The National Park Service and grant-money-grubber The Conservation Fund are misleading the public about land being "donated" to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

In recently-generated press, the entities claim that additional park land was purchased by The Conservation Fund and "donated" to the park.
The purchase of these lands by The Conservation Fund from willing and interested sellers without the use of any taxpayer dollars, and their subsequent transfer to the NPS, ensures that they remain in the public trust for future generations to learn from and enjoy and that they will continue to provide both ecological and economic benefits to the region.
The Conservation Fund used YOUR money to purchase these lands, and skimmed a nice "administrative fee" for themselves off the top.  How nice of them to "donate" the land to you. 

The land was purchased with a $66M mitigation fund that the Department of the Interior extorted from utilities PSE&G and PPL, who were allowed to build a gigantic electric transmission project through the heart of the park in exchange for the payoff.  In turn, PSE&G is recovering the $66M from all electric ratepayers in the 13-state PJM Interconnection region.  Under federal rate schemes, PSE&G is even allowed to earn a 12.9% return on the bribe as it slowly depreciates over the life of the transmission line.  In exchange for acting as the middleman and giving your crooked government cover for its outrageous abuse of the public trust, The Conservation Fund is allowed to skim generous "administrative fees" off the fund every year.  The Conservation Fund didn't "donate" anything, they just served as the nonprofit "purchaser" to so that these shady transactions may not shoulder their fair tax burden.

It's a lie and a scam of the highest order.  Addition of border properties to the park does not make the transmission line disappear out of the middle of the park.  Mitigation means your park assets are for sale to the highest bidder.  In this case, the highest bidder was YOU.  Why are the citizens paying to buy additional park property at the Delaware Water Gap NRA, and why is The Conservation Fund being allowed to claim it as a "donation" on its taxes?

The National Park Service ought to be ashamed of itself for lying to the public this way.
He shall now be forevermore known as Tony the Dotard. Yeah, I know, it just doesn't have that same ring to it, but I'm sure he can still get up to lots of corporate hijinks and mock floggings down at the senior center soon.

FirstEnergy announced today that effective January 1st, they're kicking Tony upstairs to some newly-created figurehead position known as the "executive chairman."  Apparently the quotes are included in the official name of Tony's new position.  I like how he stopped to pose with a big grin next to a portrait of one of his belching power plants on the way out.  Classy!

So, who's next?  FirstEnergy's soon to be president and CEO is Chatty Chuck Jones, the famous deal-maker who is completely out of touch with the real world the rest of us inhabit.  Someday, someone's going to spit in his mashed potatoes.

FirstEnergy says that Chatty Chuck worked his way up from substation engineer, but they don't share how many co-workers he had to step on to get there.  Chatty Chuck has managed FirstEnergy's distribution companies since 2010.  That means he was directly responsible for that meter reading disaster over the past several years at the former Allegheny distribution companies -- Mon Power, Potomac Edison and West Penn Power.  But wait... Chatty Chuck brings even more to the table!
  He's also former president of FirstEnergy Solutions, the company's failed competitive generation subsidiary.

Chatty Chuck is also the insufferable jerk who made that stupid $102M deal to plaster FirstEnergy's name all over Cleveland Browns Stadium a couple years ago.  In the wake of all the bad publicity that generated, Chatty Chuck tried to clear it up with an amusing little story about how he intimidated the staff of the restaurant where the deal went down.  Aren't FirstEnergy's communications shysters going to have fun?

As amusing as all this is, Chatty Chuck shares that nothing will change.  He's going to run the company exactly like Tony the Dotard did.  And, just in case he starts acting like a wise guy:

Alexander, serving in the newly created position as executive chairman of the company, said he will be in an advisory role. "But Chuck is running the company," he said.
...with a wink.

