Right-wingnut Gov. Scott Walker is not the brightest bulb on a wide range of issues, including of course energy and the environment. Here, he's asked by Haycock Elementary School (Falls Church, Virginia) second grader Aaron Stark what he'd do about climate change. Walker starts out ok, with the Boy Scout/campfire metaphor, but then Aaron follows up, much more skillfully than the Chuck Todds of the world ever do, by asking Walker point blank, "Do you CARE about climate change?" That's when Walker goes off the rails, as he starts talking to a second grader in Republican talking points about "ultimately" having "all the natural resources...as possible to move forward" blah blah blah. I mean, this really isn't complicated: if you're asked this question, certainly by a second grader, the answer is going to be pretty simple, that I care a lot, that this is a huge threat, and that we have to do something about it now! Of course, Walker couldn't do that because: a) he probably doesn't believe it; b) he's bought and paid for by the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests; and c) he's busy pandering for support from the crazy, science-denying, environment-trashing Republican base. Anyway, great job by Aaron, who I'd recommend as a replacement for any number of Sunday talk show hosts. :)
Nice job by Rep. Gerry Connolly, as well as by Rep. Bobby Scott. As for the Republican members of Virginia's House of Representatives' delegation -- not so much (e.g., ZERO for Dave Brat, 8% for Bob BADlatte, 8% for climate-science-denying freakazoid Morgan Griffith, 11% for supposed "moderate" Scott Rigell, 6% for the abysmal Randy Forbes, 6% for Robert "Biggest Downgrade from Previous Representative Ever?" Hurt, and 17% for supposed environmentalist - hahahahaha - Rob Wittman).
Gets Highest Environmental Score of Virginia’s Congressional Delegation
WASHINGTON – Congressman Gerry Connolly received the highest scores among Virginia’s congressional delegation from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) in its 2014 and lifetime scorecards for environmental votes cast in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
In its National Environmental Scorecard released Thursday, LCV gave Connolly and Congressman Bobby Scott scores of 94 percent for their environmental votes in 2014, the highest among the Virginia delegation. Connolly also received a 96 percent rating, the top score among Virginians, for his lifetime rating of votes in the House.
The average score in the House for 2014 votes was 43 percent.
“I am proud of my strong record in support of the environment dating back to my tenure as Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors,” Connolly said. “I appreciate this recognition from the League of Conservation Voters for my votes on critical issues before Congress affecting the environment, energy, and public health.”
LCV has issued its scorecard for more than 40 years and it is viewed as the nationally-accepted yardstick used to rate members of Congress on environmental, public health, and energy issues.
The 2014 Scorecard covers votes cast during the second session of the 113th Congress. It includes 35 House votes, which ties the record for the most votes scored in the House. LCV officials said House Republicans have waged a relentless assault on issues ranging from clean air and clean energy to endangered species to public lands.
According to a press release I received earlier today, "Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) today sent letters to 100 fossil fuel companies, trade groups, and other organizations to determine whether they are funding scientific studies designed to confuse the public and avoid taking action to cut carbon pollution, and whether the funded scientists fail to disclose the sources of their funding in scientific publications or in testimony to legislators." Among those companies were two based in Virginia: Richmond-based Dominion "Global Warming Starts Here!" Resources and Bristol-based coal company/polluter Alpha Natural Resources. My attitude is that it couldn't have happened to two nicer companies. :) In all seriousness, though, their answers to these questions should be fascinating. Great work by Senators Markey, Boxer and Whitehouse on this!
(This is highly relevant to Virignia, where the State Corporation Commission has been "captured" by Dominion Power and fossil fuel interests, and is essentially regulated by the corporations, not the other way around. - promoted by lowkell)
Influence pedaling in America is a $9 billion a year industry. It's as big as Major League Baseball or NASA's Mars spacecraft program, changing from direct meetings with lawmakers to a vertically integrated set of businesses that work every stage of government decision making - including the shaping of public opinion.
