SF Bay Area Indymedia indymedia
About Contact Subscribe Calendar Publish Print Donate

San Francisco | Environment & Forest Defense | Fault Lines

Green Is...Not PG&E: Behind the Green Ink of This Nor Cal Utilities Company
by Sakura Saunders
Monday Mar 19th, 2007 9:01 PM
Walking around San Francisco, you might have noticed bright green ads featuring cutesy witticisms about what “green is,” sponsored by the local utility monopoly PG&E. My favorite ad prominently displays a piece of cow dung with the quote “Green isn’t always pretty.” Here, PG&E isn’t too far off; for them, green is… a lie.
Walking around San Francisco, you might have noticed bright green ads featuring cutesy witticisms about what "green is", sponsored by the local utility monopoly, PG&E. My favorite ad prominently displays a piece of cow dung with the quote "Green isn't always pretty." Here, PG&E isn't too far off; for them, green is… a lie.

Although recently heralded by the environmental advocates for their support of the state-wide clean energy bill, PG&E itself will admit that this bill does little to disrupt their energy buying habits, which rely heavily on natural gas, big hydro and nuclear. The combined total makes up for 84 percent of PG&E's energy consumption, and each carries with it a large environmental toll. But taking credit where none is due is par for the course in this energy giant's game.

PG&E praises itself for "interconnecting more than 12,000 solar customers - more than any other utility in the country," but here they are taking credit for individuals installing solar panels. To make this self-congratulatory statement even more aggravating, PG&E actually lobbied against incentives for individuals to install solar.

Another great example of this company's duplicity is the "ClimateSmart" program. This program gives customers the option to offset their emissions by paying PG&E to plant trees. Besides the fact that planting trees is a highly consumptive and disputed 'solution' to global warming, PG&E's stated goal for the program is a mere 4 to 5 percent of their customers. Meanwhile, they are spending $17 million dollars to promote "ClimateSmart", a fee that will be passed onto customers whether they like it or not.

So what is behind all of this green ink?

PG&E is certainly spending a lot of money to promote a green image, and what's behind it is anyone's guess. Some venture that they are trying to make up for dragging their feet in closing down the Bayview Hunter's Point power plant, which had polluted San Francisco for 77 years and was linked to very high asthma and cancer rates. However, recent actions by the company suggest that this PR campaign is part of a larger offensive against public power and other green legislation in San Francisco.

According the San Francisco Bay Guardian, PG&E has recently been polling SF residents to see if they would support voter-approved measures limiting the SF Public Utilities Commission's ability to supply public power. Meanwhile, President Bush has recently pushed for the restoration of Hetch Hetchy valley, a process that involves destroying a dam that is a source of fresh water for 3 million Bay Area residents and is also a huge source of cheap electricity that is earmarked for public power in San Francisco. Without the dam, San Francisco's dreams of a municipally-owned utility don't have a chance.

While the dam closure seems unlikely given Congress' response to Bush's scheme, a PG&E-sponsored ballot measure is probable.

Last November, PG&E won an electoral battle that determined whether Davis, Woodland and West Sacramento could drop PG&E and join Sacramento's Municipal Utilities District (SMUD), a celebrated publicly-owned utility whose rates are 30 percent lower than PG&E's. The ballot measure in Sacramento was sponsored by PG&E, who attempted to scare current SMUD customers by saying that the expansion could hurt their rates. In this dirty campaign, PG&E spent over $10 million dollars (around $50 per vote) to promote mis-information about the annexation, saying that it would cost $500 million for SMUD to buy the power infrastructure, about five times more than SMUD's estimates. A PG&E employee also sued SMUD over the wording of the Sacramento ballot measure, forcing them to take out the wording that guaranteed that Yolo County would pay for the annexation.

What's at stake?

Beyond pushing public power further from possibility, PG&E's campaign is detrimental to the already-voted-on Community Choice Energy plan. CCE is a well-researched policy to run San Francisco on 50 percent local, renewable energy within the decade – without raising the rates. It's based on city-sponsored reports confirming that the Bay Area has enough wind & solar capacity to meet half of our energy needs. It's designed to break PG&E's monopoly on our energy supply and support market competition for green energy providers that can meet or beat PG&E's rates. This would make San Francisco the largest renewable network in the country.

