An aerial view of of the Power County wind farm in Power County, Idaho. U.S. Department of Energy / Flickr
The Energy and Policy Institute attempted to contact Warren via his LinkedIn account about this new anti-wind letter to Congress, but has not received a response yet.
"I'm not sure I know who Chris Warren is?" Linowes said in response to an email from the Energy and Policy Institute.
By Dave Anderson
A new letter asking Congress to end the wind production tax credit has ties to the Institute for Energy Research, a group that has received funding from the fossil fuel and utility industry and is a close ally of the Trump administration.
The Energy and Policy Institute downloaded a pdf of the letter from WindAction.org, an anti-wind website run by the New Hampshire-based Lisa Linowes. A look at the “Document Properties” seemed to identify “Chris Warren” as the “Author” of the file:
An individual named “Chris Warren” worked as the director of communications for the Institute for Energy Research (IER) from June of 2012 to May of 2017, according to Warren’s LinkedIn profile. While at IER, Warren worked to oppose the wind PTC.
The Energy and Policy Institute attempted to contact Warren via his LinkedIn account about this new anti-wind letter to Congress, but has not received a response yet.
Robert Bradley, the CEO and founder of IER, promoted the new letter, which he dubbed the “Linowes Letter,” in a post on his group’s blog MasterResource.org. IER has received funding from fossil fuel and utility interests, including the Koch network, coal producer Peabody Energy, and the Edison Electric Institute. The group also has strong ties to the Trump administration.
“I’m not sure I know who Chris Warren is?” Linowes said in response to an email from the Energy and Policy Institute.
“In any event, a Chris Warren had nothing to do with the letter,” she said.
Linowes claimed that she wrote the letter, and that no one helped to draft it.
Shortly after the Energy and Policy Institute emailed Linowes for comment, the pdf of the letter found on WindAction.org was replaced with a new version with “Chris Warren” removed from the “Author” section of the “Document Properties”:
Robert Bradley of IER also linked to a related petition posted by Janna Swanson, an Iowa-based anti-wind activist, that’s so far been signed by more than 1,100 people.
“The letter that will be sent with this petition to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday Dec.12, 2017 can be seen through this link,” according to Swanson’s petition, which then provided a link back to the Linowes letter on WindAction.org.
Like an earlier letter from Tom Pyle, the president of IER and its affiliated organization the American Energy Alliance (AEA), the “Linowes Letter” goes beyond attacking the wind PTC, and also opposes a “carve-out” that would save the wind and solar power industry from the harmful Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax, or BEAT, provision found in the Senate version of the tax bill.
AEA/IER have a long history of teaming up with anti-wind activists against the wind PTC.
Chris Warren now works as a speechwriter for Texans for Greg Abbott, according to his LinkedIn profile. Warren’s new job began around the time that Governor Abbott signed a bill that made wind farms located near military facilities ineligible for property tax exemptions.
Linowes is one of the “Principals” who writes regularly for IER’s blog MasterResource.org, and her relationship with IER calls into question claims of independence found in the FAQ section of WindAction.org:
“WindAction is not funded in any way by others in the energy industry including coal, natural gas, nuclear power, or other renewable energy resources; nor are we affiliated with large political activists groups. Support for our efforts is entirely grass roots, coming from diversified environmentalists, energy experts, and ordinary citizens who share our concerns about industrial wind energy development.”
IER disclosed a total of $151,625 in expenses for “CONSULTING—RESEARCH AND WRITING” on its IRS 990 for 2016, and another $227,417 for 2015, but did not disclose to whom that money was being paid.
Asked if she has received funding from IER or AEA, Linowes responded, “No.”
Members of Congress who receive the “Linowes letter” should know about Linowes’ ties to the Institute for Energy Research, and the fossil fuel and utility interests that this group represents.
Dave Anderson is the policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute.
By David Pomerantz
The New York Times reported earlier this month about how utilities around the country, and their trade group the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), have worked to weaken rooftop solar policies in an attempt to stave off the threat to their business model.
The article featured some of Energy and Policy Institute’s reporting, including our expose of Brian McCormack, former EEI executive and current Chief of Staff to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, for his role in attacking rooftop solar while at EEI, as well as our uncovering of Florida utilities’ deceptive anti-solar ballot initiative in that state last year.
Some important aspects of the story of utilities’ efforts did not make it into the Times coverage though:
Upset About EEI? There’s a Good Chance You’re Funding Them
The Times exposed the central role played by the Edison Electric Institute in driving the utility industry’s anti-rooftop solar strategy:
At a January 2016 board meeting of the Edison institute, attended by chief executives of the country’s largest utilities, Thomas R. Kuhn, the group’s president, counseled against complacency.
“Years, ago, I think a lot of people said, ‘That’s not going to come to our area,'” he said, according to a recording of his remarks made available by a participant. “And now we see it in each and every state,” he said.
“EEI is happy to come to any state at any time,” he added. “We have two dozen states we are working on.”
If you’re angry about EEI, here’s some bad news for you: there’s a high chance that you’re paying the salaries of the trade association’s executives.
