Saturday, October 25th, 2014

NextGen Climate’s attacks on Florida Gov. Rick Scott

An ad from NextGen Climate attacks Gov. Rick Scott.

A billionaire activist aiming to take down Republicans who deny the existence of climate change has included Florida Gov. Rick Scott on his target list.

Tom Steyer’s NextGen political action committee appears poised to spend millions of dollars against Scott, who once said he didn’t believe in the idea of man-made global warming. Now Scott simply says "I’m not a scientist."

NextGen unleashed two TV attack ads Aug. 8, 2014. One ad focused on a drilling project in Collier County that was ultimately shut down by the state. The other ad zeroes in on plants by Duke Energy in southwest Florida. Both ads attack Scott for campaign donations linked to the projects. The Republican Party of Florida counter-attacked with an ad accusing Scott rival former Gov. Charlie Crist of being the culprit for Duke Energy fleecing customers.

Both the oil drilling controversy and the Duke Energy projects were complicated ordeals that are difficult to boil down to soundbites on TV.

Oil drilling ad

"A dangerous new type of oil drilling near the Everglades threatened drinking water for 7 million Floridians," states part of the ad. "But one Floridian is benefitting. Rick Scott drank from a fountain of campaign cash from the company that profited off pollution."

The text on the screen states: "Rick Scott $200,000 from oil interests."

The contributions refer to Collier Resources Co., which leased about 120,000 acres of mineral rights to Dan A. Hughes Co. in 2012. In April 2013, residents received a letter from a Hughes subcontractor asking for information needed to draw up an evacuation plan in case of an explosion.

Despite residents’ protests, in September 2013 DEP granted Hughes a permit to inject acid deep underground to fracture the limestone. The process is similar to hydraulic fracking, which has been the subject of heated debate across the country, although the industry term for it is "acid stimulation."

Hughes also wanted to try something never before allowed in Florida. After injecting the acid, Hughes workers injected a mix of sand and chemical gel under pressure to prop open the new fractures and let the oil flow out. That's known as using a "proppant," and it was not covered by the DEP permit, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Hughes went ahead and did that operation without permission from the state. DEP fined Hughes $25,000 in April and ordered Hughes to hire an expert to monitor groundwater for contamination. But the state said that Hughes failed to comply and sued the company. Hughes is fighting the allegations and pulled out of Florida.

DEP conducted groundwater sampling and found no contamination, but environmentalists say more extensive testing is needed.

The campaign donations don’t refer to Hughes but instead to four members of the Collier family -- Barron, Miles, Parker and Thomas -- who each gave $50,000 to Scott’s Let’s Get to Work Committee in January 2013.

There are two key elements of the claim that are misleading. The ad doesn’t name the company or campaign donor so viewers could wrongly assume it referred to Hughes. The other problematic part is that there isn’t proof that pollution occurred. We rate this claim Half True.

Duke Energy ad

"We Floridians are paying billions to the nation's largest power company and getting nothing in return," says a TV reporter. Then the narrator: "One defective power plant. Another never built. Florida fleeced by Duke Energy. Rick Scott knew, but he’s letting Duke keep collecting billions anyway."

The ad flashes a statement attributed to the Tampa Bay Times: "Duke’s customers on the hook for up to $3.2 billion."

In 2006, the state Legislature passed SB 888, allowing utilities to charge an "advance fee" to customers to pay for nuclear projects. But the bill allowed companies to collect that money even if the project never got built or shuttered -- and that’s exactly what unfolded in two cases:  

* Progress collected about $1 billion with plans to build a new nuclear power plant in Levy County but never built it.

* Progress Energy was upgrading its Crystal River nuclear plant which led to a botched and expensive repair job. The plant never reopened even after using $265 million in advance fee money.

Progress merged with Duke Energy in 2012. In 2013, the Legislature amended the law to state that a utility has 10 years after it gets its federal license to begin construction or lose access to the fees.

The Public Service Commission voted 4-1 in October 2013 to settle with Duke Energy over $5 billion in costs for the two doomed projects. Customers would shoulder $3.2 billion in expenses while Duke keeps about $250 million.

Customers will have to pay monthly charges of $3.45 per 1,000 kilowatt hours for Levy through the early part of 2016 and $2.17 for Crystal River through at least 2017 -- all for two projects that never produced any electricity in exchange for the money paid.

Scott and lawmakers have a say in who serves as commissioners, but the board’s decisions in utility matters is final. Scott could have asked for a change in the advance fee or appointed commissioners who may have voted differently but instead he has been silent. We rated this statement Half True.

RPOF ad

The Republican Party of Florida countered with a TV ad that says: "Crist made it easier for Duke to take your money. Crist signed a law helping Duke get billions, while Rick Scott put a stop to the Crist giveaway."

The accusation relates to then-Gov. Crist signing HB 7135, a 2008 amendment to the original law allowing utilities to charge an advance fee to build or upgrade nuclear power plants. The amendment allowed the advance fee to be applied to transmission lines.

There are two big problems with the attack: Gov. Jeb Bush signed the original 2006 law, not Crist; and it doesn’t appear Duke Energy ever collected advance fee money to plan transmission lines from its two nuclear projects. Crystal River was an existing plant that didn’t need more, and the Levy County project never made it far enough to consider power lines.

We rated the statement False.