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8 min. read

Reports of 37,000 text messages – Checks & Balances Project's Scott Peterson raises questions about public accountability and cozy links between energy utility and regulators in Arizona

By Mike Casey, President of Tigercomm

The Arizona utility, APS (Arizona Public Service), and people in Arizona State government have been recent, frequent visitors to my firm’s website.

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I assume that state employees are staff and members of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), some of whose members are now under state investigation by the Attorney General’s office for a dark money election scheme widely believed to have been funded by APS.

Time spent on our site hopefully reinforced some things about us:

We’re mission-driven to help nonprofits and companies scale climate change solutions and technologies succeed. See our tagline:

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We’ll work with any responsible party, regardless of political bent, as long as they can drive the economy’s transition to a clean energy footing. Here’s an inset of work we did several years ago on a campaign for conservative ranchers, farmers and Western property owners seeking common sense protections against off-road vehicle abuse on their lands:

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  • In my own writing, I’ve been steadfastly critical of the fossil fuel lobby (see here, here and here).

APS’s Lack of Credibility & Profit-Driven Motives

I’m assuming neither the ACC nor APS want to hire us. More likely, they are smarting from the recent run of negative publicity resulting from Arizona media raising important questions about the APS-ACC relationship. So have the shareholder group, As You Sow, and The Checks and Balances Project, a client of ours. You can read a sampling of the coverage here, here, here and here. It’s pretty eye opening.

Why is that important? Because while some utilities embrace clean energy’s growth and popularity, some aggressively resist by attacking reform messengers with misinformation, opposition research books and the help of sympathetic media outlets.

Take our friends (and clients) at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), who are part of a coalition with Florida conservatives to bring much-needed attention to the efforts of some utilities to prevent homeowners from accessing low-cost rooftop solar in the Sunshine State. The result?

Attacks like the one rebutted in this story, and hit pieces (here) in outlets like the reliably pro-fossil fuel the American Spectator that were likely written off an opposition research dump. If you don’t want to read the Spectator stories, they basically say: 1.) Unless you like taxpayer-supported utility monopolies effectively telling you what you can put on your roof, you can’t be a true conservative. 2.) Government welfare checks to fossil fuel interests aren’t very big (this is wrong), and they shouldn’t offend free-market conservatives.

But here is the real story about why conservatives are increasingly supporting clean energy. And, the real story about some backward-looking utilities.

Where APS might be headed?

So, let’s start the counter now on similar propaganda pieces that APS will seek in order to shoot the Checks and Balances messenger for asking reasonable, public interest questions about utilities and the regulators overseeing them. I respectfully suggest that APS ratepayers’ money would be better spent on strategies that continue lowering cost of solar, instead of opposition researchers and ad hominen attacks to stall job-creating clean-energy choices that the vast majority of Arizonans want.

But if APS has gone down the opposition research road, I can save them some time when it comes to my firm:

  • The Checks and Balances Project’s “History” page describes how I helped my friend and former journalist, Andrew Schenkel, brainstorm the Project’s concept. Andrew served as its first director and did some amazing, groundbreaking work. Though he’s now working at The Global Call for Climate Action, the direction he set in these early years made the Project one of our favorite things to work on.
  • We have helped incubate the Project through administrative support (Executive Director Scott Peterson typically works from our offices 1-2 days a week). We also assisted with fundraising, and provided media relations counsel throughout the Project’s existence.
  • We’ve posted about the Project’s findings and work here on this blog 25 times, by our count. You can see examples here (as well as here, here and here). And, we’ve tweeted about the project 18 times over the years. One of the most recent tweets was:

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  • We also list Checks and Balances Project as a client on our website here.
  • Though Checks and Balances Project hasn’t typically taken positions on specific issues, its stated mission is pro-clean energy.
  • At the end of every post, Scott describes the Project as:
    • “… a watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.
  • By holding the fossil fuel lobby accountable for distorted information and influence peddling, Scott will, by definition help advance opportunities and growth of clean energy. That’s the stated mission.
  • Renew American Prosperity (RAP) was formed by like-minded people who wanted to raise funds to further the work done by Checks and Balances Project (and, eventually, other projects like it). Tigercomm gets hired directly by RAP to help support Scott. We proudly list RAP as a client here on our site.
  • RAP is clear about the funding and support it will accept, which includes individuals, such as Mike Danaher (a top cleantech attorney), and also cleantech-minded foundations and companies.
  • RAP encourages donors to publicly embrace their support, but here’s their donor policy:
    • “As a Renew American Prosperity donor, you are choosing to help check the public relations pressure and influence of polluting industries. These are industries with some in them who see Americans who speak out as “insurgents,” who should be subjected to military-grade techniques. Some employ hardball, corporate espionage tactics, as CNBC correspondent Eamon Javers reported in a recent book.”
    • “We encourage you to allow us to be public about your identity as a donor, because the greater the number of public supporters of our efforts, the more bold others will be. However, should you want to keep your support for Renew American Prosperity private, we still welcome your support, which will remain strictly private. We will never sell or make available to other organizations our supporter lists.”

Here’s the bottom line: If we as a country are going to successfully promote and scale clean energy and climate solution technologies, it’s going to disrupt and upset some very powerful and entrenched interests. These interests are not going to take change lying down. They are bringing every bit of their financial resources to bear to stop clean energy technologies, while denying consumers and customers the option of making clean energy choices.

To move forward, we’ll have to join philanthropic and clean energy private sector money, and we’ll have to raise some inconvenient questions of the entrenched.

That’s what the Checks and Balances Project is about. And, it’s why we are glad and proud, to have been in its corner from the start. Keep going, Scott!

Topics: Public Affairs