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.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Big Utilities' Green Halo

Just posted this article on Daily Kos:

People ask themselves ‘why do the environmentalists oppose proposition 7?’ Or, they don’t ask any questions at all, blissfully unaware that they are accepting the deliberately flawed claims about Prop 7 concocted by the state’s 3 Big Utilities – PG&E, Southern California Edison, and Sempra. But who can blame them? You will never see PG&E at any debates about Prop 7. You are more likely to see one of California’s handful of environmental groups holding out the anti-prop 7 arguments concocted by the Big Utilities’ republican law firm.

So shouldn’t the real question be: Why have the likes of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the League of Conservation Voters (CLCV), and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) sold out to the Big Utilities to help them greenwash their anti-clean energy campaign?

Months ago, I found myself baffled by the vehement opposition to Proposition 7. The NRDC, CLCV, and UCS came out swinging against a renewable energy proposition that increases the goals that they have been fighting to achieve for decades, seals all the loopholes in existing law that made non-compliance a “business decision’ for the Big Utilities, creates 370,000 new jobs, and even protects consumers by explicitly prohibiting the Big Utilities from passing off their fines for non-compliance onto ratepayers. These are the reasons that Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, is the state campaign co-chair. These are the reasons that Dr. Donald Aitken, an original proponent of a Renewables Portfolio Standard, signed the ballot argument, that three Nobel Laureates are urging Californians to support this measure, and that S. David Freeman, perhaps the country’s foremost energy policy expert, is the measure’s chief spokesman.

So what’s so wrong with prop 7 that these mainstream environmental groups are fighting so hard to defeat it?

A closer scrutiny of the environmentalists’ claims about Prop 7 reveals that their arguments are murky and quickly dissolve if one actually reads the text of the initiative. (See an article by energy policy expert and lecturer Tam Hunt rebutting the No campaigns flawed arguments here.) As Dr. Don Aitken noted in a public letter, “the opponents were being pretty hasty and sloppy, indicative (to me) that there must be a much deeper underlying reason for their opposition, and the particulars of the initiative were at least in part some sort of cover.”

When I first learned of their opposition to Prop 7, and witnessed how hard these mainstream environmental groups were campaigning to defeat the measure, I took a closer look at the language of the initiative and what the Legislative Analyst’s Office had to say on the measure. Nowhere in the text is there anything remotely close to a “competition elimination provision”, or a provision to lock in rates at 10% above market costs (which are two of their favorite claims). The Legislative Analyst’s Office also didn’t notice any of these scary things that the Republican law firm hired by PG&E, Sempra, and Southern Cal Edison (with their $30 million war chest to defeat Prop 7) managed to create out of thin air.

Confident in my conclusion that Prop 7 is quite a good measure, I next decided to research the three environmental groups that at that time were the ‘faces’ of the No on 7 campaign. I started by looking at the financial information available on the internet, including the grant lists that PG&E kindly makes available on its website. I also looked at their board memberships and some of their past activities. It wasn’t long before a painful truth became crystal clear: These mainstream environmental groups were hijacked by big industry interests long ago.

Consider this about the CLCV:

· CLCV’s Board of Directors is loaded with Big Utility insiders, including a guy who began his career with PG&E, and in 1985 he argued on behalf of PG&E to the United States Supreme Court to allow PG&E to send political editorials to its customers (in the envelope that contained the monthly billing statement) on messages PG&E wanted to propagate – USING ratepayer’s money to do it. In other words, the current secretary of the CLCV won the case that allowed PG&E to use its customers’ money to send political messages to those customers, citing Corporate Free Speech rights.

· CLCV lauds PG&E and Sempra repeatedly on its website – for sponsoring its events. PG&E and Sempra pay for CLVC’s environmental rewards banquets every year. See CLVC’s 13th Annual Environmental Leadership Awards – Sponsored by Pacific Gas and Electric and The Gas Company, CLVC’s 14th Annual Environmental Leadership Gala – Sponsored by PG&E and Sempra, CLCV’s 24th Annual Environmental Leadership Award – Champion Sponsor PG&E, CLCV’s 26th Annual Environmental Leadership Award – Champion Sponsor PG&E.

