Weekly Conservation Bulletin

CIB 1/6/2014

Follow the money as it floods the campaign airwaves, pays for energy efficiency efforts, and finances climate-change deniers, this week in CIB:

Campaign Watch: Campaign "Air" Pollutants

The new year is off to a negative campaigning start with ads attacking U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) launched by N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) as well as conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP).

Both the Tillis and AFP ads focus on criticizing the Affordable Care Act and Hagan's vote for the legislation in 2010. The AFP ad features a marketing consultant from Chapel Hill blaming Hagan for an increase in her health insurance premium. It's one of three similarly-themed ads running in as many states attacking incumbent Democratic women senators who voted for the health care law. AFP has now already spent a total of $4.2 million on TV ads attacking Hagan.

Ad sponsor AFP is currently featured as "one of the top ten most politicized nonprofits" in a chart illustrating a new report by the Center for Responsive Politics on the movement of "dark money" from corporate sources into attack ads and similar campaign-related spending. According to data compiled for that report, AFP plays a leading role in helping to "churn" (move and disguise) money associated with oil industry political activists David and Charles Koch. (See also the article below on the role of "dark money" in supporting "climate-denier" groups like AFP.)

The Tillis ad features him criticizing the health care legislation and blaming Hagan for it, as well as criticism of federal deficits. A state Democratic party spokesperson responded with critical remarks concerning Tillis's support for cuts to education. Tillis's ad is running in Asheville, Wilmington, and Piedmont Triad TV markets.

Tillis has a lifetime legislative voting score of 26% on NCLCV's graded environmental issue votes during his NC General Assembly career--bad but not close to the worst his caucus has to offer. More ominously, however, he has most recently presided over the NC House as Speaker during what has been described by NCLCV's executive director as "without question one of the worst for the environment in history". Tillis' score for the 2013 session was 0%.

NCLCV is surely not alone in wishing that candidates and attack groups would stop playing Groundhog Day with anti-health care ads, and instead turn attention to a serious discussion of critical issues including pollution control and climate change.

Administrative Watch: Duke's New Energy Efficiency Program

A new energy-efficiency program cost recovery method went into effect last week for Duke Energy in North and South Carolina. Under the method now in effect, Duke can recover through rates the costs of its approved programs to help customers reduce their electricity demand, plus a flat 11.5% profit on the value of the energy saved. The idea behind this approach is to encourage the utility to aggressively implement energy efficiency programs. It provides the same kind of profit incentive for success in energy efficiency as is otherwise provided for adding new power plant capacity to its profit-producing "rate base".

The predecessor method, known as "Save-A-Watt", produced a pretty good record of encouraging energy conservation compared to some other utilities' programs. However, it was criticized by some consumer/conservation groups as too generous to the utility, and was criticized by the utility for a too-complex method of calculating its return on investment.

Duke's programs to encourage improved energy efficiency by customers include its "Smart $aver" and appliance recycling incentives for installation of high-efficiency equipment and services (including HVACs, insulation, and appliances like refrigerators and freezers); "Power Manager" for participation in a peak-demand management program; and "Home Energy House Call" consultations on efficiency improvement efforts.

The Other Side: "Dark Money" Funds Climate Change Denial

As reported by Scientific American, a study released in late December shows that the largest, most consistent sources of funds for groups denying the reality of global climate change are private pass-through foundations that serve to conceal the original sources of the money. These "dark money" entities are among the 140 foundations routing $558 million to almost 100 "climate denial" groups during the 2003-2010 study period.

These entities have neutral names such as DonorsTrust and Donors Capital. These hard-to-trace sources for anti-science advocacy groups have moved in to displace out-front contributions from obvious special interests like Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

The study is authored by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle, and is described as "the first academic effort to probe the organizational underpinnings and funding behind the climate denial movement." It was published in the journal Climatic Change.

For more details, see here.

That's our report for this week.

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