Whistle blower: Former Arizona Utility Regulator Threatened Him Not to Reveal Inappropriate Activity

Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce

Former ACC Chairman Gary Pierce accused of secret meetings with utility heads.

Former Chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission Gary Pierce held about a dozen private meetings with executives of APS, the state’s largest electrical utility (and which is regulated by the ACC) — many of which took place while the commission was considering proposed rate hikes for APS customers, according to a letter written by an ACC employee who reported directly to Piece. The letter was addressed to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Susan Bitter Smith, current ACC chair, and ACC executive director, Jodi Jerich and sent on February 13, 2015.

The whistle blower, who has not been publicly identified, also claimed that Pierce ordered him to exert pressure on authorities to expedite paperwork to incorporate the Conservative Business League, a political consulting firm. CBL’s website lists Ron Ludders and Bob Thomas as directors of the firm.

According to the letter, on October 4, 2012, a month before elections for ACC commissioners, “Mr. Ludders reiterated how important it was that the filing be processed as soon as possible because they had checks to cash.” In the letter, the whistle blower writes, “Mr. Ludders said they had $186,000 in checks to destroy Commissions [Paul] Newman and [Sandra] Kennedy. He did so while patting the pocket of his suit jacket.”

2012 campaign sign for the "Solar Team."

2012 campaign sign for the “Solar Team.”

Democrats Newman and Kennedy, who billed themselves as part of a “solar team,” lost the November election.

The whistle blower thought nothing more of Ludders earlier comments until reading a December 11 news article about a “hit piece” mailer against the pro-solar pair, that, according the article, cost $186,000. In November 2013, the now all-GOP commission approved a measure allowing APS to impose a fee for customers with solar panels. APS proposed charging solar customers $8.00 per kilowatt — about $50 a month for a typical residential system. The commission instead imposed a fee of $.70 per kilowatt. Critics charge that although the new fee is small, it sets a precedent for future hikes which will discourage prospective customers from installing rooftop solar power.

The ACC whistle blower charged that in August of 2014 he told then-ACC Chairman Bob Stump about the improper meetings between Pierce and APS, his suspicions over “the dark money that funded the hit piece,” and other cases of “abuse of authority by current and ex officio members” of the ACC.

He ends his letter by stating that “to my knowledge nothing has been done with the information I provided.”

The man who heard thScreenClipe list of charges last summer, ACC commissioner Bob Stump, issued a statement last week saying, “Rest assured that this Commission takes all allegations seriously and I am confident that a through investigation will be conducted.”

In a twitter exchange in January, I asked Commissioner Stump about earlier charges of dark money influencing the ACC elections. Why not force donor disclosure? I asked. Stump didn’t answer directly, suggesting I track down his previous interviews and then dismissed the issue as “old campaign-stunt news.”



The Earth in HD: Live from Space

The view of Earth from the International Space Station is spectacular. For some time, I’ve considered embedding a live feed from a video camera attached to the ISS. When the camera was recently upgraded to HD, the sharper images convinced me that now was the time. A 24-7 view of our home planet from 268 miles up (431 km) is to some space geeks what kitty videos are to “normal” people. Addictive and mesmerizing.

Traveling at 17,000 miles an hour, the ISS encounters a sunset or sunrise every 45 minutes. Of course, they’re beautiful, but even more stunning IMHO are the views of the planet gliding by in full light far below. And at night, if you tune in at the right time, you can see cities around the world marked by their glowing lights.

Enjoy the live feed below. If you want to learn more about the ISS, check out this NASA website devoted to the orbiting science laboratory.

Second, non-HD, live stream from the International Space Station (below).

Report: Lack of Oversight by EPA Allows Dangerous Methane Leaks

Known natural gas leaks in Boston. (Image Credit: EDF)

Known natural gas leaks in Boston. (Image Credit: EDF)

A lack of oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for natural gas distribution pipelines is responsible for the release of millions of tons annually of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than CO2, according to a report issued today by that agency’s Office of Inspector General.

The study found that EPA’s reliance on voluntary industry compliance with guidelines, instead of regulations, allows the equivalent of 13 million metric tons of CO2, to leak from aging pipelines each year. Most leaks are thought to come from 93,000 miles of old cast and wrought iron pipelines, with the majority of them (82%) in just ten states: New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, Alabama, and Missouri.

An introduction to the report found that:

The EPA has placed little focus and attention on reducing methane emissions from pipelines in the natural gas distribution sector. In 2012, the EPA stated its intent to continue to evaluate the appropriateness of regulating methane.

The 2013 Climate Action Plan calls for the EPA, in conjunction with other federal agencies, to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy to address methane emissions. The EPA does not currently regulate methane emissions from the distribution sector and has not partnered with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates pipeline safety, to control methane leaks. The EPA has a voluntary program to address methane leaks—Natural Gas STAR—but its efforts through this program have resulted in limited reductions of methane emissions from distribution pipelines. This is due largely to financial and policy barriers, including disincentives for distribution companies to repair nonhazardous leaks.

The agency needs to address additional issues to better assess progress from the voluntary program and determine if future regulations are warranted. The EPA needs to set goals and track its progress in reducing emissions from distribution pipelines through its voluntary program. Also, the EPA needs to evaluate data from ongoing external studies to determine their usefulness for validating or updating its distribution pipeline emission factors. The emission factors that the EPA uses are based on a 1996 study, which has a high level of uncertainty. Two non-EPA groups are conducting studies that may be useful to the EPA. However, the EPA’s involvement in the design or protocols of these studies has been limited.

To read the entire report, click here.


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