· CLCV takes grants from PG&E. $12,500 in 2007, $5,000 in 2006, $5,000 in 2005.

Consider this about the NRDC:

· NRDC has a long and well-documented history supporting industry giants like Enron. NRDC, with energy policy director Ralph Cavanagh leading the way, was THE leading environmental group that cheered on Enron’s deregulation bid. Ralph Cavanagh and the NRDC are credited with “breaking the backs of other environmentalists” to pass deregulation and then kill a consumer-advocate initiative that would have re-regulated the industry. See the story as it was chronicled at the height of CA’s energy crisis and rolling black outs here, here, here, here, here, here and buy the book here. Or just google NRDC and deregulation.

· From a 2001 Counter Punch article: “The fall of Enron sounds the death knell for one of the great rackets of the past decade: green seals of approval, whereby some outfit like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) or Environmental Defense (ED) would issue testimonials to the enviro-conscience and selfless devotion to the public weal of corporations like Enron. These green seals of approval were part of the neoliberal pitch: that fuddy-duddy regulation should yield to modern, "market-oriented solutions" to environmental problems...Indeed, NRDC and ED were always the prime salesfolk of neoliberal remedies for environmental problems. In fact, NRDC was socked into the Enron lobby machine so deep you couldn't see the soles of its feet.”

· From a PG&E press release: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) honored PG&E for the company’s long and ongoing track record of environmental leadership -- only the third such presentation that the NRDC has made in the group’s history. The honors were presented to Darbee by Ralph Cavanagh, senior NRDC attorney, and Devra Wang, Director of NRDC’s California Energy Program. “PG&E sets the bar on environmental leadership for all utilities,” said Cavanagh. Among other things, PG&E was being honored by NRDC that day for its clean coal technology.

· John Bryson, a CEO of Southern Cal Edison, co-founded the NRDC and remains close friends with Ralph Cavanagh.

· NRDC was one of a handful of corporate connected quasi environmental organizations that endorsed the NAFTA, which most real green groups bitterly opposed.

Consider that the officers for the NRDC, CLCV and UCS sit on the same boards of directors as the Big Utilities of groups that accept Big Utility money:

CA Foundation on the Environment and the Economy
Board of Directors
NRDC, Sheryl Carter - Vice Chairman
Southern California Edison, CEO, Alan Fohrer
Environmental Defense, Thomas Graff
Union of Concerned Scientists, Amy Lynd Luers
PG & E Sr. Vice President, Nancy McFadden
Contributions Received from UtilitiesPG & E - $40,000 (2006)

Alliance to Save Energy
Board of Directors
NRDC President, Frances Beinecke – ASE BOD
Southern California Edison, John Fielder
Pacific Gas & Electric, William T. Morrow
Contributions Received from UtilitiesPG & E - $80,000 (2005 – 2006)

Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies
Board of Directors
GE Generation VP of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs (former); MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. (former), Jonathan M. Weisgall – CEERT Board President.
Sempra/SDG&E (former); Calpine (former); Edison Mission Energy (former), Deborah Reyes - CEERT Board Member.
Enron (former), Robert T. Boyd - CEERT Board Member.
NRDC, Ralph Cavanagh, Board Member.
FPL Energy, Diane Fellman, Board Member
Environmental Defense, Karen Douglas, Board Member
Union of Concerned Scientists, Clifford Chen, Board Member

Even more shocking to me was the discovery that climate change scientists, scholars and academics have written books chronicling the Big Utilities’ grip on mainstream environmental groups to silence their opposition and, indeed, turn them into allies.

In Who Owns the Sun, author Dan Berman, PhD (a journalist, professor, & environmental activist) writes about how

“America's most powerful corporations, utilities, and environmental organizations are in league with government to protect a dirty little secret: Solar power is a better way of meeting this nation's (or, for that matter, any other's) future electrical needs. But even though we already have the technology to turn sunlight into clean, reliable power, they want to keep us in the dark.

