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, February 13, 2009

The Green's Advocacy Malpractice

It’s still early in the new year, and promises of green jobs and stricter carbon emission standards abound. Between the California Legislature, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Democratically-controlled Congress and White House, clean and renewable energy advocates are doubtlessly tempted to be excited. But before we sip champagne and trust the green priesthood, I suggest we take a moment to assess where we really stand in the fight to repower our lives with clean energy.

In November, 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order S-14-08, calling for a higher Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) of 33% and for streamlining the process to approve clean energy plants and transmission lines. This action triggered a flurry of activity by legislators and regulatory bodies to create implementing measures. The CA Air Resources Board, pursuant to AB 32, introduced its scoping plan late last year, also calling for a 33% RPS by 2020. (For a thorough analysis of CARB’s Scoping Plan issued by the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office, click here.) Also in late 2008, CA Assemblymember Paul Krekorian introduced AB 64, a measure aimed at implementing the increase in the RPS but lacking any enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance. (I’m working on a detailed analysis of AB 64 for a future post, but so far as I can tell the bill has yet to see the light of a committee hearing). Finally, CA State Senator Joe Simitian introduced SB 14, yet another measure aimed at increasing the RPS but giving the utilities forgiving flexibility in actually meeting those requirements. (And perhaps, because of sloppy wording, SB 14 may inadvertently CAP the RPS at 33%).

It is in this atmosphere that on Tuesday, Feb. 10th, the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee held an informational hearing on SB 14. In a testament to the politically charged nature of trying to make ANY increase to the existing RPS, the hearing dragged out for five hours, as everyone from the electric utility and renewable energy industries to labor and the environmentalists lauded or chided SB 14 for its contents.

What was frustrating to me was not the length of the hearing, but its contents. The issues and contentions brought forth from the interest groups are identical to the ones that were asserted to defeat Proposition 7, the Solar and Clean Energy Act of 2008. Prop. 7 was defeated at the ballot box after an unholy alliance of PG&E, Sempra and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) formed to kill the bill with $30 million in false and misleading advertisements. Only this time, the legislative proposals offered by both Krekorian and Padilla are exceptionally forgiving to the utilities, making compliance ‘flexible’ to the point of almost being moot. Worse, neither bill carves out a prohibition against passing fines incurred to ratepayers. Perhaps that’s because the mechanism in place to levy fines is so weak as to be irrelevant, perhaps that is because most of the participants, including V. John White – lead lobbyist for the state’s renewable energy companies – were far more concerned with the utilities’ profit margin than the ratepayers’ pocketbook.

And THIS got me to thinking more about the role of advocates like V. John White (from CEERT) and Ralph Cavanagh (from NRDC). Both of these characters were on a frenzied campaign of arm twisting and manipulation to get the renewable energy companies and environmental organizations (respectively) to oppose Prop. 7. And here we are, just a few months later, in hearing rooms debating the identical issues in measures that are substantially watered-down versions (i.e. utility-friendly) of the same bill that could have been enacted law.

What does this make of the likes of V. John White and Ralph Cavanagh? I propose both of these men are guilty of advocacy malpractice.

What’s that, you ask? Malpractice is a term usually associated with surgeons who botch an operation, such as amputating the wrong leg. Or with lawyers who missed a filing date on a lawsuit that was guaranteed to win $1 million. We cringe when we hear about these malpractice stories, because we fear that we could be the next patient or client whose lives are turned upside down by professional incompetence.

This time it was the renewable energy community that had “advocacy malpractice” hoisted upon it. Last year, during the run up of oil prices to $147 and with a stock market roaring back to highs nearing 14,000, V. John White and Ralph Cavanagh recklessly persuaded their clients on behalf of the Big Utilities to oppose Proposition 7, which would have required that by 2020 all utilities, including publicly owned utilities, provide 40% of the energy they sell from clean renewable sources, such as solar, wind, and geothermal, rising to 50% by 2025. (Paul Krekorian, another vocal opponent of Prop. 7, is now calling for a 50% RPS by 2035 in his bill AB 64. I suspect his opposition came from childish territorialism, since he has proclaimed himself the King of the RPS in the Capitol).

What renewable energy and environmental advocates did in 2008 was place their bets on a cozy relationship with the state’s largest utilities, just like environmentalists did when they joined forces with Enron to pass deregulation only to see Enron collapse in a wave of scandal and criminal convictions.

And now? The dumb bets of these ‘green’ advocates – against the very interests of their clients – actually meant that they walked away with only the cards they were dealt and none of the winnings. Today, every stakeholder is back at the table, arguing the same nuances of the same issue but through the medium of a substantially weaker bill. Watching the Senate hearing on SB 14 I realized that renewable energy and environmentalist clients lost, and are paying a harsh price as victims of Advocacy Malpractice.

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