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Help Keep Electric Rates Low – No Extra Fees On Solar Energy

Thu ,19/03/2015

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Many states are now seeing laws being introduced like Oklahoma SB 1456 , dubbed the Sun Tax. It is not a tax, but allows power companies to assess an extra fee on distributed generation (DG) customers who install renewable energy systems and hook to the power grid for backup. The end result will be higher electric rates as they reduce competition from renewable energy. Here is why.

ALEC: At the 2013 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in Chicago, the Energy Committee, dominated by power and fossil fuel companies, decided one of  ALEC’s goals should be to discourage the spread of renewable energy. Their plan to do so was by weakening renewable portfolio standards (RPS), by claiming that renewable energy systems would make electric rates go up, and by promoting the idea that net energy metering (NEM) customers who install their own solar panels and use the grid for backup were “free riders” who did not pay their fair share of infrastructure costs. Legislation has since been introduced in a number of states intended to increase fees on NEM customers and to reduce the state’s RPS requirements.

SB 1456: Oklahoma passed SB 1456 the next year, which allows power companies to assess an extra fee on distributed generation (DG) customers who install renewable energy systems and hook to the power grid for backup. The law was designed to discourage the investment in renewable energy by private individuals, but it may have unintended consequences for the power companies pushing the fees. Under the law, both PSO and OG &E have filed a request with the Corporation Commission to assess additional fees on DG customers. Public hearings on the law will be held in Oklahoma City on March 31 at 1:30 on the third floor of the Corporation Commission Building. Studies (see below) have shown, when all things are considered, that DG customers provide a net benefit for all other customers. It is in the public’s best interest to request that not only should the fees be denied but, to be fair, the power companies should be required to compensate NEM customers for the extra power they produce.

Fairness: The rationale for SB 1456 was fairness, so the decision should be fair to NEM customers as well. First, NEM customers should be charged as any other customer for the electricity they use. DG  customers who use the grid for backup are required to have a net energy metering (NEM) contract with their power company which requires they pay for the installation and inspection of safety equipment. They also pay a customer fee which goes toward fixed costs and infrastructure, and they are currently not reimbursed for any extra power they produce, essentially providing free energy for the other customers, and they help to conserve energy. AEP/PSO’s states one of its mission is to “help customers use less energy and spend less for it”. Is it fair, then, that customers who cut their energy use in half by installing extra insulation are appreciated while those who cut their energy use in half by installing solar energy are charged an extra fee?

Second, NEM customers should be compensated fairly for the excess energy they provide. Research shows that states which encourage NEM customers have found they provide a small positive benefit both to other customers and to the power grid.  Why, then, should they be charged an extra fee?

Research: Studies have found that states which encourage net energy metering (NEM) experience a net benefit to all electric customers. A study by Crossborder Energy in 2014 found NEM allows utilities to avoid costs of generation and fuel, maintenance and upgrade of transmission and distribution infrastructure, transmission losses (which account to 7% of losses), capacity purchases, and compliance with renewable energy standards. The study concluded,” The cost which utilities avoid when they accept NEM power exported to their grid shows that NEM does not produce a cost to nonparticipating ratepayers; instead it creates a small net benefit on average across the residential markets.” While it does cause power companies to have to adjust their loads accordingly, NEM reduces peak loads, transmission losses, and the need for new power plants.  In California, the study found NEM “delivers more than $92 million in annual benefits to non-solar customers”.

Another important study was performed at the request of the Vermont Legislature who specifically charged the Vermont Department of Public Service with determining if there is a cross-subsidization with net metering and other retail customers. They were also asked to examine any benefits or cost of NEM customers to the distribution and transmission system.  The report found the specific ratepayer benefits, the statewide, and societal benefits of NEM as: “Avoided energy costs, including costs of line losses, capacity costs, and avoided internalized greenhouse gas emission costs; avoided regional transmission costs; avoided in-state transmission and distribution costs; solar’s coincidence with times of peak demand; and the additional benefit of the economic multiplier associated with the local investment and jobs created from the local manufacturing and installation of net metering systems. The report concludes, “ Even considering subsidies, solar net metering is a net-positive for the state of Vermont.”

These studies show that NEM customers provide a net benefit to ratepayers in states which encourage investments in solar and wind generation by private individuals. To be fair, NEM customers should be charged for the energy they use just as any other customer and they should be compensated for the extra energy they produce just as any other energy provider.

