In a hearing yesterday by the Alabama Public Service Commission on the state’s utility rate structure, two sources from AARP told commissioners and the gathered public that the organization doesn’t care about fuel sources. First, AARP’s lead rate expert, John Coffman, told commissioners that AARP is “fuel neutral.” Just minutes later, a member of AARP Alabama’s Executive Council, Dr. Jack Bradford, referred to the group’s “fuel neutrality,” explaining that AARP was ambivalent about the source of electricity.
Turns out that’s not true. In fact, that’s not even close to true.
Consider this past October, when AARP’s Sustainability Manager, Pam Evans, told the organization’s members that “cheap energy – in the form of coal – has brought us increased heart disease, cancer, asthma, learning disabilities, and neurological disorders in children.” That hardly sounds “fuel neutral.”
And who does AARP’s Sustainability Manager quote when explicitly blaming America’s coal-fired fleet for crippling our children? Not epidemiologists or doctors, but an environmental group that blames mercury for neurological problems in our kids. Keep in mind that EPA itself, in its findings to support its mammoth Utility MACT rule to address mercury from coal-fired power plants, refused to go that far. It’s telling that the same group cited by AARP fights to block construction of coal-fired plants and replace them with solar and wind power.
After providing a link to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, Evans concludes by admonishing AARP’s members, “…if we continue along the current picture of cheap energy over clean(er) energy, the price will continue to rise, and will be paid by our children, grandchildren and beyond.”
Compare these words to the language the Sierra Club uses when dancing on the graves of shuttered coal-fired plants: “With each coal plant that we retire, we are clearing the path for clean, renewable energy that doesn’t make our children sick…” Can you tell the difference between the Sierra Club’s rhetoric and AARP’s? We can’t.
Consider the remarks of Elaine Ryan, AARP’s Vice President of Government Relations, who said, “we want to see a a bill that reduces greenhouse emissions.” That was in 2009, when AARP joined a coalition of other interest groups to support sweeping climate legislation. The bill supported by AARP was “Cap and Trade” style legislation that would have taxed coal-fired power and other carbon-based energy sources, as a way of forcing utilities to invest in more alternative sources of power such as solar, wind, and biomass. That hardly sounds like fuel neutrality either.
Or consider the year prior, when AARP joined with the Sierra Club to fight for significant changes in electricity pricing rules in Ohio. After lawmakers in that state passed a law to add new standards for renewable energy, the AARP and Sierra Club teamed with other activists to make it more difficult for utilities to raise power prices, even as they were being forced to make new investments in renewable energy. The Columbus Dispatch explained that AARP recommended changes that “would strengthen the rules for renewable energy…” That certainly sounds like AARP is picking favorites, doesn’t it?
All of which makes the claims of “fuel neutrality” by Coffman and Bradford so shockingly brazen. Dr. Jack Bradford is a retired university administrator who has represented AARP as a spokesperson for years. Mr. Coffman is a paid expert who has directly represented AARP in rate cases in Missouri and Georgia, filed a brief in Florida on behalf of AARP, and has been offering testimony on behalf of the organization for months in Alabama. In short, it’s safe to say that both men know AARP – and the group’s anti-coal, pro-renewable positions – very well. Or at least they should.
The truth is that despite the sanitized version of AARP’s energy policy that its representatives chose to offer Alabama’s Public Service Commission yesterday, AARP’s actions in communities across America for years now offer a far uglier picture. Those actions depict an organization indistinguishable from the Sierra Club on the issue of fuel choice and ideologically committed to running America’s coal industry and the reliable, affordable power it supports into the ground.
As the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee prepares to hold a nomination hearing for potential new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, it is timely to look at the agency’s recent record. After all, McCarthy has helped shape EPA policy for the past four years as the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation.
In the past four years, EPA has either issued or proposed:
- Sixty-eight rules, constituting nearly 3,000 pages, of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) regulations, which the agency expects to cost between $300 billion and $400 billion annually.
- Greenhouse Gas New Source Performance Standards that effectively shut the door on new coal-fired power plants. In combination with other EPA anti-coal measures, the new standards will shut down an estimated 226 coal-fired power units nationwide, costing up to 250,000 jobs and taking critical baseload power off the grid in 30 states.
