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change-dot-org-logoChange.org, a popular Web site activists use to create online petitions, sent an email today updating its subscribers about a change to the site’s terms of service.

The announcement included a welcome change at Change.org: “We removed our arbitration clause, and also provide a means to try to resolve disputes directly.”

That’s right, Change.org – which has long appeared on Public Citizen’s Forced Arbitration Rogues Gallery – has dropped forced arbitration from its terms.

It would be an exaggeration to say the terms are perfect from the perspective of a harmed consumer – they do, for example, still require any litigation to occur in a court of law in San Francisco.

Nevertheless, it’s terrific news that a Web company like Change.org is leading the way to show other companies – such as Starbucks, Charles Schwab and PNC Financial – that respecting consumers’ right to their day in court is not incompatible with doing business.

Let’s hope Change.org’s change also encourages consumers to hold other companies to a higher standard as well.

Rick Claypool is the online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

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Twenty-five thousand Public Citizen activists joined the 2 million Americans who submitted comments in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, giving the proposal to cut carbon pollution from power plants strong public support.

Next stop: a final plan. Over the next 7 months, the EPA will review the comments, incorporate them into the proposal and issue a final Clean Power Plan.

But there’s going to be some hostile terrain along the way.

Congressional Republicans who have a majority in both houses and the dirty-energy allies who spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get them there have already signaled that they will do everything in their power to stop the centerpiece of U.S. action on climate.

Here is a closer look at 3 tactics that will likely be deployed to derail the Clean Power Plan:

Tactic: The Flat Tire

Using spending bills to deflate regulatory action

Likely Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has vowed to derail Environmental Protection Agency regulatory efforts through the appropriations process – saying that he feels a “deep responsibility” to stop the power plant regulations, and that his top priority will be “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”

Appropriation bills must be passed to keep the government running. The GOP is expected to attach riders to federal spending bills that would defund EPA’s power plant rules. Which means Republicans may be willing to risk a government shutdown in order to cripple EPA regulations intended to protect our air and slow down disastrous climate disruption. Mitch McConnell’s “deep responsibility” is seriously misplaced and a downright dangerous position considering what’s at stake.

Tactic: The Road Block

Using the Congressional Review Act to block implementation of the Clean Power Plan

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) is a rarely invoked law that allows lawmakers to repeal a regulation with a simple majority vote. But that could change. Mitch McConnell has already attempted to use the CRA to force a vote on the EPA’s regulations on – not yet finalized – new power plants and we are likely to see it dusted off and used again to try to block the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which addresses carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Tactic: The Forced Detour

Using congressional committees to attack and delay clean air and climate regulations

Come January the senator who once called the EPA a Gestapo bureaucracy and believes climate change is a hoax will take over leadership of the Senate’s top environmental committee. It a scenario appropriate only for Alice in Wonderland. But for Senator James Inhofe, he will use his new role to – as one reporter put it – carry water for the fossil-fuel industry, smear climate scientists, and do everything else in his considerable power to prevent the country and the world from confronting the slow motion crisis of climate change.

When it comes to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Inhofe has been very clear about his intentions to open investigations on the EPA and tie up the committee with hearings intended to disparage the agency’s proposed clean air regulations.

Clear the Road

The bottom line is Republicans probably do not have the votes to repeal the EPA regulations, but they will use every power they can muster to launch a full-scale attack on the EPA in an attempt to delay, defund and otherwise vilify the agency and its actions on climate change. But these strategies represent more than chest pounding and the wasteful obstructionism that has become the norm. Each vote, hearing and procedural trick gives the GOP a megaphone to hammer on and repeat their false and dangerous rhetoric on climate change and the Clean Power Plan, which over time could potentially wear down Obama’s resolve, weaken the EPA’s position and negatively influencing public opinion.

But what we need is to start drastically reducing the amount of carbon we are pumping into our gasping atmosphere. And we need to do it yesterday. Efforts – regardless of their nature – to stop or delay our plan to rein in climate disrupting pollution should be met with mass public outrage and demands to clear the way for bold aggressive climate action.

Allison Fisher is the Outreach Director for Public Citizen’s Energy and Climate Program

 

Comments are due one week from today on the EPA’s proposal to curb carbon pollution from existing power plants, the Clean Power Plan. I’m writing a series of blog posts to share some of what will go in our comments to the agency. We’ll start with an issue most people aren’t talking about: Switching from coal to natural gas, a major element of the EPA plan, is a colossal waste of money because we’ll need to switch from natural gas to renewables soon anyway. In its proposal, the EPA ignores this hidden cost of natural gas.

One of the main ways EPA envisions curbing carbon emissions is by replacing coal-fired electricity plants with ones that burn natural gas. The proposal relies heavily on this strategy, so much that it would spur a good deal of additional natural gas extraction, including hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” That’s a great reason not to rely on natural gas to solve our climate problem. We shouldn’t have to create a new set of environmental disasters to stop climate change – and we don’t.

There are two other major problems with EPA’s plan to increase the use of natural gas. The first, which is getting a lot of attention, is that switching from coal to natural gas may have little to no climate benefit. Natural gas releases a good deal of methane throughout its life cycle, and methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. On a twenty-year time horizon, it is 87 times as climate-disrupting as carbon. In 100 years, it’s 36 times more potent. As Joe Romm put it over at ClimateProgress, “by the time natural gas has a net benefit you’ll likely be dead and the climate ruined.”

