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Good for consumers, good for the planet?

Steven Weissman, associate director, Center for Law, Energy and the Environment | January 28, 2011

California Governor Jerry Brown’s appointment of Mike Florio, a well-known, life-long consumer advocate, to a seat on the California Public Utilities Commission raises an interesting question for those who view the world primarily through green-colored glasses. What does a consumer advocate have to offer toward the advancement of an environmental agenda — at least in the energy utility world?

There was a time when consumer and environmental priorities seemed to have little in common. Take Mike Florio’s organization, TURN, for instance. Its founder Sylvia Siegel was a strident opponent of any “extraneous” utility expenditure — whether it was for corporate offices, or energy efficiency programs. As the organization grew, however, TURN realized that it had something important to say about energy efficiency programs and renewable energy development, other than “no”. Recognizing that such programs would be important parts of the regulatory agenda, TURN focused its efforts on making sure that the programs were as effective and cost-efficient as possible.

This ought to be a good thing for environmental policy, since funds are limited, and ineffective programs can tend to lose support. Consumer advocates should also be strong proponents of “least cost” resource planning, under which cost-effective energy efficiency gains should always be the top priority. In addition, as consistent participants in regulatory proceedings, consumer intervenors become knowledgeable observers of programs and policies but don’t have a direct stake in the market. That usually means that their experts can have access to commercially-sensitive information, which enhances their ability to provide meaningful oversight of the regulatory process.

There is also no reason to think that an enlightened consumer advocate will be one-dimensional. To the contrary, anyone who studies energy regulation from a critical perspective ought to be attuned to ineffectual environmental stewardship and have the skill set necessary to do something about it.

A case in point is Jon Wellinghoff — the current Chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He spent two terms as Nevada’s first Consumer Advocate for Customer of Public Utilities. Later, he was the primary author of Nevada’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. As FERC Chair, he has sought ways to promote renewable energy development through such things as creative transmission pricing strategies and an innovative rationale for allowing states to set favorable rates for the purchase of power from smaller renewable generation facilities.

When it comes to effective environmental regulation, a deep base of knowledge, a strong skill set, and a healthy skepticism trump everything else. That’s why the appointment of Mike Florio (as well Catherine Sandoval who also has a reputation as a consumer advocate) could be good news for the environment.

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet, a Berkeley Law/UCLA Law collaboration.

Comments to “Good for consumers, good for the planet?

  1. I couldn’t agree more with this article. Politicians (and people in general) who care about people can successfully make a transition towards environmentally conscious thinking. Such transition is especially well suited in that the candidate not only comes from a culture of conservative spending, but also one that emphasises the wellbeing of human beings first and foremost.

    All too many “green politicians” throw caution to the wind and engage the public coffers into ambitious plans, with questionable science, and debateable benefit to humanity. I hope to see more politicians who want to help the environment but who are careful to avoid the pitfalls of reckless spending and overzealous policy making.

  2. “When it comes to effective environmental regulation, a deep base of knowledge, a strong skill set, and a healthy skepticism trump everything else.”

    I couldn’t agree more and thought you might be interested in seeing this.

    February 8, 2011

    To the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate:
    In reply to “The Importance of Science in Addressing Climate Change”

    On 28 January 2011, eighteen scientists sent a letter to members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate urging them to “take a fresh look at climate change.” Their intent, apparently, was to disparage the views of scientists who disagree with their contention that continued business-as-usual increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions produced from the burning of coal, gas, and oil will lead to a host of cataclysmic climate-related problems.

    We, the undersigned, totally disagree with them and would like to take this opportunity to briefly state our side of the story.

    The eighteen climate alarmists (as we refer to them, not derogatorily, but simply because they view themselves as “sounding the alarm” about so many things climatic) state that the people of the world “need to prepare for massive flooding from the extreme storms of the sort being experienced with increasing frequency,” as well as the “direct health impacts from heat waves” and “climate-sensitive infectious diseases,” among a number of other devastating phenomena. And they say that “no research results have produced any evidence that challenges the overall scientific understanding of what is happening to our planet’s climate,” which is understood to mean their view of what is happening to Earth’s climate.

    To these statements, however, we take great exception. It is the eighteen climate alarmists who appear to be unaware of “what is happening to our planet’s climate,” as well as the vast amount of research that has produced that knowledge.

    For example, a lengthy review of their claims and others that climate alarmists frequently make can be found on the Web site of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change (see That report offers a point-by-point rebuttal of all of the claims of the “group of eighteen,” citing in every case peer-reviewed scientific research on the actual effects of climate change during the past several decades.

    If the “group of eighteen” pleads ignorance of this information due to its very recent posting, then we call their attention to an even larger and more comprehensive report published in 2009, Climate Change Reconsidered: The 2009 Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). That document has been posted for more than a year in its entirety at

    These are just two recent compilations of scientific research among many we could cite. Do the 678 scientific studies referenced in the CO2 Science document, or the thousands of studies cited in the NIPCC report, provide real-world evidence (as opposed to theoretical climate model predictions) for global warming-induced increases in the worldwide number and severity of floods? No. In the global number and severity of droughts? No. In the number and severity of hurricanes and other storms? No.

