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Opinion: Don’t let ghosts of Enron haunt us again

SEPTEMBER 24, 2016 5:31 AM



Special to The Bee

Bill Julian was legislative director for the California Public Utilities Commission during the energy crisis,

Remember Enron, rolling blackouts and double-digit electricity rate increases? How could we forget so soon.

California embarked on a momentous and catastrophic experiment to deregulate its electrical system 20 years ago this month. We are still paying the price.

The Legislature passed AB 1890 authored by then-Assemblyman Jim Brulte and co-authored by 45 members of the Assembly and 25 senators, and sent it on to Gov. Pete Wilson. There was not a single dissenting vote. Wilson signed the measure on Sept. 24, 1996.

In hindsight, deregulation was an open invitation for abuse of retail consumers, you and me. The integrated electric grid – engineered to provide reliable electric service using strategically located power plants – was dismantled, or, in the advocates’ jargon, unbundled.

Regulators compelled utilities to turn over control of the transmission grids to a new untested organization, the Independent System Operator, operated by a stakeholder board dominated by wholesale sellers.

Utilities had to sell generating plants to third-party marketeers and purchase electricity for consumers from a new untested wholesale “market” created by the legislation, the Power Exchange.

Electricity sellers bought the utilities’ power plants because they understood that they were buying market power, and could employ various strategies to create the appearance of shortages to justify high prices. The California Independent System Operator was clueless back then.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission loosely regulated energy marketeers, abrogating the obligations to the end users, you and me.

It fell apart in June 2000, when retail rates in San Diego tripled. Enron and others were manipulating the wholesale market, withholding energy and price gouging.

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Climate change law has reshaped California in 10 years

By David R. Baker September 24, 2016 Updated: September 24, 2016 8:55pm

Just past noon on a broiling Central Valley day, the strain on California’s electrical grid is rising with the temperature.

Inside the control room that runs the grid, on the outskirts of Folsom, a yellow line on a glowing wall of data squiggles steadily higher, then hits a stable plateau. It marks the amount of renewable electricity surging onto the system as the fierce sun fires up solar power plants scattered across the state.

More than 27 percent of California’s demand for electricity at this moment is being met by renewable sources — primarily the sun, the wind and the Earth’s own heat.

Just a few short years ago, that would have been considered astonishing. Now it happens on a regular basis. Next summer, the percentage will be even higher. State law requires that California get 33 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020 and 50 percent 10 years later.

“It’s remarkable what we can do,” says Eric Schmitt, vice president of operations for the California Independent System Operator, as engineers immersed in the control room’s data screens monitor grid conditions. “Think about it — we’re sitting here right now, and there’s 7,000-plus megawatts of solar on our system. That’s eight nuclear reactors’ worth of electricity on our system — just from solar.”

Tuesday will mark 10 years since then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger committed California to stopping climate change.

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Don’t forsake poor people in climate change fight

SEPTEMBER 23, 2016 5:31 AM



Special to The Bee

Rachel Morello-Frosch is a professor of environmental health science at UC Berkeley, (, and Manuel Pastor is a professor of sociology at USC,

California’s cap-and-trade program has been key to the state’s strategy for achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, a good and noble undertaking. But it may be falling short on helping poor people who live in areas where factories spew pollutants.

Under the program, refineries, cement plants and electricity generators, among others, are required to have an allowance for every ton of greenhouse gas they emit.

These allowances are bought and sold on the carbon market, which means that companies can meet their emissions reduction targets by paying for others to cut back on pollution.

The rationale for cap and trade has been that this is a more economically efficient way to achieve greenhouse gas reductions. Environmental justice advocates agree that a reduction in greenhouse gas anywhere is positive for the planet.

However, they have raised concerns that such a system – by allowing facilities to pay for emissions reductions elsewhere, including outside California – will forgo local reductions in co-pollutants, such as particulates and other toxics that more directly impact disadvantaged communities.

A careful appraisal of the first few years of the cap-and-trade program suggests that such worries may be well-founded.