- Utility MACT and Boiler MACT rules that will cost industry tens of billions of dollars and endanger economic growth. These rules further endanger baseload capacity by targeting coal-fired power, and place undue burdens on manufacturers of all sizes by requiring costly boiler upgrades.
- New Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) that will cost as much as $90 billion annually depending on the threshold chosen by EPA.
- Cooling Water Intake Structure rules, estimated by the EPA to cost as much as $4.6 billion annually.
- New rules to govern Coal Ash treatment and storage, estimated by EPA to cost as much as $1.4 billion annually for the next 50 years.
Numerous other proposals and regulatory efforts by EPA have been struck down by the court as overreaching. Given her role in creating such a record at EPA, at the expense of job growth and the pocketbooks of power consumers, our nation’s lawmakers should use the nomination process to determine whether Ms. McCarthy plans to continue down the treacherous path EPA has chosen.
Lawmakers in states across the nation are thinking twice about policies that drive up the cost of power. In fact, according to a recent report, fourteen states with renewable energy mandates are currently considering legislation that repeal of significantly roll back provisions that require utilities to build or purchase more renewable power. An additional eight states considered such measures last year.
In North Carolina, for example, where renewable power sources and energy efficiency must meet a 12.5% standard by 2021, lawmakers are considering whether such a mandate makes sense anymore. Some critics have argued that North Carolina’s mandate could cost the state’s consumers hundreds of millions of dollars and close to 4,000 jobs. At least one of the state’s lawmakers agrees, offering the Affordable and Reliable Energy Act.
“What this bill does is try to soft land this business. To be competitive, you need to move off the taxpayer rolls,” says the bill’s sponsor, Representative Mike Hager, speaking of renewable power providers. “I see this as an entitlement program that is beginning to get its roots into our state. I see it as a regressive type tax.”
Meanwhile, in Washington state, a hotbed of environmentalism and the second state nationwide to adopt a renewable energy standard, critics are calling attention to the high cost of the measure. A study by the Washington Policy Center finds that the current law will cost power consumers in the state $1.22 billion by 2020, or about $170 per year per residential customer. Other consequences of Washington’s renewable power standard are as many as 11,885 jobs lost and more than a billion dollars in disposable income lost.
The U.S. is not alone, of course. While Germany is considered by many to be among the world’s leader in renewable power, the nation is scaling back subsidies for renewables in the wake of a backlash from voters and industry. According to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal, German consumers today pay a surcharge of about 7¢ per kilowatt-hour for renewable power, making up 14% of the nation’s total electric bill. Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing election in September, hopes that hitting the pause button on costly renewable power surcharges will placate voters who have seen their power bills skyrocket in the past decade.
Spain is taking a similar path, cutting subsidies to renewable power in an effort to soften the blow to ratepayers. The move will cut the cost to the Spanish electrical system by as much as €800 per year. Renewable power generators are, of course, not happy with the move, but Spanish consumers should be.
“I believe we’re reaching a point where the bill for aggressive environmental measures is starting to come due, in the form of higher power rates and restricted economic growth,” explains PACE Executive Director Lance Brown. “Someone has to pay the cost of renewable mandates, and those people vote.”
Launched last week as part of a new partnership between PACE and Generation America, a new ‘Power Petition’ is giving seniors a platform to make their voices heard on important energy issues. The petition simply states that conversations about the future of energy, especially about policies that could raise prices, must involve seniors.
View the Petition
“In the past, groups associated with older Americans haven’t always stepped up to the plate to fight against energy policies that would hurt seniors. In fact, they’ve even supported a version of cap-and-trade that would put a price on carbon emissions,” explains PACE Executive Director Lance Brown. “That’s why it is important to also have a conservative advocate like Generation America representing seniors and giving them a platform.”
In 2010, in fact, AARP supported a bill by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins that could have created a “cap-and-dividend” program, establishing an auction market for carbon dioxide and mandating reductions in national greenhouse gas emissions. The proposal did not pass. More recently, the organization has spoken out in favor of other controversial bills, such as the president’s national healthcare law, referred to by some as ‘Obamacare.’
Read AARP’s Letter Supporting Carbon Pricing
Only a week old, the Power Petition is already attracting widespread support. PACE encourages you to share the petition with seniors and those who support their cause.
On the steps of the Alabama State House this morning, PACE will launch a new program aimed at giving seniors an enhanced voice in energy policy discussions. The cornerstone of the program is a partnership with Generation, a national not-for-profit organization headquartered in Texas that serves as a conservative, common sense advocate for older Americans.