The point is that as a growth industry, influence peddling needs to find new ways to grow to accommodate the ever-expanding ranks for former staff and public officials who want to make big money after their public "service."
So it was only a matter of time before previously sleepy public offices, such state assembly offices, state public utility commissions, and writers of obscure cost-benefit analyses became part of the influence peddling playbook. That's particularly true now that the big shifts in the energy industry are under way. Rooftop solar on people's homes has been declared a "mortal threat" by the lobbying arm of the utility industry, which has launched a very concerted effort to penalize their customers for buying less of their product.
Regulatory Capture in State Agencies In many states, commissioners have been lured to ally themselves with the industries they are charged with regulating. There is a term for this, created by Nobel Prize winner Economist George J. Stigler over 50 years ago: "Regulatory capture."
As President Obama prepares to veto a bill trying to force through approval of the filthy, dangerous, environment-trashing, very-few-jobs-creating Canadian tar sands export pipeline, I agree with what Miles Grant has to say: this is a great example of how activism can beat conventional wisdom.
The Virginia Sierra Club reports: "Historic Event Today in Dominion Resources Accountability. Several protesters were arrested after blocking access to Dominon's Corp HQ and energy futures trading floor. While Sierra Club did not participate in the civil disobedience, [Richmond Conservation Program Coordinator] Kendyl Crawford spoke at the demonstration." Here's some of what the speakers had to say.
"Today, this is about civil disobedience opposition to the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline...this is not the way to a sustainable future...Dominion basically has a monopoly in Virginia, and it actually recently pushed through legislation to make themselves have even more of a monopoly; they're the largest non-party contributor to the Democratic and the Republican Party. Right now, pipelines are very much the front lines of climate justice. We're out here saying that we don't more entrenched fossil fuel infrastracture, we want renewable energy...this pipeline is the wrong way to go...we're trying to encourage our legislators and our leaders to make the right decision and to not build this pipeline, [but instead] to invest in renewable energy for a sustainable future. The future is not about...all of the many risks associated with natural gas -- pipeline explosions, toxic fracking, which is a huge threat to both air quality and water quality..."
"We have a moral obligation to act...Climate impacts are already being felt here in the Richmond area...The National Climate Assessment released last year announced that children, the elderly, the sick, the poor and some communities of color are the most at risk of the negative health impacts of climate change...the impacts of climate change are here today and they will intensify existing threats to health...We can not afford to let climate change amplify our health risks...African Americans are three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than Caucasians...Approximately 78% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Although coal is often hailed as being one of the most cost-effective energy solutions, this does not take into account all of the burdens that weigh down on the communities closest to the plants. Unfortunately, African Americans...end up suffering from increased rates of asthma, lost school and work days, not to mention lead exposure...Surely these expenses should be calculated as the true cost of our energy production. Which is why I am thrilled that just last year, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the Clean Power Plan...the first-ever national limit on carbon pollution from our power plants...cutting carbon pollution will not only protect our public health, but our public safety as well."
Duke University is out with a new study, The Solar Economy: Widespread Benefits for North Carolina, that illustrates what our neighbor to the south has been accomplishing with "solar-friendly policies," while Virginia languishes due to fossil-fuel-driven, backward-looking obstacles to clean energy development. Among the benefits to North Carolina (but not to Virginia) cited by the Duke report include: "North Carolina is home to over 450 companies involved in the solar industry, and they support approximately 4,307 jobs and represent at least $2 billion of direct investment in the state;" "providing jobs and economic development opportunities to all parts of the state, including rural areas that have struggled historically to create jobs and businesses;" "tax revenue that goes to local counties in very rural, poor parts of the state." Keep in mind that North Carolina's climate and sunshine are not much different than Virginia's, so there's absolutely no good reason that Virginia can't be reaping these benefits as well.