However, three years after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted for energy independence, CCE is still wading through red tape. It seems that PG&E is gearing up for a fight that could undermine this fledgling green policy, with arsenal of PR and a battle-tested stock of dirty tricks. While mainstream environmental groups suck up to PG&E's political prowess and economic might, an all-volunteer group of concerned San Francisco residents has emerged out of disgust for PG&E's "Greening the City" campaign. Their website, letsGREENWASHthiscity.org, publishes the clear facts unspoken in PG&E's ad campaign and urges a push for Community Choice as a concrete alternative, while the group itself organizes actions designed to shame and expose PG&E. Hopefully, once presented with the facts, San Francisco residents will figure out that a company that owns a mere two percent wind and zero percent solar facilities is not vested in our green energy future. PG&E might pay to paint the city, but that doesn't mean that people will buy it.


Comments  (Hide Comments)

by PG&E is NOT so Green to Trees!!
Monday Apr 9th, 2007 5:22 PM
If PG&E would like to consider themselves as green then they need to cease and desist their practice of leasing out public land under their management to logging corporations like Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI). By allowing SPI to enter into PG&E managed land to perform clearcut logging operations, PG&E once again betrays the public by failing to be good stewards of public held land..

SPI is already logging inordinate amounts of public land in our national forests, their additional clearcut logging of PG&E land throughout northern CA is making erosion and sedimentation of streams worse each year, along with decreasing biodiversity in their plantation forests of uniform height that appear after a clearcut..

"Based in Anderson, just south of Redding, SPI was once a little-known timber company. But over the past decade, the family-run firm has gone on a buying spree, led by 71-year-old Archie Aldis "Red" Emmerson. Now it is one of the nation's largest private landowners, owning 1 of 3 acres of timber industry land in California."

also;

"With elevation and population of about 4,000, Arnold is an old sawmill town that typifies the transitions of the Sierras. Weathered bait shops stand side by side with tony galleries and New Age shops, which try to lure customers with promises of "whole life therapies." Many residents say they can live with selective logging practiced by the previous owner of Arnold's surrounding timber lands, Georgia Pacific. But about five years ago, SPI started buying Georgia Pacific's lands and introduced a new style of forestry.

This year, SPI filed plans to log tracts near Calaveras Big Trees State Park, the town's main tourist attraction, and White Rock Lake, the town's drinking water reservoir. Under SPI's preferred logging method, crews generally clear tracts of 10 to 20 acres, haul out the logs, burn the stumps, spray herbicides, then replant seedlings. "It looks like a bomb hit it," said Bunny Firebaugh, a 69-year-old resident of Arnold, referring to some of SPI's ongoing clear-cuts in the area. "You can't just cut down everything, put in a pine plantation and call it a forest."
"

entire article @;
http://www.forestwatchers.org/top_stories.htm

In addition, some of the land SPI claims to "own" and clearcuts with impunity once belonged to the public under PG&E's management, though PG&E sold this land off to SPI;

"ERLICH: Bill Sessa is a PG&E spokesperson.

SESSA: One of the ways that we can make ourselves more competitive is focusing on our main line of business, which is delivering electricity and gas, and selling off assets that don't directly help us in that business.

ERLICH: And that could mean selling off a lot of land. PG&E is the second largest landowner in California. In 1995, the latest year for which there are figures, the company sold off 10,000 acres of prime timber land, a pace likely to continue for several years. Environmentalists worry that the new owners won't take as good care of it as PG&E.

(Footfalls)

ERLICH: Environmentalist John Buckley walks onto a parcel of land owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, California's largest timber company. the tract has been clear-cut. It's completely barren except for 5 small trees. Sierra Pacific has bought some PG&E forest land and is expected to buy more. This isn't one of those plots, but Mr. Buckley says it is representative of SPI's approach o its new acquisitions.

BUCKLEY: they have done more clear-cutting than was ever done by the private lumber companies, and they also have taken trees that were left intentionally by the previous companies. So from the environmental community's perspective, SPI is very aggressive, and in many cases has less sensitivity to the needs of wildlife and watersheds."

entire article @;
http://www.loe.org/shows/shows.htm?programID=98-P13-00003#feature2

To witness the effects of SPI's clearcut practices please visit;
http://gallery.wildcalifornia.org/THP-1-03-232-Sierra-Pacific-Industries

Here's some additional info from the endgame website;

" SPI Facts;

Largest private landowner in North America, with 1.3 million acres.

Owns 28 percent of the 4.57 million acres of timber industry land in California.

Largest purchaser of public timber in California.

Ranked 192 on the Forbes 500 list of private corporations in the U.S.

SPI chairman Red Emmerson is ranked 161 on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans (based on an estimated worth of $1.1 billion).

Funded timber industry campaign against Forests Forever initiative in California.

Helped create the Sierra Accord and Quincy Library Groups.