Unintended Consequences: Though SB 1456 was intended to discourage private investment in renewable energy, it may not turn out that way. Upon signing the bill, Gov. Mary Fallin attached a letter requiring “the Corporation commission to conduct a transparent evaluation of distributed generation consistent with the Oklahoma First Energy Plan. It also said, ” This evaluation mandates inclusion of all stakeholders including representatives of the solar distributed wind energy industries and utilities.” and “A proper and required examination of these other rate reforms will ensure an appropriate implementation of the Oklahoma first energy plan while protecting future distributed generation customers.”

The Oklahoma First Energy Policy encourages development of wind and solar energy, but it relies heavily on the increasing development of our natural gas resources. However, fracking and the associated disposal wells may be related to the increased incidences of earthquakes in Oklahoma.  If a definite link is established between fracking activities and earthquakes, it might greatly curtail Oklahoma’s production of natural gas. Oklahoma is now in the process of replacing some of its coal-fired power plants with natural gas plants. It would be prudent for Oklahoma to encourage the development of renewable energy systems. Recently, OG&E asked to increase its customer charges by $1.1 billion for federal environmental compliance and to replace an aging natural gas plant. Encouraging distributed generation customers to install extra capacity would not only help with the environmental compliance, but could eventually reduce the need to replace aging plants. Requiring that DG investors be compensated fairly for excess energy they provide would encourage them to install excess capacity to meet future demands.

A Model: Some electric co-ops , such as Oklahoma’s Indian Electric Cooperative, recognize the value of net energy metering. IEC allows net metering customers to accumulate credit for excess power and pays them at the end of the year for any excess credit at the wholesale rate, essentially treating them as any other power provider. If the Oklahoma Corporation Commission would adopt a similar model and require that NEM customers be compensated for the excess power they produce, it would greatly encourage private investments in renewable energy installations.

(C) 2015  J.C. Moore

Tax Increases Work

Tue ,24/02/2015

Would you risk your state’s economy and the health and welfare of its citizens on a theory that has never worked? Well, Oklahoma’s Governor and Legislature decided they would try Laffer’s trickle-down economics again and sure will rogeresenough it did not work, – again. The budget hole in Oklahoma is now $600 million deep and our politicians just keep digging. Perhaps they should have  consider what our most popular Oklahoman, Will Rogers, said about trickle-down economics back in 1932.

Oklahoma is now having to make cuts in education, infrastructure, the salaries of public workers,  pension plans, and they are thinking about letting people out of jail because they cannot afford to keep them keep them locked up. Even yet, Oklahoma is cutting taxes even more next year thinking that the problem is that they just have not tried it hard enough.

It has not worked in Kansas either. Governor Sam Brownback has put Kansas deeply in debt with his experiment, he calls it, with the trickle-down theory. He cut taxes and refuses to raise taxes even though there is $179 million budget shortfall. Governor Brownback, too, thinks the problem is that Kansans just have not wished hard enough that Tickle-down Theory will work. He is also wishing that the $500 million budget deficit projected for next year will somehow magically go away.

Governor Tim Pawlenty tried it in Minnesota and he left office in 2011 with a a $6.2 billion budget deficit and a 7 percent unemployment rate. When Mark Dayton, a businessman an d billionaire, was elected governor in Minnesota he had the good sense to realize that when something was not working, you give it up. During his first four years in office, Gov. Dayton raised the state income tax from 7.85 to 9.85 percent on individuals earning over $150,000 – a tax increase of $2.1 billion. He’s also agreed to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2018, and passed a state law guaranteeing equal pay for women. He was warned that the job creators and corporations, big and small would leave, but they did not. Between 2011 and 2015, Gov. Dayton added 172,000 new jobs, and though Minnesota’s  top income tax rate is the 4th-highest in the country, it has the 5th-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.6 percent.

Will Rogers had the theory right. Money trickles up and pools at the top. Those at the top really like that, and they pour campaign money to politicians who will keep trying  trickle-down economics. Governor Dayton showed that tax increases  and rational economic policies work, but Oklahoma and Kansas are just going to keep wishing and digging.

More on ALEC: Beware the influence of ALEC in Oklahoma

Sun ,03/08/2014

This article by the author  was first posted in the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s blog.  

