Alex Kotch

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Alex Kotch is an independent investigative journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. His stories about politics, the environment, education and social justice have appeared at AlterNet, DeSmogBlog, Salon, The American Prospect, BillMoyers.com, Truthout, Truthdig, Raw Story, National Memo, Facing South, EcoWatch, Vocativ and The Brooklyn Rail. He has made TV and radio appearances on RT, The Thom Hartmann Show, The Real News Network, Time Warner Cable News and Georgia Public Broadcasting. His research and reporting have been featured in The New York Times, Esquire, The Atlantic, National Journal, Jacobin, Media Matters, and Harvard Political Review, among others publications.

Fossil Fuel-Funded Think Tank Lays out Anti-Clean Energy Plan for New Energy Secretary Rick Perry

Rick Perry pointing up

Last week Rick Perry, the former Republican governor of Texas, became the Secretary of Energy. As head of the Department of Energy (DOE), he is now responsible for guarding the U.S. nuclear arsenal, cleaning up nuclear waste, directing federal energy research and development, and advancing domestic energy production, from nuclear and renewables to, yes, oil, gas, and coal. 

On March 2, the day Perry was confirmed, right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation published a document laying out its goals for Perry in his new post. Like the Heritage Foundation, Perry has received considerable funding from oil and gas interests, creating potential conflicts of interest as DOE chief and suggesting he might be inclined to take Heritage’s advice.

Surprise! The Four GOP Representatives Behind Bill to Abolish EPA Are Backed by Fossil Fuel Industry

EPA building in DC

On Feb. 3, Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz turned heads when he introduced a bill to “completely abolish” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Today, the American people are drowning in rules and regulations promulgated by unelected bureaucrats,” Gaetz told fellow GOP lawmakers in an email reported by the Huffington Post, “and the Environmental Protection Agency has become an extraordinary offender.”

Rep. Gaetz’s bill came the day after a Senate committee voted in favor of confirming Scott Pruitt, the fossil fuel-friendly attorney general of Oklahoma who has sued the EPA 14 times, to head the agency.

And like Pruitt, Rep. Gaetz and his three fellow sponsors of H.R. 861 have all benefited from campaign donations from oil, gas, and coal companies and large electric utilities. 

Rooftop Solar Threatened as Arizona’s Biggest Public Utility Takes Over the Commission That Regulates It

Solar panels on Arizona Walmart store

On November 8, an already endangered rooftop solar industry took a big hit in Arizona. Three Republican candidates for the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) — backed by millions of dollars from the state’s biggest public utility — won their races, increasing the likelihood that new anti-solar policies will soon follow. 

In the coming months, the commission, which regulates public utilities and has been marred by conflicts of interest for years, will address requests from the major utility Arizona Public Service (APS) to raise its electricity rates, end net metering, and impose hefty fees on solar users.

If the commission sides with APS on these issues, the rooftop solar industry in the state with the nation’s fourth highest solar energy capacity will likely crumble.

Duke Energy Touts Solar Grants To North Carolina Schools While Holding Back Solar Industry

Solar panels.

On September 20, Duke Energy announced a $300,000 investment to install solar panel systems at up to 10 North Carolina schools. Numerous media outlets summarized Duke’s press release, hailing the company for its charity to schools and solar education. 

A footnote in the announcement is key: Duke is doing this as part of a $5.4 million settlement in 2015 with the Environmental Protection Agency and several environmental groups over possible Clean Air Act violations. 

The company denied any wrongdoing but settled “solely to avoid the costs and uncertainties of continued litigation.” 

Duke’s press release and much of its coverage failed to disclose two important details: Duke is heavily involved with the two nonprofits in charge of the solar schools project, and the company has been actively restricting the solar industry in North Carolina for years.

How The Arizona Corporation Commission Turned Anti-Solar In Just A Few Years

The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), which regulates public utilities and telecommunications companies, is facing increased scrutiny by the FBI and backlash from state media outlets over its political activities and an

Solar Battle Continues In North Carolina As Nonprofit Fights Duke Energy

In one of the remaining four states that explicitly ban third-party solar sales, a small nonprofit is continuing its fight against the nation’s biggest utility over the right to sell solar power to churches and other nonprofits without the utility’s involvement.

North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network (NC WARN), a 28-year-old environmental nonprofit with an annual budget of around $1.1 million, is fighting Duke Energy, a massive energy company that raked in $23.5 billion in revenue in 2015 and is valued at $54.4 billion.

