Will Pennsylvania Save the Nuclear Power Plant Industry?

The Set Up: Pennsylvania is a deregulated energy market that operates within the PJM. One of the drawbacks of a deregulated market is that generators cannot recover the cost for plant upgrades directly from the ratepayer. Utilities have to spend capital cost then compete on the open market against every other energy sources. This has made it difficult for older coal and nuclear plants to make improvements, either necessary or driven by regulation, because the market price for energy is suppressed. This is largely due to low natural gas prices and energy demand. Plus you have energy sources- like solar and wind- that are subsided which allows those sources to enter the PJM and accept a low rate per Kw/H.

Faced with this reality, a group of PA Legislators have formed the Nuclear Caucus. At this time, it’s not clear what focus the group will take; however, they formed to find a solution to save Nuclear Power Plants. If you recall, the nuclear industry, equipped with jobs and economic numbers, have won recent victories in Illinois and New York. The policies passed require the rate payer to subside the nuclear plants through what is called Zero Emission Credits. It unclear if these laws are going to withstand the court appeal process. Nonetheless, the nuclear industry is pursuing similar laws and Pennsylvania is next on the list.

What to look for: The nuclear industry is staffing up in Harrisburg. They are currently hiring many lobbyists and former regulators to help carry the message. The opposition however is not a sleep at the switch in Pennsylvania. They are organizing early and forming powerful opposition to any subsidy.

The battle between to the side will be simple; jobs, low carbon energy, and grid reliably versus rate payers, more government subsides (tax payer money), and a less diverse energy mix.

The side hustle: With a major Natural Gas development in Pennsylvania – Marcellus Shale – they have the most to lose at this point. If the state props up nuclear it will only prolong natural gas rising as the dominate energy source. It will be interesting to see how much time and resources the gas industry uses to defeat any nuclear subsidy.

by Brian Turk

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – February 26, 2016

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our two minute drive time segment that aired on Friday, February 26, 2016, on KQV 1410, “Divided Government,” by Rob Vescio.

Our next segment will air on Friday, March 11, 2016, at 8:12 a.m. and 5:12 p.m.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Animal Farm

The politics of animals is not Orwellian, but it is dogmatic. Washington, DC’s advocacy community swarms with organizations supporting zoos, aquariums, pet store owners, breeders, traders, importers, exporters, environmentalists, preservationists and researchers.

Set aside the agricultural interests and their Madison Avenue media campaigns

  • Beef! Its What’s for Dinner;
  • The Incredible Edible Egg; and of course
  • Got Milk?

were all underwritten at least in part by federal funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the cattle, chicken and dairy interests all have powerful lobbies in our nation’s capital.

The politics of animals is not limited to agriculture per se. The USDA also manages many non-agricultural animal issues through agencies like the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). For example, on February 3, 2016, the USDA/APHIS published its proposed rule (and request for comments) for “Standard of Care for Marine Mammals in Captivity.”

The proposed rule, at least in part, is consequent to the popular documentary, Blackfish. The movie tells the story of a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. The movie’s official website, www.blackfishmovie.com, says:

This emotionally wrenching, tautly structured story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from these highly intelligent and enormously sentient fellow mammals.

Politics, however, is never one-sided and the politics of animals is no exception. Many believe Blackfish is sensationalism whose message, though the proposed APHIS rules and new regulations, threatens scientific discovery and chills valuable education and efforts to compel environmental preservation. Sea World in particular, took exception to the documentary and how it is portrayed. Its official response, found at www.Seaworldcares.com, states:

We object to Blackfish because its two central premises are wrong: (1) that life at SeaWorld is harmful for killer whales and for trainers working with these animals, and (2) that SeaWorld has attempted to cover up the facts surrounding the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, as well as the history of Tilikum, the killer whale involved in that accident. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The lobbying on both sides has been and will continue to be heated.

The politics of animals covers issues like: environmental preservation, climate change, the RESTORE Act (the statute and accompanying billions of dollars stemming from the BP Deep Water Horizon oil disaster), coral acidification and restoration, poaching and ivory trade and even STEM education.

In addition to the USDA, federal agencies including the:

  • Department of Commerce (through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA);
  • Department of Interior;
  • Department of State; and
  • Department of Defense

All have vested interests in the politics of animals, their costs to the environment, and to the treasury.

Cohen & Grigsby is proud to do its part in these debates, representing the Florida Aquarium (www.flaquarium.org) in its initiatives to study and protect sea turtles, sharks, coral reefs, and sea grass beds. Our work includes:

  • educating policy makers on Capitol Hill;
  • program advocacy to the National Coral Reef Task Force; and
  • promoting the Aquarium’s coordinated research work with the National Aquarium in Havana within the Department of State.

If you’d like to know more about the politics of animals or Cohen & Grigsby’s federal work on behalf of zoos and aquariums, please contact Aaron Grau at agrau@cohenlaw.com.

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If you have additional questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

In Defense of Government

There is great value in understanding and engaging federal government.

