Huh. In weird synchronicity, the same day America's truculent, backbiting GOP pols ousted Disorder in the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a pointless act of animus, Canada's diverse pols elected their new House Speaker on, evidently, another planet. He's black, a first. He got a standing ovation. There were hugs, grins, high-fives. Everyone laughed as the country's leader ceremonially mock-dragged him to the podium where he vowed his focus would be on mutual respect, and good will reigned. Unfathomable.
As Speaker, Fergus is supposed to be politically neutral, an impartial adjudicator among sometimes bickering factions. Tasked with enforcing House rules, he will vote only to break a tie, and carry out managerial, ceremonial and diplomatic responsibilities on behalf of Canada's Parliament. Before the vote, he pledged to be "firm, thoughtful, collaborative, consistent and certainly fair...What motivates me, and what I vow (to) promote, is one word - respect." Again, it's a far cry from our experience with the "ostentatious disorder" of a House whose speakership was - checks notes - "an optical illusion (that became) an exercise in self-abasement.... animated by something akin to nihilism" in a GOP House, founded on "the politics of contempt," that now "resembles a failed state." Of course, politics in Canada are still politics: Before the election, Conservatives lobbed some modest attacks against Fergus: He vocally defended Trudeau during 2016's "Elbow-gate," when the PM inadvertently elbowed a lawmaker, and breached the Conflict of Interest Act by writing a letter of support for a French-speaking TV station; he later apologized for the "unintentional error." All in all, pretty small civil potatoes compared to, say, a violent coup seeking to overthrow the government.
Still, Fergus' rise did prompt some grumbling, largely, shockingly from the right. Commentators called the election of the first Black Speaker "a gimmick for upcoming elections" to help a besieged Trudeau, arguing Fergus "checks (every) virtue- signaling and corruption box" for Liberals and New Democrats. One jaundiced editorial scoffed uproar like that over the hapless Nazi "typically provoke(s) cries for more civility in politics...They never last long before MPs from all parties return to their partisan ways. Fergus’ election won’t change that." Maybe. But from the perspective of a House beholden to the jeering, pompadoured, unprincipled likes of chaos agent Matt Gaetz, Fergus' victory looked pretty congenial, if not downright jolly. After the vote result was announced, Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh human rights attorney who heads the progressive New Democratic Party and argues, "If one person is suffering, we are all suffering" - no, we don't have him here either - lauded Fergus, "one of the friendliest members of Parliament," for his "incredible feat of representation." Citing kids "who have come here and not seen themselves in the pictures on the walls," he noted, "That’s going to change when people walk these halls (and) they are one day going to see your face."
Subterranean grievances notwithstanding, Fergus' win was widely celebrated: Smiling colleagues gave him a standing ovation, staff members giddily high-fived, Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois members hugged him; even some Conservative MPS did, though leader Pierre Poilievre got in a jibe about needing to restrain the "primordial" power of Liberal leadership. Then, in a bizarre, Colonialism-tinged custom, Trudeau and Poilievre hooked arms with the grinning Fergus to faux-drag him to power. Historians say the practice of "gentle persuasion" dates from when a Speaker had to convey House news to a monarch not always happy to hear it; from 1394 and 1535, seven Speakers were purportedly beheaded - three, most notably Sir Thomas More, by a cranky Henry VIII. After the reign of Mary l, "the last really unreasonable monarch," the custom morphed into a vaudevillian march to the Speaker's chair. There, casually moving between French and English - monolingual America, take note - Fergus thanked colleagues for "this great honor." In a hockey analogy, he vowed to work tirelessly as a "referee" to ensure "respect and decorum" without which "there can be no dialogue." "Respect is a fundamental part of what we do here," he said, "to (show) Canadians that politics is a noble profession." From this ravaged, rancorous side of the border: Oh please, please, make it so.
