This article by Sue Sturgis was crossposted from Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.
A bill that would have ended North Carolina's renewable energy program was voted down this week by a state House committee in a bipartisan vote by a surprisingly wide margin.
House Bill 298 was backed by more than a dozen conservative advocacy groups including the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the John Locke Foundation -- organizations that have considerable influence in North Carolina's Republican supermajority-controlled legislature.
So how did the measure lose?
In a word: jobs.
From the moment talk of repealing the state's renewable energy standard began intensifying following last year's election among conservative groups that have long denied the reality of global warming, the state's sustainable energy industry and environmental advocates pushed back by focusing on the law's track record of creating jobs and other economic benefits.
The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, an industry lobby group, commissioned an economic analysis of the law, which passed in 2007 by a wide bipartisan margin and was the first of its kind in the Southeast. Released in February, the study conducted by RTI International and La Capra Associates found that North Carolina's law has been a driver of clean energy development, which in turn as been an important job creator for the state.
The researchers found that while the state's economy lost more than 100,000 jobs from 2007 to 2012, clean energy development led to a net gain in employment of 21,162 "job years" (one job that lasts one year) over the same period. It also found that tax credits used by renewable energy projects were important revenue generators for state and local governments, and that the bill would save ratepayers millions of dollars over the long term by avoiding construction of costly new power plants.
In all, the study found that North Carolina has reaped $1.7 billion in total economic benefits from the law over the past six years.
When the repeal bill came up for its first public hearing earlier this month in a House Commerce subcommittee, the only people who spoke in favor of it were from Americans for Prosperity and the Civitas Institute, another conservative advocacy group. The overwhelming majority of speakers praised the renewable energy law's positive economic impact. Besides owners of clean energy companies, they included farmers who have begun investing in systems to generate power from livestock waste methane, which counts as a renewable under North Carolina's law. They were also joined by rural economic development advocates who spoke about how clean energy generation has created jobs and expanded the tax base in struggling rural communities.
Though the repeal bill squeaked by in its first subcommittee vote by 11-10, two key Republicans voted against it. State Rep. Mike Hager (R-Rutherford), a former Duke Energy engineer and House majority whip who was one of the bill's four primary sponsors and its most outspoken proponent, saw that his proposal was in trouble. He has made several revisions to the measure in an effort to win support.
This week the proposal was scheduled to be heard in the House Environment Committee chaired by Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte -- one of the Republicans who voted against the measure in the Commerce subcommittee. But on Monday, the measure was re-referred to the House Public Utilities Committee, which is chaired by Hager himself, for an April 24 hearing.
It was there that the repeal bill appears to have been defeated with the help of a half-dozen of Hager's fellow Republicans, including three GOP leaders. After a relatively brief half-hour debate in which lawmakers noted that the policy has brought investments and jobs to their districts, the committee voted 18-13 to kill the bill. The wide margin surprised many observers, who thought it would likely go either way by a single vote.
"This vote to defeat the REPS repeal bill was not just a good outcome, it was the right outcome," said Ivan Urlaub, executive director of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association. "North Carolina businesses, ratepayers, workers, and state and local economies all had a stake in this outcome, and they all won a victory today."
While the bill appears dead for now, the possibility remains that it could come back in a revised form. Hager told the Associated Press after the vote that the sponsors are "going to try and patch it up."
In the meantime, Dallas Woodhouse, director of the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), told The News & Observer of Raleigh that Republicans who voted against the repeal "need to be held accountable." AFP and allied opponents of North Carolina's renewable energy law portrayed it as a burdensome tax on consumers. Duke Energy's residential customers pay 22 cents a month and Progress Energy's 42 cents to subsidize renewables under the law.
AFP had joined with the John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina think tank that has been a leading voice of climate science denial and an opponent of renewable energy initiatives, to launch a StopGreenEnergyTax.com website to promote the repeal bill. Following the bill's defeat, the Locke Foundation posted a statement saying the committee voted to continue a "raw deal for tax payers and rate payers."
The effort to repeal North Carolina's renewable energy law is part of a broader conservative attack against such laws in a number of states including Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Many of the groups involved in the repeal effort, including AFP, have financial ties to fossil-fuel interests.
Written by Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project. Crossposted with permission from Huffington Post: ALEC Energy Director Misleads the Wall Street Journal
In Friday's Wall Street Journal story, "States Cooling to Renewable Energy," American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Director Todd Wynn claimed, "I have not received one dime to work directly on renewable-energy mandates." Wynn may not have received a check where the memo read: "For your efforts to attack clean energy policies" but his ALEC paycheck certainly comes (in part) from fossil fuel interests.
ALEC received approximately 98 percent of its budget from corporations, trade associations and corporate foundations, according to IRS 990 tax forms from the organization in 2009.
The members (as of June 2011) of Mr. Wynn's task force include at least 23 fossil fuel companies and utilities, like ExxonMobil, Continental Resources, Peabody Energy and Duke Energy, that have a direct financial interest in slowing the growth of clean energy. Task force members fund almost all of ALEC's operations.
ALEC corporate members each pay between $7,000 and $25,000 or more to be members. The corporate task force members also pay fees to have a vote on what pieces of "sample legislation" should be sent to state legislators. And, last fall, the energy task force members voted to push the "Electricity Freedom Act," which repeals state clean energy standards, through state legislatures across the country.
So it's no surprise these bills are showing up and being pushed by fossil fuel interests and front groups in states across the country. Wynn probably received at least a few dimes to coordinate this effort to attack clean energy policies. If ALEC wants to provide some transparency on its budget, Checks and Balances Project would be happy to take a second look.
Koch Industries funds ALEC and State Policy Network front groups to kill Kansas clean energy standard
Crossposted from Greenpeace USA.
Correction: this post listed Sen. Julia Lynn as a supporter of the RPS freeze--she is not and her name was removed from SB 82 co-sponsors below.
A recent flood of Koch-supported think tanks, junk scientists and astroturf groups from inside and outside of Kansas are awaiting the outcome of a bill this week that could stall progress on the growth of clean energy in Kansas.
States around the country, including Texas, Ohio, Missouri and North Carolina are poised to cut back on government support for clean energy jobs using model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, which brings companies together with state lawmakers to forge a wish list of corporate state laws behind closed doors, is coordinating this year's assault on state laws that require a gradual increase of electricity generated by clean energy sources.
ALEC and a hoard of other Koch-funded interests operating under the umbrella of the State Policy Network have hit Kansas legislators hard with junk economic studies, junk science and a junk vision of more polluting energy in Kansas' future. Koch Industries lobbyist Jonathan Small has added direct pressure on Kansas lawmakers to rollback support for clean energy.