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has a great influence on our Oklahoma state politics, but many Oklahomans ALEC2have heard little about the organization. On the surface,  ALEC is an organization made up of corporations and state-level elected officials which meets three times a year to write “model legislation” for states. Officials can then take the model legislation back to their state for consideration. That sounds like a good process, except that what goes on under the surface of ALEC is kept secret.

In May of 2013, ALEC met in Oklahoma City. While corporate representatives from ALEC met with our legislators, a group of citizens protested across the street. The protesters, as well as members of the press, had been barred from attending by security guards. The agenda of the meeting was secret and an elaborate drop box system was created to avoid FOIA requests. Now, over a year later, there is still little known about the meeting or its influence on our legislators.

Rep. Gary Banz, who organized the 2013 event, described it as “a giant coaches clinic for legislators” and said that, though ALEC has been criticized for its secrecy, “The bottom line is if it’s not on our website, it’s not an issue or area that we have embraced.” That’s not quite right.  While ALEC’s website lists some of its policies and model laws, a part of the website is off limits for non-members. The public, journalists, and small business owners are excluded from ALEC membership by steep fees and by a screening process which insures new members are in harmony with ALEC’s mission. ALEC’s membership and funding sources are kept secret .

Much of what is known about ALEC has been discovered by leaked documents and by citizen’s watchdog groups, such as SourceWatch.  ALEC is a 501(c)(3) organization which is not required to reveal its donors or its funding. It has 300 corporate and 1,800 legislative members, but it will not release its membership lists. Rep. Banz said 70 Oklahoma legislators are members, but  SourceWatch lists only 38, leaving 32 members’ identities secret.

Because of the secrecy, it is hard to know what legislation comes from ALEC. Legislators can copy the bills, change them to disguise their source, and present them as their own. Most voters, the press, and even legislative colleagues often do not realize that the legislation came from ALEC. Sponsoring ALEC legislation ensures politicians they will receive support for their re-election campaigns. ALEC’s legislation is often supported by one-sided research, talking points, and op-ed articles designed to convince voters that the politicians are really looking after their best interests.

Many of ALEC’s model laws claim to promote freedom, fairness, and reform, but the end result is often that average citizens lose out in the process.  Citizen’s watchdog groups, such as Common Cause and SourceWatch, are critical of ALEC, saying its bills undercut health care reform, undermine environmental regulations, promote school and prison privatization, limit workers’ rights, restrain legislatures’ abilities to raise revenue through taxes, and mandate strict election laws that disenfranchise some voters, among many other issues.

As Bill Moyers argues in his documentary, United States of ALEC, ALEC is undermining our system of democracy. The strength of the United States is its unity, but some corporations are working through ALEC to undermine that unity at the state level so they can escape regulation and avoid taxes. ALEC is designed to give more power to corporations, claiming that businesses making decisions in their self-interest will lead to the most good for everyone, but the reality is that it does the most good for the already wealthy. We live in a state with enough resources to ensure that every citizen has food, shelter, medical care, education, and an opportunity to contribute back to society. That won’t happen if our state legislature is unduly influenced by ALEC.

What to do about ALEC is the hard question. ALEC hides its members and its funding sources, and it operates as an educational organization to escape lobbying restrictions. There are apparently 32 ALEC members in our state legislature who have not been identified. My plan is to give ALEC as much publicity as possible and to make it a campaign issue by asking candidates to pledge they will not join any organization which will keep them from representing the best interests of Oklahoma citizens.

J.C. Moore is a retired science teacher, a member of the the American Geophysical Union, and co-founder of OKcitizensfirst.org.

Bits and Pieces: ALEC at Work in the Oklahoma Legislature

Mon ,02/06/2014

In a Readers Forum article in the Tulsa World, “Responsible, conservative reforms working”, Brian Bingman, president pro tem of the Oklahoma Senate, states how proud he is of what the legislature has been able to accomplish. Mr. Bingman is rather quick to pat himself and the legislature on the back, as the reforms he cites were more to the benefit of corporations than of the average citizen. The tax reform and tax cut leaves the state badly underfunded. The balanced budget, achieved by cutting needed services, does not meet the needs of the state. The Capitol building repair was funded by bonds, rather than taxes, which has further indebted the state in the future. The education system is badly underfunded and the tax cuts have only made the situation worse in the future.