Greg Fergus elected 1st Black Canadian House Speaker, replaces Rota | FULLwww.youtube.com
Progressive members of the European Parliament on Wednesday said they would vote against two candidates to serve as the European Commission's top officials overseeing the government's Green Deal and climate action agenda, remaining steadfast in their opposition to the politicians' climate records, conflicts of interest, and statements on chemical regulations and arguing that "people and planet deserve better."
Members of the Left in the European Parliament group said they had voted against Wopke Hoekstra and Maroš Šefčovič in the Committee on Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety (ENVI) on Wednesday morning as the panel approved their bids for European Commissioner for Climate Action and Executive Vice President of the European Commission for the European Green Deal, respectively.
Hoekstra, a former employee of oil and gas giant Shell and fossil fuel-linked consultant group McKinsey, has garnered extensive criticism from the left-wing group and from dozens of civil society organizations due to his employment history.
"We believe that we have to change the system, not the climate," said Left MEP Silvia Modig of Finland. "Wopke Hoekstra's track record represents the system. We stand alongside civil society. Without a sense of urgency, we will continue on the same path we have for fifty years. Emissions will continue to grow, temperatures will continue to rise, and catastrophic climate events will persist."
"To entrust the helm of our climate policy to a former Shell employee, whose career trajectory clearly prioritizes profit over the planet, must serve as a wake-up call."
The full parliament is expected to hold a final vote on the commissioner-designates on Thursday, and with the Dutch Labour Party also indicating it would also vote against Hoekstra, Euronewsreported that "a political veto on either candidate is still possible."
The ENVI committee approved the two candidates two days after they were questioned extensively about their climate records and commitments.
Hoekstra and Šefčovič failed to garner the support of two-thirds of the committee members on Tuesday, as many lawmakers still had concerns about their commitments to carbon emissions reduction targets and other issues.
Hoekstra, who resigned as the minister of foreign affairs of the Netherlands last month, worked at Shell from 2002-04 and at McKinsey for a decade before entering government.
He claimed in his remarks to the committee this week that he now believes "fossil fuels must become history, the sooner the better," and that oil companies that have known about their activities' link to the climate crisis and have "sought to ignore the evidence" are "unethical."
He also promised to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and said he supports a target of slashing emissions by at least 90% by 2040—the lower end of a recommendation made earlier this year by the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change, which said the bloc must cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90-95% by 2040 in order to limit planetary heating to 1.5°C this century.
Despite some of Hoekstra's climate pledges to the committee, said the Left, he "represents the fossil fuel lobby and does not convincingly demonstrate competence as a climate protector."
Hoekstra's bid to lead the E.U.'s climate agenda, said the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), represents the government's dismissal of 100,000 Europeans who have signed a petition opposing his candidacy and "is a symptom of a broader systemic issue: fossil fuel influence on our decision-making."
The groups warned that as minister of finance in the Netherlands, Hoekstra "pleaded against rapidly ending gas exploitation... despite the massive negative impacts gas drilling had on hundreds of thousands of citizens" and "personally blocked government plans for reducing nitrogen emissions that were aiming to bring Dutch policy measures in line with E.U. legislation on nature protection."
"If we want to prevent and mitigate climate disasters in the future, it is crucial that governments free themselves from the influence of the fossil fuel industry by introducing and implementing a conflict-of-interest framework," said the organizations. "Making a person with strong and long-time links with oil and gas interests responsible for E.U. climate policies is the wrong step."
Šefčovič's answers to the committee's questions this week also left progressive lawmakers dismayed, as he refused to commit to a timeline for toxic chemical regulations and and food sustainability rules.
"The Left does not consider that the commissioner has shown an awareness of the need to accelerate on the European Green Deal by failing to commit to deliver on critical promised legislative proposals in this mandate," said the group of Šefčovič, who currently serves at executive vice president of the European Green Deal, overseeing interinstitutional relations and foresight.
CEO noted that campaigners' objections to the two candidates pushed the ENVI committee to delay its approval this week and to demand transparency from Hoekstra about the clients he worked with at McKinsey.