This fossil fuel-funded attack ignores the good that wind energy has done for Kansas, a state known for its bipartisan support for its growing wind industry (see key report by Polsinelli Shughart). The state now has 19 operating wind farms that have brought millions to farmers leasing their land and millions more to the state, county and local levels (NRDC). The American Wind Energy Association says that Kansas wind industry jobs have grown to 13,000 with the help of incentives like the renewable portfolio standard.
Unfortunately, clean energy is not palatable to the billionaire Koch brothers or the influence peddlers they finance.
All of the following State Policy Network affiliates (except the Kansas Policy Institute) are directly funded by the Koch brothers, while most of the groups get secretive grants through the Koch-affiliated "Dark Money ATM," Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which have distributed over $120,000,000 to 100 groups involved in climate denial since 2002.
- $53,500 grant from Donors Trust in 2007
- Koch-funded (Washington Post)
- State Policy Network member
Based out of Suffolk University's economics department, the Beacon Hill Institute wrote the fundamentally flawed analysis that ALEC is using to scare legislators into thinking that renewable portfolio standards will destroy the economy. In reality, electricity prices do not correlate with state RPS laws (see also Kansas Corporation Commission).
An extensive debunk of the Beacon Hill report was done by Synapse Energy Economics, and similar critiques can be read in the Portland Press Herald and the Maine Morning Sentinel, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Nature Resources Defense Council and the Washington Post.
The definitive Post article confirms that the Beacon Hill Institute is Koch-funded. This may be through $729,826 in recent grants (2008-2011) from the Charles G. Koch Foundation to Suffolk University. The Kochs tend to send grants to economics departments, causing controversy at Florida State University and other schools over professor hiring processes.
Beacon Hill's Michael Head co-authored the reports that ALEC and the State Policy Network are using in several states. Mr. Head specializes in STAMP modeling, a form of economic analysis that has been criticized for its limitations and poor assumptions in the case of energy analysis. Michael Head testified before the Kansas legislature on February 14th to promote the flawed findings of his report. Mr. Head testified alongside members of the Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute (see more on each, below), all of which are members of ALEC and SPN.
- State Policy Network member (and vice-versa)
- $858,858 from Koch foundations since 1997
- Ongoing funding from Koch Industries and numerous coal, oil & gas interests
- $45,000 grant from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund since 2010
- Koch lobbyist Mike Morgan sits on ALEC's corporate board
ALEC is leading the nationally-coordinated attack on state renewable portfolio standards as part of an ambitious dirty energy agenda for the members of its anti-environmental task force, like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, Duke Energy and other major oil, gas and coal interests.
ALEC's "Electricity Freedom Act" is a full repeal of state laws requiring increasing electricity generation from clean sources, although in some states the model has morphed into a freeze of those targets rather than a full repeal. Kansas is one of those states.
The bills running through Kansas' House and Senate are co-sponsored by legislators who are members of ALEC. The Senate Utilities committee sponsoring SB 82 has at least three ALEC members and the House Energy & Environment committee that introduced HB 2241 has at least three ALEC members:
- Senators Forrest Knox, Ty Masterson and Mike Petersen.
- Representatives Phil Hermanson, Scott Schwab, and Larry Powell (a member of ALEC's anti-environmental task force that created the Electricity Freedom Act)
- State Policy Network member; ALEC anti-environmental task force member
- $55,000 from Koch foundations since 1997
- $14.5 million from Donors Trust since 2002
Heartland is based in Chicago and perhaps best known for its billboard comparing those who recognize climate change with the Unabomber (for which they lost over $1.4 million in corporate sponsorship along with the "mutiny" of their entire Insurance department, now the R Street Institute).
The Washington Post reports that ALEC's "Electricity Freedom Act" was created by the Heartland Institute. Heartland has long been a paying member of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force along with Koch, Exxon and others. Citing the flawed Beacon Hill reports, Heartland has encouraged a repeal of Kansas' clean energy incentives on its website.
Heartland lawyer James Taylor testified before the Kansas legislature in February, opining that the growth of Kansas' clean energy sector is "punishing the state’s economy and environment." James Taylor was flown into Kansas City for an Americans for Prosperity Foundation event intended to undermine the Kansas RPS law. The AFP Foundation is chaired by David Koch.
Americans for Prosperity was created by the Kochs with help from Koch Industries executive Richard Fink after the demise of their previous organization, Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), which split into AFP and FreedomWorks in 2004.
In addition to hosting an event against the Kansas RPS law featuring Heartland's James Taylor, AFP's Kansas director Derrick Sontag testified before the Kansas House committee on Energy and Environment. AFP's Sontag urged for a full repeal rather than a simple RPS target freeze:
"We believe that HB 2241 is a step in the right direction, but that it doesn't go far enough. Instead, AFP supports a full repeal of the renewable energy mandate in Kansas."
Derrick Sontag apparently only cited a range of debunked studies (the "Spanish" study and the flawed Beacon Hill report) and information from Koch-funded interests like the Institute for Energy Research and "State Budget Solutions," a project of several State Policy Network groups including ALEC and the Mercatus Center, a think tank founded and heavily-funded by the Kochs.
Kansas Policy Institute
$534,500 from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, 2009-2011
- $340,000 in 2010--49% of 2010 budget
- $125,000 in 2011--20% of 2011 budget
- Member of ALEC; member of the State Policy Network
- KPI Trustee George Pearson is a Koch family friend who "worked for nearly three decades for the Koch family as manager of various Koch Foundations and for Koch Industries." Pearson helped Charles Koch start the Cato Institute as one of Cato's original shareholders and worked for the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, one of Charles Koch's most heavily-financed projects.
The Kansas Policy Institute (KPI) has been the central coordinating think tank within Kansas as outside interests have backed ALEC's attack clean energy laws. KPI co-published the debunked Beacon Hill Institute report that ALEC has used for its clean energy standard repeal in Kansas (see sources in Beacon Hill section above for debunking).
Kansas Policy Institute Vice President & Policy Director James Franko testified in the Kansas legislature alongside representatives of Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity and Beacon Hill Institute on Feb. 14 to weaken Kansas's renewable portfolio standard.
Reasserting the false premise that clean energy standards substantially increase electricity prices, James Franko told the legislature's Energy & Environment committee:
We have no objection to the production of renewable energy. [...] Our objection is to government intervention that forces utility companies to purchase more expensive renewable energy and pass those costs on to consumers.