It’s easy to dwell on government’s ineptitude and effortless to criticize and complain. Insults, jabs, scandals, mistakes, delays, even honest misunderstandings sell airtime.

A Senator’s misstatement or a bureaucrat’s ineptitude ring out amidst the din of day-to-day governing because they are exceptions, easy to pluck, spin, post and Tweet. So what about the din? What about the constant hum of government’s bureaucracy? We can complain there as well, I suppose. It’s not loud enough. It’s too loud. It’s confusing and since we don’t understand it, it must be bad or at least ineffective, right?

Wrong.

Consider the effect of cancelling the din. Turn it off and the silence will be deafening. Our ears will ring almost painfully when we realize the din; the day-to-day efforts of government help collect our trash, help give us clean water, defend us, power us, transport us, feed us, treat us, and educate us.

Yes, it’s easy to complain, but listen to the din and you’ll understand there is much more to appreciate than chastise. Mind you, I am not a Socialist. I’m not even a Democrat! (Perish the thought…!) But I am a pragmatist and after working on Capitol Hill, within quintessential bureaucracies like the Department of Labor, and then as a lobbyist (Yes, I said it, a lobbyist!) for almost 20 years with clients ranging from large aquariums to defense contractors to at-risk youth and disability advocates I can assure you government offers more good and more support and meets more needs than most care to recognize.

And, although it will always be tougher to seek out and leverage those benefits than it will be to complain about slip ups, delays, or red tape, taking the time try, to learn, to actually engage can yield benefits far beyond appreciating government.

Forget for moment government’s basic roles like the Coast Guard’s search and rescue. (Who among us is ready to call them inept)? Consider that those who quietly, day in and day out contribute to the quiet din beneath the raucous, press grabbing, finger pointing and “grid lock” routinely succeed. For example:

The United States Department of Labor administers the National Job Corps. It’s a burdensome and expensive task in large part because the program is residential. Its mission is to help at-risk youth improve the quality and satisfaction of their lives through vocational and academic training. Day-in and day-out Job Corps’ professionals grind through the challenges of teaching the hardest to teach; supporting the most reluctant; and from their classes producing graduates, skilled employees, focused taxpayers who otherwise may have ended up in prison or worse. Sure kids drop out of the program. Some fail. You may find an article or two about them. You’ll have a tough time, however, finding news about the hundreds of thousands of success stories. But for Job Corps, but for the DOL, but for government, they would never be told.

Does that sound too trite? Then how about the United States Department of Agriculture’s recent funding to over 1,000 rural energy projects nationwide? The money went to renewable energy and energy efficient projects that not only provide new rural jobs, but new rural power using fuel that would have become waste. The return on those taxpayer investments will be at least three-fold, even if some of the projects discontinue. On their own, the projects are too small too receive venture capital and too geographically disparate to get traditional funding. What financier besides government, can step up, take the risk, and invest the money?

And there is more – so much more. Federal contracts are a quiet, unsung, and critical part of our economy. They support research and development, minority businesses, and local economies. Government services at all levels assure our safety and our standard of living.

Is there over regulation? Yes, often. Is there waste? Of course, it’s almost inevitable. It is easy to spot and yell about and when it’s fixable, it better be fixed! But as we listen to politicians’ discourse and rhetoric about how they will “change Washington” and “improve government;” as they do their best to sell a new approach to do away with rancor and increase effectiveness, we should do our part too. Stop for a moment, listen to the din, and consider the effects of its absence.

Take a moment to realize that despite the inevitable waste an wrong doing that government by its nature is pragmatic, doing more good for society than bad; more than many Libertarians care to admit or even realize.

And if you want to parse the noise even further, dig into the programs and find the ones that can help your neighborhood or your company even more, call a pragmatic lobbyist. There are one or two of those out there too!

By Aaron Grau

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

The Phony War and The Pennsylvania Budget Crisis of 2015

Earlier this year I spoke about how even though the Pennsylvania government was politically divided with a Democratic Governor and a Republican General Assembly there was room for common ground and an opportunity for a Grand Bargain of both increased education funding with pension reform and liquor privatization. I believed that there was sufficient common interest in not revisiting the budget wars of the Rendell and Casey years–the last time Pennsylvania government was so divided.

I was wrong.

I am, by education and disposition, somewhat of an amateur historian, much to the bemusement and boredom of my kin and friends. After the fall of Poland in the Fall of 1938 to the forces of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, France and the United Kingdom went to war against the aforementioned Germans. Except for a misadventure in Norway and some U Boat action in the North Atlantic not much happened between the combatants until the German Army rolled through the Ardennes in May of 1940 on their way to Paris, plunging Europe into darkness.

This 6 month period was known as the phony war.

Back in the Casey and Rendell budget standoffs the public was actively engaged. Welfare recipients whose benefits had ceased were camping on the grounds of the Capitol; public employees were laid off; and state parks were closed. In a shrewd move by Rendell, the revenue employees who insured that the casinos properly remitted their taxes to the Commonwealth, were deemed as unnecessary, promptly closing the casinos.