"Bittersweet win for transparency. Conflict of interests firmly on the agenda," said CEO. "We will be watching."
Citing "alarming" data provided by the federal government about the prevalence of tax evasion among the richest Americans, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden on Thursday called on the Internal Revenue Service to crack down on "particularly brazen" high-income tax cheats and noted that Democratic initiatives have already helped to begin addressing the problem.
Writing to IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel, the Oregon Democrat and chair of the Senate Finance Committee cited data provided by the agency regarding taxes filed from 2017-20.
More than 1.4 million wealthy Americans have still not filed their taxes for those years, Wyden said, with the total amount owed to the federal government reaching "a whopping $65.7 billion"—almost enough to fund a universal childcare program for one year or a universal school lunch program for more than two years.
Nearly 1,000 people who earn $1 million per year or more have yet to file their tax returns, but Wyden wrote that the "most alarming" revelation in the data provided to his committee by the IRS "was the extraordinary amount of unpaid taxes owed by a small subset of ultra-wealthy non-filers," with the 2,000 highest-earning tax dodgers currently owing $923 million.
These high earners, said Wyden have "access to professional advisors and are well aware of their filing obligations with the IRS," but continue to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars that could support food aid, housing assistance, public health efforts, and other federal programs.
"These are people who essentially blow raspberries at the IRS," Wyden toldWashington Post columnist Greg Sargent on Thursday. "They're sophisticated people. They know this is wrong, wrong, wrong. And they do it anyway."
On social media, the senator noted that Republicans in Congress—and those running for president in 2024—aim to drain the IRS of its resources and "[make] it easier for the rich to cheat on their taxes," while Democrats included $80 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act to strengthen enforcement against tax evasion.
With the data provided to the Senate Finance Committee pertaining to 2017-20, wrote Sargent, it "underscores that when the IRS is underfunded, wealthy tax cheats benefit in a big way. An underfunded IRS is what Republicans are advocating for."
After being elected U.S. House Speaker in January, Rep. Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) first action was to propose a repeal of the IRS enforcement funding. Republican presidential candidates including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina have also called for a repeal of the IRA provision, claiming it's an attack on working-class Americans.
But the GOP narrative about IRS enforcement contrasts with the reality, wrote Sargent.
"Unfortunately for Republicans, enforcement funded by [the IRA] has paid off—bringing in more than $38 million from 175 rich tax delinquents, the IRS announced in July," he wrote. "And this month, the agency announced plans to use the funding for still more efforts targeting wealthy tax avoiders."
With tax evasion from previous years still affecting federal coffers, Wyden told Werfel in his letter that the IRS should "initiate enforcement actions against every single millionaire non-filer as part of its ongoing effort to use Inflation Reduction Act funding to restore fairness in tax compliance."
"I also urge IRS to utilize the enforcement tools available to it for instances of willful millionaire non-filers," he added, "including referrals to DOJ for civil or criminal prosecution, liens, and levies."
In a New York on Tuesday afternoon, Justice Arthur Engoron issued a gag order against former President Donald Trump and said he would face further "serious sanctions" if he issues any more threats or public comments against the judge, his staff, or the court where Trump is on trial for civil fraud.
Engoron, who sits on the New York City Civil and State Supreme Court, issued the order shortly after the Republican 2024 presidential candidate's claimed on social media that Engoron's clerk is "running this case against" him.
"Consider this statement a gag order forbidding all parties from posting, emailing, or speaking publicly about any of my staff," he said. "Personal attacks on members of my court staff are unacceptable, inappropriate, and I will not tolerate them in any circumstances."
During a lunch break on Tuesday, Trump posted a photo of the clerk, attorney Allison Greenfield, with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and called her "Schumer's girlfriend."
"How disgraceful! This case should be dismissed immediately," he wrote on Truth Social in a post that Engoron ordered him to delete.
On Monday as the trial opened, Trump called the proceedings a "scam," "a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time," and "an attempt to hurt me in an election."