The workers compensation reform limits an injured workers right to full compensation for his injuries. Tort reform makes it harder for the average citizen to seek redress in court and limits the liability of corporations. The reform to the state’s public employee pension system, by privatizing the future pension system, destabilizes the existing program, and is a boon to private fund managers. The failure to expand Medicaid will cost the state billions of dollars in Federal funds, that we pay as taxes, and has left 144,000 Oklahomans without adequate healthcare. The hastily passed changes and extensions to corporate oil and gas subsidies, demanded by Oklahoma’s three largest oil and gas companies,  were unnecessary and will make the state’s budget problems worse in future  – and were likely unconstitutional.

Next to the Governor, Mr. Bingman is the highest ranking member of ALEC in our state and his achievements are  high on the list of ALEC’s model legislation. Many of those “accomplishments” benefit  ALEC’s corporate members, but in the end they will hurt Oklahoma and its citizens.  The Governor and 70 of our 149 legislators are members of ALEC, so what chance does an average citizen have?

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If you would like to end the influence of ALEC on politics in Oklahoma, please go to http://okcitizensfirst.org/2014/04/24/alec/ and ask your candidates for office to pledge that they will put the needs of Oklahoma citizens first. Let’s vote out anyone who won’t.

Note: The related Credo Petition to Governor Fallin about Medicaid expansion is at:  https://www.credomobilize.com/petitions/governor-fallin-release-the-31-e-mails-about-medicaid-expansion

Bits and Pieces: Oklahoma Must Increase the State Renewable Energy Standards

Sun ,01/06/2014

The fifth IPCC report says that the most important thing we can do to mitigate global warming is to switch to renewable energy as windmill4quickly as possible. Investing in clean energy helps fight climate change, reduces death and disease from air pollution and creates good, local jobs. Most states have adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) which requires that a certain percentage of the electricity generated in the state be from renewable resources.

Across the country, 30 states and the District of Columbia have renewable electricity standards in place that require a certain percentage, some as high as 33%, of all electricity to be generated from clean and renewable sources of energy. Oklahoma requires only 15% . It is 11.25% in actuality, because the legislature allows the utilities to meet a quarter of the renewable requirement by conservation. Oklahoma has the potential to be a leader in renewable energy but it is falling behind because the state is not being proactive in encouraging investment in renewable energy.

It is time for that to change. With the increased phase out of coal fired plants and the uncertainty in natural gas prices and supplies, Oklahoma must act to insure a supply of electricity for the future. We have a good supply of natural gas, but that could change if fracking and disposal wells are linked to water pollution and earthquakes.

Every state should adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard, and states which already have them should increase the percentage of electricity produced by renewables. It’s time for the Oklahoma legislature to pass a renewable electricity standard that requires utilities to invest more in clean sources of energy. Click here and sign a Credo petition to the Oklahoma Legislature if you agree. You do not need to be a citizen of Oklahoma, as air pollution affects us all.

 

Oklahoma: Where We Subsidize Air Pollution and Earthquakes

Thu ,17/04/2014

Oklahoma is now coming in near last in most measures of civilized society, yet it is still cutting taxes – even as the Capitol Building is falling down. Generous in their hearts, the state Legislature has dug deep into the states resources to find a few hundred  million to continue its subsidies for state businesses.

One little-known act of generosity is the subsidies to the state coal mining industry. They’ve had a tough time of it, as Oklahoma’s coal is high in sulfur and is not worth much on the fuel market. Over the years the subsidy has been increased from $1 per ton to $5 or $10, no one is quite sure. Estimates are that the subsidies are costing the state about $16 million per year. That is not much when you consider what Oklahomans get for it, richer insurance companies and air pollution.

The subsidy is paid as a tax credit, but the coal mines are mostly unprofitable and pay very little in taxes. The laws were a little vague about what to do with the leftover credits, so the coal companies were  selling them to insurance companies at a discount, providing cash for the coal companies and a few million dollars per year for our struggling insurance companies. That cushy deal was cut out of couple of years ago, and the coal mines are now required to return the credits to the state for $0.85 on the dollar.

Since nobody really wants to buy Oklahoma’s coal, the Legislature required that Oklahoma’s coal-fired power plants buy and use 10% of it to generate power. Since many of the power plants do not have adequate pollution control and scrubbers, the high sulfur coal produces more particulates and aerosols, which are considered air pollution by that interfering old EPA.

The state Legislature is now working on a bill which will put a three-year moratorium on building new wind farms in the Eastern Oklahoma while they study the problem. There are 27 windfarms in Western Oklahoma and a number of reports about their success, but apparently it will take the legislature three years to get around to looking at them. I brought that up as the Legislature seems much less curious about the relationship between fracking and earthquakes.