Our report Paying for Politics detailed how the nation’s investor-owned electric utility customers are subsidizing EEI via their bills every month. Investor-owned utilities embed their EEI membership dues into rates, forcing their customers to pay for a policy agenda constructed primarily for the benefit of utilities’ shareholders, not their customers. Since most customers have no choice about their utility, there’s not much they can do about it.
Despite Efforts, Utilities Cannot Stop Distributed Solar Energy
And here’s some better news: The Times story focused on Indiana, where utilities scored a victory when they lobbied to pass a law that would unravel net metering, the policy that dictates how much a utility must pay solar owners for the excess electricity they sell back to the grid. But another state reveals how the utilities’ strategy can, and often will, backfire.
In Nevada, utility NV Energy succeeded in 2015 at lobbying regulators to reduce net metering payments. The industry perceived it as a victory that other utilities could learn from—in January 2017, EEI and NV Energy announced that Tony Sanchez, an NV Energy senior vice-president who helped lead the utility’s efforts in the net metering debates, was taking on a “key loaned executive” role with EEI.
But while the utility industry celebrated what they thought was a big win for NV Energy, Nevadans became furious at the lost solar jobs and the utility’s influence at slowing down the growth of a technology that people from across the political spectrum love. The utility’s victory was short-lived. In June 2017, the legislature unanimously passed, and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval signed, a bill to restore the old net metering rates.
Not only that, but last November, the state’s voters passed by a large margin a ballot initiative to break up NV Energy’s monopoly entirely—political observers in the state perceive the amendment’s success in part as a referendum on NV Energy’s unpopularity in the wake of the company’s attacks on solar.
The Nevada story should serve as a warning for utilities: In places where they try to attack popular pro-solar policies, a popular backlash risks weakening their political capital with regulators and legislators.
In the long run, utilities have even bigger problems than their political fortunes. Even where they win short-term victories on policies like net metering, the combination of rooftop solar panels plus batteries, which are getting cheaper faster than anyone expected, will enable more and more customers to buy less and less electricity from their utilities. Dave Roberts of Vox recently authored a piece on the topic aptly headlined: Utilities fighting against rooftop solar are only hastening their own doom.
As Roberts writes, quoting a recent McKinsey study:
“In a low-cost storage environment,” McKinsey writes, the rate structures utilities are monkeying around with “are unlikely to be effective at mitigating load losses.” In other words, customers are still going to keep generating more of their own power.
The Times piece was important to expose how utilities are coming after solar. But it’s worth remembering that in the long run, they won’t stop distributed renewable energy, and will be better served learning to co-exist with it than to keep fighting it.
By Dave Anderson
Christopher Wray, President Trump’s nominee for FBI director, advised corporate clients on how to avoid “being in the crosshairs” of law enforcement at a 2015 legal forum where investigations by state attorneys general into whether ExxonMobil misled investors and the public about climate change were a topline issue.
Wray’s law firm later pitched clients on its ability to help corporations “vigorously contest” such investigations in response to the 2016 launch of a coalition of 17 state attorneys general aimed at pursuing similar legal efforts around climate change. The firm’s clients have included ExxonMobil and other powerful fossil fuel interests.
— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch) May 10, 2017
First, some quick background on the issues at play, followed by some details on the involvement of Wray and his law firm.
Wray once led federal corporate fraud investigations, but then he switched sides
President Trump described his new nominee for FBI director as “a man of impeccable credentials” in a tweet. Wray’s credentials include a 2003-2005 stint as assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he oversaw corporate fraud investigations, helped to take down Enron and contributed to national security efforts after 9/11.
After Wray left the Department of Justice in 2005, he switched sides and joined the corporate law firm King & Spalding, which has consistently ranked as a “White Collar Group of the Year.” He’s since defended big corporations against investigations by U.S. attorneys general offices around the country.
Wray’s law firm has defended powerful fossil fuel interests in climate change litigation
King & Spalding successfully defended Chevron in Native Village of Kalina v. ExxonMobil, a case where a community of Alaska Natives sought compensation for the cost of relocating their coastal village due to flooding and erosion caused by climate change. The community and others like it still remain stranded in the path of rising waters, without the financial resources necessary to relocate once again.
DesmogBlog has previously reported on some of the firm’s broader other clients in the fossil fuel industry, which have included ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Peabody Energy and Shell. Other clients have included ExxonMobil and the Russian oil companies Gazprom and Rosneft.
The firm’s client list is of interest given the current scrutiny of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. For example, Sec. of State Rex Tillerson established a long-term relationship with Rosneft while CEO of ExxonMobil. In addition, some members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have called on the Department of Justice to investigate ExxonMobil’s record of deception on climate change based on the same authority it previously used to take on the tobacco industry.
— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch) May 30, 2017
The FBI’s role in the ExxonMobil climate change investigations
In 2016, a letter from the Department of Justice informed members of Congress that it had forwarded their request for a federal investigation into whether ExxonMobil may have violated the law by “failing to disclose truthful information to investors and the public regarding climate science” to the FBI.