James Franko's free market logic comes with the usual holes--no mention of the "costs" of coal and other polluting forms of energy that taint our air, water and bodies, nor any mention of how the government spends billions each year propping up the coal and oil industries.
After KPI's Franko testified before Kansas legislators on February 14, KPI hosted a luncheon for legislators at noon on the same day. The luncheon, hosted at the Topeka Capital Plaza Hotel, featured Beacon Hill's Michael Head. From KPI's email invitation:
"Given the importance of this issue, we would like to invite you to join us for lunch on Thursday 14 February to hear from the author of a study we published last year exploring the costs and benefits of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Not only will we be discussing KPI’s study but offering a review of different studies that have been presented to the Legislature."
KPI has served as the glue for other State Policy Network affiliates entering Kansas to amplify the opposition to clean energy.
Chris Horner -- Competitive Enterprise Institute & American Tradition Institute
- Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI):
American Tradition Institute (ATI):
- Member of the State Policy Network
- 75% of 2010 funding from oil businessman Doug Lair
Chris Horner is a senior fellow at CEI and the lead lawyer at ATI, a close CEI affiliate known for its litigious harassment of climate scientist Michael Mann alongside Virginia attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who just worked with coal utility companies to kill Virginia's renewable energy law. ATI was behind a leaked memo encouraging "subversion" among local groups opposed to wind energy projects.
Horner testified before the Kansas legislature on February 12 to encourage the false notion that the renewable energy portfolio standard is going to make consumer electricity bills skyrocket (again, there is no correlation between state RPS laws and electricity prices). He cited the long-debunked "Spanish" study, which Koch front groups have cited for years in attempts to undermine clean energy.
Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform:
- $60,000 from Koch foundations since 1997
- $172,100 from Donors Trust since 2004
- Member of the State Policy Network
ATR president Grover Norquist wrote a Feb. 27, 2013 letter supporting the Rep. Dennis Hedke’s House bill shortly before the bill was kicked back into the House Utilities commission. This Kansas letter followed an ATR op-ed in Politico encouraging rollbacks of state clean energy incentives, claiming they are a "tax," which is Norquist's consistent tactic against anything the financiers of ATR don't feel like supporting.
Junk scientists with Koch and Exxon ties:
Disgraced scientists Willie Soon and John Christy were flown in by Americans for Prosperity to assure state legislators that global warming isn't a problem (it's already a $1.2 trillion problem annually). Doctor's Soon and Christy themselves directly funded by Koch or directly affiliated with several Koch-funded interests like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Heartland.
Willie Soon in particular has a habit of conducting climate "research" on the exclusive dime of coal and oil interests over the last decade:
- ExxonMobil ($335,106)
- American Petroleum Institute ($273,611 since 2001)
- Charles G. Koch Foundation ($230,000)
- Southern Company ($240,000)
Dr. Soon's questionable climate research now receives funding through the Donors Trust network--$115,000 in 2011 and 2012.
See Skeptical Science's profile of John Christy for a through explanation of why he is not a credible voice in the scientific community studying climate change, using peer-reviewed climate research as refutation.
State Policy Network
- Umbrella organization to all groups listed above
- $49,000 from Koch foundations since 1997
Over $10 million from Donors Trust & Donors Capital Fund since 2002
- Donors Trust provided over 36% of SPN's 2010 budget and over 40% of SPN's 2011 budget (budgets for both years listed in their 2011 IRS filing).
- Based in Wichita, Kansas
- Operations in oil refining, oil and gas pipelines, fossil fuel commodity & derivatives trading, petrochemical manufacturing, fertilizers, textiles, wood and paper products, consumer tissue products, cattle ranching, and other ventures.
- $115 billion in estimated annual revenue
- 84% private owned between brothers Charles Koch and David Koch, each worth an estimated $34 billion (Forbes) to $44.7 billion (Bloomberg).
- Member of ALEC's anti-environmental task force
- Associated foundations fund State Policy Network, ALEC, Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Beacon Hill Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform and Dr. Willie Soon.
- Koch brothers founded Americans for Prosperity and helped establish the Heartland Institute.
The money trail of the out-of-state groups inundating Kansas with their sudden interest in killing the state's incentives for wind energy leads back to the Koch brothers. While Koch Industries has deployed its own lobbyists to compliment the effort, the brothers who lead the company have tapped into their broader national network to aid the fight against clean energy in Kansas.
Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who own Koch Industries, have spent over $67,000,000 from their family foundations on groups who have denied the existence or extent of global climate change, promote fossil fuel use and block policies that promote clean energy development.
The Kochs obscure millions more in annual giving through Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which collect money from the Kochs and other wealthy corporate interests and pass it on to State Policy Network groups. This video provides a visual overview of how the Koch-funded network amplifies unscientific doubt over climate science and blocks clean energy policies:
Duke Energy Ties to Gov. McCrory Increase Concerns over SB10 Proposal to Fire NC Utilities Commission
This guess post was written by Sue Sturgis for the Institute for Southern Studies' online magazine, Facing South.
This is a critical moment for North Carolina's energy future, as a packed public hearing held in Raleigh this week showed -- and there are growing concerns that the politician who might get to make key decisions about it has significant conflicts of interest.
On Monday, Feb. 11, about 180 people attended a N.C. Utilities Commission (NCUC) hearing on Duke Energy's plan for meeting its customers' power needs over the next two decades. Dozens of citizens testified against Duke's proposed Integrated Resource Plan, which calls for generating most of its energy from polluting sources: dirty coal plants (24 percent), natural gas plants (29 percent), and risky nuclear plants (29 percent). Efficiency would account for only 4.5 percent of Duke's generation mix, while wind and solar would make up only 2.25 percent. The plan would cost Duke's customers dearly, as the company -- which supplies electricity to over 95 percent of North Carolina customers since its merger with Progress Energy -- would quadruple rates within a decade.
Speaker after speaker called on commissioners to require Duke to increase its generation from renewable sources such as solar and to encourage greater efficiency. Many of those who testified cited the urgency of acting now, pointing to mounting signs that the climate has already been dangerously disrupted by unchecked greenhouse gas pollution.
"What are we waiting for, the next tragic super storm to strike?" asked Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for clean air in western North Carolina. "What is it going to take for you to act in the public interest?"
But there are mounting concerns that the public interest will get even less consideration if North Carolina's legislature gets its way and gives Gov. Pat McCrory (R) sole control over the commission's membership.
