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.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Green, Inc. - A Preview

After nearly two months (and $20 million spent on t.v. and radio alone) of deceitful television/radio commercials from the utility-funded No on Prop 7 campaign, PG&E and Southern California Edison executives are hoping that the thought they’ve impressed into everyone’s minds is “The environmental groups oppose Proposition 7! Oh my!" They are crossing their fingers that by trotting out environmental groups, people won’t notice the Big Utilities’ $28 million anti-clean energy campaign those ‘environmental’ groups are fronting for.

After all,

“…while it seems easy to take unflattering insider accounts from certain industries -- say, the energy and chemicals industries -- at face value, it is much more difficult to fully accept the criticisms made of environmental non-profits like The Nature Conservancy and the Sierra Club, many of which some of us have either worked with or volunteered for in the past.”

But it appears that popular culture may finally be ready for the truth about corporate America’s hijacking of the environmental movement.

This month, a scathing insider’s perspective on how America’s environmentalists have been taken over by oil, gas, coal and electricity industry insiders has been published, complete with charts and graphs and all the goodies necessary to understand the free flow of money from the Big Utilities that has mutated the environmental groups we blindly trusted.

For months now I’ve been making the case that the environmental groups opposed to Proposition 7 are acting as a willing front group for the utilities funding the No on 7 campaign, for two main reasons: (1) collectively they’ve taken millions of dollars from the utilities in ‘grants’ over the years and (2) their board memberships are comprised of past and former utility executives.

Apparently, this is a national epidemic.

Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court says

“Green Inc. is a must read. Christine MacDonald 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.”

MacDonald hits the nail on the head. This is exactly what the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Union of Concerned Scientists are doing for PG&E, Southern Cal Edison, and Sempra to help them defeat stricter renewable energy requirements in California. A preview of the book states:

“In Spring 2006, Christine MacDonald left journalism for a dream job at Conservation International, one of the world’s largest environmental organizations. Soon after she reported to the groups Washington, D.C. offices, it became all too apparent to her that something is rotten in today’s clubby, well-upholstered world of conservationists.

Green, Inc. is a riveting first person account of an eco-warriors travails at the cross roads of the non-profit and corporate worlds – one that will shock anyone who has ever made a donation to an environmental group.”

And from a New York Times book review:

“Why must conservation leaders make more than 99 percent of U.S. taxpayers? Once they get used to such lavish pay, doesn’t it follow that fundraising — to keep those salaries coming — would trump their core mission?

Those compromised missions, Ms. MacDonald argues, find their fullest expression when corporate donors — from energy and car companies like B.P., Exxon Mobil and G.M. to retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot — are able to maintain the allegiance, or at least the silence, of environmental organizations, even as those businesses pursue separate agendas that contribute to climate change, deforestation and other environmental sins.”


“In example after example, groups that get too close to corporations lose their ability to be critical. To some extent it might be human nature – the nonprofit leaders develop friendships with corporate leaders and don’t want to criticize their friends. On another level it’s practical – organizations that become dependent on corporate dollars to pay for programs and salaries don’t want to risk losing the funding.”

This last point really hit home. The environmental groups opposed to Proposition 7 have very close relationships with the Big Utilities opposing it. The NRDC ‘energy czar’ and No on 7 spokesman, Ralph Cavanagh, was a Yale classmate and friend of the recent CEO of Edison International, (Southern California Edison’s parent company), John Bryson. Bryson, interestingly, co-founded NRDC. But that’s just one example. If you look at the board of directors of these groups, both the environmental groups and the pro-industry groups that claim to have an ‘environmental’ bent, you will quickly see that they all have the same cast of characters determining the agendas.

Proposition 7 is the strictest law ever proposed to move California off dirty fossil fuels and onto clean and renewable energy sources. No surprise the Big Utilities that have spent years ingratiating themselves to our environmental groups through windfall funding and strategic board membership positions are pulling every card they have to defeat it.

The environmental groups should be ashamed of profiting from the Big Utilities by advancing their agenda. Instead of asking themselves why the environmentalists oppose a clean and renewable initative, voters should be asking themselves: Why have the environmental groups become front groups for the big utility (and oil, and gas) industry agendas?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Big Utilities Trot Out Union of Concerned Scientists

Now that the Natural Resources Defense Council and its lead spokesman, Ralph Cavanagh, have been battered by Prop 7 enthusiasts for their historical and well-documented role as Utility Shill/Cheerleader, the Utility-funded No on Prop 7 campaign has switched gears and is trotting out the Union of Concerned Scientists to hide behind. As Dr. Donald Aitken, one of the first proponents of a Renewables Portfolio Standard noted:

“It dismays me to see the environmental organizations 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 renewables."

Dr. Aitken was no doubt thinking of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) when he made that statement, for they have decided to participate in the fact-distortion campaign on behalf of the Big Utilities. But while Dr. Aitken may be dismayed, I am in no way surprised.

The UCS is something of a side kick to their better-endowed counterpart NRDC. Right along with NRDC, UCS sits on the same boards of directors that are dominated by utility executives. These utility-infielders holding themselves out to the public as ‘environmental’ groups that UCS is cozy with include CEERT and CFE&E. This helps explain why the UCS’s ‘analysis’ of Prop 7 is loaded with innuendos to trick the unwary reader, which I shall go through below. But first, a threshold question: how much are you willing to trust an organization that holds hands with a utility-shill ‘environmental’ group like NRDC??

Now to the UCS’s distorted attack on Prop 7:

UCS begins its flawed analysis with the claim that Prop 7 has loopholes for the utilities, and “…according to an independent legislative analysis these loopholes are ‘susceptible to manipulation.’”

This is an especially loathsome play on words. What the UCS is doing here is trying to lull the reader into believing that the very credible and non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office – which everyone cites to when they want to end an argument in their favor – actually made this determination. Read the Legislative Analyst’s Office report for yourself. The LAO made absolutely no findings as to ‘loopholes’ of any kind. Instead, the LAO reports that the current cap on penalties against the utilities is removed (current law caps the amount a utility can be fined for not meeting the RPS) and prohibits the utilities from passing on the fines to ratepayers. MAYBE this is why the Big Utilities are spending $27.5 million to defeat Prop 7 and using up every chit they’ve every had with California’s environmental groups to defeat it. And MAYBE the $27.5 million campaign to defeat clean energy demonstrates how absurd and manipulative it is for the UCS to claim the initiative has loopholes that would benefit the utilities.

The UCS also jumped on the “small renewable producers will be shut out the market” hysteria that has no basis in reality or in the initiative. The Independent Legislative Analyst’s Office, in consultation with the Legislative Counsel (yes, that would be a whole bunch of smarty-pants lawyers) saw absolutely no basis for the claim that Proposition 7 would exclude small renewable producers, which is why you see NO MENTION of it in their analysis. Magically, the only attorneys who claimed such a thing exists were the (very expensive) lawyers hired by the Big Utilities to defeat Proposition 7.

The UCS’s decision to put forth lies about Proposition 7, and to try to intentionally manipulate readers into believing the lies are endorsed by the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office, should cause dismay. But after months of writing about the deep inroads that the Big Utilities have managed to make into the environmental community in California, it is sadly, no great surprise.