In case you missed the big story this weekend, the New York Times reported that climate science denier and right-wing favorite "Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics," "accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers." As a result, as the Washington Post puts it this morning, "Things just got very hot for climate deniers' favorite scientist." Of course, Soon is just the tip of the iceberg, as there's a veritable industry of fossil-fuel-funded climate science deniers running around out there, befouling our public discourse, just as the dirty energy companies they've sold their souls to are befouling our air and water.
Anyway, as it turns out, our old pal Ken Cuccinelli, when he was (appallingly) Attorney General of Virginia and waging a witch-hunt against climate science (and specifically against leading climate scientist Michael Mann), was busy citing some of those fossil-fuel-funded climate science deniers. That includes, as you can see below (from Cooch's "Civil Investigative Demand" against the University of Virginia, none other than...that's right, Willie Soon, who was falsely smearing the meticulous research of Michael Mann and many other scientists on the famous "hockey stick" graph. Not that Cuccinelli acting like this comes as a big surprise, but still, it's yet more evidence of how "in bed" with fossil fuel interests Cuccinelli was when he was Attorney General of Virginia. Now, can someone please explain to me why THAT is legal, even as Bob and Maureen McDonnell face possible jail time for their corrupt (but arguably, FAR less severe and damaging than Cooch's) behavior?
Yep, it's hotter than normal (including MUCH hotter in places like Alaska, Siberia, etc.) in vast swaths of the world, while it's colder than normal in a few places, one of which is eastern North America, where a lot of the climate-science-denying cretins live and, more to the point, where the fossil-funded, Teapublican-controlled U.S. Congress is located. Ugh.
Reps. Connolly, Scott, Beyer Cite Concerns about Oil & Gas Drilling Off Virginia Coast in Joint Letter to Interior Secretary Jewell
“We are deeply troubled that the Department of the Interior has reversed its moratorium on offshore drilling off the Atlantic Coast”
WASHINGTON – Congressmen Gerry Connolly (VA-11), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-3), and Don Beyer (VA-8) today wrote Interior Secretary Sally Jewell citing their serious concerns that Virginia and neighboring states are included in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas development.
The Virginia congressmen asked Jewell to reconsider the decision to include portions of the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf in the offshore leasing program for 2017-2022. Instead, they suggested that the Interior Department “build on opportunities to expand renewable energy production, such as wind energy,” which has the potential to generate nearly as much energy as offshore drilling and create 50 percent more jobs.
“While we recognize the tremendous strides you and the Administration have made toward American energy independence and appreciate there must be a balanced approach between conservation and oil and gas development to meet our energy needs, we are deeply troubled that the Department has reversed its moratorium on offshore drilling off the Atlantic Coast, specifically in waters off of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia,” Connolly, Scott, and Beyer said in their letter.
February 17, 2015
Governor Terrence McAuliffe
In my previous letter urging your veto of Senate Bill SB 1349, it is important to describe a framework of what a replacement would look like, or what amendments might be feasible to foster wider roll-out of solar in the Commonwealth.
Solar energy jobs in southern Virginia should be the focus of the next three years of your term. It takes 9 acres to generate 1 megawatt of AC solar power, and given the proper incentives setting aside solar array acreage might be a good crop for farmers in this tight economy.
In Germany 46% of their 63,000 MW of installed renewable energy is locally owned by individuals and farmers. Japan has more electric vehicle charging stations than gas stations. PG&E is asking California to install a network of 25,000 EV charging stations.
Finding funding for all of this is the trick and I'd like to suggest a few mechanisms that might allow citizens and communities in the Commonwealth to share ownership of our nascent renewable energy infrastructure.
Dominion already has pieces of this in place. The Dominion Green Power program allows subscribers to add a 1.3 cent per kilowatt hour charge to their bill to source clean power. Dominion charges a 100% premium for overhead and administration of this program and consumers wind up with clean power but no ownership of the infrastructure.
To take this a step further I recommend that Dominion offer a 'Green Share' program similar to their GPP that allows groups of individuals to crowdsource financing for selected clean energy projects that are designed by Dominion but owned by the community.
