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Science Consultant Pushes Back Against Unlikely Opponents


Karen Savage co-wrote an article that took ChemRisk to task for finding no link between chemical exposure from an oil spill and health problems.

Credit   Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

Dr. Dennis Paustenbach, the head of the scientific consulting firm ChemRisk, has long been a leading expert for companies under legal fire for environmental practices or product safety. He and his firm have also drawn the scrutiny of investigative journalists.

In 2005, The Wall Street Journal reported on a controversial role ChemRisk played during the case that became the basis for the movie “Erin Brockovich.” Seven years later, The Chicago Tribune raised questions about a study by Dr. Paustenbach on the safety of flame retardants. And a 2013 article by the Center for Public Integrity examined his efforts to roll back a proposal concerning workplace safety.

Dr. Paustenbach has insisted that ChemRisk’s work is scientifically sound and ethical, adding that plaintiffs’ lawyers have been behind the attacks on its credibility. And until recently, the company had never sued any publications or writers for defamation.

But the firm is now locked in a legal fight with some unlikely and defiant opponents: two environmental activists who published an unpaid article in The Huffington Post about ChemRisk’s work related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Cherri Foytlin is the other author of the unpaid article in The Huffington Post. She and Ms. Savage were sued by ChemRisk, which did not sue The Wall Street Journal for similar reporting.

Credit  James Billeaudeau for The New York Times

“If they had not said a word and let it go, it would have slipped off into obscurity,” said one of the authors of the article, Karen Savage, a former middle-school math teacher who noted that the article was initially read by only 400 people.

The lawsuit against Ms. Savage, 49, and her co-defendant, Cherri Foytlin, 42, highlights how the Internet has blurred the line between activists and journalists. But it also raises questions about why ChemRisk is pursuing the case when it chose not to sue a more formidable adversary, The Wall Street Journal, against which it raised similar complaints.

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California enacts monumental climate change goals

Gov. Jerry Brown has set an ambitious goal of producing half of the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

By Annika Fredrikson, Staff OCTOBER 8, 2015 Save for later
  1. pastedGraphic.pdf

California already has some of the toughest air quality standards in the world, but Gov. Jerry Brown still isn’t satisfied. On Wednesday, Mr. Brown committed the state to ambitious climate change goals, including doubling the energy-efficiency of existing buildings and relying on renewable energy for 50 percent of electricity use by 2030.

Brown also tried to lobby for a measure to reduce petroleum use by half within the next 15 years; a measure that ultimately failed due to intense opposition from the oil industry and failed bargaining.

These goals extend the Global Warming Solutions Act signed in 2006 by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger which mandated 33 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s energy bill also outlined the first cap and trade emissions program in the United States, second only in size to the European Union's.

"For an economy the size of California to commit to getting half of its power needs from renewable energy resources, I think, it’s a game-changer," Alex Jackson, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Associated Press.

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Brown vetoes CPUC reform bills

Governor says technical issues made 50 proposals unworkable


By Jeff McDonald | 6 p.m. Oct. 9, 2015


California Gov. Jerry Brown signed bills on Friday, although not the CPUC reform bills. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

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Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday rejected all legislative proposals aimed at reforming the California Public Utilities Commission, saying he agreed with several of the provisions but could not support the bills as passed.

The vetoes cap a months-long effort by state lawmakers to tighten oversight and practices at the powerful regulatory agency, which remains the subject of two criminal investigations over its relationships with utility companies.

In issuing veto messages rejecting six different bills, Brown said the legislation contained some provisions that could improve practices and operations within the utilities commission but as a whole they were too complicated and expensive.

Latest: CPUC


“There are many needed and important reforms in this package of bills,” Brown wrote in one message. “Unfortunately, taken together there are various technical and conflicting issues that make the over 50 proposed reforms unworkable. Some prudent prioritization is needed.”

Lawmakers and consumer advocates complained that the vetoes will help perpetuate a broken regulatory system.

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Greener, cheaper electricity with community choice

By Ro Khanna and Gary Latshaw

Ro Khanna is a lecturer in economics at Stanford University and is vice president for strategy at Smart Utility Systems. Gary Latshaw is a retired physicist and climate activist

October 11, 2015 Updated: October 11, 2015 6:05pm

Even though our federal government seems gridlocked when it comes to bold plans for renewable energy, this year Silicon Valley is leading the way with innovative solutions for Community Choice Energy. Municipalities across Silicon Valley are taking on special interests to offer cleaner and cheaper energy directly to their residents. Given the flurry of recent activity, it very much seems that CCE is an idea whose time has come.

