Friday, October 24th, 2014

Truth-O-Meter ruling stands, despite juicy protest

Ocean Spray clarified its comments about the RGGI.
Ocean Spray clarified its comments about the RGGI.

A Truth-O-Meter item last week on Bordentown’s loss of a cranberry plant left a sour taste for one New Jersey politician.

State Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington/Camden) objected to PolitiFact New Jersey’s take on her claim that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative was to blame for Ocean Spray’s decision to leave Bordentown.

That June 20 article -- which ran the next day on the front page of The Times of Trenton -- has set off some juicy accusations from the senator and even led Ocean Spray to issue a clarification of its original comments to us.

First, let’s review how we arrived at this berry-filled debate.

Allen said in a May 9 press release that Ocean Spray’s move to Pennsylvania was due "in large measure" to the costs associated with the RGGI, a cap and trade program that Gov. Chris Christie has since decided to withdraw from.

We reached out to Adam Bauer, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, to explain the basis for the senator’s comment. We should have contacted Allen directly to determine where she received her information.

Yet we rated her statement False because Ocean Spray spokesman John Isaf said in an email, "we were looking at the total (energy) rate paid, not the RGGI program or its contribution to the rate."

But Allen said we got it wrong -- and she even accused Isaf of misleading people about Ocean Spray’s move.

"As I told you earlier this week, you were wrong to in effect call me a liar in you Politifact article, and your newspaper group was very wrong to in effect call me a liar on the front page of the Trenton Times," Allen wrote in a June 24 email to PolitiFact reporter Bill Wichert. "My statement on RGGI playing a real role in Ocean Spray's decision to leave the state was based, as I stated, on a former board member's comments to me just prior to my news conference.  Following the news conference, I spoke with a current board member as well as a staff member, and heard again that RGGI played a significant role."

We called Isaf twice and sent him two emails, but he never responded.

PolitiFact New Jersey, however, did receive a copy of an email sent to Allen on June 23 from Richard A. Stamm, Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary for Ocean Spray. In that email, Stamm offered a clarification of the role played by the RGGI in Ocean Spray’s decision.

"On the contrary, RGGI certainly contributed to the energy rates used to compare the differences in operating in Pennsylvania versus New Jersey," Stamm wrote to Allen. "The Company expects to realize approximately $15 million in annual savings in operating in Pennsylvania (logistics, freight, transportation, other utilities, supply chain efficiencies), with $1 million of that amount coming from energy rates. RGGI is, of course, included in these rates."

"The intent of Ocean Spray’s comment was to communicate that there were a number of factors (which, as noted above, includes RGGI)  that together contributed to the compelling cost-differential in operating in Pennsylvania versus New Jersey," Stamm wrote.

Let’s review what Stamm said: the RGGI contributes to energy rates and those rates were used to determine that operating in Pennsylvania would be cheaper than staying in New Jersey.

But Stamm’s email left us with additional questions.

The company might have looked at the energy rates, but did it specifically evaluate the impact of the RGGI? Isaf originally told us Ocean Spray wasn’t looking at the RGGI itself.

Also, Allen said Ocean Spray was leaving "in large measure" due to RGGI-related costs, but based on Stamm’s estimates, energy rate savings only represent about 7 percent of the projected annual savings. We asked Stamm to comment on that discrepancy and tell us how much of the $1 million in savings can be attributed to the RGGI.

Stamm declined in an email to address our additional questions.

"At this point,  I feel that my note directly to Senator Allen which I forwarded to you yesterday appropriately clarified Ocean Spray's position versus what was taken from the original statement," Stamm wrote. "We do not have anything additional to add."

Let’s review:

Allen claimed our story is inaccurate, pointing to information she received from various Ocean Spray representatives. She argued that Stamm’s email supports her position, but that email did not completely refute Ocean Spray’s original comments and left us asking more questions.

PolitiFact New Jersey has decided not to change the False ruling on Allen’s statement, because it was based on comments made by Ocean Spray at the time of the ruling.

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