There was spectacle, gamesmanship and pain to spare.

Since those days however the game has changed. The courts ordered that welfare recipients must receive their benefits and that state employees must be paid.

Certainly the myriad non-profit agencies that provide services to the medically needy and the indigent poor have been affected and, the school districts, all of whom receive assistance from the Commonwealth are impacted—the poor ones–first of course. Generally speaking, the general public has not been affected. Perhaps if there were more of a crisis atmosphere, perhaps if the State game lands were closed, or the liquor stores were suddenly shuttered then the public would stand up and demand a budget.

But until all the schools close and the mentally ill and the elderly no longer get their services the Phony War in Harrisburg will continue.

by Nello Giorgetti

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Medical Marijuana Advancement in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania could soon be joining many other states and Washington DC in legalizing the use of medical marijuana. We are getting very close to passing landmark legislation for medical cannabis, and we have a new Governor who has been vocally supportive of signing legislation that would legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. Earlier this year the Senate passed legislation, Senate Bill 3 (SB3), that would create a medical marijuana program within the State. It would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana-derived substances to treat a dozen conditions, including cancer, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis to name a few. While it does not propose full access like Maine, Michigan or other states, it does allow a limited number of cannabis products, such as oils and topical creams – to be prescribed for a list of conditions.

Polls consistently show the vast majority of Americans support allowing seriously ill patients to use marijuana for medical purposes with their doctors’ approval. In fact, there is near 90 percent support for medical marijuana among Pennsylvania residents. While SB3 stalled in the House, a task force was recently formed in order to work on a bill that would create a program to gain strong, bi-partisan support in the House.

In addition to a myriad of health benefits, it is no secret that the legalization of marijuana would also offer tremendous economic paybacks for Pennsylvania as well. Tax revenue from medical marijuana dispensaries has been giving other state and local budgets a much needed boost. Oakland, California, for example, received $1.4 million, or 3 percent of the city’s total business tax revenue from medical marijuana dispensaries last year according to a The New York Times report. We now have tangible evidence that a well-regulated medical marijuana program creates numerous economic benefits that provide bountiful rewards to states. SB 3 calls a six percent “surcharge” which would be paid before the medical marijuana is purchased by the patient, which could provide a much need bolster to Pennsylvania’s budget. Other states with similar programs have seen significant job creation and a decrease in marijuana prohibition costs.

After months of research and meetings, the bi-partisan task force made up of 14 House members recently sent its conclusions to House majority leader Dave Reed. The conclusions gave guidelines for how a potential medical marijuana program could be implemented, including recommending it to be used to treat 14 diseases. These recommendations will be used to draft the House bill. However complicated, the unresolved state-budget issue still remains the top priority with no light at the end of the tunnel.

by Kim Hileman

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Lobbyists’ True Value

We’ve been talking about some complicated problems and lobbying the federal government to solve them. Surprisingly, it’s a step not many companies are confident to take.

Why?

Many believe lobbyists are “evil;” part of the “problem in Washington, DC.” Others see lobbying as too complicated, convoluted, or something that’s only for “big companies.”

Lobbyists are advocates. They help secure government resources including grants and contracts. They correct rules’ unintended consequences, establish useful guidelines, and assure equitable distribution of public assets. And their services are no longer limited to Wall Street, big business, or “a select few.”

Thanks to scandalous people like Jack Abramoff, lobbying’s public image is so bad practitioners use new labels like “government affairs” and “education and outreach.” Well before Abramoff and media’s sensationalism, however, legend says President Ulysses Grant coined the term “lobbyist” out of disgust and frustration.

Washington, DC’s Willard Hotel promotes the myth that President Ulysses S. Grant coined the term “lobbyist” in the hotel’s lobby. It’s said the president often wandered next door from the White House hoping for some quiet in the hotel’s grand foyer. When he was beset with petitioners asking for favors and jobs, he cursed “those damn lobbyists” who interrupted his cigar and brandy.

The story is not true.

The image of lobbyists as corpulent influence peddlers is equally false. Sure, there are a few old-school denizens still for hire and if you can afford them, they may actually put you toward the top of their coveted “request list.”

The truth is lobbyists play a valuable role in legislative and rule making processes. They provide policy-makers first hand information, represent concerns and articulate complicated issues that on their own would be misrepresented or never heard at all.

During an interview for an article in the legal text, The Regulatory State, one Congressional staffer noted, “lobbyists are part of open government and aren’t so sinister as the public image, but instead provide a way to know how [a] bill will affect those with a stake.”

Genuine and effective lobbyists are advocates who know government processes: legislative, contractual, regulatory, and grant making. They take the time to understand clients’ issues and know how and when and in what manner to make their (client’s) case.

They are effective every day; on Capitol Hill and among agencies; in small ways and large, representing non-profits, start up technology companies, small municipalities, large manufacturers, orchestras, researchers, veterans, artists, educators, law enforcement, coalitions of thousands and concerned groups of neighbors.

What can a lobbyist do for you?

By Aaron Grau

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.