Most recently, the cities of Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Cupertino, plus Santa Clara County, have partnered to form a Community Choice Energy alliance called Silicon Valley CCE Partnership ( When fully operational, this alliance will allow residents of those localities to acquire their electricity from a menu of providers. These cities have looked to Marin and Sonoma counties as a model. Years of experience there have shown that their electricity is cheaper and greener than that provided by PG&E. Consumers enjoy both the affordable and environmentally friendly power purchased by the local government and the reliability of the existing grid. For those who don’t want to participate, they can decide to remain with PG&E power and rates.

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Guest Juice: Capitalizing Energy Efficiency

October 08, 2015

By Cynthia Mitchell

Matt Golden’s Sept. 25, 2015, Guest Juice “New Laws a Needed Energy Efficiency Paradigm Shift” is certainly a cause for celebration. Golden claims SB 350 and AB 802 essentially double California’s energy efficiency goals. If California could double actual new efficiency savings, this would be an amazing advance from the state’s decade-plus accomplishments of incremental savings and borderline-effectiveness.(1)

To get there California will need to do something other than rely on voluntary consumer uptake of efficiency via rebates and incentives. Consumers require short paybacks, and have many competing needs for their money and time.(2)

Households, businesses, and industries generally don’t buy and/or finance the bigger efficiency projects because it may take up to ten years to recoup investment cost. That’s why California’s decade-plus efficiency accomplishments, especially for existing buildings, generally are built on millions of compact and linear fluorescent lamps.

While SB 350 ups the ante (and AB 802 potentially takes us backward a little in true incremental efficiency resources), to get the necessary greenhouse gas emissions reductions we need new transaction structures to rally investment behind efficiency in capital markets. Over time, 20-30+ years out, we can reduce building loads by 25-40 percent by creating long-term investment opportunities when efficiency is viewed as a persistent and measureable resource. Utilities then could count on the negawatts from building retrofits just as much as they do the megawatts they get under power purchase agreements with generators today.

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G.E. to Spin Off New Energy Technologies in One Company


General Electric, which has been moving to shed a number of divisions and return to its roots as an industrial behemoth, is creating a company to house developing energy businesses, executives said Wednesday.

The company, to be called Current, will focus on providing products and services in energy efficiency, renewable generation and storage to large customers like hospitals, universities, retail stores and cities, Jeffrey R. Immelt, the G.E. chief executive, said in a statement.

“The creation of a new company within G.E. reinforces our commitment to take energy to the next level, focusing on custom outcomes for our commercial and industrial customers, municipalities and utility partners,” he said, “and delivering a platform that can be upgraded as technology advancements are made.”

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General Electric to start Boston-based energy business called Current, taps local CEO to lead enterprise


File photo of Maryrose Sylvester, president and CEO of General Electric Lighting in Nela Park in East Cleveland. She has been tapped to lead GE's new spin-off company Current, based in Boston. (Chuck Crow/Plain Dealer)

By Plain Dealer business staff

on October 07, 2015 at 3:50 PM, updated October 08, 2015 at 10:46 AM


CLEVELAND, Ohio -- General Electric announced Wednesday that it will start a new company called Current, an energy company that integrates LED, solar, energy storage and electric vehicle businesses.

Maryrose Sylvester, who is president and CEO at GE Lighting at Nela Park in East Cleveland, has been selected to lead the new enterprise, according to a press release from GE. Sylvester will continue to oversee the local GE Lighting operations as well.

It is unclear at this time what other impact, if any, that Current may have on the East Cleveland icon.

"We are still working through the details, but there are no plans to make any significant changes at this time," said Christopher Augustine, director of global communications and public affairs for GE Lighting. "Over the coming months we will work through the transition plans and share updates as appropriate."

Sylvester has been leading the 100-plus-year-old GE Lighting, a $3 billion enterprise, since 2011. In her new role, she is expected to scale Current from a $1 billion startup to a $5 billion business by 2020, the press release read.

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For the first time, a top coal industry executive faces criminal charges

By Mason Adams on 7 Oct 2015

The autocratic, micro-managing, bludgeoning style that won throwback Appalachian coal baron Don Blankenship the ire of environmentalists, the fear of underlings, and the title “Dark Lord of Coal Country” from Rolling Stone may finally have caught up with him.

The opening arguments began today in Blankenship’s federal criminal trial. He faces charges of conspiring to avoid safety laws and lying to regulators that could put him behind bars for up to 31 years.

Blankenship casts a long shadow over the Appalachian coal industry. Since the early 1980s, he’s fought labor unions, regulatory agencies, environmental activists, and other coal companies. Under his guidance, Massey Energy grew to become the fourth largest U.S. coal producer, and the largest in Appalachia, by the time of his retirement at the end of 2010. He became known not just for his business exploits, but for railing against “greeniacs” (his term for environmentalists) and what he called a “War on Coal,” carried out by federal government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Blankenship’s downfall was triggered by the April 5, 2010, explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine, which killed 29 men and was the worst coal disaster in 40 years. Four separate investigations found that poor safety practices in the mine allowed for the explosion, which occurred when a spark from a longwall machine, which cuts huge slices of coal, ignited a pocket of methane, creating a fireball and triggering a bigger explosion when it hit piles of coal dust.

