SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. Turning the Tide on the Offshore Drilling Threat
Drilling off the Atlantic coast is too costly for communities
For the first time in over 30 years, the federal government has proposed offering leases to companies for offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast. The proposed lease areas lie directly off of the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and the leases may be sold in 2021, with drilling happening thereafter. The proposal comes just a few months after the federal government’s decision to allow exploration for oil & gas off the Atlantic coast using highly detrimental seismic airgun surveys.
SACE is opposed to offshore drilling and exploration in the Atlantic, especially as clean, renewable energy such as solar and wind become ever more economical for the Southeast. Recent SACE blogs have detailed the good prices available on both solar and wind. Furthermore, the cost of onshore natural gas is low, which will make offshore drilling relatively expensive and potentially nonviable for years to come.
We believe that offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast is too risky to be of benefit to our communities.
In the coastal Southeast, our economy relies on clean, healthy beaches, marshes, and fisheries. These assets are what draw people to live here, vacation here, and drive our high quality of life. Hundreds of thousands of Southeasterners work in the tourism and fishing industries, which generate billions of dollars per year and are anchored by the presence of a clean, beautiful environment. Jeopardizing these critical, established industries for high-risk offshore drilling would be a grave mistake and a disservice to our communities.
And it’s not just the threat of a catastrophic spill like the Deepwater Horizon that would threaten our coast, but it’s more likely to be the everyday impacts that are intrinsic with the offshore drilling industry. Looking to the Gulf, we see that the offshore drilling industry has had the effect of industrializing large stretches of the coast with pipelines and refineries, while thousands of small spills take place every year with a big cumulative impact. Meanwhile their wetlands are eroding at a rate of a football field’s worth of wetlands every 45 minutes, due in large part to the canals used for pipelines and vessel traffic.
We find these risks unacceptable for our coast and have been working in coalition with many partners since 2010 to prevent the expansion of offshore drilling to the Atlantic. We have helped galvanize local opposition to offshore drilling, evidenced by the 52 Mid- and South Atlantic communities that have passed resolutions opposing oil & gas exploration and/or drilling, newspaper editorial boards writing in opposition, and bipartisan opposition from state legislators and Congressmen.
While public opinion is predominately in opposition to offshore drilling in the Atlantic, convincing the oil industry and the federal government to back off is a tall order, so we need to keep the pressure up. There will be a few comment periods over the next 18 months in which you will be able to voice your opinions. We encourage you to stay tuned to SACE’s newsletter, email blasts, and blog to be kept abreast of developments. More immediately, a significant way you can help protect our coast is to participate in the annual Hands Across the Sand day of action next Saturday, May 16.
Hands Across the Sand is an international event in which communities all over the world gather at their local beach to symbolically protect their beach from the impacts of offshore drilling. Participants join hands in a line as long as possible, drawing a physical and metaphorical line in the sand as a sign of protecting their beach from the impacts of offshore drilling. Dozens of Hands events are taking place throughout the Southeast. You can find your local event at http://handsacrossthesand.org. SACE is proud to have been an original sponsor of Hands Across the Sand when it started in 2010, and has served on the steering committee since 2012.
On April 15, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved HR 1734—a bill that guts coal ash protections for communities and drinking water (32-19). Their move comes just days after EPA finally published its first-ever minimum federal requirements for the disposal and storage of toxic coal ash in the Federal Register. HR 1734 could go to a full House vote this month.
After the disasters at Kingston and Dan River and following years of organizing and advocacy by communities across the Southeast, we’ve finally won some basic protections for our communities and waterways in the new EPA rule, though they won’t even go into effect until October 2015. These small, but hard-won victories could go out the window if this bill passes. That’s why it’s urgent to tell your members of Congress to oppose HR 1734 and any other attempt to undermine or delay EPA’s rule, and to protect communities and the water resources we all depend on.
This isn’t the first time members of Congress have tried to undermine meaningful regulation of this toxic waste stream. Compared to the requirements of EPA’s rule, this bill is practically an industry handout. If passed in its current form, HR 1734 would:
• ELIMINATE the rule’s ban on storing and dumping coal ash in drinking water;
• REMOVE the rule’s national standard for drinking water protection and cleanup of coal ash-contaminated sites;
• DELAY the rule’s new health and safety protections – potentially for up to 10 years;
• WEAKEN the rule’s mandate to close inactive (contaminated and abandoned) ponds
• ELIMINATE the rule’s guarantee of public access to information and public participation;
• REMOVE the rule’s national minimum standard for protection of health and the environment and allow state programs to eliminate critical safety requirements;
• PROHIBIT effective federal oversight of state programs; and
• PROHIBIT EPA enforcement of state program requirements unless invited by a state.