A controversial bill recently introduced in the General Assembly would sweep out the current members of key state regulatory commissions including the NCUC and replace them with members appointed by the governor and/or the legislature. In the case of the NCUC, Senate Bill 10 specifies that the new appointments would be made by the governor and confirmed by the legislature. It would also downsize the commission from seven members to five. The bill has already passed the Senate and is now advancing through the House, both of which are controlled by veto-proof Republican super-majorities.
State Sen. Bill Rabon (R-New Hanover), one of the bill's primary sponsors along with Sens. Tom Apodaca (R-Buncombe) and Neal Hunt (R-Wake), told the Senate Rules Committee that the bill streamlines state government and allows key boards to be run by appointees who "are more like-minded and willing to carry out the philosophy of the new administration," as The News & Observer reported.
However, some watchdogs are protesting what they call "an unprecedented conflict of interest" created by the legislation because of McCrory's unusually close ties to Duke Energy.
In addition to having received generous campaign contributions from Duke Energy (the company, its political action committee, employees, and their families donated over $240,000 to McCrory's 2008 and 2012 gubernatorial campaigns and to the state Republican Party since he became the party's nominee, according to a recent report by the liberal advocacy group Progress NC), McCrory worked for the company for 28 years, starting out digging ditches and eventually making his way to a position as senior adviser with Duke's Business and Economic Development Group before retiring in 2007 to run for governor.
Because of that employment history, the clean-energy advocacy group NC WARN last month joined with the state AARP to ask the governor to recuse himself from making appointments to the commission and from appointing a new Public Staff director to represent consumers in utility cases because of his longtime association with Duke. This week NC WARN sent a letter to McCrory raising concerns about the commission overhaul proposal.
"If the bill passes, you would be required to appoint all the members of the Utilities Commission," NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren wrote in the Feb. 11 letter. "The public perception would be inescapable that Duke Energy had captured its regulator, and had done so with the Governor's assistance."
But the governor's financial ties to the utility giant are not merely historic: Though he's no longer employed by Duke Energy, McCrory continues to hold a significant financial stake in the company. His latest statement of economic interest filed with the N.C. Ethics Commission and posted to the Indyweek.com website discloses that he holds stock in Duke valued at a minimum of $10,000. North Carolina ethics rules do not require reporting the exact value of the investment.
Notified of the holdings, Warren said they are "just more evidence that the governor has an unprecedented conflict of interest."
McCrory's history of conflicts
This is not the first time concerns have arisen over potential conflicts of interest related to McCrory's close ties to Duke Energy, as Facing South reported back in 2008.
In 1994, while working for Duke and serving as an at-large city councilman and mayor pro tem in the company's hometown of Charlotte, McCrory chaired a council meeting and voted on a matter that directly affected Duke's finances. City of Charlotte v. Cook involved Charlotte's efforts to condemn private farmland to build an underground water pipe for a project that would enable the city to purchase power from Duke instead of the electric membership corporation that was the authorized provider for that location.
The case eventually ended up in state Supreme Court. Though the court majority ultimately ruled there was no wrongdoing by the city, a dissenting opinion by Justice Beverly Lake Jr., a Republican, pointed to a conflict of interest on McCrory's part:
The record evidences multiple Duke Power internal e-mail messages and memoranda reflecting that Duke Power and the City collaborated to have the City acquire a fee simple title to the property in order that Duke Power could provide the power to the plant. These e-mail messages indicate that the mayor pro tempore of the City, an employee of Duke Power, as well as the project director had contact with Duke Power officials and discussed condemning a fee simple interest for the project. The mayor pro tempore chaired the 12 September 1994 City Council meeting where the subject of condemning a fee simple was discussed, and he voted in favor of a fee simple condemnation.
McCrory filed an affidavit saying he would not have participated in the meeting if he had known Duke was involved. However, the court pointed to evidence that McCrory did in fact know Duke was involved -- though it ruled that "an ethical problem involving the Council has to rise to a much higher level than this one for us to upset a decision by the Council."
In another action that raised conflict of interest concerns, McCrory went to Washington, D.C. in 1997 to testify as Charlotte mayor against federal clean air regulations for the city that would have cost his employer Duke Energy an estimated $600 million. As a local paper reported at the time:
When asked about a possible conflict of interest arising from his appearance on Capitol Hill as Charlotte's mayor to testify about a matter that would directly affect his employer, Duke Power (where he serves as manager of business relations), McCrory replied, "No, in fact it's quite beneficial because I'm very knowledgeable on the subject."
In the letter it sent to McCrory this week about the latest conflict of interest concern, NC WARN asked the governor to oppose the NCUC provision in the commission overhaul bill and to call for it to be removed from the House version of the legislation. It also asked McCrory to state that, should the section pass in spite of his opposition, he would appoint an independent panel to recommend candidates for the NCUC and abide by its recommendations.
If he fails to do so, NC WARN's Warren wrote, McCrory risks further alienating the people from the government that's supposed to serve them:
The Utilities Commission provisions of the bill would set the precedent that whenever legislative leadership and the governor changes party, the seated commissioners would be thrown out and replaced. It would do away with the Commission's institutional legitimacy as well as its knowledge base and continuity gained by handling its highly complex legal, technical, and policy issues. The public, already skeptical that utility regulation is in the public's interest, would see the Commission as just a rubber stamp wielded by politicians and their utility industry backers. Instead of bolstering faith in the integrity and effectiveness of state government, the bill would take cynicism to a new level.
An article in Greenwire today revealed a few interesting things about the American Legislative Exchange Council's attacks on state clean energy laws through its "Electricity Freedom Act."
First, ALEC was recently abandoned by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) due to ALEC's efforts to repeal state renewable portfolio standards--laws that ensure a growing percentage of electricity comes from clean energy. AWEA joins over 45 companies and organizations that have dropped ALEC due to its support for voter legislation, Stand Your Ground and other NRA gun laws, climate science denial, racial profiling laws, and other measures against the public interest.
Not only did AWEA leave ALEC, but they're warning other ALEC affiliates about their steadfast opposition to clean energy (which ALEC denies--see below):
Now, AWEA is warning state lawmakers not to be taken in by ALEC's message, one that [Peter] Kelley said is driven by fossil fuel companies. He pointed out that conservative think tank and climate skeptic Heartland Institute told The Washington Post last year that it had joined ALEC to write language to revise state renewable energy mandates in 29 states and the District of Columbia.
"We want to warn our former fellow members of ALEC about that misinformation because we won't be around to protect them," he said.
Greenwire notes contradictory statements from coal polluter Duke Energy, which betrayed its own past support for North Carolina's clean energy standard, the law that ALEC's Rep. Mike Hager is targeting:
Duke Energy, a member of ALEC and large player in North Carolina, is trying to sidestep the debate.