A bill to put a three-year moratorium on fracking while the problem is studied – would likely get little support in the state Legislature. Besides, that would leave a lot of money in the Legislature’s pocket with no place to spend it. While digging around for money to support the coal industry, the Legislature turned up an extra $200 million or so, which they are now using to subsidize fracking in Oklahoma. The legislature thinks the subsidy is important as it keeps our frackers from moving out of state, though some tightwad skeptics have pointed out that the frackers are probably here because that’s where the natural gas is.

Earthquakes

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It seems that there’s been a small increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma since fracking started, as shown in the graph. However our state Legislators are not big on graphical data, as it might involve statistics and is most likely based on models or something like that that you can’t trust. And they are not much for research either, as it appears that the federal government has known for decades about the link between injection wells and earthquakes.

A number of our citizens, particularly those whose walls and foundations are developing cracks, or those whose chimneys and other stonework are falling down, are beginning to wonder. Getting back to that crumbling infrastructure, there’s been a lot of unusual damage lately to roads and bridges in areas prone to earthquakes. And then there is the problem with the crumbling Capitol Building. Unfortunately, we will never know the cause as the Legislature just doesn’t have the time or money to study the problem.

(C) 2014 J.C. Moore

OK SB 1440, Blowing Away Wind Development in Eastern Oklahoma

Sat ,12/04/2014

Wind is in good supply in Oklahoma, leading to a “wind boom”  in Western Oklahoma. Congressman Frank Lucas supports what he calls the  “all of the above” policy on energy sources, and recognizes and supports the importance

of wind energy development in the third Congressional District, which covers the northwestern two thirds of Oklahoma.  The wind industry has taken off in Oklahoma because the state has enacted policies, such as a five-year property tax exemption and a production tax credit, that are more conducive and supportive of the wind industry than neighboring states. Until now.

Though there is plenty of wind in Eastern Oklahoma, the political climate is not good for wind development there. Senate Bill 1440, by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman , passed last week by a vote of 32-8 and is headed to the House for consideration. The bill puts a three-year moratorium on development of wind energy East of Interstate 35, which essentially prohibits any further wind development in the eastern half of the state for three years. The rationale was that the issue “needed more study”.  But, for three years?

It should take about 30 minutes to discover the advantages of developing wind energy in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has spent more than a decade developing wind energy and there are now 27 windfarms in Oklahoma. Mr. Bingham and his supporters should be well aware of them, or they could just study the report compiled by independent consulting firm Economic Impact Group. The report shows that wind industry construction and operating activities from 2003 to 2012 in Oklahoma have created:

  • More than $1 billion in Oklahoma production of goods and services
  • More than $340 million in labor income
  • More than 1,600 direct full-time jobs
  • More than 4,000 total jobs including manufacturing and support industries
  • More than $1.8 billion of economic activity during the first 20 year contracts
  • More than $43 billion in property taxes annually after the tax abatement.
  • More than $22 million annually to landowners and $15 million in wages to local workers

 

Other than ignoring the contribution of wind energy to economic development in Oklahoma, there are a number of other things wrong with SB 1440. It infringes on property rights as it tells landowners how they cannot use their  land, if they live on the wrong side of I-35. It is probably unconstitutional, as there is really no rationale for such an arbitrary division of who can and cannot develop wind energy. It singles out and treats wind energy differently from other energy industries. That was pointed out by Senate Floor Leader Mike Schulz, R-Altus, who voted against the bill, “We have been writing oil and gas legislation and regulations for over 100 years and continue to do so,” he said, “I don’t anticipate anything different in the wind industry.”

The United States has the goals of achieving energy independence, reducing carbon emissions,  and and cutting air pollution. However, a number of politicians have been working against those goals by trying to hinder the development of alternate energy sources. There is nothing that hinders investments more than uncertainties in the investment climate. At one time, Tulsa was the home of DMI industries, a wind turbine tower manufacturer employing 167 people. The plant was closed in 2012 because of changes in the subsidy program that created uncertainty in the funding for the business. Even if SB1440 doesn’t pass, it will have a chilling effect on investments, as even the possibility of a ban creates uncertainties that discourage investors. SB1440 was designed to slow the development of wind energy in Oklahoma. Mr. Brian Bingman and his supporters are clearly not acting in Oklahoma’s best interest.