Demonstrating that FirstEnergy's death spiral will continue, perhaps even speed up, Jones revealed that he doesn't understand finance.
"Having a stronger technical understanding of the finances would be a plus, but I don't see it as a necessity," he added.
...he has henchmen for that.
The Akron Beacon Journal reports that FirstEnergy is "considering" a move from its current headquarters building when its lease is up.
City spokeswoman Stephanie York said Akron officials are aware that the electric utility might be interested in moving from 76 S. Main St.
“What we know is that FirstEnergy is coming to the end of their lease, and that their desire is to stay downtown,” York said Thursday in an email. “We are excited that they are looking to stay downtown (whether in the same building or not), just as we are energized about the increased vitality and development of downtown over the past dozen years.”
Well, I hope all you ratepayers are just as "excited" about your electric bill going up to pay for FirstEnergy's contemplated move.  Let's see... 19 floors, 900 employees, what do you think that's going to cost?  Millions, that's how much!

When I get bored with my surroundings, I simply re-arrange the furniture.  How about you?
Clean Line's Texas hucksters showed up in Illinois last night, and the citizens were there to meet them.
Outside the Church of the Nazarene Fellowship Hall, members of a grassroots protest group gathered to tell landowners of their opposition to the project. Inside the hall, company officials told of its benefits.
Which group do you think was telling the truth?  Hint:  One group was paid to be there by Clean Line, the other was there voluntarily.

Apparently there was lots of "misinformation" afoot, but only one group whined about "misinformation."  Guess which one?  It might be the one laboring under the misapprehension of the information deficit model.

The accompanying picture is a classic:  crowds of disenchanted landowners, some with arms folded, staring down the "clean" employee performing a song and dance in front of a company poster at an "information station."

The divide and conquer routine isn't working, Clean Line.  These folks got the jump on you.

Silly Clean Line routed their project through land owned by a local attorney.

"They are filing for expedited review with the (Illinois Commerce Commission) which provides for limited time for landowners to object and even shorter filing periods, which constrains ability to have fair and full hearings insuring that due process rights of each landowner are protected," Probst said.
"Our firm is looking into calling a meeting of landowners and invite other interested parties to discuss what options are available to the landowners of Shelby County," the lawyer added.
Ooopsy, Clean Line!  Why the hurry?  Hoping that you can ram this project through approvals at the ICC before the landowners organize enough to seek legal counsel?  Too late!

Bravo to the citizens of Illinois who have worked so hard to prepare for Clean Line, as well as to all the experienced Clean Line opponents who traveled to the meeting to help out.  What an auspicious beginning!
It really is all about that number on a piece of paper, apparently.

FERC issues an annual report of its enforcement activities each November, to let the public know how FERC is protecting them.  A big number on the report justifies FERC's activities.

Is it about doing the job, or is it about the number?

In 2014, FERC says its investigations produced $25M in civil penalties against energy market violators, and $4M in disgorgement of unjust profits.  Just $4M?  What percentage of annual energy market profits is that?  How much money was actually made by manipulating markets? 

FERC says it saved ratepayers nearly $11.7M by directing refunds and recoveries as a result of its audit activities.  What percentage of the total amount of rates is $11.7M?

Audit activities included formula rate audits.  FERC found much the same kinds of violations it found last year.
Formula Rate Matters. DAA continues to examine accounting that populates formula rate recovery mechanisms used in determining billings to wholesale customers. In recent formula rate audits, DAA observed certain patterns of noncompliance in the following areas:
• Merger Goodwill – including goodwill in the equity component of the capital structure absent Commission approval;
• Depreciation Rates – using state-approved or a blended depreciation rate consisting of Commission and state-approved depreciation rates without Commission approval;
• Merger Costs – including any merger-related costs in rates (e.g., third-party advisory fees, internal labor, severance, and other general and administrative costs) without Commission approval;
• Tax Prepayments – incorrectly recording tax overpayments not applied to a future tax year’s obligation as a prepayment leading to excess recovery through working capital;
• Unused Inventory and Equipment – including the cost of materials, supplies, and equipment purchased for a construction project without removing the cost of items unused in whole or in part from the cost of a project;
• Allocated Labor – using labor cost allocators not based on a representative time study to determine the amount of indirect labor costs to distribute to construction projects;
• Asset Retirement Obligation (ARO) – including ARO amounts in formula rates, without explicit Commission approval;
• Below-the-Line Costs – including below-the-line costs in formula rates (e.g., lobbying, charitable contributions, fines and penalties, and compromise settlements arising from discriminatory employment practices) without Commission approval; and
• Improper Capitalization – seeking to include in rate base (and earn a return on) costs that should be expensed.
So, when are utilities going to stop making the same "mistakes" over and over?  Maybe when they are sure to be caught, or when "mistakes" come with penalties?  Otherwise, it's like playing roulette for utilities.  Over time, they can rake in more than they'll ever have to refund if they are caught.  Why are there no penalties for continued violations? 

