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Leslie Berliant's articles

Energy Co's Use Ballot Initiatives, Other Tools to Fight for Continued Market Dominance

California voters rejected one utility-sponsored ballot initiative, but fights are brewing across the country.

By Leslie Berliant

Jun 28, 2010

Earlier this month, California voters rebuffed a power-grab by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), defeating a ballot initiative that would have helped the utility maintain its monopoly on electrical power in northern California.

California’s Prop 16 would have required local governments to gain the support of two-thirds of voters before purchasing local power. The state’s voters rejected the measure. It would have made it extraordinarily difficult for local governments to create or expand their own municipal utilities and compete with PG&E.

PG&E is not the only utility company using legislation, ballot propositions and lots of cash, to try to hold onto its monopoly or control the future of power supply in the vicinity of its operations.

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Industry Turning to Legal Action to Stop EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gases

Flurry of weak petitions not expected to succeed in court to block action

By Leslie Berliant

Jun 14, 2010

A series of rules and findings issued by the EPA are heralding the slow but steady arrival of economy-wide regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. Following the 2007 Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, the agency has been compelled by scientific findings to protect the public health and welfare from global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act.

Big industries opposed to EPA action, charge that the application of existing law is an unjustified power grab, but last week their position met a signal defeat. A move by like-minded allies in the Senate to block the EPA by Congressional mandate failed. It was a closely watched vote. In the end, Senator Murkowski's resolution that would have curtailed the agency's action on greenhouse gases went down to defeat 47-53.

Now industry must look to a flurry of weak legal challenges to slow or stop a first wave of regulations on industrial sources of pollution that are slated to take effect in January 2011, a little more than six months away. They've filed challenging the EPA’s authority from several angles.

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Can California Lead the Nation on Feed-In Tariffs?

Reviews are mixed, as efforts get underway in the state to pass a somewhat improved FIT bill

By Leslie Berliant

May 31, 2010

California legislators have struggled to pass a "feed-in tariff" for renewable power that actually works. But a new push looks to fix past mistakes and make California a national model for a financing technique that has helped to turn Germany and Spain into world leaders in solar energy.

Feed-in tariffs guarantee higher electrical rates to qualified renewable energy projects. In jurisdictions across North America, there are over a dozen such programs in place. Paul Gipe, an energy analyst with the , a research and advocacy group, graded them all in a recent report. California, he said, received an F.

"California is known for writing great press releases but comes up short on substance," said Gipe. The state "technically has a feed in tariff — it's what we call a FITINO, a feed-in-tariff in name only."

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Kansas GOP Measure Could Lead to EPA Takeover of Coal Plant Permits

Risky amendment in state budget bill could backfire and derail Sunflower Electric's coal plans, observers say

By Leslie Berliant

May 26, 2010

A last minute amendment to the Kansas budget bill seeks to bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating carbon dioxide linked to global warming in that state. If adopted, the effort — led by Republican State Sen. Tim Huelskamp — could quickly turn into a lesson in unintended consequences.

Observers say the poorly written measure could end up giving the EPA unprecedented oversight over coal permitting and other regulation of utilities in Kansas, at a time when fossil fuels are under political attack in Washington.

The issue has sparked outrage on both sides of the aisle. But perhaps the most worried are backers of Sunflower Electric Corp.'s proposed coal-burning facility. The plant is two years from breaking ground in the town of Holcomb, and the EPA still must approve its revised permit application

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Fierce Fight Expected Against Texas Oil's Effort to Derail California Climate Law

Defenders Up Against Deep Pockets and Fearmongering Over Higher Energy prices

By Leslie Berliant

May 18, 2010

Within the next few days, the expectation here is that California's renewable energy and emissions reductions law, AB 32, is going to qualify for inclusion on the November ballot, with voters being asked to vote "yes" to suspend the law until unemployment improves or "no" to leave it in place.

The ballot initiative wants to suspend AB 32 until unemployment reaches 5.5% for 4 consecutive quarters - a level reached only twice in the state in the last 30 years. A "yes" vote would effectively kill the law. 