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Probe into Brown’s ties to PUC, PG&E, and other utilities begins


Bay Area News Group / Michael Malone Gov. Jerry Brown, in a meeting with the Bay Area News Group editorial board in August 2014, strongly praised controversial former PUC President Michael Peevey


PUBLISHED: September 23, 2016 at 6:03 pm | UPDATED: September 24, 2016 at 4:25 am

The state’s Fair Political Practices has launched a formal probe into allegations of corruption and a cozy tangle of close ties involving Gov. Jerry Brown and his top aides, the scandal-scarred state Public Utilities Commission and power behemoths such as PG&E and Southern California Edison, the FPPC disclosed Friday.

“The Enforcement Division of the Fair Political Practices Commission will investigate the California Democratic Party for alleged violations,” the FPPC wrote in a letter, dated Friday, to Consumer Watchdog, a group that has published an extensive report entitled ‘Brown’s Dirty Hands’ that investigated what the group claims is a web of connections and influence involving state officials, government regulators and California’s biggest utilities.

Word of the investigation raises questions about Gov. Brown’s connection to what is now a well-documented set of cozy arrangements between the PUC and big utilities, and comes amid allegations that the PUC’s lazy oversight of the state’s power companies, a culture of lax supervision that federal investigators have concluded contributed to a fatal explosion in San Bruno in 2010.

“We are pleased that the FPPC has launched an investigation into the troubling pattern of contributions to the California Democratic Party by oil, utility and energy companies uncovered in ‘Brown’s Dirty Hands,’” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “Political parties shouldn’t be used as laundry machines for money from unpopular companies or for campaign contributions in excess of candidate-permitted limits.”

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FPPC probes state Democratic Party for donations to Jerry Brown

By Melody Gutierrez Updated 7:20 pm, Friday, September 23, 2016

  1. pastedGraphic.pdfSACRAMENTO — The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating allegations that the California Democratic Party funneled more than $4 million in political donations from oil and energy companies into the most recent gubernatorial campaigns of Gov. Jerry Brown.

The commission notified Consumer Watchdog that it is investigating some of the allegations from Consumer Watchdog’s report released last month titled “Brown’s Dirty Hands.” That report noted that between 2011 and 2014, energy companies donated $4.4 million to the state Democratic Party, and the party then gave $4.7 million to Brown’s re-election campaigns.

The Consumer Watchdog report said that “fossil fuel-reliant” companies made their contributions as the governor was engaged in a public campaign to combat climate change.

Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court said those contributions, from companies including Chevron, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., and Occidental Petroleum Corp., appeared to flow from the party to Brown’s campaign in almost equal amounts, sometimes in close proximity.

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Political watchdog launches probe into California Democratic Party over Jerry Brown donations


The state’s political ethics commission is launching an investigation into the California Democratic Party after an advocacy group alleged the party acted as a middleman to funnel donations from oil and energy companies to Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2014 re-election campaign.

The Fair Political Practices Commission informed Consumer Watchdog of its investigation of the group’s allegations Friday. The group issued a report in August alleging that energy companies donated $4.4 million to the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party gave $4.7 million to Brown’s re-election between 2011 and 2014.

Consumer Watchdog said many of the donations were timed around important decisions related to the industry.

“Hopefully this will shed some light on what looks like a backdoor laundry machine for energy company contributions and probably extends beyond the energy industry,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.

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Drilling through danger

In a 12-year span, an oil and gas worker died once every three months on average in Colorado, victims of a system focused more on protecting the industry than its employees.


Sharon Hill hugs her late husband’s muddy boots. The company returned Shane Hill’s gear the day after he was killed in a drilling accident. “It seems like they didn’t care when they dropped off the truck.”


Regulatory vacuum in oil and gas production compounds the inherent risks of drilling


By Monte Whaley and John Ingold

The temperature dipped to 14 below zero, but the oil and gas industry does not take a day off, so neither did Matt Smith.

A high-pressure water line at his Weld County worksite had frozen solid in the cold, and Smith and his co-workers for energy giant Halliburton Co. took a blowtorch to thaw it. Suddenly, the line exploded, spraying water at more than 20 times the pressure of a fire hose.

Two co-workers were seriously injured and raced to a hospital. Smith — the right side of his face torn apart by the blast — was killed.

Smith’s death, in November 2014, was among the most recent of at least 51 fatalities since 2003 in Colorado’s oil and gas fields, according to federal data. And what happened next was typical of a system that falls short of consistently protecting workers and fails to hold companies strictly accountable.

Inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the incident and levied against Halliburton a $7,000 fine, which the multibillion-dollar company initially fought before agreeing to pay. Halliburton and the worksite’s operator failed to file a required report to state oil and gas officials, who, regardless, are powerless to regulate worker safety on the sites they oversee and don’t inform OSHA of safety problems. Smith’s family, blocked by workers’ compensation laws that protect employers even when they are at fault for an employee’s death, could not sue for punitive damages.

And another worker was laid to rest from an industry that, in good years, directly employs more than 35,000 people and generates more than $15 billion worth of production in Colorado but receives less scrutiny from workplace-safety inspectors than roofers and homebuilders.

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Downturn shifts to pipeline companies

Posted by David Hunn Date: September 22, 2016


    Two activist investors who have prodded the Williams Companies for nearly three years to improve shareholder returns sent letters to the pipeline company’s board on Friday explaining why they had quit the board and vowing to continue their dissident battle from the outside. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

    Oil and gas executives think the industry downturn is on its way out for producers and drillers, but, perhaps, getting worse for pipeline companies.

    Almost two-thirds of the industry professionals contacted in consulting firm Deloitte’s annual oil and gas survey said the recovery has already begun, or will next year, the firm said on Thursday. Companies are still focused on cutting costs. But executives expect oil prices to rise, capital expenditures to increase and hiring to rebound over the next year.

    “If last year was the year of hard decisions, 2017 will be the slow road back,” said John England, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and U.S. and Americas oil and gas leader.

    At the same time, survey respondents thought the downturn was moving to pipeline companies.

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    The electric cars available today, how much they cost, and how far they go — in one chart

    Updated by David Roberts @drvox Sep 23, 2016, 8:30a

    So you want an electric car. You’re not alone — surveys show that consumer interest in EVs is steadily rising. People are slowly becoming convinced that EVs are real, not some distant techno-future.

    But consumers are also confused. There’s a lot of hype and misinformation floating around about EVs.

    I thought it would be helpful to share this simple chart, from the folks over at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It shows the battery electric vehicles, or BEVs (not hybrids or plug-in hybrids) currently available and coming soon, how much they cost, and how far they can go on a charge.


    <img src="" alt="EVs on the market">


    The cars in black text are the currently available models; green text is forthcoming models about which specific details have been released; blue text is models that have been announced, but no details yet made available. Range numbers are based on manufacturers’ estimates, not any kind of road testing, so take them with a grain of salt.

    A few things to note about this:

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    Will San Luis Obispo County follow the lead of Benicia and ban oil trains, or capitulate to Phillips 66?


    September 24, 2016, 2:25 p.m.

    There were a couple of light moments Thursday at the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission’s interminable, inconclusive public hearing about whether it should allow the fossil fuel giant Phillips 66 to send crude-oil trains across California to its Santa Maria Refinery.

    A local named Gary, one of only four citizens to express support for the project, took the microphone and announced, “Anybody opposed to something because it’s dangerous is my definition of a coward.” As he walked away, the audience, packed with oil train opponents, howled.

    “My name is Sherry Lewis,” said the next speaker, “and I come from Cowards Anonymous.”

    After several hearings, reams of public comment and a few concessions by Phillips 66, commissioners were finally supposed to put the matter to a vote this week.

    Would they approve the construction of a new rail spur and oil transfer operation that would give Phillips the ability to send three new crude-oil trains through California each week, or would they defy their staff, who recommended denial because the project would have significant negative effects, particularly to air quality and sensitive habitats?

    Would they disregard their pleading constituents, and the letters that have poured in from cities, teachers and boards of supervisors from San Francisco to Los Angeles asking commissioners to deny the project because those mile-long oil trains bring increased risk to every California community along Union Pacific tracks?

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    Bullet train route across Big Tujunga Wash meets growing opposition



    Tujunga Wash in the northeast San Fernando Valley, where the California High Speed Rail Authority may build a long viaduct.


    September 25, 2016, 10:45 a.m.

    The Big Tujunga Wash, among Southern California’s most powerful and least developed rivers,  is at ground zero of a growing political battle over the route the California bullet train would take as it enters the Los Angeles basin.

    The wash carries more than 5 billion gallons per year along a section that has endangered species, protected habitat, parks and equestrian trails. In big winter storms, giant boulders roll down the river bed, attracting  spectators to its banks.