During the year, FERC performed 19 audits.  What percentage of the total number of formula rates overseen by FERC is this?

Do FERC's investigations promote transparency and encourage entities subject to Commission requirements to develop strong internal compliance programs?  If they did, would FERC soon find itself out of a job?  Or would utilities continue to play FERC-roulette because it's just so gosh-darn profitable?
You won't be seeing variations of the word "approve" in my headline.  That's because the Illinois Commerce Commission decision yesterday was not a pivotal moment that sealed the project's success.

Far from it.

Although the actual Order has been withheld from the parties and the general public for the time being, I've been able to piece together a general idea of its contents from various news stories, along with knowledge of what was in the proposed order issued by ALJ Larry Jones several months ago.

Clean Line applied to the ICC under two separate statutes.
Rock Island therein requests an order granting it a certificate of public convenience and necessity (“CPCN” or “Certificate”), pursuant to Section 8-406 of the Act, authorizing it to operate as a transmission public utility in the State of Illinois and to construct, operate and maintain an electric transmission line (“Project”); and authorizing and directing it, pursuant to Section 8-503 of the Act, to construct the proposed line. 
News reports say that the Commission granted the CPCN under Section 8-406, but did NOT order it to construct the line under Section 8-503.

Sec. 8-406 makes it technically possible to construct the line, if it can acquire VOLUNTARY easements from all affected landowners. 

Only under Sec. 8-503 may the company be granted the authority to take property through eminent domain condemnation.  An order under 8-503 would set the company up to effect takings through mere procedural steps.  But the ICC DENIED Clean Line's application under Section 8-503.  Therefore, Clean Line would have to come back before the Illinois Commerce Commission with a second application for an order under Sec. 8-503 at some point in the future, with likely similar results.


Big win for landowners!

Know this -- the ICC would never grant Clean Line eminent domain authority to take the majority of its route.  Usually, holdouts in transmission line cases that actually end up being taken via eminent domain are few and far between.  There's strength in numbers.

Feel free to say "no."  Isn't it ironic that a company that has been telling regulators and the media how well it has been "collaborating with landowners" would now actually have to... well... collaborate with landowners?  Perfect!  However, Clean Line's lies and underhanded tactics have inspired massive distrust by landowners.  And every farmer knows... you reap what you sow.
Well, here's a chance for our government to work for us!

It was reported on Monday that DOE's Inspector General will be "undertaking a review" of FERC's Office of Enforcement" at the urging of several U.S. Senators.

The lawmakers have urged the IG to look into the way FERC investigates market manipulation.  Earlier this year, a very public battle between FERC's OE and energy trading firm Powhatan Energy Fund LLC made headlines and haunted former Director of FERC's Office of Enforcement Norman Bay's nomination to the Commission.
Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., was the first to ask the inspector general to look at the way FERC has been investigating alleged energy market manipulation. Stressing the need for investigations to be transparent, Casey in July urged Friedman to look at seven specific aspects of FERC's enforcement program, including whether the agency has pursued enforcement actions against entities "that were not acting in violation of then-current applicable laws and regulations," and is "properly allocating its limited resources to investigation of cases that have the most deleterious effects on energy markets."

Then, in September, Barrasso and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, asked the inspector general to explore allegations questioning the fairness and transparency of FERC's enforcement program, including those made in an Energy Law Journal article co-authored by a former FERC general counsel asserting that the commission's enforcement process has become "lop-sided and unfair."