The judge noted on Tuesday that he had "warned counsel off the record about the former president's comments yesterday, but the warning went unheeded," according toThe Hill.
The case is one of four pending civil and criminal cases against the former president and centers on allegations that Trump inflated the value of his assets in New York.
As Common Dreamsreported on Monday, advocates are expressing concern for the safety of jurors in the four trials due to Trump's repeated claims that he will not "get a fair trial" and comments he's made regarding his legal troubles including, "If you go after me, I will come after you."
He has also targeted U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presiding over a case in Washington regarding Trump's alleged 2020 election interference, on social media.
Katie Phang, host of "The Katie Phang Show" on MSNBC, predicted that "this is the first of many gag orders against Trump that will be issued by Justice Engoron in this case."
Environmental protection advocates and immigrant rights campaigners expressed horror Wednesday over a Department of Homeland Security plan entered into the Federal Register that will waive more than two dozen laws in order to expedite the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
The "notice of determination" was entered under Section 102 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act, which was signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, and said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas "has determined, pursuant to law, that it is necessary to waive certain laws, regulations, and other legal requirements."
The 26 laws—which include the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act—are being set aside "to ensure the expeditious construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity of the international land border in Starr County, Texas," the Federal Register said.
The waiver will allow construction through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and could threaten endangered species including ocelots, as well as the plant species Zapata bladderpod and prostrate milkweed, said the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).
Voces Unidas Rio Grande Valley said it was "disappointed, but not surprised" by DHS's plan and noted that it will further limit the access to green spaces that area residents have.
Mayorkas' determination marks the first time the Biden administration has used its waiver authority under the REAL ID Act of 2005 to override federal laws.
The Trump and George W. Bush administrations
used the authority in all four states that border Mexico to build walls and roads that they claimed were "an impediment" to the construction. Environmental groups have long condemned the REAL ID Act and its waiver authority.
Laiken Jordahl, Southwest conservation advocate for CBD, said it was "disheartening to see President Biden stoop to this level" in order to "build ineffective wildlife-killing border walls" that international advocates say also violates human rights.
"Starr County is home to some of the most spectacular and biologically important habitat left in Texas and now bulldozers are preparing to rip right through it," said Jordahl. "This is a horrific step backwards for the borderlands."
The proposal is the Biden administration's latest escalation of its anti-immigration policies and follows an expansion of the Trump-era Title 42 policy and a rule barring entry into the U.S. for asylum seekers who can't prove they applied for asylum in another country.
"Every acre of habitat left in the Rio Grande Valley is irreplaceable," said Jordahl. "We can't afford to lose more of it to a useless, medieval wall that won't do a thing to stop immigration or smuggling. President Biden's cynical decision to destroy a wildlife refuge and seal the beautiful Rio Grande behind a grotesque border wall must be stopped."
The proposal was announced a month after the federal government's own watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, released a report saying that border wall construction under Trump damaged native plants, helped spread invasive species, disrupted migration patterns for endangered species, and destroyed Indigenous burial grounds and sacred sites.
"There's no end to this insanity,"
said historian Greg Grandin of Biden's plan to fast-track the wall's construction.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday rejected a bipartisan amendment to the 2024 military spending bill that would have prohibited the transfer of cluster munitions—which are banned under a treaty ratified by more than 100 nations but not the United States—to any country.
The House voted 160-269 on the amendment to next year's National Defense Authorization Act co-sponsored by Reps. Sarah Jacobs (D-Calif.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). Seventy-five Democrats voted for the measure, while 137 voted "no"; 85 GOP lawmakers approved the amendment while 132 opposed it.
The vote took place less than a week after U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would send more cluster munitions to Ukraine.
"Many of us have this idea of American exceptionalism, that America is set apart from the rest of the world. Well, that's certainly true when it comes to cluster munitions and not in the way that we want," Jacobs said on the House floor before Wednesday's vote.
