Monday, September 20, 2010

Petition to Stop Letting PGE Profit by Destroying Climate Stability

See the petition gadget to the right, and please sign it!

Fellow Oregonians,

The science is clear and unmistakable: it is no longer reasonable or prudent for PGE or any other utility to burn coal.

We need a change in law so that the Oregon Public Utility Commission is required, as a matter of law, to make that finding -- that coal burning is not reasonable or prudent -- and, therefore, to deny any recovery of costs from ratepayers for any spending on or capital connected with coal use. We need to force the Oregon PUC to refuse any cost recovery for any coal-burning power plants after 2014 and to prohibit Oregon utilities from making any profit on coal-derived power imported from anywhere else.

We also need to increase the rate of return on low-carbon investments so that private utilities have the greatest possible incentives to invest in development and use of these vital energy sources. In addition to requiring the Oregon PUC to refuse any recovery for money spent on anything having to do with the use of coal, the PUC should be mandated to create a bonus rate structure that rewards utilities for conservation investments and for low and carbon-free power that they deliver by giving them a higher rate of return on these sources.

Responding to the climate threat is not just an environmental issue -- future generations can't speak for themselves yet, but they will have to live with the consequences of our actions now, making climate stability the ultimate global human rights issue. Oregon is well-positioned to establish the principles and legal mechanisms for an effective response to this grave danger.

In response, Sen. Peter Courtney forwarded the following from State Treasurer Ted Wheeler:

Sept. 20, 2010 503-508-0737 (cell)

Treasurer Wheeler urges better regulation of coal ash to reduce health risks and lessen need for costly cleanups

As a major investor, Oregon supports responsible corporate practices and sensible regulations

SALEM - Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to better regulate the disposal of toxic coal ash in order to reduce the likelihood of costly environmental and public health impacts.

The State Treasurer, representing the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, is part of a coalition of institutional investors that collectively manage more than $240 billion in assets and jointly submitted testimony asking the environmental agency to enact stronger rules regarding disposal of coal ash, and better reporting about those methods.

Oregon has one coal-fired power plant and coal ash landfill site, at Boardman in Morrow County. The facility is operated by Portland General Electric, which has announced plans to stop burning coal at the plant by 2020, which would be 20 years ahead of schedule.

"Every corporation and utility should act in a responsible way, especially when they are dealing with toxic wastes," Treasurer Wheeler said. "PGE is taking the right steps for their company, for their shareholders and for Oregon. Wherever coal is burned, investors and the public will be better protected by stronger rules, because doing too little can lead to major costs later."

Coal ash is a by-product of burning coal and contains heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, lead and other toxins, and is left in landfills or ponds. However, those ponds and landfills are subject to less consistent regulation than landfills accepting household trash.

National attention to coal ash disposal was raised after a pond breach in Tennessee in 2008. That disaster sent millions of gallons of contaminated sludge and water into the Emory River and destroyed three houses.

In its testimony, the investors' coalition highlights the financial assurance requirement in the proposed regulations, saying that provision will help shareholders to understand financial risks associated with coal ash and to evaluate which companies are financially prepared to manage the costs of decommissioning coal ash sludge ponds or dealing with other coal ash-related impacts.

The Oregon State Treasury, which manages the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, directly interacts with companies in an attempt to improve corporate responsibility and to enhance shareholder say in issues such as CEO salaries and reporting of environmental safeguards and risks.

In addition to internal communications and proxy vote actions, Oregon also seeks more accountability from Wall Street and corporations through lawsuits, when companies have failed to act in shareholders' best financial interests.

Good corporate governance is a system of checks and balances that fosters transparency, responsibility, accountability and market integrity - and as a result, adds value to public investments.

Other signatories to the letter to the EPA include the Connecticut State Treasurer's Office and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

The Oregon State Treasury protects public assets and saves Oregonians money through its investment, banking, and debt management functions. The office also promotes public outreach and education to help Oregonians learn strategies to save money, invest for college and make smart financial choices.


In honor of today's Rail Now! convention in Salem

Good piece on the logic of making our EXISTING rail system a top priority. Hope the Rail Now! convention spends about 9 times more energy and attention on rebuilding the existing system as the attendees do on pie-in-the-sky high-speed rail ideas. Nothing wrong with the dreamy visions -- unless they divert money from Job 1, which is maintaining and expanding the system we have now, so that, with luck and hard work, we can someday again have a system as good as we had in 1910.

Countries that make makers take back their products are winning

Maria Federici's Story ~                      ...Image by vikisuzan via Flickr

Friedman's column emphasizes the multiple benefits, both predictable and less so, that flow from passing extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws. No reason these laws can't start in Oregon, one of the "laboratories of democracy."

. . . . This is a great opportunity for U.S. clean-tech firms — if we nurture them. "While the U.S. is known for radical innovation, China is better at tweak-ovation." said Liu. Chinese companies are good at making a billion widgets at a penny each but not good at complex system integration or customer service.

We (sort of) have those capabilities. At the World Economic Forum meeting here, I met Mike Biddle, founder of MBA Polymers, which has invented processes for separating plastic from piles of junked computers, appliances and cars and then recycling it into pellets to make new plastic using less than 10 percent of the energy required to make virgin plastic from crude oil. Biddle calls it "above-ground mining." In the last three years, his company has mined 100 million pounds of new plastic from old plastic.

Biddle's seed money was provided mostly by U.S. taxpayers through federal research grants, yet today only his tiny headquarters are in the U.S. His factories are in Austria, China and Britain. "I employ 25 people in California and 250 overseas," he says. His dream is to have a factory in America that would repay all those research grants, but that would require a smart U.S. energy bill. Why?

Americans recycle about 25 percent of their plastic bottles. Most of the rest ends up in landfills or gets shipped to China to be recycled here. Getting people to recycle regularly is a hassle. To overcome that, the European Union, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea — and next year, China — have enacted producer-responsibility laws requiring that anything with a cord or battery — from an electric toothbrush to a laptop to a washing machine — has to be collected and recycled at the manufacturers' cost. That gives Biddle the assured source of raw material he needs at a reasonable price. (Because recyclers now compete in these countries for junk, the cost to the manufacturers for collecting it is steadily falling.)

"I am in the E.U. and China because the above-ground plastic mines are there or are being created there," said Biddle, who just won The Economist magazine's 2010 Innovation Award for energy/environment. "I am not in the U.S. because there aren't sufficient mines."

Biddle had enough money to hire one lobbyist to try to persuade the U.S. Congress to copy the recycling regulations of Europe, Japan and China in our energy bill, but, in the end, there was no bill. So we educated him, we paid for his tech breakthroughs — and now Chinese and European workers will harvest his fruit. Aren't we clever?

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