No, you can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometime you find,
You get what Dominion Power wants.
--With apologies to the Rolling Stones
I guess there's a reason I never made it as a songwriter. That last line is a disaster. But that, in a nutshell, is what happened to SB 1349, known as the rate-freeze bill, the ratepayer rip-off, or the Dominion bill, depending on whether you were pro, con, or still trying to figure it out.
The bill began and ended as a way for Dominion Virginia Power to shield excess profits from the possibility of regulators ordering refunds to customers. Along the way, Appalachian Power jumped on board, even though its president had already admitted the company had been earning more than it should.
When we last looked, SB 1349 was undergoing radical rewriting on the floor of the Senate, in real time. Conflicting amendments were being passed around. Outside the chamber, lawmakers from both parties were huddled in hallways with Dominion lobbyists. The coal caucus had already tacked on language making it harder to close coal-fired power plants. Now the Governor, progressive leaders and clean energy supporters were pushing amendments guaranteeing more solar and energy efficiency programs.
To get a sense of how impossible it was for the rank and file to follow, check out the bill history with its amendments offered and rejected, and the readings of the amendments waived.
With cameras rolling and the clock ticking, senators made speeches about provisions other people told them were now in the bill, but without anyone having the time to read the language they were expected to vote on. That being normal, they voted on the strength of promises made and assurances given.
Recent Senate Bill SB 1349 ("Electric utility regulation; suspension of regulatory reviews of utility earnings") needs your attention. The issue with this bill is neither Republican nor Democratic, but rather a consumer issue. As rate-payers, as voters and even as legislators we are being told by a monopoly corporation that we have no control over the most fundamental operating assumption as energy consumers, namely what direction the price curve should point for electrical service in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Dominion has called for rates to be fixed for five years at a high price, just after a rate increase last year. When pushed, Dominion offered up 500 megawatts of new Virginia solar power, as well as nominal energy efficiency efforts. That these things were offered up effortlessly, at the last minute, suggests that they were part of the mix Dominion intended all along.
I have read the Dominion Integrated Resource Plan for 2014 and was impressed with the modeling the company does to run a multi-state energy corporation. Dominion is entrusted with the control of two nuclear reactors and to make decisions costing hundreds of millions of ratepayer dollars. Yet, per Senate Bill SB 1349, Dominion gets no oversight of their profits, because it supposedly does not know what its profit perspective over five years will be, after adding 500 megawatts of solar and energy efficiency to their bottom line. This strains credibility.
Dominion and the politicians on their payroll give one justification for the power play bill that exempts the monopoly from govenrment audits until the year 2022 -- that EPA climate regulations will increase the company's costs, forcing it to raise its rates.
When companies face a financial threat, no one is more attuned to this situation than investors. If Dominion is truly in trouble, the alarm bells should be ringing on Wall Street. But are they?
Quite the contrary. In a superb piece on Dominion's endless drive to deregulate itself, Jeff Schapiro drops this bombshell:
As momentum built for Virginia's latest accommodation of the utilities, the investment adviser UBS - in an alert to the markets - labeled Dominion the "king of the hill."
Citing the company's spin to stock pickers at a private meeting in Manhattan last week, UBS said the latest legislation "removes one of the largest single risks" to higher earnings: That the SCC, if only temporarily, would be blocked from determining whether Dominion makes too much money.
Now, hold your horses -- we keep being told this legislation is needed to protect the poor consumer. Yet behind closed doors, Wall Street analysts are admitting that this legislation is really about letting Dominion profit -- at ratepayers' expense?
But wait, there's more. Here's what UBS had to say about Dominion last month:
Many analysts on Wall Street think that the EPA bill signed last year may actually provide a tailwind for this top utility.
Those in Nelson, Augusta and other counties across the Commonwealth fighting Dominion's proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline are appalled the chair of the Commerce and Labor Committee, Senator John Watkins, would write this Resolution commending Domminion Power and take it to the Senate Floor for a vote [Lowell's note: where it passed by voice vote; same thing in ths House of Delegates], even after he heard the testimony of landowners regarding the aggressive, bullying tactics Dominion has used in its efforts to secure survey of private property against the will of landowners.