"America is an outlier. We are one of the few countries that hasn't become party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and that is a grave mistake," she asserted, referring to a landmark 2008 treaty, to which 112 nations are parties.
These weapons maim and kill indiscriminately. In 2021, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor found that over 97% of casualties from cluster bomb remnants were civilians, and two-thirds of those were children. That's because these bomblets are small, colorful, and interesting shapes, so to children they look like toys. So when kids find these unexploded bomblets stuck in trees, or in the water, or simply on the ground and try to pick them up and play with them, they could lose a limb or their life in the blink of an eye.... These weapons are unpredictable, and the human cost is far too high to justify.
Since the end of the Vietnam War half a century ago, unexploded cluster munitions have killed approximately 20,000 civilians in Laos, where the U.S. dropped more bombs than all sides in World War II combined. The U.S. rained as many as 270 million cluster bombs on Laos, and less than 1% of the unexploded bomblets have been cleared since. They are still killing civilians today.
"These cluster bombs are indiscriminate," Gaetz said on the House floor Wednesday. "They've killed tens of thousands of people... and when this is all done, we'll be right back here on the floor appropriating money to de-mine the cluster bombs that we're now sending, which seems ludicrous to me."
"These cluster bombs are indiscriminate. They've killed tens of thousands of people."
Since Vietnam, the U.S. has used cluster bombs in wars including the 1999 NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia; the 1991 Desert Storm war in Iraq and Kuwait; and in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen during the so-called War on Terror. U.S. cluster munitions have been linked to birth defects, miscarriages, cancers, and other ailments.
Earlier this year, the U.S. began sending artillery-fired cluster munitions to Ukraine. Russian invaders and Ukrainian homeland defenders have both killed and wounded soldiers and civilians with cluster bombs during the war.
"The decision by the Biden administration to transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine in my opinion was unnecessary and a sad mistake," McCollum told her House colleagues Wednesday. "The legacy of U.S. cluster munitions... undermines our moral authority and places the U.S. in a position that directly contradicts 23 of our NATO allies who have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions."
"The legacy of cluster bombs is misery, death, and expensive cleanup after generations of use," McCollum added. "These weapons should be eliminated from our stockpiles."
"Sending these weapons anywhere makes us complicit in unavoidable civilian harm and creates blowback that undermines our national security."
Last week, Biden informed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the United States will provide Kyiv with long-range missiles with cluster munition warheads.
"Let's be clear," Jacobs added. "This isn't about one country, this is not about Ukraine. This is about protecting civilian lives and ensuring our national security all over the world. Because sending these weapons anywhere makes us complicit in unavoidable civilian harm and creates blowback that undermines our national security."
Multiple efforts by lawmakers to ban the export of U.S. cluster munitions have failed to advance. Earlier this year, the GOP-controlled House Rules Committee voted down a resolution proposed by Omar and Jacobs (D-Calif.), while backing another led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)—whose controversial sponsorship doomed the proposal.
'Stop Cop City' Campaigners Decry State's Refusal to Charge Georgia Troopers Who Shot Activist 57 Times
"The system has, once again, declared its own innocence," lamented one activist after a Georgia prosecutor's office said it would not charge the killers of Manuel Terán, better known as "Tortuguita."
Human rights advocates on Friday condemned a Georgia prosecutor's decision to not charge the state troopers who fatally shot forest defender Manuel Esteban Paez Terán—better known as "Tortuguita"—during a militarized January raid at a Stop Cop City protest camp outside Atlanta.
"The system has, once again, declared its own innocence," Stop Cop City activist Micah Herskind wrote on social media in response to the decision by the Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney's office.
The Cop City Vote Coalition (CCVC) campaign said that "Tortuguita's memory and the memories of all those stolen by police killings demand that we all continue the collective struggle for a future without state violence."