While some members of Congress work diligently to undermine our basic coal ash protections, many of the Southeast’s 450 coal ash impoundments remain unlined, located close to waterways, and leaking.
Members of Congress need to understand that HR 1734 is an attempt to gut EPA’s basic coal ash protections. If passed, the bill will likely make communities and waterways across our region more vulnerable to disasters and the toxic consequences of improper storage and handling of coal ash. Please tell your members of Congress to oppose HR 1734 today.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently issued the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Florida Power & Light’s licensing application to potentially build two costly, water-intensive new nuclear reactors at their existing Turkey Point plant in Miami-Dade County, about 25 miles south of Miami and is seeking public comment. Despite many serious problems with this proposal, the draft EIS recommends license approval.
In April, the NRC held three well-attended public hearings, one in Miami the day President Obama visited the Everglades to discuss climate change, and two in Homestead. SACE’s George Cavros presented compelling comments in Miami in which several local mayors state and elected officials, community leaders and others voiced opposition to the licensing of the reactors.
If approved, the two reactors, which may operate for 60 or more years, would make Turkey Point one of the largest nuclear plants in the country, would require using massive amounts of water and degrade water quality, threaten the drinking water supply, and jeopardize critical wildlife habitat for neighboring Biscayne National Park and ongoing Everglades restoration efforts.
As SACE highlighted at the hearing, there is no need for the proposed reactors. They have been delayed several times and the in-service date pushed back at least ten years and FPL has not even committed to actually completing the project.
Moreover, the NRC’s reliance on Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) orders and the state’s utility resource planning process is badly misplaced.
There are far better energy choices for Florida and our region. Energy efficiency is the lowest cost resource in meeting electricity demand at an investment of less than 3 cents per kWh, a fraction of the levelized cost of the proposed reactors, which is over 15 cents per kWh.
FPL’s past efforts in helping customers reduce energy use and save money on their bills has been abysmal but even at those low-level goals, if FPL continued the conservation programs it had in place in 2013, it would have captured 70% of what it now claims it needs in the 2027/28 timeframe from the proposed reactors.
Unfortunately, FPL’s forthcoming efforts over the next ten years to help customers reduce energy use and save money on their bills is simply a national embarrassment. The PSC recently approved the Company’s request to gut its conservation goals. If FPL were a state, it would rank almost at the bottom – behind Alabama and Mississippi in energy savings for customers.
This is likely the last opportunity before a final EIS is issued for this project that, if built, will impact surrounding communities and Floridians’ utility bills. These reactors are not the answer to Florida’s energy needs. In the face of climate change, clean, safe, and affordable renewable energy along with energy efficiency and conservation will not endanger our health, environment, or future.
View our talking points on clean energy solutions and visit our website. For information from the NRC, click here. Please send in your comments opposing the approval of the combined operating license and supporting for the “No Action Alternative” by May 22 to TurkeyPoint.COLEIS@nrc.gov.
One important service we try to provide to our members, supporters, and the news media that follow clean energy issues in our region is information on who is trying to move our country forward on energy policy and who is being paid to hold us back. Many monopoly utilities and fossil fuel companies have a financial interest in blocking the progress of cleaner energy sources and will go to great lengths to mislead citizens, much the same way tobacco interests mislead people about the dangers of cigarettes. In the coming months we will attempt to document some of these corporate pawns who are masquerading as protectors of consumer interest.
The Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) is the public face of a complex network of public relations firms employed by fossil fuel and utility interests, and front groups with a history of pretending to support the interests of consumers. In particular, they have purported to represent African Americans, yet they do not support policies that serve those communities. PACE has been active in Alabama for several years, and is branching out into Georgia and Florida, where its newest employee Abigail McIver (formerly of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity) has been passing out anti-solar literature to legislators.
PACE, specifically its director Lance Brown, and consultant Charles Steele, participated vociferously in the informal hearings in 2013 to review Alabama Power’s rate-setting mechanism, where they advocated for continuing the current mechanism that allows Alabama Power to earn a profit about 40% higher than the industry standard with almost no transparency. This position alone should call into question the accuracy of the group’s claims to represent consumers on energy issues.