This is just another example of our elected officials bowing to Dominion, portraying Dominion as a good corporate citizen, while continually passing legislation benefitting those legislator's largest corporate contributor against the best interests of the citizens of the Commonwealth! Senator Watkins was very much in favor of the "Ratepayer Ripoff Bill" (SB 1349) which shields Dominion from reviews of its books, while thwarting legislation which would have repealed the survey law (SB 1338). Nelsonians couldn't be happier that Watkins is retiring!
SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 323
Offered February 3, 2015
Commending Dominion Resources, Inc.
Great job by Del. David Toscano in using House rules to kill this ridiculous, anti-environmental bill that would have required the General Assembly to approve of any state implementation of the EPA's Clean Power Plan. It's sad it has to come to parliamentary maneuvers, as this garbage should be defeated on its own (lack of) merits, but since that wasn't the case, thanks to Del. Toscano for killing it this way.
On the upside, policy is something we can change, at least in theory. Of course, the "powers that be" could decide not to change policy, but that won't help their pals at Dominion Power in the long run. For more on that, see David Roberts' superb article, Rooftop solar is just the beginning; utilities must innovate or go extinct. So, Dominion (and Virginia more broadly) has a stark choice: 1) continue to fight inevitable change, saddle Virginians with dirty energy for years to come, yet eventually see the entire business model collapse anyway (what Roberts calls the "death spiral"); or 2) adapt to a changing world, one in which even oil-rich Middle Eastern countries are moving heavily into solar power for purely economic reasons -- because its price is low and heading lower. It seems like an easy call to make, but as we saw just this morning, with the defeat of a Virginia renewable energy tax credit bill (by Del. Rip Sullivan) in a House of Delegates committee, there are a lot of politicians who still don't "get it."
Yesterday, Greentech Media (a must-read publication if you want to understand the world of energy) reported (from the DistribuTECH Power Transmission Conference in San Diego) that utility executives are increasingly realizing they need to adapt to the lightning-fast change occurring in their industry...or deny and resist it (and probably commit suicide by doing so). The former course of action is obviously the correct one, from the utilities' own long-term self-interest perspective, but that doesn't mean that all of them will "get it."
As Greentech Media points out: "The threat is real. According to new research from Accenture, utilities face $48 billion in revenue losses by 2025 due to customer-sited distributed energy technologies." Also note: "Michio Kaku, a renowned theoretical physicist, author and futurist, implored the audience to embrace technological innovation, or else get left behind."
In the case of Dominion Virginia Power, it appears that they are hell-bent on using their political clout (e.g., their bought-and-paid for state legislature and State Corporation Commission) to dig in their heels, resist change, and...eventually get run over by it. I'd almost say "good luck with THAT strategy," except in the meantime, they're hurting 8 million Virginians, the economy, the environment, you name it. So, instead, I'm hoping that Dominion's bought-and-paid for "allies" wake up and take a message of "tough love" to this arrogant (they seriously appear to think they're geniuses, but in fact they're close to the polar opposite), head-in-the-sand reactionary monopoly.
From the Virginia State Senate Democratic caucus...an excellent bill by Sen. Lynwood Lewis that most certainly should have become law (if it weren't for climate-science-denying, fossil-fuel-tool Republicans)!
Richmond, Va. – This afternoon, Senate Republicans axed Democrats’ final hope at gaining some traction on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in Virginia. RGGI is a multi-state, market-based approach that seeks to slow climate change by requiring power companies to pay when they pollute.
Sponsored by Senator Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomack),SJ 291 called for a study to be conducted into the possibility of Virginia joining RGGI and using any new revenues for flood resilience in coastal communities. The resolution failed on a near-party-line vote of 21-17. (Twenty-six votes were required for passage.)