Energy corporations manipulate congress, and handsomely reward congressional advocates, to keep people hooked on fossil fuels and delay solar development. The utility industry is poised to slap a meter on the sun once fossil fuels are depleted. Corporations have found ways to collaborate with (and silence) former environmental adversaries. This book contains documented proof of how utilities are crippling—and attempting to own—solar energy.”

In Green, Inc. a former staffer at Conservation International

“…reveals the seedy underbelly of the greenwashing movement where brand-name environmental groups provide a PR bonanza for some of the worst polluters in corporate America, and get paid to do it. Americans will never look at many environmental groups the same way after reading Green Inc. Green Inc. should stir a revolt among the dues-paying membership of the environmental movement against those who believe working with oil companies to improve their image is the way to save the earth.”

The Big Utilities and mainstream environmental groups, NRDC, CLCV and UCS were only too happy when a full nine months after they launched their aggressive attack against Prop 7 on behalf of the Big Utilities, they finally cajoled the Sierra Club to get in line. In the last week of September, the Sierra Club sadly joined ranks in perpetuating the talking points set forth by the Big Utilities on their misleading No campaign website. They absurdly state that Prop 7 provides loopholes for the Big Utilities, as does the UCS. If this were the case (and in fact, the exact opposite is true), then why would the state’s big three utility companies be spending $30 million to defeat the measure? As Dr. Aitken stated in his public letter: “It dismays me to see the environmentalists resorting to such tactics, and presenting arguments not based on fact, or that distort fact. And it should certainly dismay them to be in bed with the utilities, who are absolutely gleeful that they have a cover for their perennial opposition to more aggressive applications of renewable.”

Now, instead of wondering whether or not there is a connection between the Big Utilities and the environmentalists opposing Prop 7, I demand answers from the CLVC, the NRDC, and CEERT. Explain to me, on behalf of the hundred of thousands of small contributions you’ve taken from your members, how you can say with a straight face that you are fighting the Big Utilities that fund you and make up your board memberships? Doesn’t common sense dictate that you don’t bite the hand that feeds you? Why should we believe your sincerity in opposing Prop 7 when you are so clearer tied to the Big Utilities that Prop. 7 would regulate?

Your members, and the CA voters you are deceiving on behalf of the Big Utilities, deserve better.

The stakes have never been higher for the Big Utilities. Proposition 7 fills in the loopholes in current law, so that the utilities cannot escape compliance as they can now. The question that people should be asking themselves is not – “why do the environmentalists oppose prop 7?” It should be, “why have these environmental groups sold out the future of our planet to financially benefit some of the worst polluters on the planet?”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definitely confused

October 20, 2008 at 3:17 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, me too. what's up with these environmental groups?!

October 20, 2008 at 5:50 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an environmentalist and I cannot wait for the day when our energy comes from clean and renewable sources. I am leaning toward support prop 7 but my concern is not the stuff you hear in the NO rhetoric. I am worried about the clause in S. 21 of the proposed law that says "It is the intent of the people to encourage the development of thermal powerplants or solar and clean energy plants using resource recovery (waste-to-energy) technology." To me this means burning trash, and that sounds like a good way to send a lot of toxic stuff into our atmoshpere. I don't understand why this was written into the bill at all. Maybe Solar Cali Girl can clarify?

October 24, 2008 at 4:58 PM

Blogger Solar Cali Girl said...

Hi - I've seen some stuff written by a couple of lawyers on this trash burning issue. I understand the measure doesn't include trash burning. I'll dig up what I've got on this and post shortly.

October 25, 2008 at 9:35 AM

Blogger Solar Cali Girl said...

Dear (most recent) anonymous:

Here's a link of S. David Freeman answering the question you are concerned with at the Assembly/Senate Committee Hearing on Prop 7:


Hope this helps!

October 25, 2008 at 5:31 PM


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