The two senators specifically asked if FERC is holding certain parties to different standards with regard to market manipulation. For instance, Barrasso and Collins questioned whether the public is being given "actionable notice" of the types of conduct FERC considers to be market manipulation. They also asked Friedman to explore the article's allegations that the targets of FERC investigations and their employees are not being afforded the due process "required by FERC's own regulations and precedents" and that provided by other federal enforcement agencies.
The IG will also be investigating any "quid pro quo" connections between enforcement actions and other unrelated FERC actions, and some craziness about career vs. non-career positions.

FERC has publicly offered a recent defense against the allegations.

Some have wondered whether FERC applies different standards to those it considers outsiders to its little energy fiefdom.  Does FERC go after its utility regulars with the same zeal it reserves for banks, traders, companies or individuals that don't regularly wander its halls and hearing rooms?  Is FERC's OE all about big headlines, or is it about justice?  Are utility transgressions dealt with by sweeping the matter under the rug or slapping the offender on the wrist?

It's going to be interesting.  Let's hope we don't next have an investigation of DOE IG's investigation to determine whether that investigation was carried out in a fair manner.  They could run out of inspectors to inspect each other at some point.
Read the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance's letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register.

Opposition to Clean Line's projects is now active and collaborating in seven states, and numbers in the thousands

Ut-oh, Clean Line!

FirstEnergy is at it again.  Its affiliate JCP&L's "Montville-Whippany Reinforcement Project" not only gave the New Jersey towns of Parsippany and Montville the ol' bait and switch, it's deep into dividing and conquering both of the towns by throwing the focus on shoving the line off onto someone else and pitting neighbor against neighbor, instead of allowing BOTH towns to join forces and focus on the real enemy -- FirstEnemy... errr... Energy!

Last year JCP&L held "open house" sessions for a route through Parsippany.  The townsfolk jumped all over opposing the line, forming a grassroots opposition group and making a lot of noise. Last week, JCP&L held another series of open houses announcing they had selected a different route through neighboring Montville

Montville has already been ground zero for PSE&G's "Susquehanna Roseland" transmission project.  I guess the geniuses at JCP&L think transmission lines are like potato chips -- you can never have just one?  So, not only is Montville already an experienced transmission opposition warrior, but JCP&L had to go and enrage the town's leadership with its tired, old "open house" meeting format, which the mayor referred to as "the stations of the cross."
The Committee expected the mayor to give an opening statement and then JCP&L would give their presentation, followed by a question-and-answer period. A committee member said that it turned out to be a JCP&L public relations presentation, and the company made no effort to discuss the problems and possible solutions.
So, now the town will be holding its own public meeting, where residents and town leaders will make their own list of demands.  The town expects JCP&L will subsequently negotiate modifications to the plan that would lessen impact on residents.  Good luck, Montville, and remember, delay is your friend!  :-)

Will the utilities ever learn?  Their old routines no longer work on an increasingly educated and savvy public.  The "open house" is no longer effective in dividing and neutralizing potential opposition.  Heck, we use your stupid "open houses" as handy-dandy meet-n-greets to recruit new opposition.  It's cheaper and easier when you all do the mailings and media to get affected landowners to a centralized location where they can be recruited by opposition groups.

The only citizens who leave those meetings with a warm, fuzzy feeling are those who find out that their property is nowhere near the project.  The rest of them leave confused, shell-shocked... and angry.  And they form and join opposition groups that increase costs and delay projects, sometimes even causing the project to be abandoned.

The days of running over the public with stupid PR tricks in order to build overhead transmission
are over.  The public demands transparency, integrity and better solutions.

Time for a new schtick, FirstEnergy. 

