The Neapolitan Mob’s Most Dangerous Family

A character sketch of Paolo di Lauro, one of the Neapolitan Camorra’s former leaders.  Southern Italy it seems, like some parts of Mexico, operates with more than one quasi-state organization governing in parallel.  A tacit negotiation between the official and unofficial systems, which sometimes erupts into violence — ironically, at those times when the so-called “criminal” organizations have become weak.

Colorado to preempt local regulation of oil and gas industries

Fracking site close to Platteville, Colorado

(Fracking site close to Platteville, Colorado by Senator Mark Udall on Flickr)

With the introduction of the Halliburton Loophole in 2005 the Federal government largely abdicated its role in regulating the water quality impacts of oil and gas extraction. Local governments have been forced to step up, and communities in Colorado has been at the forefront of that effort. Routt County now requires stringent baseline water quality testing (PDF) before development can begin, and monthly re-testing during operations. The city of Longmont has banned all surface pits (PDF). The oil and gas industry is striking back against these efforts, with Colorado Senate Bill SB12-088 (PDF) which would preclude local governments from regulating oil and gas operations. If passed, this bill would slam the door on any potential regulation of fracking on our county open space lands.

A messy patchwork of different regulations in every little jurisdiction would be costly and legally dangerous for the oil and gas industry. The credible threat of such a patchwork is one of the few points of leverage we have, to get them to accept reasonable regulations at the state or national level.

If you’d like to retain the right to regulate — locally — the activities of these industries then please call and write the Senate Local Government Committee listed below. You may also attend and testify at the public hearing on the bill if you wish: Thursday, Feb. 16th at the Capitol Building, Senate Committee, Room 353, likely between 9:15 and 9:45am.

JOYCE FOSTER, Chair
Capitol Phone: 303-866-4875
E-Mail: joyce.foster.senate@state.co.us

JEANNE NICHOLSON, Vice Chair
Capitol Phone: 303-866-4873
E-Mail: jeanne.nicholson.senate@state.co.us

IRENE AGUILAR, MD
Capitol Phone: 303-866-4852
E-Mail: irene.aguilar.senate@state.co.us

Tim Neville
Capitol Phone: 303-866-4859
E-Mail: tim@nevilleforcolorado.com

ELLEN ROBERTS
Capitol Phone: 303-866-4884
E-Mail: ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us

(h/t NRDC Switchboard and Colorado 350, also posted at The Boulder Blue Line)

Help put Boulder’s Climate Smart Loan Program back on track

In the summer of 2010, Boulder’s innovative Climate Smart Loan Program screeched to a halt, because the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) decided that the property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing mechanism amounted to a lien on any property enrolled in the program (read FHFA’s statements, and Boulder County’s response, both as PDFs). Because of this, they said they were unwilling to purchase and securitize PACE encumbered mortgages. In case you don’t remember, the FHFA oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government sponsored mortgage consolidation giants, through which nearly all consumer home loans pass at some point in their existence on the secondary market. And if they won’t buy your mortgage, then you’re not going to get a loan. This is unfortunate, since PACE financing programs had proven an effective way to get homeowners to make sensible long-term investments in energy efficiency and renewable generation, without having to take on the risk that future buyers would inappropriately undervalue the resulting savings.

However, the FHFA made this rule without engaging in any public process, and they were subsequently sued by the State of California and several cities and counties. The case has finally made it to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and while they have yet to make a ruling, the Court has directed the FHFA to begin collecting public input on the proposed rules. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has been involved in the suits and has had good ongoing coverage of the case:

The outcome of this case and the nature of the rules which are eventually adopted may have big effects on Boulder. Energy efficiency retrofits and local small scale renewable energy installation are high-quality local job producing industries. They allow our community to develop expertise that we can only hope will be in great demand in the near future. They’re absolutely vital to meeting our climate action plan goals. We have the financing mechanism in place to do this work; all we need is the go-ahead from the FHFA to get it underway. We should comment on these rules loud and clear.

The notice of the proposed rulemaking has been posted in the Federal Register, in all its gory detail. Details on how to submit comments can be found here. The easiest way is to e-mail Alfred M. Pollard, General Counsel: RegComments@fhfa.gov. You must include “RIN 2590-AA53” in the subject line of the message. All comments must be received by March 26th, 2012.

Another resource to keep an eye on is PACE Now, a bi-partisan group advocating for PACE programs in congress. They’re developing talking points, and have been working to get legislation passed which would protect PACE programs introduced in congress (like H.R. 2599, the PACE Assessment Protection Act of 2011… which unfortunately didn’t get very far).