    It is here — at the junction of Shadow Hills, Lake View Terrace and other small enclaves of the northeast San Fernando Valley — that the California High Speed Rail Authority may build a quarter-mile-long elevated viaduct, allowing trains to exit a long tunnel through the San Gabriel Mountains as they head toward a future station in Burbank.

    But the plan is attracting growing scrutiny by government boards and local citizen groups, who are urging the state to eliminate the route from consideration and instead continue developing an alternative plan that would have the trains approach Burbank in a continuous long tunnel.

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    Farmers say, ‘No apologies,’ as well drilling hits record levels in San Joaquin Valley

    SEPTEMBER 25, 2016 4:00 AM


    San Joaquin Valley farmers keep drilling, even as groundwater limits loom 3:49


    1 of 6

    Two years after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill designed to limit groundwater pumping, new wells are going in faster and deeper than ever in the San Joaquin Valley farm belt. Farmers say they have no choice given cuts in surface water deliveries. But the drilling has exacted a substantial human cost in some of California’s poorest rural communities. Ryan Sabalow The Sacramento Bee



    Drive through rural Tulare County and you’ll hear it soon enough, a roar from one of the hundreds of agricultural pumps pulling water from beneath the soil to keep the nut and fruit orchards and vast fields of corn and alfalfa lush and green under the scorching San Joaquin Valley sun.

    Well water is keeping agriculture alive in Tulare County – and much of the rest of the San Joaquin Valley – through five years of California’s historic drought. Largely cut off from the supplies normally delivered via canals by the federal and state water projects, farmers have been drilling hundreds of feet into the ground to bring up the water they need to turn a profit.

    Two years after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill designed to limit groundwater pumping, new wells are going in faster and deeper than ever. Farmers dug about 2,500 wells in the San Joaquin Valley last year alone, the highest number on record. That was five times the annual average for the previous 30 years, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of state and local data.

    WELLS DUG IN 2015

    New irrigation wells by county:

    Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

    Kern   904

    Tulare  627

    Fresno  304

    Merced  167

    Kings  160

    Madera  160

    Stanislaus 156

    Source: California Department of Water Resources (Get the data)

    The new groundwater law won’t kick in until 2020, and won’t become fully implemented for another 20 years. In the meantime, farmers say they will continuing drilling and pumping. It’s their right, they say, and their only practical choice given the government’s limited surface water deliveries.

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    Filed under: Water Comments Off

    FORUM: Why the Arabs don’t want us in Syria

    They don’t hate ‘our freedoms.’ They hate that we’ve betrayed our ideals in their own countries — for oil.

    By ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR 2/23/16, 8:50 AM CET Updated 9/16/16, 10:12 AM CET

    This article has been updated to identify Robert Kennedy as U.S. Attorney General.

    Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is the president of Waterkeeper Alliance. His newest book is Thimerosal: Let The Science Speak.

    In part because my father was murdered by an Arab, I’ve made an effort to understand the impact of U.S. policy in the Mideast and particularly the factors that sometimes motivate bloodthirsty responses from the Islamic world against our country. As we focus on the rise of the Islamic State and search for the source of the savagery that took so many innocent lives in Paris and San Bernardino, we might want to look beyond the convenient explanations of religion and ideology. Instead we should examine the more complex rationales of history and oil — and how they often point the finger of blame back at our own shores.

    America’s unsavory record of violent interventions in Syria — little-known to the American people yet well-known to Syrians — sowed fertile ground for the violent Islamic jihadism that now complicates any effective response by our government to address the challenge of ISIL. So long as the American public and policymakers are unaware of this past, further interventions are likely only to compound the crisis. Secretary of State John Kerry this week announced a “provisional” ceasefire in Syria. But since U.S. leverage and prestige within Syria is minimal — and the ceasefire doesn’t include key combatants such as Islamic State and al Nusra — it’s bound to be a shaky truce at best. Similarly President Obama’s stepped-up military intervention in Libya — U.S. airstrikes targeted an Islamic State training camp last week — is likely to strengthen rather than weaken the radicals. As the New York Times reported in a December 8, 2015, front-page story, Islamic State political leaders and strategic planners are working to provoke an American military intervention. They know from experience this will flood their ranks with volunteer fighters, drown the voices of moderation and unify the Islamic world against America.