Duke spokesman Dave Scanzoni said the utility hasn't taken a formal position on the bill, and the decision to implement or repeal renewable portfolio standards should be "state specific."
"Though we're a member of ALEC, we don't always agree with every issue that the organization or any other organization of which we're a member takes," he said, adding that Duke is a member of a wide array of liberal and conservative groups.
But a spokesman for Duke told the Charlotte Business Journal last May that the utility indeed opposes Hager's bill and helped craft North Carolina's RPS. Duke also opposes ALEC's position to curb U.S. EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions and coal ash storage and set standards for mercury emissions, the spokesman said.
But wait! Not only does Duke Energy still pay ALEC, but Duke is member to the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council," A.K.A. coal lobbyists from Bracewell & Giuliani paid by Duke and others to block EPA rules on mercury pollution from power plants. Duke and Progress Energy ranked 12th and 22nd respectively of the top 25 mercury polluters in 2011 before they merged last year.
Meanwhile, Duke Energy lobbyists like Bill Tyndall have worked on blocking effective controls for coal ash, which contains neurotoxins, carcinogens and radioactive elements. Duke has a coal ash pollution monopoly in North Carolina, with tests confirming they are contaminating groundwater near their storage sites. Duke's opposition to coal ash regulations is also inherent in their membership with yet another front group, the American Coal Ash Association.
So maybe Duke Energy doesn't support ALEC's opposition to reducing mercury and coal ash pollution, they just support other groups willing to do those things for them.
In the Greenwire article, Todd Wynn was trying to make the point that ALEC legislators, not the corporate interests funding ALEC and driving its agenda, are taking the reins on repealing renewable energy. Greenwire quotes Wynn, emphasis added:
"Members are driving the debate. ... Our state legislators have taken up the torch on these issues," he said. "But ALEC itself isn't driving an energy mandate repeal campaign."
To that point, Todd Wynn fully contradicts himself--check out his own blog on the clean energy attacks, titled "ALEC to States: Repeal Renewable Energy Mandates."
It's also ridiculous for Wynn to assert that ALEC legislators have "taken up the torch" on repealing clean energy laws--ALEC's model was written by climate science deniers at the Heartland Institute, not state legislators.
Mr. Wynn's job is to keep this debate centered around debunked economic arguments that obscure the ideological corporate agenda he is paid to advance. As an operative of the Koch-funded State Policy Network, an aversion to reality is a necessary component of his resume. Wynn previously worked for a SPN member group called the Cascades Policy Institute promoting climate science denial.
Todd Wynn says that ALEC isn't against clean energy, just against government favoring one energy industry over another. Yet ALEC has done nothing to repeal subsidies to the oil and coal industries, or loan guarantees to the nuclear industry, or any other comparable measure to their attacks on clean energy. That's because ALEC's anti-environmental legislation is supported and even written by ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Duke Energy, and other major polluters.
No wonder groups like AWEA and the Solar Energy Industries Association abandoned ALEC shortly after joining. ALEC's polluter agenda is already set, backed by dirty money, and not open for discussion.
The full article can be found in Greenwire, E&E Publishing: Wind, solar groups quit ALEC as conservative powerhouse targets clean-power programs
Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli is working with coal companies and State Policy Network groups backed by Koch Industries to rollback VA's voluntary clean energy program.
In states across the country, the American Legislative Exchange Council--or ALEC--and other State Policy Network groups are lining up to roll back clean energy laws, an effort complimented by captured politicians like Mr. Cuccinelli.
Ken Cuccinelli is a former ALEC member, and he's working with ALEC member company Dominion Resources to end Virginia's clean energy program. The same Dominion that just gave him $10,000 for his run for governor, on top of almost $46,000 in previous years for other political positions.
While Virginia's voluntary renewable portfolio standard is far from perfect, it's neither helpful nor inspiring for Mr. Cuccinelli to scrap the program altogether on behalf of a few vested dirty energy interests.
Rather, as Chesapeake Climate Action Network suggests, Virginia's law needs to be strengthened in ways that increase clean energy production and the good jobs that come with it. Both Cuccinelli and CCAN agree the law has flaws and loopholes that don't properly incentivize new clean energy development within the state of Virginia. Some of the law's weaknesses:
- Dominion Virginia and Appalachian Power have each qualified for ratepayer subsidies without actually building any new clean energy facilities in Virginia.
- The law's loose definition of "renewable energy" ensures that filthy energy qualifies for government support, including burning gas collected from landfills and producing energy from trash incineration, which is dirtier than burning coal and are usually located in areas with disproportionately high populations of people living in poverty, often people of color.
- Unambitious targets for the proportion of renewable energy production by 2025.
- The program is voluntary in the first place.
So far, Mr. Cuccinelli has not seemed to notice legislation alternatives proposed by CCAN that would "tie any RPS bonuses to investment in Virginia-made wind and solar energy. This solution will ensure that Virginians are getting the benefits of a cleaner environment. It also creates a market that fosters growth in the renewable energy sector which will create thousands of jobs within our borders."
Ken Cuccinelli and Climate Science Intimidation:
The point of making clean energy competitive with dirty fossil fuels is to keep our air and water clean and avoid runaway climate change, an issue where Ken Cuccinelli has been aggressively counterproductive.
Mr. Cuccinelli is well known for his harassment of Michael Mann, a climate scientist vilified by industry apologists for creating the "Hockey Stick" graph illustrating the increase of average global temperature measurements over the last millennium.
Mirroring the scientifically unfounded attacks of State Policy Network outfits like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and American Tradition Institute, Cuccinelli was heavily criticized by a Virginia judge for not having an "objective basis" for accusations of fraudulent research at the University of Virginia. Cuccinelli's persecution of science has even put off other climate science deniers, according to a Greenpeace Freedom of Information Act request.
Demonstrating direct cooperation with Koch-funded State Policy Network groups, Ken Cuccinelli will attend an Americans for Prosperity event in Richmond, VA on February 7. Tea Party activists will be bussed in on the dime of Koch and other AFP donors to hear Cuccinelli speak along with David Koch's top PR captain--AFP president Tim Phillips--and other Virginia politicians like Lt. Governor Bill Bolling.
We'll see if the renewable energy rollback is a point of discussion at AFP's event. Americans for Prosperity has promoted a fossil fuel agenda since David Koch helped re-birth AFP from its predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was also run by the Kochs and Koch Industries executive Richard Fink.
