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[First posted at Forbes.]
Newly unearthed information shows Florida Republican party leaders failed to disclose scandalous conflicts of interest regarding the state’s renewable energy law, even as Republican leaders hypocritically claim outrage over scandals regarding Solyndra, Chevy Volt batteries and other failed “green” energy programs.
The latest in the seemingly weekly federal green energy scandals involves Compact Power, a company that took $150 million in taxpayer subsidies while promising to build batteries for the Chevy Volt. After pocketing the money, Compact Power is now furloughing workers before producing a single battery.
People have good reason to express outrage over this latest episode of “green” energy companies playing taxpayers as suckers. The problem is Republican political leaders are every bit the “green” scandal enablers that Democrats are. A Republican-controlled Congress passed the 2005 legislation that established the renewable energy subsidy programs that produced such scandalous results. And even to this day, Republican leaders in various states continue to push such renewable energy subsidies.
In Florida, a Republican scandal every bit as outrageous as the Solyndra scandal is now unfolding.
The Florida legislature this spring passed H.B. 7117, which Republican sponsor Scott Plakon calls the “Renewable Energy Bill.” The bill hands over $100 million in taxpayer subsidies to the renewable energy industry, with the subsidies on a per-household basis costing Florida taxpayers more than those of Solyndra. Grassroots conservative leaders were outraged and urged Gov. Rick Scott to veto the bill. Scott sent out signals that he was leaning toward a veto.
Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam had worked closely with Rep. Plakon to draft the renewable energy subsidies and pass them through the Republican-dominated legislature. On the morning of April 13, the very day Gov. Scott would have to make his veto decision, Putnam presented what he called an “independent economic analysis” of the renewable energy subsidies, authored by consultant John Urbanchuk, as “proof” the renewable energy subsidies would create thousands of jobs and reduce the state’s budget deficit. Putnam trumpeted the “independent economic analysis” to the media and presented it to Gov. Scott as part of a full-court press to convince Scott not to veto the bill. According to insiders in the Scott administration, the “independent economic analysis” was decisive in Scott’s decision later that day to allow the bill to become law.
Prior to presenting Urbanchuk’s analysis to Gov. Scott and the media, Putnam gave grassroots opponents of the renewable energy subsidies no notice that he would be presenting any such study. By presenting the Urbanchuk study on the morning Scott would have to make his veto decision, Putnam precluded independent economic experts from reviewing Urbanchuk’s qualifications, objectivity and conclusions prior to Scott making his veto decision.
My colleagues and I at Media Trackers Florida have now discovered Urbanchuk has severe conflicts of interest regarding renewable energy subsidies and has a financial self-interest in promoting them. An April 6, 2010 item in Biofuels Journal contains a podcast interview in which Urbanchuk vigorously supports subsidies for the ethanol industry. A short article accompanying the podcast reports, “Some of his [Urbanchuk’s] clients include the U.S. and Canadian Renewable Fuels Associations; the National Biodiesel Board; National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association and United Soybean Board, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, and private firms.”
Insiders in Gov. Scott’s administration report the Governor had no idea Urbanchuk had such serious conflicts of interest when Putnam presented the analysis as “proof” the renewable energy subsidies would benefit the Florida economy. Putnam never mentioned Urbanchuk’s conflicts of interest when trumpeting the study to the press, also.
Putnam’s surprise presentation of an “independent economic analysis” may have succeeded in convincing Gov. Scott to fore go his threatened veto, but his tactics are underhanded and reprehensible, especially in light of Urbanchuk’s undisclosed conflicts of interest.
Several nationally prominent energy economists have examined Urbanchuk’s study since Scott allowed H.B. 7117 to become law, reporting the study is deeply flawed in many important particulars. As reported by Media Trackers Florida, David Tuerck, chair of the economics department at Suffolk University; Tom Tanton, president of T2 & Associates economic consultants; Robert Murphy, economist with the Institute for Energy Research; and Daniel Simmons, director of regulatory and state affairs with the Institute for Energy Research all concluded the renewable energy subsidies will harm rather than help the Florida economy.
My colleagues and I at Media Trackers Florida reached out to Putnam, offering the Agriculture Commissioner an opportunity to explain why he did not disclose Urbanchuk’s conflict of interest. Media Trackers Florida also asked whether Putnam would retract the Urbanchuk study and reexamine his support for the renewable energy subsidies given Urbanchuk’s conflicts of interest and the multiple economic analyses concluding the renewable energy subsidies will hurt the Florida economy. In response, Putnam spokesman Sterling Ivey sent Media Trackers Florida an email reiterating the Urbanchuk study results, describing the Urbanchuk study as authored by “an independent research firm.” Ivey did not address direct questions about Urbanchuk’s conflicts of interest.
So Republican political leaders cry foul and blame Democrats for “green” energy scandals such as Solyndra and Chevy Volt batteries, yet they simultaneously champion and implement similar subsidies. Worse, Republican leaders commission a bogus economic study written by a consultant with severe conflicts of interest and financial self-interest in renewable energy subsidies, and then they use that study to strong-arm the bill into law without ever disclosing the consultant’s conflicts of interest.
Now you tell me, which is the worse scandal; Solyndra, Compact Power or the duplicitous behavior of Florida Republican leaders in enacting their own renewable energy subsidies?