Let's face it - being 'green' is the new cool. But sometimes an ulterior, industry-driven motive lurks behind the 'green halo' that we trust in so-called environmental organizations. This blog is dedicated to keeping individuals and organizations who claim to be for clean, renewable energy accountable.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Environmentalists Flush with Big Utility Money

There was a post over at calitics the other day in response to the BeyondChron article that points out the environmental groups opposing Prop. 7 all receive substantial funds from the Big Utilities. The person posting – who admitted he does ‘some work’ for the No on 7 campaign (read – he gets paid by the Big Utilities himself) stated “ I have confirmed with several of the groups that they have not taken money from the utilities. I haven't made an exhaustive search of these records, but let's just toss that stink bomb aside.” He hopes!

A few alert readers quickly jumped all over the absurdity of this claim, noting that PG&E had given the League of Conservation Voters $22,500 between 2005-2007, and that the California Young Democrats had taken $5,000 from Sempra Energy and $1,000 from Southern California Edison. I didn’t see anyone mention the State Democratic and Republican Parties’ infusion of cash from the Big Utilities, so I’ll direct readers to check out the Secretary of State’s website. The grand total? In the last four years the Big Utilities have given $1.5 million to the Democratic Party and $1.1 million to the Republican Party.

But pointing out the money only scratches the surface when it comes to the oily trail from the Big Utilities to the select environmental groups on the No on Prop. 7 campaign. In fact, to suggest that there is no connection between the select environmental groups opposing Solar and Clean Energy and the big utilities is either naïve or willful blindness. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and individuals within its leadership, the main early opponents to Solar and Clean Energy, have a long and readily accessible history supporting deregulation, the utilities, and the myth of ‘clean coal.’ One example that I found by a simple google search of “Ralph Cavanagh” (who’s the “Energy Czar” of NRDC) is this choice quote from a book called “A Dime’s Worth of Difference” by nationally syndicated journalists Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair:

“… St. Clair notes that Ralph Cavanagh of the National Resources Defense Council testified on behalf of Enron's effort to gain control of the public utility in Oregon, Portland GE. . Contrary to Cavanagh's predictions, rates rose very high, the Enron execs bilked the ratepayers of tens of millions. Cavanaugh similarly lobbied for deregulation of utilities in California. In this new situation power grades deteriorated and of course, companies led by Enron, decided to turn off their readily available supply of electricity in order to gauge Californians. Ralph Cavanagh was given an award by Teresa Heinz Kerry's foundation, on which Ken Lay sat, for his work in "free market environmentalism." Cheney used the resulting high energy prices to push for opening ANWAR to give his oil cronies even more short term profit but that would only have the effect of reducing gas prices by a few cents for a short period.”

And this from The Center for Democracy and Media:

When President Bush awarded PG&E the Environmental and Conservation Challenge Award in 1991, Cavanagh was featured in full-page newspaper ads praising PG&E's environmental efforts. Cavanagh also produced videos on behalf of PG&E, and collaborated with PG&E personnel to coauthor an article on their conservation efforts. Cavanagh was appointed to a steering committee with Amory Lovins and others for a PG&E research project, and he generally received favorable media coverage for his "positive" and cooperative stance.

And

Enron used donations and its relationship with the NRDC to win approval for its purchase of the largest electric utility in Oregon, Portland General Electric (PGE). The purchase faced considerable opposition within the state. Even Oregon's Public Utility Commission opposed the takeover, warning that prices would rise, workers would lose their jobs, and the environment would not be protected. Others went further, arguing that Enron planned to sell off PGE's assets and sell its cheap hydropower to California for large profits.

NRDC's Cavanagh played a key role in pacifying some of this opposition. He negotiated a memo of understanding between Enron and Oregon environmental groups involving a transfer of $500,000 of financial support from Enron to the groups. Cavanagh repeatedly declared that Enron was a socially responsible company that could be trusted. The takeover went ahead. And sure enough, in the following two years rates went up, assets were sold and PGE's electricity made its way to California. Enron then sold the utility
.”

What this suggests is that either – at its worst, that Ralph Cavanaugh and NRDC are shills for the Big Utilities, or at the least - that they are themselves not infallible when it comes to predicting the outcome of new energy policy. In fact, it seems outright disingenuous for the NRDC - an Enron cheerleader - to now use scare tactics eliciting fears of another energy crisis!
As to the post pointing out that the California Young Democrats is opposed to Solar and Clean Energy – it should also be mentioned that the Chair of CYD, Rocky Fernandez, is also the NRDC environment campaign coordinator and affiliated with a business group called “Environmental Entrepreneurs”, and was campaigning hard for the No on Prop. 7 side at the Democrat’s E-Board meeting in June. Maybe there is a connection, maybe there isn’t. But it’s worth pointing out.

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