See the Official Press Release Here
“On both the state and national level, we see discussions on energy policy intensifying,” states PACE Executive Director Lance Brown. “As talks about energy policy continue, it is absolutely critical that the seniors of our state make their voices heard.”
In recent years, PACE has spoken out on proposals such as a national carbon tax, which the organization argues would have imposed heavy burdens on families and hurt industry by levying new costs. Generation America believes that such proposals would especially hurt seniors, as well.
“A great number of seniors in Alabama, and across this nation, live on fixed incomes. Many of them live in energy inefficient homes,” explains Generation America Regional Director of Advocacy Conwell Hooper. “This means that energy policies that raise the price of electricity hit seniors the hardest.”
As a cornerstone of the new partnership, PACE and Generation America have launched an online petition, available at www.PowerPetition.org. By signing, seniors and those who support the cause of seniors can send a clear message that energy policy talks must include the perspective of older Americans.
Click Here to Visit the Petition Website
PACE is proud to welcome the Tennessee Mining Association as its latest partner in the fight for sensible energy policy. The group becomes the 20th institutional partner to lend its support to PACE’s advocacy efforts.
Founded in 2009, the Tennessee Mining Association represents nearly seventy companies in mining-related industries across the state, advocating for the sensible utilization and promotion of the bountiful land and mineral resources of the state of Tennessee. The group’s members mine a wide variety of minerals in Tennessee, including coal, zinc, ball clay, aggregates, dimension stone, clay, and shale, sustaining about 100,000 jobs in the state. These products help support a number of sectors, including energy production.
“Mining is not only a vital part of our national economy, but a critical factor in producing affordable and highly reliable domestic energy,” explains Tennessee Mining Association President Chuck Laine. “PACE understands this, which is why we are proud to partner with them in their fight to advocate sensible national energy policy.”
In recent years, a combination of aggressive EPA regulation and low natural gas prices have threatened the diversity of America’s fuel mix in electricity production. PACE has written extensively about how, in the long term, an over-reliance on any one fuel source could lead to higher electricity prices and reduced reliability for consumers. Finding a sustainable balance of baseload sources electricity such as coal, natural gas, nuclear, while continuing to invest in other energy sources where they make sense, is key to achieving both affordability and reliability.
“We are pleased to add the Tennessee Mining Association to our ranks,” adds PACE Executive Director Lance Brown. “Their dedication to American energy and to mining jobs that support our nation’s industrial sector is a welcome addition to our already broad and diverse group of partners.”
Is the U.S. heading toward a carbon tax? There seems to be no clear answer to that question, although national leaders are starting to offer important clues.
In a written response to Senator Orrin Hatch, Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew noted, “The administration has not proposed a carbon tax, nor it is planning to do so.” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney offered the same answer in November. In other words, it certainly doesn’t look like a carbon tax proposal is coming from the executive branch anytime soon.
The same can’t be said of the legislative branch. More than a week before Lew’s comments, Senators Barbara Boxer (CA) and Bernie Sanders (VT) introduced a carbon tax bill that would place an initial fee of $20 on each ton of carbon emitted by nearly 3,000 fossil fuel facilities in the U.S. The fee would increase by nearly 6% annually over the next decade, generating $1.2 trillion in total revenue over that period. While the text of the bill is not yet available, Senator Sanders did release this summary.
For now, the Sanders-Boxer bill doesn’t seem likely to pass, and that’s probably a good thing according to a new report. On Tuesday, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) released findings that predict a carbon tax could cause a 15% drop in output among energy-intensive U.S. manufacturers. The study also found that worker wages could drop as much as 8.5% because of higher costs and lower labor productivity.
Read NAM’s Carbon Tax Report Here
NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons put it bluntly, stating, “Our nation’s economy and family budgets can’t take it. As consumers of one-third of our nation’s energy supply, manufacturers and our employees will struggle with higher energy prices. A carbon tax will severely harm our ability to compete with other nations.”
Recently, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley appointed PACE Executive Director Lance Brown as a member of his state’s National Governor’s Association Policy Academy on Enhancing Industry through Energy Efficiency & Combined Heat and Power. The committee members for the Academy will look at way’s to help Alabama industry achieve energy efficiency gains and make the best use of heat created in industrial processes. Alabama joins Arkansas, Illinois, and Iowa as the four states chosen to participate in the Policy Academy.