Even setting aside the methane issue, burning natural gas also emits carbon – less carbon than burning coal, to be sure, but that’s not good enough. We don’t just need to reduce carbon emissions. According to the International Energy Agency’s most recent analysis, we should cut them to zero by 2040. What’s the point of switching to natural gas between now and 2030, the end date of the EPA’s proposed rule, if we’ll need to phase out natural gas by 2040? Why not just skip straight to renewables? We’re making these points in our comments – without the rhetorical questions, at least in the current draft – as are many other groups.

Here’s the second, less recognized point, which stems from our consumer perspective. These changes cost a significant amount of money, much of which will ultimately be paid by consumers through electricity bills (or through higher prices for goods and services from companies who paid the costs on their electricity bills). Overall, the Plan will save consumers money because it includes efficiency measures that will reduce electricity use, but it could be even better. Switching twice rather than once – from coal to natural gas, then natural gas – needlessly compounds the cost of responding to climate change. The EPA’s proposal ignores the additional costs of this double-switch. In essence, we’re telling the agency that it needs to use a more comprehensive, more accurate accounting of the cost of natural gas. The real cost is the price of switching from coal to natural gas, which is expensive in its own right, plus the cost of switching to renewables almost immediately thereafter.

Relying on natural gas to reduce carbon emissions just doesn’t make sense. Not only is the climate benefit of natural gas doubtful; it’s exorbitantly expensive compared to improving energy efficiency and switching directly to generating electricity sustainably from renewable sources.

 

Statement of Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen

Today, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is penalizing five of the world’s largest banks for concerted efforts to manipulate global foreign exchange markets – yet another reminder of the rampant criminality and wrongdoing on Wall Street.

Strikingly, as the CFTC notes in understated fashion in its release, “[S]ome of this [improper attempted manipulation of foreign exchange markets] conduct occurred during the same period that the Banks were on notice that the CFTC and other regulators were investigating attempts by certain banks to manipulate the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) and other interest rate benchmarks.”

In other words, the banks were on notice that they were under investigation for similar wrongdoing in another global financial market – and still continued with the attempted manipulation of the foreign exchange market!

For too long, U.S. law enforcement agencies have been far too soft on Wall Street lawbreakers. In recent years, the U.S. Department of Justice has entered into deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreements with RBS, JPMorgan Chase, UBS and HSBC, choosing not to prosecute these firms for large-scale wrongdoing. The department has also agreed to high-profile civil settlements with JPMorgan and Citigroup.

Completely absent has been serious criminal enforcement against the Wall Street firms and Wall Street executives.

It’s past time to say: Enough is enough. It’s past time for the Justice Department to enforce the law and hold the powerful to account.

Numerous published reports indicate that the Department of Justice is considering criminal prosecutions of individuals responsible for the attempted foreign exchange manipulation schemes. It is vital that the department pursue these prosecutions, holding both top-level executives – not just lower-level functionaries – and the firms themselves criminally liable.

And, if bank regulators tell the department that criminal prosecution of large financial institutions would endanger the global financial system, then those same regulators should act immediately to break up firms whose size affords them immunity from criminal sanction.

Wall Street managed to escape criminal sanctions for wrongdoing that crashed the global economy, and threw millions of out of their homes and tens of millions out of work. If there is no criminal enforcement against Wall Street firms and executives for wrongdoing, there is no justice for Main Street, and we’re virtually certain to see epic-scale misdeeds and epic-scale devastation yet again.

The industry-funded 60 Plus Association is back with another bogus analysis attacking the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. This one focuses solely on Louisiana, presumably in an attempt to influence the state’s Dec. 6 run-off election for U.S. Senate. This report uses the same basic tricks as the last one: focus on electricity prices, not actual bills that consumers will pay, and focus more on the near term than the long term.

There’s a lot of fluff in the report, but its main charge against the Clean Power Plan is that the rule will increase retail electricity prices 4.5 percent to 11.7 percent by 2020 in the power regions that include Louisiana. As I discussed last time, the retail price of electricity is misleading. Here’s why: The Plan also projects that people will use less electricity due to increases in energy efficiency. That means electricity bills will decline even though the price of electricity goes up. Actual consumer costs don’t fit 60-Plus’s narrative, so it cites misleading figures on retail prices instead.

The 60 Plus study also focuses on the EPA’s projection for electricity prices in 2020 rather than 2025 or 2030 because the latter numbers are more favorable. (Clean Power Plan Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) Tables 3-21, 3-22, 3-23).

The report actually helps make the case for a stronger Clean Power Plan, though surely unintentionally. It cites multiple projections that electricity prices will rise steeply through 2040. (60 Plus Louisiana Report at 4). Rising prices are all the more reason to reduce the amount of electricity that consumers use by promoting aggressive energy efficiency measures.

A recent report by the American Council for and Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that Louisiana could invest in energy efficiency to

  • save 157,763 gigawatt-hours of electricity between 2016 and 2030 (ACEEE Change is in the Air Table C1);
  • save $6.2 billion between 2016 and 2030 by investing in energy efficiency (Table C6); and
  • create 11,500 additional jobs by 2030 (Table C7).

I haven’t attempted to calculate how much of Louisiana’s Clean Power Plan compliance this approach would take care of, but it’s probably very high. ACEEE estimates that the efficiency measures it outlines would curb carbon emissions nationwide by 26 percent from 2012 levels by 2030. That’s about 73 percent of what the Clean Power Plan seeks (a 30 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2030). By the way, ACEEE notes that its analysis is intentionally conservative. We can do even better.

Maybe reporters can ask 60 Plus whether it supports these robust efficiency measures. (In the unlikely even that it says yes, they can follow up by asking what it’s doing to support them.) They should also ask it why it doesn’t support the Clean Power Plan if it really cares about seniors’ expenses — and why it doesn’t support strengthening the Plan with more robust energy efficiency targets.

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