It’s not crazy to think that the FHFA or some other federal agency might have a useful role to play in the regulation of PACE programs. It’s important that the financing be set up to incentivize the most cost effective improvements first so as not to unduly burden future property owners, and to save as much energy as possible with a finite pool of funding (e.g. attic insulation and air sealing before solar panels…), but the outright ban is clearly far too broad.

Below is what I sent. Post what you send in the comments if you feel so inclined!

Property Assessed Clean Energy financing programs, as have been initiated by many states and local governments, are a potentially transformative financing mechanism, enabling property owners to make good long term investments in energy efficiency and behind-the-meter renewable energy production. They address a market failure, in that buyers often do not appropriately integrate a property’s energy costs into their price assessment. So long as the state and local PACE programs are performance based, and incentivise both efficiency and renewables, preferring those investments which have the greatest (positive) net present value, given the financing rate which is available to the government entity sponsoring the program, they do not pose a significant risk to mortgage holders, and should be allowed in FHFA held mortgages. Additionally, local energy efficiency and solar power installation provide high quality, skilled jobs which cannot be exported, stimulating the economies of the localities implementing the programs. These types of energy efficiency and local renewables programs can go a significant way toward reducing the energy intensivity of our existing building stock, and help insulate the US economy from fluctuations in fossil fueled energy prices.

FHFA’s previous ruling has directly affected my community, stalling out energy efficiency programs here in Boulder, CO. Rather than effectively banning these programs, I encourage the FHFA to work with the building retrofit industry and the state and local governments which have instituted these programs to develop guidelines which ensure the most cost effective use of PACE financing, including the use of before and after energy audits, and other energy efficiency retrofit best practices.

Cross-posted at The Boulder Blue Line.

PACE Lives!

The Federal Housing Finance Administration is taking public comments on Property Assessed Clean Energy financing programs, at the insistence of California’s 9th Circuit court of appeals.  Here’s what I told them:

Property Assessed Clean Energy financing programs, as have been initiated by many states and local governments, are a potentially transformative financing mechanism, enabling property owners to make good long term investments in energy efficiency and behind-the-meter renewable energy production.  They address a market failure, in that buyers often do not appropriately integrate a property’s energy costs into their price assessment.  So long as the state and local PACE programs are performance based, and incentivize both efficiency and renewables, preferring those investments which have the greatest (positive) net present value, given the financing rate which is available to the government entity sponsoring the program, they do not pose a significant risk to mortgage holders, and should be allowed in FHFA held mortgages.  Additionally, local energy efficiency and solar power installation provide high quality, skilled jobs which cannot be exported, stimulating the economies of the localities implementing the programs.  These types of energy efficiency and local renewables programs can go a significant way toward reducing the energy intensivity of our existing building stock, and help insulate the US economy from fluctuations in fossil fueled energy prices.

FHFA’s previous ruling has directly affected my community, stalling out energy efficiency programs here in Boulder, CO.  Rather than effectively banning these programs, I encourage the FHFA to work with the building retrofit industry and the state and local governments which have instituted these programs to develop guidelines which ensure the most cost effective use of PACE financing, including the use of before and after energy audits, and other energy efficiency retrofit best practices.

Climate Denial Instruction In Schools

Corporate interests are pushing a model bill in many states that would require schools to teach climate change denial.  It sounds creepily reminiscent of the creationism/evolution mess from a few years ago.  Except with the fossil fuel industry instead of the religious right behind it.  Gah.

Coal Finance for Climate Activists

I’ve been in New York since Monday for a short workshop on the finances of the coal industry and coal burning utilities.  It was put together under the auspices of the NYU Law School’s Institute for Policy Integrity.  The audience was mostly grassroots campaigners from all over the country — people working to shut down coal mining and coal based power plants for environmental reasons, both climate related and more traditional pollution.  The two day program included panels of utility specialists from rating agencies Moody’s and Fitch, Bruce Nilles from the Sierra Club’s Bloomberg funded Beyond Coal campaign, as well as financial analysts from UBS, Bloomberg New Energy and Jeffries.  Tom Sanzillo, the former comptroller of the state of New York, gave us a run down on how to read a utility company’s 10-K.  Several community leaders in successful fights to keep new coal plants from getting built told their stories too.  All in all, it made for some strange bedfellows.  It was great overall, and I think pretty much everyone learned something.  Here’s what I remember learning.

Continue reading Coal Finance for Climate Activists

Senate Wants The Military To Lock You Up Without Trial

Uh… so a bill in the US Senate with bipartisan support would allow the military to lock up citizens indefinitely without trial.  That would be unconstitutional, right?  Like, the Supreme Court would overturn it, right?  Obama will veto it, right?  Am I dreaming here?  And both parties are in favor of this?  Are you kidding?  How fucking timid can you be?  Any statement even remotely resembling this should be a clear poison pill, with the bill going down in flames, even if it is the Defense Authorization.