    Do they provide any real-world evidence of Earth’s seas inundating coastal lowlands around the globe? No. Increased human mortality? No. Plant and animal extinctions? No. Declining vegetative productivity? No. More frequent and deadly coral bleaching? No. Marine life dissolving away in acidified oceans? No.

    Quite to the contrary, in fact, these reports provide extensive empirical evidence that these things are not happening. And in many of these areas, the referenced papers report finding just the opposite response to global warming, i.e., biosphere-friendly effects of rising temperatures and rising CO2 levels.

    In light of the profusion of actual observations of the workings of the real world showing little or no negative effects of the modest warming of the second half of the twentieth century, and indeed growing evidence of positive effects, we find it incomprehensible that the eighteen climate alarmists could suggest something so far removed from the truth as their claim that no research results have produced any evidence that challenges their view of what is happening to Earth’s climate and weather.

    But don’t take our word for it. Read the two reports yourselves. And then make up your own minds about the matter. Don’t be intimidated by false claims of “scientific consensus” or “overwhelming proof.” These are not scientific arguments and they are simply not true.
    Like the eighteen climate alarmists, we urge you to take a fresh look at climate change. We believe you will find that it is not the horrendous environmental threat they and others have made it out to be, and that they have consistently exaggerated the negative effects of global warming on the U.S. economy, national security, and public health, when such effects may well be small to negligible.

    Signed by:

    Syun-Ichi Akasofu, University of Alaska1
    Scott Armstrong, University of Pennsylvania
    James Barrante, Southern Connecticut State University1
    Richard Becherer, University of Rochester
    John Boring, University of Virginia
    Roger Cohen, American Physical Society Fellow
    David Douglass, University of Rochester
    Don Easterbrook, Western Washington University1
    Robert Essenhigh, The Ohio State University1
    Martin Fricke, Senior Fellow, American Physical Society
    Lee Gerhard, University of Kansas1
    Ulrich Gerlach, The Ohio State University
    Laurence Gould, University of Hartford
    Bill Gray, Colorado State University1
    Will Happer, Princeton University2
    Howard Hayden, University of Connecticut1
    Craig Idso, Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change
    Sherwood Idso, USDA, U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory1
    Richard Keen, University of Colorado
    Doral Kemper, USDA, Agricultural Research Service1
    Hugh Kendrick, Office of Nuclear Reactor Programs, DOE1
    Richard Lindzen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology2
    Anthony Lupo, University of Missouri
    Patrick Michaels, Cato Institute
    Donald Nielsen, University of California, Davis1
    Al Pekarek, St. Cloud State University
    John Rhoads, Midwestern State University1
    Nicola Scafetta, Duke University
    Gary Sharp, Center for Climate/Ocean Resources Study
    S. Fred Singer, University of Virginia1
    Roy Spencer, University of Alabama
    George Taylor, Past President, American Association of State Climatologists
    Frank Tipler, Tulane University
    Leonard Weinstein, National Institute of Aerospace Senior Research Fellow
    Samuel Werner, University of Missouri1
    Thomas Wolfram, University of Missouri1
    1 – Emeritus or Retired
    2 – Member of the National Academy of Sciences

    Endorsed by:
    Rodney Armstrong, Geophysicist
    Edwin Berry, Certified Consulting Meteorologist
    Joseph Bevelacqua, Bevelacqua Resources
    Carmen Catanese, American Physical Society Member
    Roy Clark, Ventura Photonics
    John Coleman, Meteorologist KUSI TV
    Darrell Connelly, Geophysicist
    Joseph D’Aleo, Certified Consulting Meteorologist
    Terry Donze, Geophysicist1
    Mike Dubrasich, Western Institute for Study of the Environment
    John Dunn, American Council on Science and Health of NYC
    Dick Flygare, QEP Resources
    Michael Fox, Nuclear industry/scientist
    Gordon Fulks, Gordon Fulks and Associates
    Ken Haapala, Science & Environmental Policy Project
    Martin Hertzberg, Bureau of Mines1
    Art Horn, Meteorologist
    Keith Idso, Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change
    Jay Lehr, The Heartland Institute
    Robert Lerine, Industrial and Defense Research and Engineering1
    Peter Link, Geologist
    James Macdonald, Chief Meteorologist for the Travelers Weather Service1
    Roger Matson, Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists
    Tony Pann, Meteorologist WBAL TV
    Ned Rasor, Consulting Physicist
    James Rogers, Geologist1
    Norman Rogers, National Association of Scholars
    Thomas Sheahen, Western Technology Incorporated
    Andrew Spurlock, Starfire Engineering and Technologies, Inc.
    Leighton Steward,
    Soames Summerhays, Summerhays Films, Inc.
    Charles Touhill, Consulting Environmental Engineer
    David Wojick,
    1 – Emeritus or Retired

    Letter in PDF form:

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