Read about the NGA Policy Academy Here
“Governor Bentley has rightfully identified industrial energy efficiency and combined heat and power as areas of high priority in energy policy,” Brown remarks. “PACE is honored to serve on this committee and hopeful that we can offer the governor recommendations that make a difference.”
The eleven-member committee is comprised of a diverse group of voices, including four who represent PACE partners: Anita Archie of the Business Council of Alabama, George Clark of Manufacture Alabama, Rosemary Elebash of the National Federation of Independent Business, and Sean Strickler of the Alabama Rural Electric Association.
After formulating potential recommendations, the committee will travel to Philadelphia, PA, next week to join other states participating in the Policy Academy. The meeting will give states an opportunity to brainstorm with other states, hear from subject matter experts in this area, and hold further internal meetings. Alabama’s committee is expected to offer recommendations to the governor this Spring.
In recent weeks, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) quietly announced new plans for the treatment of used fuel from the nation’s nuclear power fleet. Key to the plan is the proposed construction of a pilot disposal site for used nuclear fuel by 2021. Following that phase, DOE plans to authorize a permanent geologic site, similar to the abandoned site at Yucca Mountain, by 2048.
See the DOE’s Plan Here
“American energy consumers deserve answers from the Department of Energy on how our nation stores spent nuclear fuel, especially after DOE spent billions of their dollars on lawsuits rather than finalizing a solution at Yucca Mountain,” noted PACE Executive Director Lance Brown. “It’s time to get politics out of the process and do what’s necessary.”
Today, more than 68,000 metric tons of heavy metal (MTHM) of used nuclear fuel are stored at 72 nuclear facilities around the United States. Continued nuclear power production contributes about 2,000 MTHM of spent nuclear fuel each year. While the DOE report addresses long-term storage for those materials, the report does address other options such as recycling of spent nuclear fuel. France, for example, recycles its spent nuclear fuel, extracting additional energy from the material and reducing storage burdens.
DOE expects to have a site identified for the permanent storage site by 2026, with the repository designed and licensed by 2042.
In an email sent on Tuesday, January 29th, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) announced the delay of three meetings scheduled for next week to receive stakeholder input regarding a State Energy Plan. The meetings were to occur in Decatur, Birmingham, and Montgomery from 8:30 AM to Noon on February 5th, 6th, and 7th. PACE has been following these developments closely and issued the following statement to the media on Tuesday afternoon.
“It was clear from the beginning that this process was never intended to hear from real electricity stakeholders in Alabama, but rather from a select group of environmental interests,” says PACE Executive Director Lance Brown. “Fortunately, Governor Bentley’s administration took the appropriate steps to delay these meetings before a handful of people hijacked them.”
Late in 2012, ADECA contracted with an out-of-state consulting firm, Baker Tilly, to develop the state’s energy plan with input from stakeholders. Baker Tilly, which is eligible to receive as much as $100,000 under the contract, describes itself on a company website as specializing in renewable energy.
“I think most Alabamians would be surprised to learn that we’ve turned over the keys to a state energy plan to a company headquartered in Chicago and without a single office in the Southeast,” says Brown. “And on top of that, this is a firm in the business of advising renewable energy clients. It’s biased from the outset.”
Other flaws became apparent early in the process. For example, registration information for the three stakeholder meetings appeared on a Baker Tilly website, but listed no registration deadline. Meanwhile, the Alabama Environmental Council sent a number of emails to members and affiliates with a deadline date of January 28th. It is unclear how the Alabama Environmental Council became privy to information that was never available to the general public.
The meetings themselves also posed challenges to stakeholders. Not only were the meetings scheduled during the work day, when working people are least able to participate, but there was no meeting scheduled for the southern part of Alabama. The meetings also threatened to violate the Open Meetings Act, because of the likely participation of various members of Legislative Subcommittees on Energy, constituting a quorum. No advance notice was posted for public view and no agenda was provided prior to the meetings.
“Alabama now has a chance to develop its state energy plan the right way, instead of suppressing the voices of everyday electricity consumers,” explained Brown. “We applaud the Bentley Administration for identifying these gross oversights, and hope that future plans for meetings demonstrate the kind of inclusiveness and diversity that Alabamians deserve.”