Georgia State Patrol officers say they shot Terán after the 26-year-old Venezuelan activist opened fire on them, wounding an officer in the leg during the January 18 raid to evict protesters from the encampment protesting the $90 million, 85-acre Public Safety Training Center—widely known as "Cop City"—in the Weelaunee Forest just outside Atlanta city limits in DeKalb County.
According to a statement from Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Pro Tempore George Christian explaining the decision not to charge the troopers:
Terán... refused to comply with the lawful commands of the troopers to come out of a tent. The troopers used a 'less lethal' device known as a pepperball launcher in an effort to have Terán leave the tent. Terán responded by shooting four times his 9mm pistol through the tent, striking and seriously injuring a Georgia State Trooper. Six troopers returned fire resulting in the death of Teran.
"The use of lethal... force by Georgia State Patrol was objectively reasonable under the circumstances of this case," the prosecutor concluded.
A DeKalb County Medical Examiner's Office autopsy—which officials suppressed for months—revealed that Terán was shot 57 times and that there was no gunpowder residue on the victim's hands, which advocates say debunks claims that the activist fired first. There is no police bodycam video of the incident.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said that ballistics analysis proved a gun found at the scene of Terán's killing—a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol GBI said the victim legally purchased in 2020—fired the bullet that wounded the trooper.
CCVC said that "from the start, the state's response to Tortuguita's murder has been to lie and cover up the facts."
"Today's announcement ruling the killing as 'reasonable' is just the latest in a long line of changing stories and withholding evidence," the campaign added.
Since Terán's killing, more than 40 Stop Cop City campaigners have been criminally charged as domestic terrorists, while over 60 activists have also been indicted under the state's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act—some for simply handing out fliers.
"These charges, like the previous repressive prosecutions by the state of Georgia, seek to intimidate protesters, legal observers, and bail funds alike, and send the chilling message that any dissent to Cop City will be punished with the full power and violence of the government," organizers with CCVC toldThe Appeal last month.
Friday's decision to not charge the troopers comes as CCVC attempts to get a referendum on the project on November's ballot. Although they've collected more than 115,000 signatures—more than double the number needed to qualify for the ballot—campaigners accuse Atlanta officials of voter suppression due to what they say is an onerous signature verification process created solely to thwart the initiative.
City officials are refusing to even start the signature verification process, arguing that the campaign may have missed an August 21 submission deadline. Although the deadline had been extended until September by a federal judge, an appeals court subsequently blocked enforcement of the extension, creating a state of legal limbo for the initiative.
"Mainers have a rare chance to take control of an important part of their daily lives," said Sen. Bernie Sanders in his endorsement of Pine Tree Power. "Mainers can have cheaper, more reliable power—and help fight climate change at the same time."
As Election Day nears, climate and economic justice advocates in Maine and across the country are calling on voters in the New England state to approve an historic referendum that would initiate a public takeover of Maine's two for-profit utilities—a move which public power experts say could bring about a sea change in public utility ownership and lower rates for consumers while building resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure.
The "Yes on Question 3" campaign aims to create a new nonprofit company called Pine Tree Power, which would purchase Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant. The two companies currently provide power to 96% of Maine customers. The new company would be run by a board of directors elected by Maine voters, which advocates say would make the utility far more accountable to consumers than the investor-owned utilities have been.
Proponents have pointed to local utility takeovers which have resulted in lower rates for consumers, such as the case of the Long Island Power Authority. The publicly owned authority reduced electricity rates by 20% for customers, according to the American Public Power Association (APPA).
The grassroots Pine Tree Power campaign notes that consumer-owned utilities (COUs) are not a radical new idea in Maine, as 10 COUs serve 98 towns across the state. When one of the COUs attempted to expand and provide more customers in Kennebunk with lower rates and more reliable service, CMP halted the effort, leading one resident to say they were being "held hostage by the country's worst power company."
"Whether we're new or lifelong Mainers, we know that our state is defined by folks who work hard for one another," reads Pine Tree Power's website. "Medical workers and mill workers, farmers and firefighters, loggers, and lobstermen, we all work together to power Maine. That's why we deserve a power company that works just as hard for us."