    To understand this dynamic, we need to look at history from the Syrians’ perspective and particularly the seeds of the current conflict. Long before our 2003 occupation of Iraq triggered the Sunni uprising that has now morphed into the Islamic State, the CIA had nurtured violent jihadism as a Cold War weapon and freighted U.S./Syrian relationships with toxic baggage.

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    From climate change to jihad: U.S. recognizes security importance of battling global warming

    SUNDAY, SEP 25, 2016 02:59 AM PDT

    For national security, the U.S. needs to look at the environment



    This article originally appeared on Climate Central.

    On Wednesday, President Obama took another step toward securing his climate legacy. This time his focus wasn’t on energy, public lands or international diplomacy. It was on national security and making sure the U.S. military is prepared for a more unstable future.

    The White House published a presidential memorandum setting up a timetable for more than 20 federal agencies to come up with a plan to put climate science into action when it comes to national security.

    “It’s not a new direction, but it is reinforcing and formalizing a direction in which the U.S. government was already headed,” Sherri Goodman, a fellow at the nonpartisan Wilson Center, said. “That’s how you turn concepts into action in the government. You have to have plans to get agencies to act.”

    Accompanying the memo was a report from National Intelligence Council outlining what some of the main climate threats will be to national security in the coming decades.

    According to the national security-oriented blog New Security Beat, this the first unclassified report from the U.S. intelligence community that explicitly looks at the impact of climate change on national security. It indicates that climate change is not a distant future problem, but something that requires planning here and now. Specifically, the report said that “the effects resulting from changing trends in extreme weather events suggest that climate-related disruptions are under way.”

    Examples of climate disruption are peppered throughout the report from how drought-induced food shortages in Mali led insurgent groups to start a “food for jihad” campaign, to how melting sea ice is raising tensions in the Arctic between Canada, Russia and other countries with a stake in the region.

    Climate impacts have the power to destabilize the regions where they occur as well as places thousands of miles away. The Syrian civil war is the most notable example. Research has tied its start, in part, to a climate change-fueled drought that has sparked the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, according to Goodman. Other researchers were also quick to point out the chain of impacts the drought has had.

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    India to ratify Paris accord: What would Gandhi say about climate change?

    On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India will ratify the Paris climate agreement on Oct. 2 – Mohandas Gandhi's birthday.

    By Joseph Dussault, Staff SEPTEMBER 25, 2016 Save for later


    1. Biswaranjan Rout/AP/File

      On Sunday, the Paris climate accord inched ever-closer to fruition with India’s support.

      Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that India will ratify the agreement on Oct. 2 – Mohandas Gandhi's birthday. The deal, which must be ratified by 55 UN member nations accounting for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions before going into effect, has been hailed as a turning point in international climate change policy.

      At last count, some 60 countries representing 48 percent of emissions had ratified the agreement. India’s participation brings a considerable 4.5 percent to the table, but the country’s promise may reflect something loftier: Gandhi’s lesser-known legacy of environmentalism.

      Mohandas Gandhi wasn’t considered an environmentalist in his day, at least not in the same way Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir were. The Indian independence leader almost never used the term “environment” explicitly, nor did he advocate for the establishment of vast nature reserves, as many early conservationists did.

      That may be because, in the early 20th century, environmental issues simply weren’t at the forefront of global conversation. In Gandhi’s view, such concerns didn’t make up a separate discipline – they were interconnected with political, economic and moral issues. In a 1928 edition of the journal Young India, he linked the competitive economic behavior of western nations to the depletion of natural resources.

      “God forbid that India should take to industrialism after the manner of the West,” Gandhi wrote. “The economic imperialism of a tiny island kingdom (England) is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million (India) took to similar economic exploitation it would strip the world bare like locusts.”

      Raised under British colonial rule, Gandhi was well aware of the relationships between rich and poor nations. He saw a vicious cycle, where nations depleted their own resources before moving on to extract from developing countries. Then, in the pursuit of industrial economy, those same developing nations would begin to do the same. The result? Deforestation, pollution, and loss of biodiversity.

      In a paper for the World Wildlife Fund’s 1996 symposium “Gandhi and the Environment,” Triloki Nath Khoshoo argued that the same dynamic exists today:

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