”  The fact that they aren’t doing any of those things is extremely revealing as to what’s motivating them.

Joel A. Francis is a senior fellow at the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public.

Checks and Balances Project Prepares to Sue Arizona Corporation Commission to Enforce Public Access to Records

Watchdog Seeks Commissioner Bob Stump’s Text Messages with APS Lobbyists, Executives about Customer Access to Low-Cost Solar

square April 14, 2015 – Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) announced today that it has hired Dan Barr of Perkins-Coie to prepare a lawsuit to enforce public access to records of Commissioner Bob Stump of the Arizona Corporation Commission concerning his contacts with Arizona Public Service (APS) lobbyists and executives over customer access to low-cost solar. Barr informed the Commission today it must respond immediately or face a lawsuit. Such a lawsuit would be grounded in significant legal precedent under Arizona law.  

“It’s been over a month now since the Checks and Balances Project submitted a request for Commissioner Bob Stump’s text messages and other records of his interactions with APS management and lobbyists regarding people’s access to low-cost solar energy,” said Scott Peterson, executive director of C&BP. “There’s no reason for the Commission to hide these records and a lawsuit is the last resort.  But we’re telling the Commission today that if we have to take this to a judge, we’re ready to do so.”

Mr. Barr has more than 25 years of experience in the area of civil litigation involving constitutional, employment, media and political law issues. He has represented several news media organizations, including the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona.

About Checks and Balances Project

C&BP is a national public watchdog that seeks to shed light on the influence of corporate management and lobbyists on government officials who stand in the way of the growth of clean energy.  In a number of states, utility commissioners are acting almost as consultants to the utilities they are charged with overseeing. The range of favoritism is wide – from casual remarks to open assistance to help a regulated utility shop for a favorable state judge. There seems to be an emerging trend, which is why C&BP is taking a systemic look to see what is going on in state public utility and state corporation commissions. To learn more, visit our website at checksandbalancesproject.org.

Nevada’s Surging Rooftop Solar Growth Threatened by Warren Buffett’s Investments in Nevada Utility

NV Energy parent bluntly admits that rooftop solar programs cut into utility profits

by Scott Peterson

Nevada has more solar jobs per capita than any other state and with 300+ days of sunshine per year, the sky could be the limit for carbon-free energy production from rooftop solar.  Then why is NV Energy, Nevada’s largest utility, lobbying to limit its growth?

Nevada’s Surging Rooftop Solar Growth Threatened by Warren Buffett’s Investments in Nevada Utility

Photo by Peter Yang

A recent article in the Las Vegas Sun, Solar industry squares off with Warren Buffett and NV Energy, explains how it comes down to protecting monopoly-utility profits.

In his article, Reporter Kyle Roerink writes how a senior vice president of NV Energy’s Iowa-based parent company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, bluntly admitted at an energy conference last year that rooftop solar programs cut into utility profits.

3% Participation Limit 

In Nevada, there is a limit to how many residential customers can participate in solar net metering programs. That limit is 3% of all utility customers consuming energy during periods of peak demand. The solar industry says that limit could be reached by the end of the year. NV Energy, which was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway Energy in 2013, is lobbying Nevada government officials hard to ensure that the limit is not increased. Currently, there is no bill in the Nevada legislature to increase the 3% limit and the 2015 session ends soon.

Like other electric utilities, NV Energy owes its profits to its government-protected monopoly position and it is doing whatever it can to maintain that privileged position. That includes standing in the way of competition and choice for Nevada’s power-consuming public, in part by pushing to maintain the cap on the number of Nevadans who can get paid a fair market price for the rooftop solar power they generate.

Utility-Scale Solar

NV Energy fully understands the benefits of utility-scale solar power, with the company’s website touting utility-scale solar projects like Crescent Dunes (110 megawatts) and Nevada Solar One (69 megawatts). In other words, NV Energy’s high-paid corporate executives are perfectly happy to benefit from the extra profits they make due from the return on investments from new utility-scale solar power projects. But residential rooftop solar – well, that’s another matter.

According to a study by Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission, solar power net metering has not cost Nevada ratepayers a penny, but has actually saved them millions of dollars.

In 2014, Nevada’s solar industry saw a stunning 146% growth in jobs. Yet if NV Energy gets its way, that future growth is threatened.  That should be completely unacceptable, and people need to tell their legislators and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval loudly and clearly right now.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a Virginia-based watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public.

 

Checks and Balances Project Welcomes New Senior Fellow Joel Francis

Joel A. Francis, Senior Fellow, Checks and Balances Project

Joel A. Francis, C&BP Senior Fellow

I am excited for this opportunity to continue my earlier work advocating for a healthier climate future. Much has changed since my last foray when I challenged the Koch Brothers to debate the merits of California’s landmark AB 32, the law aimed at reducing California’s carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020.

One thing remains the same: the reality that our dependence on fossil fuels is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

The science is settled and clear and demands we take steps to secure a healthier environment. We must push back against the bought and paid for propaganda of the fossil fuel industry. Just as no one who believes that the world is flat would be taken seriously, so too should we rebuke those who claim that the jury is still out on climate change or that it would be too damaging to our economy to address now.

I look forward to working with the Checks and Balances Project to further expose these modern-day flat-earthers and the significant impact they and their financial largesse have on our nation’s policy discussions around climate change.

Joel A. Francis

Senior Fellow, 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

 

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