THE BLOG
07/30/2013 11:48 am ET Updated Sep 29, 2013

John Avalos and Francesca Vietor Play the Shell Game

In 2011, corporate lobbyists and their Republican allies came up with a piece of political trickery -- the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis Act. The bill guts environmental protections in the Clean Air Act, sparing its corporate backers millions in fines and compliance costs. They pushed it through the House successfully, even picking up some Democratic votes, because gullible politicians were not reading the fine print. After all, who could be against increasing transparency?

The San Francisco politicians pushing the so-called "CleanPowerSF" program, including Supervisor John Avalos and Commissioner Francesca Vietor, are clearly playing the same kind of Shell game. And that's more than irony, considering that Shell Oil will supply 100 percent of the power to San Franciscans who are trapped in the new system.

Avalos and Vietor know San Franciscans wouldn't support a company rushing to despoil the Arctic, suing the Sierra Club and spilling oil in Africa. So they cynically call power from Shell "clean" even though there is nothing clean about it.

But that's not even the dirtiest secret they are trying to hide. They also fail to mention that almost all the power supplied by Shell will come from the fossil fuel sources on the local grid. They dare to call it "clean" because of an accounting trick called Renewable Energy Credits.

In fact, the power will be so dirty it will violate San Francisco's own regulations, laws and principles and increase greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

How could that be? Because the fossil-fuel power Shell will sell San Franciscans is dirtier than the current supply. That's right -- the "clean" plan these politicians want will increase GHGs.

Maybe these politicians think telling voters they passed a measure called "CleanPowerSF" will let them claim credit for supporting the environment, or that it would look good on a mailer. But they can't use their Shell game to hide the facts forever -- RECs are not clean power, they are an accounting gimmick.

Take the word of Ed Harrington, former head of the San Francisco Public Utility Commission, who said that RECs are not "real green power." When asked why the City originally chose not to include RECs, Harrington said, "We thought people here wanted real green power." It was only after Harrington left that Avalos and Vietor seemed to have persuaded the new GM to reverse policy and use the dirty RECs.

According to UC Santa Cruz environmental professor Daniel Press, RECs "don't do much beyond paying the salaries -- of people selling certificates."

You can also take the word of Greenpeace UK, who called Shell one of the "dirtiest, most regressive corporations in the world" after Shell walked away from true renewables like wind and solar. Or the word of City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who rightly took PG&E to task when they tried to sell RECs as green.

The San Francisco Labor Council also weighed in, issuing a Resolution condemning the deal. In addition to their humanitarian crimes, Shell is one of the worst labor violators in business. In fact, a review of 2007 data found that Shell had the highest mortality rate of any large western oil company in the United States. Shell has a reputation for brazen disregard of workers' safety, and the company's safety record continues to raise concern among government regulators.

It's time to call "CleanPowerSF" what it really is: a political deal that will automatically enroll you in a system that charges you more for dirtier power.

Avalos, Vietor and the politicians who join them in support of the Shell Oil contract are playing a Shell game with the truth. Don't be fooled.