In 1973, it was reported that SPI's net profits more than doubled since the previous year, to more than $12 million (on sales of $124 million). Twenty years later, sales were estimated at $1 billion, with operating profits of $115 million and net profits of $38 million. Sierra Pacific Industries had grown by buying up land and companies, gaining its reputation as a "very aggressive, big player on the West Coast." Between 1976 and 1986, SPI spent $60 million acquiring the assets of other companies, but the biggest was yet to come. In 1987, SPI bought 522,000 acres of California timberland from the Santa Fe Southern Pacific Railroad, which still held public land from the nineteenth century homestead era (see section below on the railroad land grant). By the mid-1990s, SPI has paid another $600 million for another 400,000 acres. SPI now holds 1.3 of the 4.5 million acres of timber industry land in California, making it the country's largest private landowner (just ahead of Ted Turner). Using an average price of $1,700 per acre, Sierra Pacific's timber holdings alone are worth more than $2 billion."

other SPI info @;
http://www.endgame.org/spi.html

The land sold by PG&E to SPI is included in these numbers. My understanding is that PG&E is managing the land, not the owner, the land belongs in the public trust. How then, can PG&E and SPI return this land to the public? Forest restoration and community forests!!

Sunnybrae community forest recently added 175 acres to their existing holdings by paying a hefty some to previous landowner SPI. Since PG&E land was public, communities should be exempt from any fees to reclaim the land..

"It's a tangled tale: In 2000, SPI -- not the original logger, here -- filed a timber harvest plan. Alarmed, Sunny Brae folks formed SANA. In 2002, the plan was approved, but without incorporating several of SANA's requests. SANA yelled. SPI, after a confab with the city manager, said, "OK, we'll sell it to you." SPI wants $2.7 million. The city has most of the money lined up; SANA needs to raise $20,000 more by October."

article @;
http://www.northcoastjournal.com/083106/shortstories0831.html

Similar to Sunny Brae, the beginnings of a community forest in Weaverville was also rooted in protests against land mismanagement;

"The Weaverville Community Forest, which is jointly managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Trinity County Resource Conservation District (TCRCD), is 984 acres of excellent timber land, historic and prehistoric resources, recreational uses and high visual quality for the southwest side of Weaverville. The anadromous West Weaver Creek flows through it, and the Forest provides a wildlife corridor between industrial timberlands to the south and residential parcels to the north.

The Forest originally began, in 1999, as community protest against a proposed land exchange by BLM. The Trinity County Board of Supervisors joined with the community in asking BLM to delay the exchange while alternatives were explored. In 2003 the TCRCD Board of Directors decided to take on the project to further explore ways to manage these federally-held lands. In mid-2004, BLM suggested using a new federal tool, Stewardship Contracting, to manage the lands as a community forest.

Using this tool, BLM retains ownership and cooperatively works with the TCRCD, with which it has an excellent working relationship, to manage the forest-based objectives defined by the community. Because of the high level of community involvement between 1999 and 2004, the objectives have long been defined: protecting viewsheds, timber harvesting and products to the local mill, recreation and education, fuels reduction, firewood collection, salmon habitat protection, and invasive weeds eradication. In 2005 a ten-year cooperative agreement between BLM and TCRCD was signed, and the first project will be undertaken in 2006: a forest health project on 200 acres adjacent to a neighborhood. The timber will be sold to the local mill, with firewood collection beginning later in the summer. Funds generated after project costs will be deposited in an account that pays for subsequent projects that meet the objectives of the stewardship agreement and community goals."

entire page @;
http://www.tcrcd.net/w-ville_forest/history.htm

The indigenous peoples of CA rely on traditional land stewardship logging practices to ensure the safety of both humans and the ecosystem. By not clearcutting, the Hupa nation has phased out the use of toxic herbicides for several decades. You'ld think that by now Euro-americans could learn from this indigenous ecological wisdom??

"On public lands, CIBA has been active in trying to end the use of pesticides on national forests, which have resumed their use after a moratorium of several years. While some national forests choose not to use herbicides, others such as the Stanislaus, Eldorado and Sierra National Forests are carrying out plans to spray many thousands of acres. On tribal lands, the Hoopa Tribe banned pesticide use on the Hoopa Reservation in 1978. Timber sales are an important source of income for the Tribe; timber sales run in the black, while manual removal of competing brush provides employment. The argument against such methods, however, is mainly an economic one. In terms of dollars, the cost of herbicide application costs less than "hand-grubbing" or mechanical methods. The Forest Service argues that it is necessary to use herbicides in areas where thousands of acres of trees have been burned and reforestation efforts are underway."

additional info @;
http://www.ciba.org/ongoing.html

Maybe now we can place biodiversity and community health above short term economic profits of private corporations??