Friday, May 20, 2016

Cancel past mistakes and errors: here is how the battle lines for the future are starting to appear ... by gimleteye

This may be the most important opinion piece you read all year. There is a lot of news worth comment this morning. A Florida state court ruled 6-1 to overturn the approval of the Florida Public Service Commission to permit Florida Power and Light, the monopolistic provider of electricity on the east coast of the state, to charge ratepayers for an investment in an Oklahoma fracking company. Two days ago FPL announced its intention to "delay" for four years the permitting process for two new nuclear reactors while it continues to receive "early cost recovery" for the $20 billion reactors and petitions for a 24% rate hike request at the Public Service Commission, made up of rubber stampers loyal to regulated companies and to Gov. Rick Scott. But none of this is the reason this may be the most important opinion piece you read all year.

Instead, focus on another observation that seemed so innocuous on first glance. It happened a few weeks ago, in that small, corrupt town at the southern tip of the Florida peninsula; Homestead. There, Florida Power and Light was summoned to a rare field hearing conducted by the Florida state senate to explain a vast pollution plume spreading underground its two aging nuclear reactors. At the dais, a handful of state senators and state representatives from Miami-Dade County, the most politically influential in a very politically influential state.

At risk, on the surface as it were; a devastating history of malfeasance by the corporation and by state and county regulators who allowed a multi-decade charade to proceed while ignoring wreckage below: a ruined aquifer and the waters of a national park protected by federal laws. Below the surface, something else was at stake: Republican control of the Florida state legislature.

Two very conservative Republican state senators from Miami-Dade County were flanked on the dais by the president of the Florids senate, Joe Negron. Both are facing opposition in the November election cycle. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla was a lobbyist for Florida Power and Light while a state senator and may have lobbied Florida municipalities on FPL's behalf without registering. Anitere Flores, the other, has reliably followed Florida's most conservative wing; anti-choice and anti-environment.

All the Republican legislators on the dais had been handed talking points by FPL before the meeting. It is one of these talking points that deserve close attention: "don't focus on what happened in the past, leave the past behind, let's focus on the future." The remark was tossed off by enough of the legislators on the senate panel that one understood it had been planted to distract.

Distraction, this election cycle, is the whole and entire point.

To clarify, Florida Power and Light is singled out, here, because the company itself has delineated the boundaries of a monolithic special interest. More powerful than regulators, more powerful than government. But FPL is not alone. In its urgent priority to channel public attention to the future and away from the past, it has plenty of cohorts, allies, and hangers-on.

To re-write history is to take command of the narrative. That's what "don't look at the past" means. Here a few examples.

When Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2010, one of his very first acts was to axe the science capacity of the South Florida Water Management District. Dozens of senior scientists, representing the sum total of historical understanding of the Everglades, were fired. They were fired -- not for budgetary reasons as the governor said -- they were fired because they understood that the historical record of fact does not protect the monolithic special interests supporting Gov. Scott and the GOP majority: Big Sugar.

Big Sugar and FPL are allied as they are with limestone and phosphate miners in Florida because shareholder return is everything to them, and the best shareholder return is shifting as many costs to taxpayers and ratepayers as possible. Laws that reduce profits are to be carefully followed but if they are broken, inadvertently or not, violations are written off as a cost of business. No matter the cost to taxpayers or ratepayers.

What monolithic enterprises fear most is accountability. That is why "looking backwards" is intolerable. Accountability means taking the blame. Taking the blame means paying the price. No one accustomed to dictating terms and profit wants to pay the price of failure.

In February, Scientific American published a chilling story along this same line: "Australia Cuts 110 Climate Scientist Jobs because the science is settled there is no need for more basic research, government says." On May 3rd, the news cycle lit up with reports the Australian government summarily dismissed one of the world's leading scientists on sea level rise, John Church.
For John Church, a leading authority on sea-level rise caused by global warming, there was much that was fitting – and yet callous – about being sacked at sea. The veteran scientist was well into one of dozens of research voyages he had taken since joining CSIRO as a post doctoral student in 1979. His vessel, the RV Investigator, was midway between Antarctica and New Zealand and steaming north on the 170 degree longitude when he received Thursday's call to tell him he was "potentially redundant". ... As Dr Church notes, including in a Nature paper published last month, sea-level increases are accelerating as a warming planet melts glaciers and swells oceans.

Not only is Australia in the midst of tremendous impacts of climate change -- wildfires, extreme drought, and die-off of the Great Barrier Reef at hyper-speed -- it is also in the teeth of a right-wing backlash; including the hounding of environmental non-profits that focus on climate change.