Note added on 07/10/2014: SB 1440 fail to pass this past legislative session, so Mr. Bingman has now requested that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission begin a study of wind farms, hoping the Corporation Commission will recommend legislation to limit the development of wind farms. Mr. Bingman, who has been exposed as a member of ALEC,  is following the goals of ALEC, one of  which is to stop the development of renewable energy sources.

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore

 

 

 

 

Alternate Universe Discovered at Oklahoma Capitol

Sat ,05/04/2014

Recent research now suggests that multiple universes may have been formed during the Big Bang. There is evidence that one of those alternate universes may exist here in Oklahoma. I became aware of it by accident because I saw a large sign outside of Yukon Oklahoma which said,

“Welcome to Oklahoma. Where 144,000 people are denied health care because Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid.”.

That is not right, as many Republicans supported expanding Medicaid and it was Governor Mary Fallin’s decision not to do so.

When I called the Governors’ office to protest, I was transferred to someone in the public relations department which may exist in an alternate universe. I did not get the gentleman’s name, but it probably doesn’t matter since he may not exist in reality, so I’ll just call him, Au. I explained to him the reason for my call and ask why the governor had not expanded Medicaid.

Au:  It was a decision forced upon the Governor by the Affordable Care Act.

Me: But the Affordable Care Act allows the Governor to expand Medicaid to cover those people.

Au: Yes, but it makes it too expensive.

Me: But the federal government will pay for Medicaid expansion for the next 10 years, providing $1.3 billion for the program while costing the state something like $200 million.

Au: But the state doesn’t have $200 million, and it could not pay for the expansion in 10 years as then the federal government only pays for 90% after that.

Me: But couldn’t the state cancel after 10 years if it found it too expensive.

Au: We couldn’t do that and leave all those people uninsured.

Note: It was about here that the theme for Twilight Zone began running through my head.

Me: Couldn’t we put the money to expand Medicaid into the budget?

Au: No we couldn’t. You have to face reality.            (Which one?)

Me: Couldn’t we forgo the tax cut winding its way through the Legislature – or just raise taxes enough to meet the needs of the Oklahoma citizens?

Au: The budget meets the needs of the citizens.

Me: Then why is our education system so underfunded?

Au: Our education system is not underfunded.

Note: It just happened on this particular day there were 25,000 teachers, administrators, parents, grandparents, and students outside the Capitol Building protesting because the legislature would not properly fund education.

Me: Then why are all those citizens outside the Capitol Building today protesting educational funding?

Au: That’s not what they’re protesting about.

Me: Of course it is. The Oklahoma Policy Institute says that the current level of education funding is below what it was in 2008.

Au: That’s not true. Oklahoma has actually increased funding for education to an all-time high,  over $12,000 per-pupil.

Me: That’s not what the Oklahoma Policy Institute says. Where do you get your numbers?

Au: Good Day. Click.

That confirmed it for me. Only in an alternate universe would a public relations person hang up on a citizen. In science, however, it takes an independent confirmation before a discovery is credited. Luckily, someone at the Oklahoma Policy Institute also had contact with the alternate universe and was able to retrieve Au’s school budget . A breakdown of his $12,000 per-pupil is shown below, arrived at by including everything but the kitchen sink into the per-pupil expenditures. At the bottom is the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s comment on Au’s budget.

Au

The 64.3% which funds school operation is about $706 less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars than in 2008. Apparently, reality in the alternate universe is very different from the one  that most Oklahoma citizens perceive.

You too may explore an alternate universe. Just call the Oklahoma Governor’s office about Medicaid expansion.

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore

 

Congressman Lucas' 2013 Town Hall Meeting

Tue ,10/12/2013

Congressman Frank Lucas (R – OK) held a town hall meeting at Kingfisher, OK on November 7, 2013. About 15 citizens were in attendance. He reported that the war in Iraq is essentially over and that the war in Afghanistan is winding down. He said that nothing much has been accomplished by the Legislature. It is also unlikely that an agreement will be reached on an immigration bill this year. He tended to blame the Senate because a budget has not been passed as the House has sent it the budget four times and the Senate refuses to pass it. However, he did not mention that the Senate and the House must agree on a budget and that the House keeps putting back in the items that the Senate stripped from the budget each time it sent it back.