"But ever since our utilities were sold to the highest bidder, our communities have been falling victim to the tyranny of faraway corporations," it continues, noting that CMP's parent company is owned by a Spanish firm while the primary shareholder of Versant's parent company is the city of Calgary, Canada.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that average electricity prices across New England are some of the highest in the nation, rivaling only Alaska and Hawaii, with costs rising from 24.6 cents per kilowatt hour in June 2022 to 28.3 cents per kilowatt hour this past June. Meanwhile, Maine's electric utilities get low marks for reliability, with the state ranked 49th in the country according to a 2022 analysis by the Citizens Utility Board in Illinois.
Pine Tree Power says the new public utility would save ratepayers $9 billion over three decades—lowering rates by an average of $367 per household annually—while a 2020 study commissioned by the Maine Public Utilities Commission said rates would likely increase in the short term after the purchase of CMP and Versant, but come down over the long term due to tax savings.
As the APPA told the Rhode Island Current last month, 18 new local public power utilities have been formed in the U.S. over the past two decades, and "their rates are typically lower and their electric service is more reliable."
But companies like CMP and Versant, whose profits and rates have soared in recent years while service has declined, are able to pour their vast resources into their own campaigns "to discourage communities from looking at their options," Ursula Schryver of APPA told the Current. The utilities have raised more than $27 million to oppose the Yes on Question 3 initiative.
"They'll typically say it's going to be expensive, take years, and cost a lot of money," said Schryver, the group's vice president for strategic member engagement. "They're going to have PR campaigns [and] push legal challenges to drag it out and make it as expensive and as long and scary as possible."
Pine Tree Power noted on social media in July that the grassroots campaign has garnered small donations from more than 1,000 people, 90% of whom live in Maine.
In addition to spending tens of millions of dollars to defeat Pine Tree Power, the for-profit utilities are backing a separate referendum in November that, if passed, would stall the creation of the publicly owned company by requiring Mainers to vote on borrowing more than $1 billion in most cases.
Maine Affordable Energy, a group funded by CMP, claims the purchase of the two utilities would cost Mainers $13.5 billion, while utility lawyer Peter Murray estimated in the Portland Press Herald last month that the true acquisition price would likely be about half that amount, based on the investor-owned companies' Federal Energy Regulatory Commission filings.
One of the proposal's latest endorsements came from the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) on Wednesday, with the group writing in a position paper that in addition to saving Mainers money, the "transparency and local accountability" that a public utility would provide would be "crucial to an equitable, affordable clean energy transition."
"Sometimes it's only government that can get the job done," said NRCM. "Take for example Efficiency Maine Trust (EMT), an independent quasi-government agency formalized in 2009 for not dissimilar reasons to the Pine Tree Power proposal, to correct for the disincentive utilities have to invest in energy efficiency. EMT, now with an annual budget of $100 million, implements energy efficiency and alternative energy programs across Maine, invests in businesses and workforce capacity, and has become a widely trusted resource for information to inform personal and business investment decisions. Just imagine what EMT could accomplish if it were working with cooperative utilities."
The group added that low-cost financing available to COUs could help speed "an equitable clean energy transition" that includes "low- and moderate-income households and other underserved Mainers."
"Access to lower-cost financing can free up resources to build robust programs designed to overcome the social and financial barriers to energy efficiency upgrades, weatherization, heat pumps, zero-emission vehicles, solar, and battery storage, to ensure that vulnerable and marginalized people also enjoy the ways that clean energy makes our homes safer and more comfortable, affordable, and valuable," said NRCM.
The Pine Tree Power campaign has also been endorsed by 350.org, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sierra Club Maine, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), and the Maine State Nurses Association (MSNA).
MSNA argued in its endorsement that "access to clean, reliable energy is undeniably a public health concern," with power loss linked to higher mortality rates among elderly people, while MOFGA said "true sustainability will only be possible with a power company that puts the needs of our local communities above the profits of foreign CEOs."