The study was to be conducted by the professional, non-partisan staff at DEQ for the purpose of providing valuable information to legislators. As well as studying the potential impacts here in Virginia, the resolution also specifically called for an analysis of the experiences in other states.
"I am disappointed that some of my colleagues fail to see the benefit in even studying in a non-partisan way the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative's potential here in the Commonwealth," said Senator Lynwood Lewis. "This program has the potential to not only protect the delicate ecosystem on which the Commonwealth relies and ensure our long-term sustainability, but also to provide revenue that would help deal with imminent problems such as sea level rise in Hampton Roads. This study would have been a great first step in understanding what has the potential to be an accomplishment for the future of Virginia. We are not going to tackle climate change by turning a blind eye to the problem; we need to confront the problem head on."
Senator Donald McEachin (D-Henrico)introducedSB 1428earlier this session, which aimed to implement RGGI in Virginia. This measure was also voted down by Senate Republicans. “Our coastlines are vulnerable to the rise in sea levels that is coming,”said Senator McEachin. “We need to be pro-active because climate change is real and it is here to stay. It is our duty, as Virginia law-makers and policy-setters, to identify and implement legislation that will help us to combat the adverse effects of climate change. It is time to act, and I am disappointed that my Republican colleagues fail to see that.”
Earlier today, I received Sen. Dick Saslaw's (D-Dominion Virginia Power) report from "Week 4 of the 2015 General Assembly" (see the "flip" for the part dealing with energy). I was particularly interested in this bought-and-paid-for Dominion Power dude's take on Sen. Frank Wagner's SB1349 ("Electric utility regulation; suspension of reviews of earnings"), which passed the State Senate on Friday.
According to Saslaw, the whole thing was in "anticipation of" forthcoming EPA Clean Power Plan rules to reduce carbon pollution. Specifically, Saslaw claims that Dominion will be forced to "absorb $82 million in costs" from the "potential EPA regulations." That, of course, ignores the fact that energy efficiency (and increasing solar and wind power) is far cheaper than building/maintaining fossil-fuel-fired power plants and infrastructure (e.g., pipelines, transmission lines), let alone super-expensive nuclear power plants.
What does all this have to do with the environment and Sierra Club? The short answer is nothing whatsoever, except that Dominion had to come up with some justification to convince Virginia's legislators that it should pocket these overcharges, and it invented a real doozy of an excuse: Blame the Environmental Protection Agency.
Trading on legislators' fears that the EPA's Clean Power Plan will cost us an arm and a leg to reduce climate-changing carbon pollution, Dominion has told the legislature: Have we got a deal for you! If the legislature will just exempt Dominion from SCC scrutiny for the next six years, Dominion will eat all the costs associated with implementing EPA's Clean Power Plan.
The problem is that implementation of the Clean Power Plan may actually save us money on our bills if the state does it right and compels Dominion to invest in energy efficiency. Cutting energy waste, after all, saves money. Ordinarily, ratepayers would see the benefit in lower bills. But if Dominion succeeds in this rate freeze, it will rack up years of overcharges, unchecked by the SCC's oversight and authority to order refunds.
Besides allowing us to get ripped off by Dominion, if legislators go for this Dominion deal they won't even know how much it cost (or saved) to reduce carbon pollution over the next six years. Dominion's financials, its revenues and expenses, would be in a black box. Dominion might tell us how expensive it was to reduce carbon pollution, but no one could look at their books to confirm their accounting.
Kinda gives you a warm-and-fuzzy feeling, huh? Yeah, I know, more like you feel like you need a long, hot shower to wash away the rotten stench of corruption.
Anyway, the bottom line question is this: Who would you trust: a) the leader of a non-profit group (the Virginia Sierra Club) dedicated 100% to protecting our enviroment; or b) a State Senator who thinks ethics is a big joke, and who has received $240,508 from Dominion over the years, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars more from fossil fuel interests? I know, tough choice (snark).
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