Comment: The Congressman is certainly right about nothing being accomplished as, in spite of the many problems that need to be addressed, this has been the least productive Congress in history. It has become so divided and partisan that it is becoming very difficult to carry out the business of government. As the end of the session nears, there is a great danger that many must-have bills will be passed without proper consideration.

The Congressman explained that the Senate had rejected the one-year delay in implementing the mandate in the Affordable Care Act and that enrollment was moving forward even though there were a number of problems with the healthcare.gov website. He said that according to a law (proposed by Sen. Grassley (R -IA ) passed by Congress, they must buy their healthcare insurance from the healthcare exchange. It is important to note that one of the criticisms of the Affordable Care Act is that if it is so good, why does Congress not buy their insurance through the exchanges? This clarifies that they actually must do so. Congressman Lucas has not signed up yet and it is unlikely that he will get a subsidy considering his salary. He did point out that White House and Congressional staff members are employees, and are covered by their regular insurance. He did not mention that he had voted, up till now, 42 times to repeal the affordable care act. 

The Congressman talked at length and emotionally about the Farm Bill since, as Chairperson of the Agriculture Committee, it is his responsibility. There are number of disagreements and uncertainties between the Senate and the House about the bill, such as whether there should be price supports or subsidies for crop insurance, about reduced CRP payments which reimburses farmers for leaving marginal land unplanted, about the ethanol subsidy  which most everyone agrees should be reduced, and about means testing for farm subsidies. (Currently, a number of millionaires and even billionaires are receiving farm subsidies.) The main sticking point seems to be about whether $40 billion should be cut out of the SNAP program over the next ten years as the House wants, or whether it should be only the $10 billion in the Senate version. If the Farm Bill is not passed, nutrition benefits will continue, but there will be no help for the poor with energy bills, and farm policies may revert to laws passed several decades earlier. He said it was imperative that the farm bill be passed, as we must have food.

During the question period, one gentleman asked why there was such a division of the Republican Party which he said was letting the Democrats get whatever they wanted. Congressman Lucas commented that there were some in the party who were not satisfied with incremental changes, but who wanted to hit a home run in every piece of legislation or nothing.

Another person gave a long speech about how the Republicans were allowing the Democrats to win the battle of words. He wanted the Republicans to get on television and radio and explain how wrong the Democrats were. The Congressman did not seem interested in becoming a radio or TV personality.

When asked about the presidential election, he said that Romney was just not the right candidate. He had no preference for President in 2016, but when asked about Jon Huntsman, he said he did not think he was yet ready for the presidency.

When asked about whether cutting the SNAP program would hurt farmers, he said that he did not think so, but did not give a clear reason. It is hard to see why it wouldn’t, as the cuts would reduce the demand for food items.

When his turn came, the author explained that research has shown that the drought that the third district and Texas the last three years was caused by global warming, and though the recent rains had help the situation, it was likely that the droughts would be worse in the future, unless action was taken to reduce our carbon emissions. One way to address that problem and also to reduce the national debt would be a carbon tax with a portion of the tax used to pay down the national debt and the rest to be divided among the citizens as an energy dividend. He asked the Congressman what he thought about that proposal. However, a group of young people had entered the back of the room for a photo op, and the Congressman bypassed the question in order to welcome them.

Comment: Climate scientists have pointed out that there is increasing evidence that climate change is causing increasing incidences of extreme weather, such as droughts and storms, which may put our farms production and food supply at risk.  Congress turned down a motion that the Agriculture Department examine the risk to our food supply and Congressman Lucas voted with the nays.

It is also probably appropriate to mention the things that the Congressman did not say. His approach to the budget seems to be only to cut spending. Congressman Lucas had earlier voted for extending the tax cuts for wealthy citizens, costing the United States $800 billion in revenue. He also voted for the sequester which is delaying the recovery of our economy. And he voted for the government shut down, which is estimated to have cost about $24 billion and accomplished nothing, though that amount could have been used to make up the difference in the SNAP program. He often mentioned cutting spending, but he did not mention the possibility of raising taxes to pay off the national debt. That is likely because he and 219 of 234 Republicans in the House have signed Grover Norquist’s Anti-Tax Pledge, which essentially cuts off the possibility of raising revenue to pay our national debt and is an abdication of Congressional responsibility.