Blankenship retired from Massey at the end of 2010, forced out prior to its acquisition by Alpha Natural Resources. Now, five years later, he faces criminal charges — not for the explosion or the deaths of 29 miners — but for conspiring to skirt mining safety regulators at the Upper Big Branch mine, impeding MSHA inspectors, and lying to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in the days following the explosion by claiming in interviews and filings that Massey strove to adhere to all safety regulations.

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‘Arrogant’ Coal CEO Stands Trial In What Could Become A Life Sentence

OCT 7, 2015 @ 09:00 AM 1,802 VIEWS

Ken Silverstein ,CONTRIBUTOR

I write about the global energy business.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Are regulations worth the paper on which they are written? Societies, in fact, function on the rule of law and regardless of whether one accepts such standards, they are required to comply. Indeed, that tenet is now front-and-center in federal court as a former coal company chief executive stands trial.

Jury selection is still ongoing in the case of the United States versus Don Blankenship, the former chieftain for Massey Energy that is now part of Alpha Natural Resources ANR +%. The government has alleged that Mr. Blankenship disregarded federal mine safety laws in an attempt to boost production and to boost shareholder returns, and his own personal wealth. He is also accused of misleading shareholders.

If found guilty on all charges, the 65-year-old could receive more than three decades behind bars — all tied to an April 2010 mine explosion near Beckley, W.V. in which several miners died. Already, four executives of the former Massey Energy have pled guilty and gone to prison. Between January 2008 and April 2010, the “Upper Big Branch” mine had received 835 citations for such infractions as poor ventilation and excessive coal dust.

At the heart of the prosecution’s case is Mr. Blankenship’s business practices and whether his disdain for government regulations translated into an attempt to purposefully sidestep mining protocols. For the defense’s part, it says that the former coal boss was just as concerned with mine safety as he was production — and that Blankenship would never authorize the circumvention of any law.

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Commentary: Regulators Approve Nearly 20 Percent Fee Hike for Texas Electric Grid Operator

Posted on October 9, 2015 | By R.A. Dyer


Regulators this week hiked by nearly 20 percent the fee that supports the state’s principal electricity grid operator.

In a 3-0 vote Thursday, the Texas Public Utility Commission agreed to raise the “System Administration Fee” From 46.5 cents to 55.6 cents per megawatt hour. The fee supports operations at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which oversees the transmission grid in about 85 percent of the state.

The nine-cent fee hike, the largest since at least 2009, will be applied to wholesale power purchases, meaning that it won’t go directly into home bills. But it’s sure to trickle down anyway, and could increase your energy costs by 10 cents or more each month.

Each of the three PUC commissioners expressed dismay at raising the ERCOT fee, but said the hike was necessary to finance technology improvements and to comply with new directives.

“We don’t like to see fee increases (but) this was necessitated by a big investment in IT,” said PUC chairwoman Donna Nelson.

“I don’t want to see double digit increases in the future — this is a one-time deal,” said Commissioner Kenneth Anderson.

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Utility-Scale Solar Reaches Cost Parity With Natural Gas Throughout America

Low prices are not limited to California and the Southwest—they’re everywhere.

by Katherine Tweed

September 30, 2015


The cost of installing utility-scale solar has fallen considerably in recent years, from more than $6 per watt in 2009 to about $3 per watt in 2014. That has resulted in a boom in the sector, which is 31 times bigger than it was a decade ago.

Power-purchase agreement (PPA) prices are also continuing their downward trend, according to the third annual report on utility-scale solar from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.


With the rush to get projects done before the cut to the federal Investment Tax Credit, levelized PPA prices have come down as low as $40 per megawatt-hour in the Southwest. At that price, PV compares to just the fuel costs for natural-gas plants. These numbers match what GTM Research has found as well.

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Appeals court puts the brakes on EPA’s clean water rule

The US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit granted a temporary stay against the Water of the United States rule on Friday.

By Corey Fedde, Staff OCTOBER 9, 2015 Save for later

    A US Court has temporarily blocked the a federal water rule that would fold temporary waterways into Clean Water Act protections, Friday.

    The US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit granted a temporary stay against the Water of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The stay is the latest of several attempts to derail many Obama administration environmental policies. The WOTUS rule was intended to clarify which bodies of water are under the supervision of the Clean Water Act.

    The rule was finalized with help from the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers in May. Two US Supreme Court rulings had left uncertainties over which waterways were under the protection of the Clean Water Act, which has stricter standards than many states. The WOTUS rule faces political and legal opposition across the country.