Ken Cuccinelli's Dirty Money:
Mr. Cuccinelli's financial conflicts of interest have drawn extra attention to this discussion on Virginia's commitment to renewable energy. Huffington Post reported that Intrust Wealth Management, a company whose board of directors has included Charles Koch since 1982, gave Cuccinelli $50,000 for his failed gubernatorial election bid, on top of a previous $10,000 from Koch Industries. Also on the Cuccinelli payroll were coal interests like Dominion Energy, CONSOL Energy and Alpha Natural Resources (which purchased the mountain top removal menace, Massey Energy).
Mr. Cuccinelli is used to being bankrolled by dirty interests. According to the National Institute for Money in State Politics, from 2003-2011 the following interests were top supporters of his VA Senate and Attorney General election campaigns:
COAL MINING AND BURNING: $161,796
- $46,500 from Dominion Resources -- ALEC member
- $42,000 from Alpha Natural Resources
- $10,000 from Massey Energy -- merged with Alpha after a fatal mining disaster
- $33,000 from Consol Energy
- $16,750 American Electric Power -- ALEC member
- $6,996 from the Virginia Coal Association
- $6,550 from Norfolk Southern, a railroad company that transports and markets coal
TOBACCO INTERESTS: $58,000
- $24,500 from Altria (owns Phillip Morris) -- ALEC member, ALEC Private Enterprise Board member
- $10,000 from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco (owned by Altria)
- $12,500 from Bailey's Cigarettes
- $11,000 from S&M Brands (owned by Bailey's)
GUN LOBBY: $17,000
- $17,000 from the National Rifle Association (many of the illegal guns in this country are from Virginia gun shows) -- ALEC member
CORPORATE POLLUTER LOBBYING FIRMS: $19,562
- $11,250 from Hunton & Williams, a corporate lobbying firm that runs the coal front group Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG) to interfere with EPA pollution controls. Hunton was also caught up in a scandal to monitor and smear political opponents of Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
- $8,312 from Troutman Sanders, a corporate lobbying firm that has recently represented coal and tobacco interests like Duke Energy, the National Mining Association, Southern Company, Peabody Energy, and Altria.
Dirty energy interests like Dominion, AEP, Duke Energy, Peabody and others are using their political allies and groups like ALEC alike to attack renewable energy across the board, in coordination with a familiar public relations play that victimizes dirty coal operations and mocks all forms of clean energy.
Coal pollution from companies like these prematurely kill thousands of Americans each year. The Clean Air Task Force notes that government action to reduce coal pollution has a direct effect on reducing these needless deaths. A peer-reviewed report by the late Paul Epstein in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences estimated up to $500 billion--half a trillion dollars--in annual costs to society from the life cycle of coal.
Clean energy generation doesn't pose the same terrible threats to our economy, air, water, health, and the global climate that life on this planet is adapted to, but good luck telling that to Ken Cuccinelli, another politician captured by the pollution lobby.
Corporate polluters are taking aim this year at states with renewable energy laws, starting with an attack on North Carolina's clean energy economy by a corporate front group known as ALEC with support from Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, and Koch Industries. North Carolina state Representative Mike Hager says he is confident that he has the votes needed to weaken or undo his state's clean energy requirements during his second term. Rep. Hager is a former Duke Energy engineer and a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Duke and Progress Energy (now legally merged) have given Rep. Hager $14,500 for his last two election bids, outspent only by the NC Republican Party.
This is where ALEC makes things awkward for Duke Energy: the law that Rep. Mike Hager is targeting (2007 SB3) was created with input from Duke Energy, and Duke explicitly opposes ALEC's "Electricity Freedom Act," the model law to repeal state Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS). Duke Energy re-asserted its support for North Carolina's REPS law to the Charlotte Business Journal last April and Progress Energy publicly supported the law before merging with Duke.
Apparently, Duke forgot about supporting North Carolina's clean energy incentives somewhere along the way. Duke Energy remains a paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Duke Energy and outgoing CEO Jim Rogers have dismissed over 150,000 concerned citizens demanding that Duke leave ALEC due to its role in protecting polluters, suppressing voters, increasing gun violence and other serious threats to the public on behalf of ExxonMobil, the National Rifle Association, Reynolds tobacco and other corporate interests with a rich history of negligence and dishonesty.
ALEC: The Polluter's Voice
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) creates model state laws rolling back protections on our health, our clean air and water, public safety, public education…public anything, really. State legislators that support a corporate ideology pay a small fee to become ALEC members, working alongside giant companies to create models bills that are then introduced in states across the country.
In contrast to Duke Energy's "Call to Action" supporting climate legislation and clean energy development, it has not abandoned ALEC's long record of denying climate science and blocking solutions to global warming. ALEC focuses this year on undoing state laws that increase production of clean energy like wind and solar power.
This dirty ambition is ALEC's self-stated priority on energy issues this year--repealing state laws that created Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS), including North Carolina's SB3. Todd Wynn, a corporate influence peddler who heads ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, named North Carolina as one of several states ALEC will focus its clean energy attacks, citing a debunked report from the Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute of Suffolk University's economics department. Like ALEC, Beacon Hill is part of the Koch-funded State Policy Network. See the Morning Sentinel and a scathing Portland Press Herald editorial for important critiques of the Koch-funded Beacon Hill reports cited by Todd Wynn.
Actually...Clean Energy has Treated North Carolina's Economy Well!
We've known for decades that phasing out fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) and ambitiously implementing clean energy not only slows our sprint toward irreversible, catastrophic climate change, but stimulates the economy and creates jobs that do not poison us. In North Carolina, SB3 has helped create the current 15,200 full-time equivalent clean energy jobs in NC, up 3% from the previous year, and generated $3.7 billion in economic activity in 2012 (North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association 2012 Industry Census).
While ALEC has touted a pile of Koch-funded reports written with the pre-determined conclusion that clean energy is ALWAYS too pricey, the Charlotte Business Journal reports that SB3 has a "negligible impact on customer bill increases" for Progress Energy Carolinas' customers, at about 41 cents per month.
If let be, North Carolina's Senate Bill 3 would ensure at least 3% of North Carolina's energy is from renewable sources this year, increasing to at least 12.5% by 2021. North Carolina appears to be one of the first states subjected to ALEC's dirty energy agenda this year.
What Next for the ALEC Attacks?
Expect similar ALEC attacks on clean energy laws in states around the country. According to its own documents, ALEC spent the last couple years monitoring states attempting to introduce state-level renewable energy portfolio standards in West Virginia, Vermont and Virginia as well as legislative attacks on REPS laws in New Hampshire and in Ohio (by Sen. Kris Jordan, an ALEC member).