"Power belongs in the hands of the people, not greedy corporations," said Sanders in July. "Mainers have a rare chance to take control of an important part of their daily lives. Instead of a private power system that last year sent $187 million in profits out of the country, Mainers can have cheaper, more reliable power—and help fight climate change at the same time."
While CMP has lobbied against renewable energy legislation, proponents of Pine Tree Power, including 350.org, say the publicly owned utility "is a direct way of targeting the fossil fuel industry."
"Returning power to the people and looking for big fights is where we can best show solutions and also resist the fossil fuel infrastructure," Candice Fortin, a campaigner with the group, toldThe Progressive in August.
"Parties missed a pivotal opportunity for developed countries to walk the talk regarding their commitments to combating the climate crisis," one campaigner lamented.
Climate defenders admonished several rich nations for falling short of the $10 billion fundraising goal set for Thursday's Green Climate Fund Pledging Summit in Bonn, Germany, with the United States singled out for what one campaigner called its "glaring and inexcusable" failure to contribute this round, even as the climate emergency worsens.
The Green Climate Fund (GCF)—established in 2010 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to finance projects in developing nations to help them adapt to the climate emergency—presented an opportunity for wealthier nations to make new and increased pledges ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, or COP28, which begins November 30 in Dubai.
However, Thursday's summit raised just $9.3 billion, falling short of its $10 billion goal and coming nowhere near the $200-$250 billion the UNFCCC estimates is needed every year until 2030. Twenty-five countries promised to donate to the fund, with Denmark, Ireland, and Liechtenstein doubling their previous pledges.
Germany and the United Kingdom promised $2 billion apiece. France offered $1.7 billion, while Japan said it would contribute $1.1 billion. Australia, Switzerland, Italy, and Sweden said they were working on their commitments and would donate later.
The U.S.—which previously pledged $3 billion—also signaled its intent to contribute, but offered nothing on Thursday. China, the world's largest polluter, did not pledge.
"Time is not on our side. And promises made must be promises kept," Selwin Hart, special climate adviser to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, said in a statement following the summit. "This is the only way to rebuild the trust needed to confront the climate crisis."
Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at the advocacy group Climate Action Network International, said in a statement that "the Green Climate Fund, envisioned as the lifeline for climate action in developing nations, is held back by the indifference of wealthy countries."
"It's vital to underscore that public finance is key to ensuring vulnerable nations receive the support they need, particularly for boosting adaptation efforts," he stressed.
While Ireland's 150% pledge increase is praiseworthy, the tepid commitments—or outright stagnation—from nations such as Japan and Norway are deeply concerning. Some countries, like Sweden, seem to sidestep their obligations by urging developing nations to contribute to the fund. The silence of the United States, even as it participates on the GCF Board and shapes policies without meeting its financial obligations, is glaring and inexcusable.
"With COP28 on the horizon, the GCF replenishment conference has fallen short of expectations," he added. "However, it's important to remember that nations are not restricted to making pledges only during set intervals; they can and should step forward with contributions at any time to support climate action."
Tara Daniel, senior program manager at the Women's Environment and Development Organization, said that "today, parties missed a pivotal opportunity for developed countries to walk the talk regarding their commitments to combating the climate crisis."
"As the flagship fund for implementing the Paris agreement, one that prioritizes adaptation as much as mitigation, and governed more equitably than multilateral development banks, the GCF is central to our collective efforts to achieve transformative climate action," Daniel asserted.
"Unfortunately, the pledging conference today showed that while climate impacts continue to increase, collective climate finance through the GCF has not increased," she lamented. "The U.S. in particular has failed to put any money where its climate rhetoric is."
"Yet the opportunity is not irrevocably lost; the pledging conference does not have to be the end of the road," Daniel added. "We wait to see if COP28 unlocks the ambition the world needs and deserves."