“The FBI will determine whether an investigation is warranted,” the 2016 letter from DOJ said.
More than half a million Americans also petitioned the Department of Justice to investigate the oil and gas producer. The calls came after it was revealed that ExxonMobil knew about the possible risks that carbon dioxide emissions resulting from use of its products—fossil fuels—posed to the earth’s climate, long before it spearheaded a decades long campaign of climate denial.
The FBI has been silent on the issue since then, and prospects of a federal investigation into ExxonMobil’s climate deception dimmed when Trump chose Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as U.S. attorney general. While in the Senate, Sessions joined a letter to the Department of Justice that opposed such an investigation.
Wray offered clients legal advice at a 2015 forum on the ExxonMobil investigations
The December 2015 forum, “From Climate Change to Anti-Corruption: The Energy Sector in the Crosshairs of Government Enforcement,” that was hosted by King & Spalding was largely framed as a response to these investigations.
Wray topped the list of speakers , which also included several other attorneys from his firm.
A January of 2016 Client Alert, “State Attorneys General Investigations and Enforcement: What to Expect in 2016,” sent by King & Spalding confirms that the forum:
“…discussed New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation into ExxonMobil’s securities disclosures and their connection to climate change issues, among other recent energy-related investigations.”
Wray’s advice at the December 2015 forum was quoted in the same Client Alert that King & Spalding sent out the following month:
“When you see a competitor announce in their disclosure that they’ve got an investigation, whether it’s with a state AG, the SEC, the Justice Department or all of the above, immediately start trying to figure out as much as you can about what they are dealing with and start asking yourself questions internally: Is there any chance at all we could have a problem like that since they’re in the same industry in the same place? Is there something we ought to do … so that we don’t end up being in the crosshairs?”
“In this way, companies can identify areas where the government is likely to investigate and proactively move to improve and reinforce compliance in those critical areas,” the client alert then concluded, based on Wray’s remarks.
But Wray’s law firm later offered clients the ability to “vigorously contest” such investigations
Spalding & King soon followed up with an April 2016 Client Alert, “State AGs Announce Climate Change Investigations,” that closed with a sales pitch:
“King & Spalding has been at the forefront in representing clients who have found themselves the targets of state AG investigations or claims for almost 30 years. Our experience with state AG investigations began in the 1980s with our representation of Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company and continues through to today representing clients in many industries, including energy companies. King & Spalding’s State Attorneys General Practice is jointly led by our government investigations and public policy groups, and is supported by our strategic alliance with former Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.
We always do what we can to help clients avoid or minimize the impact of state Attorneys General investigations and litigation whenever possible, but we are not afraid to vigorously contest those investigations when appropriate or to try cases when necessary. We are also adept at engaging with the media directly or in coordination with communications personnel and/or consultants.”
The April 2016 client alert came from King & Spalding’s Special Matters and Government Investigations Practice Group, which Wray had chaired since 2006. Wray was not explicitly named in the April client alert, as he was named in the earlier January alert.
King & Spalding’s April 2016 alert came shortly after the launch of the coalition of 17 state attorneys general that significantly raised the stakes for ExxonMobil.
“The participating states are exploring working together on key climate change-related initiatives, such as ongoing and potential investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change on their businesses,” according to a press release from Schneiderman’s office.
King & Spalding’s April 2016 client alert also questioned the motives of these state attorneys general. It cited information obtained through a public records request submitted to the Vermont attorney general’s office by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) in an attempt to stir up political controversy around the investigations. E&E Legal is a climate denial outfit with ties to the Trump administration and is known for its use of public records requests to harass real climate scientists.
In 2015, E&E Legal received funding from coal producer Peabody Energy. That same year, the Peabody Energy reached a settled with Schneiderman after an investigation into the coal company’s “misleading statements” to investors on climate change.
Wray is not the first Trump nominee to have weighed in on the issue
Corporate attorney Jay Clayton worked for a law firm that advised clients to comply with guidance on climate change disclosure from the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) after Schneiderman announced his investigation of ExxonMobil’s disclosures. News broke that the SEC had launched a related investigation into ExxonMobil’s climate accounting practices in September of 2016.
Clayton is now serving in the Trump administration as chairman of the SEC. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Clayton advised that corporations should continue to be “mindful” of the SEC’s guidance on climate change disclosure:
Similar questions could arise at Wray’s confirmation hearing, though those are likely to be dominated by questions about the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russian influence over the 2016 election.
State attorneys general will continue to lead the investigations into ExxonMobil’s record on climate change
There is no reason to believe that any real federal investigation of ExxonMobil’s climate change disclosures, or those of other companies, will occur while Trump is in the White House. The Trump administration has, with few exceptions, generally followed the fossil fuel industry’s lead by rolling back key U.S. climate change policies that have long been opposed by ExxonMobil and its political allies.
State attorneys general will continue to lead the charge on holding companies like ExxonMobil accountable when they deceive investors and the public about climate change risks, and recent trends indicate forward thinking shareholders will do the same.