Now with rumors of war appearing in North Carolina, it appears that ALEC has morphed from the opportunistic observer to the coordinator of attacks on our states' clean energy laws.
For more on how the American Legislative Exchange Council is degrading public policies across the United States, see ALECExposed.org.
This piece was crossposted on Greenpeace blogs.
You're probably familiar with the old "fox in the hen house" story, but what about when a hen joins the fox den?
This is the case with the recent American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in Washington, DC. Leaked documents obtained by Greenpeace reveal that ALEC's anti-environmental jamboree was inundated with coal money and featured an Indiana regulator advising coal utilities on delaying US Environmental Protection Agency rules to control greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous air pollution.
At ALEC's coal-sponsored meeting, where state legislators and corporate representatives meet to create template state laws ranging from attacks on clean energy to privatization of public schools, Indiana's Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Management Tom Easterly laid out a plan to stall the US EPA global warming action in a power point clearly addressed to coal industry representatives at ALEC's meeting.
In a USB drive branded with the logo of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a folder labeled "Easterly" contains a presentation titled "Easterly ALEC presentation 11 28 12" explaining current EPA air pollution rules and how Tom Easterly has worked to obstruct them. The power points is branded with the Indiana Department of Environmental Protection seal. In the latter presentation, Easterly ended his briefing to ALEC's dirty energy members with suggestions for delaying EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions at coal plants.
Easterly's presentation, which is posted on his Indiana Dept. of Environmental Mgmt commissioner webpage, even offered a template state resolution that would burden EPA with conducting a number of unnecessary cost benefit analyses (which the federal government has done through the Social Cost of Carbon analysis) in the process of controlling GHG emissions.
The template resolution Easterly presented to ALEC was created by the Environmental Council of States (ECOS), a group of state regulators that create template state resolutions similar to ALEC, often with overlapping agendas that benefit coal companies. ECOS has some questionable template state resolutions for an "Environmental" organization, including a resolution urging EPA not to classify coal ash as "hazardous." Although its less regulated than household trash, coal ash contains neurotoxins, carcinogens and radioactive elements and is stored in dangerous slurry "ponds" that can leak these dangerous toxins into our waterways.
Almost too predictably, ECOS' work is sponsored by the coal fronts like ACCCE and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), both sponsors of the ALEC meeting where Easterly presented the ECOS model resolution. See clean air watchdog Frank O'Donnell's blog on ECOS for more.
Commissioner Tom Easterly's suggestion of burdening EPA with tasks beyond its responsibility is concerning, as is his ongoing campaign to discredit the science of global warming--something he doesn't have the scientific qualifications to do. To this end, the Indiana regulator fits nicely into the coal industry's long history of denying problems they don't want to be held accountable for and delaying solutions to those problems. The same processes applied to acid rain, a problem the coal industry also denied for years--check out Greenpeace's collection of Coal Ads: Decades of Deception.
Climate Science Denial at Indiana's Department of Environmental Management
Even before Indiana's top enforcer of federal and state environmental regulations was advising coal companies on how to continuing polluting our air and water, it appears that denial of basic climate science is the state's official position on global warming--Indiana's 2011 "State of the Environment" report rehashes tired climate denier arguments such as global temperature records having "no appreciable change since about 1998." (see why this is a lie) and referencing the "medieval warm period" as false proof that current temperature anomalies are normal (they aren't, see Skeptical Science for a proper debunking). Similar arguments have apparently been presented by the Indiana government to ALEC since 2008--the ACCCE USB drive contains another Indiana power point created in 2008 full of junk climate "science." This level of scientific illiteracy is concerning, especially for the regulatory body responsible for overseeing pollution controls for the coal industry.
Remember, this isn't the Heartland Institute. It's the State of Indiana....working with the Heartland Institute, a member of ALEC's anti-environmental task force that has been central in coordinating campaigns to deny global warming. See Commissioner Easterly's full presentation to ALEC on climate "science."
ALEC States & Nation Policy Summit 2012: brought to you by King Coal
- American Electric Power (AEP): the second largest coal utility in the U.S. now that Duke Energy and Progress Energy have merged.
- Peabody Energy: the world's largest private-sector coal mining company, known for its legacy of pollution and aggressive finance of climate change denial.
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE): a coal public relations front whose members include AEP, Peabody and other ALEC-member coal interests. ACCCE's new president is Mike Duncan, former Republican National Committee chairman and founding chairman of Karl Rove's American Crossroads. ACCCE spent over $12 million on advertising during the 2012 election to promote the fantasy of "clean coal." ACCCE reportedly spent $40 million on TV and radio ads during the 2008 election and over $16 million around the 2010 election. ACCCE was caught up in a scandal when a subcontractor forged letters on behalf of senior and civil rights groups urging members of Congress to oppose national climate legislation. For more, see ACCCE on PolluterWatch.
- Political spending since 2007: ACCCE spent over $22.3 million on federal lobbying, $10 million of which was spent in 2008 alone.
- Edison Electric Institute (EEI): the primary trade association for electric utility companies, whose members include AEP, Duke Energy and numerous other members of ALEC's energy/environment task force.
- National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA): NRECA is the top dirty energy money contributor to federal politicians, above heavyweights like Koch Industries and ExxonMobil. Composed of over 900 rural coal interests, NRECA is known for its staunch opposition to climate change policy.
$194 million: total federal lobbying expenditures from these groups since 2007
The collective millions spent on federal lobbying and politicians went a long way for these five coal interest groups. Their lobbying goals included weakening 2009 climate legislation and working to interfere with US EPA rules to reduce coal pollution or greenhouse gases.
All five of these groups have recently lobbied to prevent US EPA from controlling greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. These five interests only represent a slice of the coal interests spending money in politics, and just a few players among many in the coal, oil, gas and chemical industries that dump millions of dollars into public relations campaigns telling us that climate change is not a problem.
Today at a well-attended energy forum hosted by Politico, I shed some light on the role of coal lobbyist Jeffrey Holmstead in blocking pollution reductions for his coal utility and mining clients after he said we can't "regulate our way to clean energy." Here's the video:
UPDATE 11/16: Holmstead was later confronted on camera by Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project after the disruption at the Politico forum. Watch Holmstead re-write the history of his attacks on mercury pollution laws:
As I waited inside for Mr. Holmstead to step on stage, members of Greenpeace's Climate Crime Unit stood outside handing out WANTED posters of both Holmstead and chief oil lobbyist Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute, who was also present.
