Weekly Conservation Bulletin
Clean energy advocates worry about big power getting bigger. This week in CIB -- Administrative Watch: Challenging the Power Surge; Legislative Watch: They're Back, Unfortunately; Washington Watch: Dueling Jobs Prescriptions; Campaign Watch: City Green; Education & Resources: Moving Planet
Administrative Watch: Challenging the Power Surge
Duke Energy and Progress Energy are well along in their plan to merge into what would be one of the nation's largest electric utilities. Those plans concern many citizens who are already concerned about the size and influence of these power companies.
Last week, several citizen groups which advocate for clean energy development filed for intervenor status in the N.C. Utilities Commission (NCUC) docket which is considering the Duke-Progress merger request. They are especially seeking to ensure that the companies' love affair with nuclear and coal is not allowed to squeeze out serious investment in solar and other clean renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Specific requests include the establishment of a $75 million "public benefit fund" to help finance home weatherization and other programs, as well as rules permitting companies which install rooftop solar panels to sell the electricity directly to customers which host those panels. Groups intervening in this case include the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, Sierra Club, and Environmental Defense Fund. Mergers such as this one present rare opportunities for public interest advocates to press for policy concessions while there is the leverage available of a major pending regulatory review.
Hearings on the case are scheduled to begin September 20. For further discussion, http://blogs.newsobserver.com/business/critics-rush-to-file-opposition-to-duke-energy-merger-by-5-pm-deadline and http://energync.org/blog/ncsea-news/2011/08/23/update-duke-energy-progress-energy-merger/.
Legislative Watch: They're Back, Unfortunately
The latest "mini-session" of the 2011 N.C. General Assembly begins today (September 12) in Raleigh. The announced focus of this gathering is the consideration of two proposed state constitutional amendments, one on the definition of marriage and the other on the extent of governmental land condemnation authority.
Since both of the alleged targets of these proposals--gay marriage and government condemnation of land for economic development projects--are already legally prohibited in North Carolina, many wonder why the proposed constitutional amendments are even under debate. Cynical (or perhaps merely candid) observers note that placing amendments regarding these two issues on the 2012 ballot is just a gimmick to whip up voter turnout among the base of the current state legislative majority party.
In any event, conservationists are closely watching the legislature this week for other reasons. In particular, there is the danger of an attempt to override the governor's veto of SB 709, the so-called "Energy Jobs Act", which would promote offshore drilling for oil and gas, and the practice of "fracking" for gas.
Further, the political realities of the current General Assembly make clear that a vote could be called without warning on essentially anything that the current legislative majority's leadership decides to bring forward. Since nearly everything that majority has done so far this year touching on the environment has been negative, that is not a comforting prospect.
Stay tuned for another week of potentially bumpy legislative rides. Additional review of the week's prospects can be found here: http://blogs.newsobserver.com/business/critics-rush-to-file-opposition-to-duke-energy-merger-by-5-pm-deadline and http://energync.org/blog/ncsea-news/2011/08/23/update-duke-energy-progress-energy-merger/.
Washington Watch: Dueling Jobs Prescriptions
President Obama and his leading challengers in the 2012 presidential campaign last week rolled out starkly contrasting prescriptions for dealing with continuing high national unemployment. Many of the proposals under debate have major environmental implications.
For example, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney proposes to vastly expand drilling, fracking, and mining for fossil fuels; as well as cutting regulations intended to protect the environment and public health. (Those are popular ideas with U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry as well.)
Obama's announced "American Jobs Act" contains an additional $60 billion toward "infrastructure" investments, especially transportation--including roads, rail, and public transit. His plans do not call for additional fossil fuel extraction, or for cutbacks in environmental protections.
There's great doubt, of course, regarding whether Congress can cooperate to pass any significant economic legislation during this extended season of political hostility. At the least, however, the dueling jobs prescriptions continue to solidify the lines of the policy debates for next year's elections.
Campaign Watch: City Green
Speaking of elections: Cities and towns around North Carolina go to the polls over the next two months to select key mayors and city/town council members. Citizen groups involved in local elections have started to signal their picks for green-minded voters.
For example, in Raleigh a number of prominent environmental leaders have settled on current City Council Member Nancy McFarlane as their recommendation for mayor (replacing the retiring Charles Meeker). McFarlane's backers include former state environment secretary Bill Holman (who also helped found the original N.C. League of Conservation Voters). The local Sierra Club also backs McFarlane, as well as incumbent city council member Russ Stephenson. In Asheville, the local Sierra Club group has endorsed three candidates for city council: Lael Gray, Marc Hunt, and Chris Pelly.
While there are too many municipal elections for CIB to offer a comprehensive review of the important contests and green-minded picks, we invite reader feedback. If there's an important local race you want to see covered, let us know. As we always like to remind our readers, municipal governments have critical roles in policy impacting our environment. Where will urban growth take place, and under what land use guidelines? Where will roads and public transit options be developed? What will be done about waste disposal or reduction? On these and other environmental questions, local governments will decide. And as local voters, you decide who runs local government.
Education & Resources: Moving Planet
Finally this week, we pass on an announcement regarding an international project of coordinated educational events on how to help address climate change through cleaner transportation options. It's called "Moving Planet" and it's set for Saturday, September 24. Activities will include bike rides, walks, and other gatherings. Events are being held in Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, New Bern, and elsewhere around North Carolina.
To locate an event near you, or to organize one if there's not one near you, go to www.moving-planet.org.