Spending the better part of my week playing lawyer, paralegal, and legal secretary, all at the same time, wasn't much fun.  However, I was thoroughly cheered to observe from time-to-time when I came up for a sanity break, that Clean Line Energy Partners was having a MUCH WORSE week than me!  :-)

All three of Clean Line's active projects took it in the shorts last week, in one form or another.  This is the direct result of overwhelming, forthright and committed opposition in every state through which it intends to build its Rock Island Clean Line, Grain Belt Express and Plains & Eastern Clean Line projects.  And to get there, it's taken an enormous amount of dedication, organization and hard work on the part of some savvy opposition leaders
, and the help of everyone involved to raise this issue in the public dialogue.  So, pat yourselves on the back, everyone!

First, let's look at the Rock Island Clean Line project.  It STILL has not been approved in Illinois, despite Clean Line's project leader telling newspapers it had been.  It was on the Illinois Commerce Commission's agenda on Thursday, but, once again, the Commission kicked the decision down the road
for another day.  Clean Line had been telling folks that once it got approval in Illinois, it would file for its franchise in Iowa.  Even though approval is still up in the air (and the proposed order of the ALJ did not recommend eminent domain authority at this time, along with a whole bunch of other hurdles that make the project much less viable) Clean Line went ahead and filed its applications in Iowa.

The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance says that despite having land agents active in the community for the past year, the company still has only secured easements for 15% of the property it needs to build its line.

Clean Line said the company will need to cross approximately 1,500 separate land parcels in Iowa to reach Illinois. So far, about 200 owners have signed agreements. That’s about 15 percent of the total needed.

Eric Andersen, another Clean Line opponent from Grundy County, said the small number of willing sellers so far will be one of the arguments opponents use against the plan.

“This is a private investment firm that’s building a private transmission line and they want to use eminent domain on 85 percent through some of the best farm land in the world. That’s a huge deal,” Andersen said.
RICL is asking the Iowa Utilities Board to grant it eminent domain authority to condemn and take 85% of its route?  Never going to happen.  Usually, holdouts that require the use of eminent domain are few and far between.  Never 85% of the landowners targeted!  If these landowners continue to dig in their heels (and I expect they will) this project will be political poison.

Turning now to Clean Line's Grain Belt Express project, evidentiary hearings got underway before the Missouri Public Service Commission this week.  In addition to the various landowner groups and others opposing the project, the staff of the MO PSC has also adopted a position opposing the project:
“As staff has set out in the position statements it filed last Friday, it is staff’s view that the evidence in this case will not show that the transmission line and converter stations are needed, economically feasible, or will promote the public interest in Missouri,” Williams tells the Commission.
But Clean Line has an ace up its sleeve that it thinks will "turn a no into a yes."
Clean Line turned to the Department of Energy and Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The little-known provision would enable DOE to work through a federal power marketing administration and, in certain instances, condemn property required for easements.

Clean Line filed a similar application with DOE for the Grain Belt Express project in 2010.

In a testy exchange during Monday’s hearing in Missouri, Agathen, the landowners’ attorney, repeatedly asked whether Clean Line would pursue federal approval of the Grain Belt Express project if denied by the Missouri PSC.

Skelly said Clean Line’s application for Section 1222 authority for Grain Belt Express is still pending at DOE but inactive. And the company would exhaust efforts to persuade state regulators to approve the project before turning back to the federal government.

“We would look at the no and figure out a way to turn it into a yes,” he said.
And this brings us to the third Clean Line project, its Plains & Eastern, that got thoroughly pummeled last week during a joint State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committees and joint Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development committees of the Arkansas legislature.  Arkansas Rep. John Hutchinson's interim study presented a parade of experts, state agencies, and concerned citizens who spoke against the project for several hours.  The Clean Line representative in attendance never spoke, but did manage to smirk at opportune moments.  Because, you know, that arrogant little frat boy behavior just makes people want to love you, right Clean Line?  The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports:
"Game & Fish Commission Director Mike Knoedl said that bird deaths in the area would be 'astronomical' because of the high lines and towers, some as tall as 200 feet."
Clean Line probably doesn't care who opposes their project in Arkansas though, since the company is planning to have the U.S. Dept. of Energy step in to take land from Arkansans under the federal Energy Policy Act, Sec. 1222.  Unless Arkansas fights back... stay tuned!