PACE is a partner with the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), a national-level lobbying organization that is funded by and advocates for utility and fossil fuel interests. Grist’s Brentin Mock dressed down the CEA for its disingenuous efforts attacking net metering for solar power producers in Wisconsin and exposed the fossil, utility, and tobacco connections of its leaders. CEA’s Florida President, Kevin Doyle, is also no friend to clean energy, editorializing against the Clean Power Plan in June 2014. Doyle was also the Florida registered agent and is currently a strategic partner with HBW Resources, the Washington, DC-based PR firm that appears to guide CEA. DeSmogBlog published an article connecting CEA, HBW Resources, and the push to keep the US hooked on Alberta tar sands oil via the Keystone XL Pipeline.
PACE is funded primarily by shadowy pass-through groups Partnership for Alabama Leadership (PAL) and Vote Alabama. The head of PAL, Mike Fields, is on retainer as a consultant with Alabama Power and has been paid between $10-50,000 annually for the past several years. Comparisons of funds received by PACE compared to the amounts donated to them by PAL and Vote Alabama were first traced by investigative reporter Eddie Curran:
- 2010: Of $271,000 PACE raised, $95,000 was from PAL, and $150,000 from Vote Alabama. Amount of PACE funding for which sources are not known: $26,000
- 2011: Of $419,768 PACE raised, $135,000 was from PAL; and $165,000 from Vote Alabama. Amount of PACE funding for which sources are not known: $119,768
- 2012: Of $333,378 PACE raised, $95,000 was from PAL and $135,000 from Vote Alabama. Amount of PACE funding for which sources are not known: $102,878
- 2013: Of $654,500 PACE raised, $315,000 was from PAL, and $229,000 from Vote Alabama. Amount of PACE funding for which sources not known: $100,500
These pass-through groups do not have to publicize where they get their money, but if another non-profit group had donated to them, it would have to disclose such a donation on its IRS Form 990. Our search of 990 forms found no such disclosure.
PACE is also linked very directly to Matrix, a PR firm with well-established ties to Alabama Power and a reputation around the Alabama state capitol as the go-to “opposition research” firm for digging up dirt to attack anyone who’s not on their side. Alabama Power openly acknowledges it is a longtime Matrix client. AL.com reported in 2011 that “Power company spokesman Michael Sznajderman said Friday his company seeks strategy and policy advice from Matrix, and has paid them for a long time. He would not say how much Matrix is paid.” Alabama Power Vice President for Regulatory and Corporate Affairs Nick Sellers is a former Matrix employee.
PACE director Lance Brown is intimately related to Matrix, which paid his salary in 2009, a time when he was already serving as director of PACE, according to his public divorce filing. According to IRS 990 records, PACE did not pay him at all in 2009 or 2010, suggesting his salary may have been paid by Matrix in 2010 as well. Matrix founder and CEO Joe Perkins is such a close friend that he officiated at Brown’s 2012 wedding.
Brown has also appeared in several Matrix videos as an actor, videos that have nothing to do with PACE. In fact, PACE employs the same video editing company, Gale Force Productions, as Matrix and many other groups affiliated with Alabama Power. Ronda Walker, now a Montgomery County Commissioner, worked for Matrix at the time she joined PACE’s founding board of directors (she remains on PACE’s board).
In order to give the appearance of African American support for its anti-clean energy positions, PACE paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader Charles Steele. Steele spoke out in favor of Alabama Power at 2013 informal rate hearings and has appeared in videos created by PACE. While Steele is a well-respected civil rights leader, we are concerned that his position on energy issues may be compromised by the large donations he accepts from this utility front group.
Additional evidence of the close connection between Alabama Power, PACE, and Steel lies in the fact that a lawyer from Balch & Bingham, Alabama Power’s legal partner, incorporated both PACE and another now-defunct group founded by Brown and Steele together.
PACE is branching out into other states, particularly where solar energy is a hot topic. Lance Brown appeared at a rally in Georgia supporting Americans for Prosperity’s (AFP) position against solar energy, which was ultimately defeated by other conservatives who unanimously passed a bill allowing third-party sales of solar energy which awaits the governor’s signature. AFP’s claims about solar in Florida earned a “pants on fire” rating from Politifact.
As PACE and AFP seem to be joining forces in Florida, their anti-solar propaganda needs to be taken for what it is: misleading, deceptive and outright lies from groups funded by polluters to protect the entrenched fossil fuels industries.