Congressman Lucas said that he conducts around 30 town hall meetings each year, and considering that he has been in Congress for 20 years, that is certainly a large number of meetings. The third district covers the Western two thirds of the state, and it is predominant Republican and very conservative. Congressman Lucas seems to reflect the values of his constituency, but he may also have been responsible for forming some of their values as he has encouraged partisanship during his town hall meetings by placing blame unfairly on and criticizing the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, and the President. My wife, who is a Democrat, does not feel the Congressman represents her at all and she has been quite upset by some of the things he has said about the Democrats. Perhaps now that he has witnessed the damage done to things that should be nonpartisan, such as the farm bill, he will reconsider his stance and become a Republican leader and a statesman.

Some of his answers were of concern to the author, as you can discern from his comments, and further information will be provided about Congressman Lucas’s views as the 2014 elections near.

Note: The author has written about several of Congressman Lucas’ town hall meetings, which can be found by entering his name in the search function at the top left of the homepage.

(c) 2013 J.C Moore

Research and editing credit: Barbara Moore

Academic Freedom and Democracy – ALEC Style

Sun ,23/06/2013

Academic freedom is one of the cornerstones of our educational system, so who could be against it? Representive Gus Blackwell introduced into the 2013 Oklahoma legislature HB 1674, called the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act”. But there was something strange about the bill, as science teachers in Oklahoma already have a system ensuring  academic freedom. And, the bill only insured Academic freedom in four areas which Representative Blackwell deemed controversial, specifically “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning”. Mr. Blackwell’s education and expertise is in religion and business administration, so it’s unusual that he knows what is controversial in science. Oklahoma scientists and science educators were almost unanimously opposed to the bill as it is their opinion that there is virtually no scientific controversy on the core facts of global warming and evolution.

The bill allowed “teachers to help students understand certain information about scientific theories; disallowing State Board of Education, district boards of education, and certain administrators from prohibiting teachers from helping students understand certain information about scientific theories.”  Perhaps the bill would have been more aptly named the “Freedom from Accountability Act”. Apparently Mister Blackwell had not thought this through. It would also shield any science teacher, no matter of what religion, who wished to introduce their beliefs into their science classes. The bill even had an emergency clause providing that it be enacted immediately with a letter sent to school officials informing them of the decision. And, why is this now an emergency? The bill passed Oklahoma’s education committee by one vote, but fortunately for the quality of science education in Oklahoma, the 2013 session ended without it coming up for a vote. But, you can be sure it will be back.

The unusual nature of this bill can be understood as similar bills, with almost exactly the same wording, have been introduced in about 20 states. It is one of the “model bills” being promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is composed of over 300 special interest groups and corporations such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, pharmaceutical companies, and Koch Industries. They sponsor conferences where their representatives  meet with state legislative members to collaborate on “model bills” and to draft legislation favoring their special interests. ALEC now has over 1000 “model bills”, many of which seek to limit workers rights, limit corporate liabilities, oppose environmental regulations, cut taxes, oppose universal health care, and to privatize such things as education, workmen’s compensation, and the prison systems.

Though mainly supporting corporate interests, the legislation often gives a nod to religious groups and to conservatives to win their support. The state legislators take the “model bills” back to their respective states, often as their own work. It also carries an understanding that by sponsoring the bill, they will receive support for their reelection campaigns. ALEC has 501(C)(4)status as a charity, which makes it tax exempt and hides its motives and the identity of its donors. Although ALEC claims it is not a lobbying group, it is directly lobbying our state Congressmen while getting around laws that limit lobbying and require disclosures of lobbying activities.

Representative Blackwell is a member of ALEC and, according to Source Watch, used state funds to attend their meetings. His interest in the bill was probably to introduce creationism into science classes, but adding climate change to the “controversy” list aligns with the interests of the fossil fuel companies. A leaked document from the Heartland Institute, a Libertarian think tank funded by fossil fuel interests, showed that introducing doubt about climate change into science classes was one of their goals.

Bill Moyer recently had a program on how ALEC is undermining American democracy. Although ALEC claims to promote capitalism, it is actually the citizens who pay. Not only do many politicians attend their meetings at state expense, members of ALEC get a big tax break for their lobbying activities and our taxes still pay for privatized state functions.  Sourcewatch lists 25 Oklahoma legislators as members of ALEC and Governor Fallin was once ALEC’s woman of the year, which means she favored the needs of large corporations and of the wealthy long before she became governor. We just saw a number of ALEC sponsored laws make their way through the Oklahoma Legislature, much to the detriment of ordinary citizens.

 

(c) 2013 J.C. Moore