The intent to steer the public away from accountability has reared its ugly head in the United States at the same time. Also, on May 3rd, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued an urgent appeal:

Climate scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are being bullied by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. A peer-reviewed paper NOAA scientists published in Science refutes claims of a global warming slowdown, which is a popular climate denial narrative, so Representative Lamar Smith (TX-21), chairman of the committee, is using subpoenas and depositions to go after the scientists who wrote it.

Make no mistake—this isn’t about accessing more data or better understanding the research. NOAA’s data and methodology have been publicly available for months, and NOAA scientists met multiple times with committee staff to answer questions about the research. This subpoena for emails and other confidential information is about Chairman Smith abusing his congressional power to cast doubt on the science and smear the scientists for publishing results that don’t align with his climate denial.

The harassment by the House Science Committee isn’t just a problem for NOAA scientists—it’s a problem for all scientists and the public. Scientists and researchers need to be able to spend their time doing the scientific work we heavily rely on, whether that's making sure our air is safe to breathe, predicting the path of hurricanes, or researching new drugs to fight disease. But when scientists are afraid of political interference or being unfairly targeted for their work, they can't do their jobs—and we all lose out.

Stand up for science and call on Chairman Smith to stop bullying climate scientists.

In other words, denying the past with "let's focus on the future" is a way of dodging accountability where accountability is defined as a clear and present danger to political control and corporate profit.

Yesterday, the UCS issued another broadside calling for an end to the abuse of power by government and large corporations, citing Exxon's record of investment in climate change denial: "Abuse of Power: ExxonMobil, Chairman Lamar Smith, and the First Amendment
Gretchen Goldman, lead analyst, Center for Science and Democracy | May 19, 2016, 5:10 pm EDT: "Yesterday the New York Times printed a full-page advertisement sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a free-market think tank that has been funded by ExxonMobil and has regularly misrepresented climate science. The ad reads in large font “Abuse of Power” followed by discussion of free speech rights of companies, nonprofits, and individuals to disagree on climate change. The ad claims that attorneys general in several states and the US Virgin Islands are overstepping their roles in investigating ExxonMobil for possible fraud."

On May 18th, the New York Times reported the mass dismissal of climate change scientists in Australia. Larry Marshall, the newly appointed head of the agency, said: "... climate change has already been proven so the agency should focus instead on “how do we find solutions for the climate we will be living with.”

There you have it: the solution is the future will not hold any accountability whatsoever, and accountability is important for the following reason: you are being asked to trust with full faith and the weight of your taxpayer investment in government that the very same monolithic special interests that created global and local crises by shifting costs to maximize their profit will fix their mistakes and omissions without the need for any intervention.

Across democracies that nominally protect taxpayers, the future is constantly imagining and reinventing itself. That is all well and good, but it is happening in ways that concentrate wealth and power even when science and facts prove this way of steering the world forward is a recipe for disaster. Past performance is no guarantee for future returns. Indeed.


Alexandria said...

Turkey Point needs to be Shut down.There is no band aid big enough for this Shot gun wound. FPL has been poisoning the air, water, and the House and Senate of Florida since the late 80's. FPL fired 10,000 maintenance employees. They lied and said Hurricane Andrew (August 24,1992) did not cause Turkey Point any damage. People in Miami didn't have lights for months some not until December. For the past 14 years its the FPL shareholders have gotten fat Bernie Madoff returns. FPL has done everything in their power to squash Solar. Solar would cut their profits by 20 to 30% if people just put solar hot water heaters in their homes. The Public Service Commission is bought and paid for, when two PSC commissioners questioned FPL'S theft FPL did a smear campaign Skop & Argenziano were crucified. When FPL and the PSC have rate hearings FPL has separate rooms to nullify any naysayers. They did it in 2012 at all five hearings. They put shills in the audience.
One women dressed in Chanel spoke of how wonderful FPL was not cutting off her 3 month 600.00 a month late bill. The next man who spoke in a wheelchair with NO FEET spoke of how FPL cut off his lights for an $80.00 bill one month behind. No bones about it FPL is scum. The cowards no longer hold their yearly Shareholder meeting in Florida Why? because the cowards can't face the protests that happened in Juno Beach headquarters regularly. Changing the Current is their new bullshit campaign. Ratepayers need to change the current and demand FTC, FBI, SEC, and NRC start doing their jobs and shut down this Ponzi Scheme once and for all.

Anonymous said...

Why is FPL proposing to delay for four years? Why not two years, five years, or "for the next few years"? Is four a magic number in PR land or is something scheduled to take place, or some task achievable that will favor FPL in four years? Will certain elected officials be in or out of office? Maybe a takeover of the judiciary?