    "This decision is a critical victory in our fight against this onerous federal overreach," West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey told the Associated Press. West Virginia is one of the states that has waterways that would newly fall under the Clean Water Act if the WOTUS stays.

    Eighteen states are challenging the new standards imposed by the WOTUS. Injunctions have already been placed on in North Dakota since August. The WOTUS still faces increased opposition from Republicans in Congress, farmers, and energy companies.

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    The California Towns Without Safe Drinking Water

    Bitter disputes in the municipal politics of California’s drought-ridden San Joaquin Valley have kept the poorest areas from consolidating water systems.


    Gregory Bull / AP

    LAURA BLISS OCT 10, 2015

    FRESNO, Calif.—In Matheny Tract, California, the sour odor of sewage is especially strong in the morning—and so is the irony that residents can’t connect to the system it represents.

    The poor, unincorporated community of roughly 300 homes sits adjacent to the city of Tulare, population 61,000. A single, dusty field is all that separates Matheny Tract’s mostly African American and Latino residents from Tulare’s recently expanded wastewater-treatment plant. Though Tulare’s sewer system is more robust than ever, Matheny Tract residents must use septic tanks, since they are not part of the city. For a dense settlement, this spells trouble.

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    Cadiz chief to tackle desert water transfer project roadblock

    By Jim Steinberg, The Sun

    POSTED: 10/11/15, 1:36 PM PDT |

    LOS ANGELES >> The CEO for embattled Cadiz Inc. has a plan to keep alive a controversial project to transfer ancient groundwater in a remote part of San Bernardino County’s Mojave Desert to parts of Orange County and other locations, where it could serve as many as 400,000 people.

    In an interview late last week, Cadiz CEO Scott Slater said he would be seeking a review of the decision by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to reject Cadiz’s proposed use of an 1875 railway right-of-way to build a critical 43-mile pipeline from the Fenner Valley — about 40 miles northeast of Twentynine Palms — to the Colorado River Aqueduct, where it could be delivered to future customers.

    If that fails, he will take his battle to court, he said.

    “This is pure politics,” said Slater, who is considered by many to be an expert in groundwater law and water policy.

    According to a letter from the BLM, the proposed use of the railroad right-of-way for the pipeline is outside the scope of the Arizona and California Railroad’s use of right-of-way grants held under the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of March 3, 1875.

    The letter to Cadiz warns that “proceeding with new activities or continued activities ... without authorization from the BLM could result in the BLM instituting trespass proceedings.”

    The ARZC, as the short-line railroad is called, has agreed to let Cadiz use its right-of-way. The railroad moves primarily petroleum across its 190 miles of track.

    As part of its water project, Cadiz planned to build fire-suppression and power-generation capabilities for the railroad.

    “BLM has determined that the project does not derive or further a railroad purpose,” said the letter signed by James Kenna, California BLM director, who has since retired.

    For that reason, in order for the pipeline to proceed along the right-of-way, the BLM must approve that use. And for that to happen, a full federal environmental review must be completed.

    Slater called the BLM’s decision an “outrage” that ignores key precedent set forth in a memorandum written in November 2011 by the top attorney for the Department of Interior, which liberalizes the definition of railroad purpose to mean that BLM permission is not needed if the purpose benefits the railroad in some way.

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    Conservation, desalination lead to Carlsbad water rate hike

    City officials hedging on commitment to additional filtered seawater

    By Phil Diehl | 3 p.m. Oct. 10, 2015


    Workers assemble pipes in April at the Carlsbad Desalination Project. — Charlie Neuman

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    CARLSBAD — A water rate hike expected to kick in Jan. 1 for Carlsbad residents will include money for an extra share of water from Poseidon’s new desalination plant, even though the city may not take it.

    Carlsbad Municipal Water District is one of two agencies in the county that in 2012 sought the option of taking some portion of undiluted purified seawater from the plant. The water would be in addition to the city’s blended share of the 48,000 acre-feet per year the San Diego County Water Authority agreed to buy after the Poseidon plant goes online this fall.

    The other agency, The Vallecitos Municipal Water District in San Marcos, signed a contract with the Water Authority this summer to purchase 3,500 acre-feet of pure desalinated water annually for 30 years.

    That pure water comes at a steep price — $2,387 per acre-foot in 2016. The blend of imported and desalinated water that the Water Authority will distribute to all member agencies costs less than half that much.

    But Vallecitos leaders said it’s worth it.

    “The biggest benefit is that it’s drought-proof as far as supply limits,” said Vallecitos Assistant General Manager Tom Scaglione. The sea is an unlimited source of water.

    Poseidon’s new $1 billion seaside desalination, just north of Cannon Road in Carlsbad, is expected to begin production in November.

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