With most of the money supporting the ballot initiative coming from Texas oil companies, local advocates met last week to galvanize efforts to turn back the influence of out-of-state fossil energy interests and preserve the landmark measure. Everyone expects a tough fight.

Advocates reckon the Texas oil companies have two assets they will rely on: deep pockets to wage a relentless campaign and a simple message designed to frighten voters that AB 32 will bring higher energy prices.

Supporters of AB 32 seem to have the economic arguments on their side, with the law expected to boost green jobs and energy savings, according to many studies. The question is whether they'll be able to marshall the facts with sufficient skill and intensity to persuade voters to let the law stand.

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Welcome to Haiti, the Present-Day Catastrophic Future

An eyewitness account considers the future world from a present catastrophe

By Leslie Berliant

May 15, 2010

Perhaps the most often used phrase spoken to visitors to the city of Port au Prince is “Welcome to Haiti,” delivered with a shrug of the shoulders and a resigned look.

Your driver is five hours late because of a flat tire. (A daily occurrence on the rubble strewn roads?) A truck comes barreling down the street on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic.  Plastic bottles littering the streets accumulating in small mountains. The lack of trees and green spaces in Port au Prince, the few that exist behind barbed wire. The sheer volume of barely functional cars, diesel trucks spewing fumes, and colorful, decaying tap-taps packed with people.

Ask about any of this and the answer is always the same: “Welcome to Haiti.” Welcome to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and until the recent earthquake, probably the least visible. 

Now, Haiti has acquired another distinction it doesn't need: the place that offers a concrete vision of the world after catastrophe, the kind that will become more common with climate change.

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California Makes Green Housing Affordable

Solar installations and green development bring sustainable housing to low-income families

By Leslie Berliant

May 11, 2010

Sunlight is free, but getting power from solar panels remains far from it. At least for some low-income families in California, it's now affordable for the first time.

The California Public Utilities Commission Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes program, or , is a first-of-its-kind program dedicated to bringing solar energy to owners of low-income housing. The program, part of the and managed by the non-profit organization , will bring solar power to 7,000 homes by 2016, all of them designated affordable housing.

The incentives offer anywhere from $4.75 to $7.00 per watt depending on income and the size of the installation. In some cases, these incentives completely cover costs.

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Study: Minority Communities Suffer Most If California Suspends AB 32

By Leslie Berliant

Apr 14, 2010

If California’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction law, AB 32, is suspended or poorly implemented, communities of color and poor neighborhoods will suffer the most, according to a new funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

This is in large part due to co-pollutants like (particulate matter of 10 micrometers or less), which can cause respiratory problems and come from the refineries and power plants that AB 32 will regulate.

As the report points out, suspending AB 32 puts much more at stake than halting climate change.

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Coastal First Nations Oppose Canada Tar Sands Pipeline

Opposition Could Block Project, Creating Financial Risks for Oil Sands Operations

By Leslie Berliant

Mar 25, 2010

The Coastal First Nations, a coalition of aboriginal communities in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, their strong opposition this week to the Northern Gateway pipeline, a project would would run tar sands oil from Alberta to a port near the Pacific Ocean.

Enbridge Inc.'s plan is to open export markets for tar sands oil outside the United States — notably China. However, the Coastal First Nations see the pipeline as a major threat to their territory and way of life.

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Oil & Industry: Connecting the Dots in the War Over California’s Greenhouse Gas Law

By Leslie Berliant

Mar 24, 2010

The fight over California’s greenhouse gas emissions law is being described as Texas oil vs. California’s big employers by supporters of the law — and as California’s vulnerable manufacturing sector vs. job-killing regulators by opponents who want to block it.

Last week, the Sacramento Bee that oil money is fueling the signature gathering effort to place an initiative on the state's November ballot that would suspend the emissions law, known as AB 32. The initiative's backers, calling themselves the California Jobs Initiative, have raised $966,000, with 89 percent of the funding coming from oil companies and 70 percent of that from oil companies headquartered in Texas.

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