Jeff Holmstead, who is often quoted in newspapers as a former Air and Radiation Administrator for the George W. Bush Environmental Protection Agency or a "partner" (read: lobbyist) at Bracewell & Giuliani's corporate law firm here in DC, is rarely credited as an influence peddler for some of the most notorious polluters in the country.
Polluters like Duke Energy, Southern Company, and Arch coal are paying Holmstead's bills. These laggard coal-reliant companies are responsible for ecologically destructive coal mining and the carbon dioxide emissions that drive global climate change, not to mention a litany of dangerous pollutants.
Jeff Holmstead's job as their lobbyist is to delay any clean air rules, clean water rules or climate change laws that threaten the billions in profit these companies make by getting to pollute for free. Since he started officially working for them, his firm has been paid over $13.7 million dollars for the dirty work of Holmstead and his partners at Bracewell & Giuliani. He is the perfect example of the political revolving door: he was a coal lobbyist who was placed at the head of our government's clean air department before jumping back on the payroll of coal companies to dismantle the rules he was supposed to uphold. Here are some of
Holmstead's greatest polluter hits:
- Eight years of delay for mercury pollution controls at US power plants. As part of the George W. Bush EPA, Holmstead swapped out a technology-based solution to mercury emissions from coal plants with a rule that was later declared illegal by a US District Court. This bait-and-switch happened in December, 2003; it took the US EPA until Dec. 2011 to put the effective mercury rule back in place. EPA currently estimates that up to 11,000 people's lives could be saved each year by controlling mercury pollution--see EPA Factsheet.
- Led the Bush administration's "Clear Skies Initiative," a deceptively-titled name for a series of proposed air pollution laws that actually allowed for more coal pollution.
- Attacks on greenhouse gas regulations through the Clean Air Act: Holmstead was the infamous co-author behind the scenes of Senator Lisa Murkowski's "Dirty Air Act" in 2010.
- Ongoing attacks on pollution controls through ERCC front group: the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council" is a coal industry front group run out of Holmstead's office. They have worked to block any regulation of poisonous coal ash, greenhouse gas emissions from coal and the mercury pollution controls that Holmstead already delayed for eight years.
- Work for a Koch front group that denied the existence of acid rain: "Citizens for the Environment" was a spinoff of the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, which eventually became David Koch's Americans for Prosperity. Citizens for the Environment had no actual citizen membership, according to the New Yorker.
FOR MORE: See Jeff Holmstead's PolluterWatch profile.
“Mr. Holmstead, Southern Company and Duke Energy pay you to block those regulations. They pay you to block climate legislation. They don’t want clean energy. You need to be reported as the coal lobbyist that you are. When you were in the George W. Bush EPA you blocked mercury controls on power plants for eight years. Eight years—do you know how many thousands of people may have died as a result of that decision, Mr. Holmstead? You need to be held accountable for that. You need to be held accountable as a lobbyist for coal interests.” (click to return to top)
Duh. That's probably what you thought to yourself when you read my headline.
Yes, as American families on the east coast are reeling from an unprecedented weather disaster, Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning told CNBC:
“I don’t think the data supports that the storms are more frequent or unusual than they have been in the past. But the point is right now that we are not dedicated to getting into an ancillary argument.” (h/t The Hill)
Fanning probably considers the much-needed conversations considering Hurricane Sandy and climate change as "ancillary" because Southern Company plays a very central and very inconvenient role in creating global warming. Apparently, Fanning's home and livelihood weren't damaged by superstorm Sandy, although his birthplace of Morristown, NJ was hit by the storm. Lucky him--out of sight, out of mind! Apparently there's no need to talk about the deeper issue of global warming. (Greenpeace photos of damage from Sandy).
See, not only is Southern Co one of the nation's largest coal-burning utilities, but it creates more carbon pollution than any other utility in the country and ranks #7 in global power company carbon emissions. Southern Co is responsible for dumping over 145 million tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere each year, making it a key culprit in the global climate crisis.
In turn, global warming creates conditions that can make cyclones like Hurricane Sandy more intense than they naturally would be, not to mention increasing the likelihood of other extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and heavy storms. If you live in the U.S., you know this year was particularly suspicious in terms of climate-related disasters.
Suspicious unless you have your head in the sand, as Mr. Fanning appears to. What's worse is how much Thomas Fanning's company has paid money to stuff other people's heads in the sand with them.
While aggravating global warming through its immense greenhouse gas emissions, Southern Company has also been a key manipulator in our national dialog over global climate change:
- Funding junk science: Southern Company gave Willie Soon $230,000 from 2006-2009 for two distinct junk studies disguised as scientific research in order to confuse politicians into ignoring policy solutions to climate change. Willie Soon is a career climate science denier whose other "research" sponsors have included ExxonMobil, the Charles G Koch Foundation and the American Petroleum Institute.
- Funding shill groups: Southern Co. is a member of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a front group run by coal utility lobbyists at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani. Through ERCC lobbyists Scott Segal and Jeff Holmstead, Southern Co and other dirty utilities bitterly opposes any requirements for coal companies to reduce their pollution or greenhouse gases causing global warming. Southern Co is also a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), another front group opposing strong environmental standards for coal pollution. You may be familiar with ACCCE for its multimillion dollar ad buys around the election, or for its involvement in a scandal where forged letters were sent to Congress to oppose climate legislation in 2009.
Buying politics: Since 2008, Southern Co. has spent over $61 million lobbying our federal government, much of which was to block environmental laws and legislation addressing climate change. Southern Co. has spent over $10 million each year on federal lobbying since 2004. To support its lobbying expenditures, Southern Co. has also sent over $1.6 million to federal politicians and registered political groups since the 2008 election cycle.
- In the 2012 presidential election, Southern Co. has sent $46,650 to Republican candidate Mitt Romney and $8,580 to President Barack Obama (OpenSecrets).
Unfortunately for the climate and those who are now suffering from weather disasters, Southern Company is just one of many companies funding our politicians and then paying lobbyists, setting up front groups and financing hack scientists to push politicians even farther into an anti-science fantasy-land. Along with Southern are other key bad actors like Duke Energy, Peabody, ExxonMobil, Chesapeake Energy, Koch Industries and other fossil fuel interests that also want to stomp any mention of global warming out of politics, protecting billions in profit and limiting their liability over pollution problems.
Understanding how these behemoths operate and coordinate makes it less surprising, though no less offensive, that we didn't hear about climate change in the first presidential debate series in over 20 years.
It doesn't matter if global warming is an "ancillary" issue to Southern Company after disasters like Hurricane Sandy, or if the presidential contenders won't be honest with Americans about the problem. Our changed climate is only going to keep changing.