Last year, the nonprofit wanted to clarify state law regarding third-party sales, so it picked a fight with the utility Goliath to spark a test case. NC WARN installed solar panels on the roof of a Greensboro church for free and started selling the energy back to the church at significantly lower rates than Duke Energy would charge. In typical power purchase agreements, customers pay the owner of the solar array less per watt than they’d have to pay a utility company, making residential solar more affordable and thus more accessible for customers.

The energy giant’s lost profits from NC WARN’s arrangement with Faith Community Church are minuscule, yet Duke Energy asked the North Carolina Utilities Commission last October to fine NC WARN up to $1,000 per day for selling energy to the church. At that time, it would have cost the nonprofit as much as $120,000.

On April 15, the utilities commission fined NC WARN $200 per day, amounting to roughly $60,000, and the nonprofit suspended its sales of solar electricity to the non-denominational, largely African-American church pending an appeal.

Activists Push For Climate Justice, Fair Elections This Week In Washington

This week, thousands of activists converged in Washington, D.C. for Democracy Spring, a series of rallies, marches and sit-ins to protest big money in politics, voter suppression, and the Senate’s obstruction of President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination.
 
The activists are demanding that Congress pass four bills already introduced that would stem the tide of big money by overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and match small political contributions with public funds, and expand voting rights by restoring protections against voter discrimination and expanding voting accessibility.
 
Central to these forces are environmental activists from all over the country. The Energy Action Coalition, a network of youth-led environmental and social justice organizations that trains and mobilizes youth climate activists, is on the Democracy Spring steering committee and is working with allies such as Oil Change International and SustainUS to coordinate “climate justice day” on Saturday.

Activists To Stage Mass Civil Disobedience In Nation’s Capital This Week

This week, thousands of Americans sick and tired of big money in politics and unfair voting laws are descending on the nation’s capital, ready to go to jail, if necessary, for their cause.

Some just arrived from a ten-day, 140-mile march that began in Philadelphia on April 2. Many others joined on Monday morning in Washington, D.C., kicking off a week of rallies and sit-ins at the Capitol building and its grounds while demanding that Congress take action to curb big money in politics and institute free and fair elections. Over 3,500 people have confirmed that they’re ready to risk arrest.

The Democracy Spring network of over 100 groups is demanding that Congress pass four bills to restore protections against voting discrimination, expand voting accessibility, overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and match small political contributions with public funds. The activists also want Congress to hold hearings and an up-or-down vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

Catching The Sun: Documentary Highlights Link Between Solar Energy And American Job Creation

A man laid off in his forties who wants to be part of the green economy of the future. A Chinese solar energy executive whose childhood village didn’t get electricity until he was seven. A right-wing Tea Party activist crusading for rooftop solar.
 
These are some of the people featured in Shalini Kantayya’s new documentary, Catching the Sun, which presents the climate crisis and American employment woes together with one solution: solar energy.
 
Despite America’s huge solar capacity and consistent history of ingenuity, China has excelled as the world’s leader in solar panel manufacturing, and European and Central American nations lead in percent renewable energy production.
 
Decades of manufactured climate change denial, political contributions and lobbying of U.S. politicians resulting in huge tax breaks to powerful dirty energy companies, and other tactics have propped up fossil fuels as the dominant energy sources.
 
Factor in fossil fuel industry-funded attacks on clean energy, and it becomes clear why real change or challenges to fossil fuel incumbency are difficult at the federal level.

Fossil Fuel Interests Play Major Role In Presidential Super PAC Funding

One-third of the big donations funding the bloated presidential super PACs last year came from fossil fuel interests. That’s according to campaign finance research by Greenpeace, reviewed by The Guardian.
 
Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and a subsequent lower court decision in 2010, corporations, unions, and individuals have been allowed to flood elections with unlimited cash.
 
Super PACs—political nonprofits that may expressly advocate for candidates’ election or defeat but are barred from coordinating with candidates and are required to disclose their donors—have become a dominating force in presidential races as well as in Congressional and state-level contests.
 
Individuals tied to oil, gas, and coal mining companies who donated $100,000 or more to super PACs supporting 2016 presidential candidates combined for $107 million in donations from January 2015 through January of this year. Greenpeace included in its data owners and board members of oil, gas and coal mining companies and firms that transport these fossil fuels, and people with major investments in the companies.

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