COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | DANIEL COFFEY

How to earn a black eye

Scene: The curtain opens on the stage at the PG&E Playhouse production of "How to Earn a Black Eye," starring the Bad Actors Troupe.

Enter stage right: MonoPlop Dragoon, son of Monoplop the Great: "Sire, we have great news in the kingdom, of great and wonderful acts. The peasants rejoice at the continuing news of improvements in the forest, sky, water and soil -- generally the environment!"

Upon a throne: Monoplop the Great: "Such is the news that our reputation is great and secure, shall we not do some foolish thing, as rulers are wont to do, in order that the peasants shall rise up and give us a black eye?"

Approaching the throne, bowing and scraping: Monoplop Dragoon: "Why, yes Your Worship, it is most appropriate that you do some foolish thing against the best interests of the peasants, if not for their sake, for the sake of showing them who is king. What would Thy Worship wish?"

Monoplop the Great: "Call for the Jesters to make sport of the peasants. Let an initiative be made and posted on every tree where peasants gather, telling them of my great concern for their tax dollars and expenditure thereof upon electricity from sources outside the kingdom. Let the peasants know that they have the right to vote against their own best interests, and may freely beat themselves as hard and often as they choose."

Monoplop Dragoon: "Your Honor, I can think of nothing more fitting from Thy Honor than such a proclamation. I shall call the Scribe and the Jester, lest the peasants think for one moment that their king is but jesting."

Narrator, as the curtain falls: "And it did follow that the Jester drew up and the Scribe set down the words which would show how important and powerful was the great king, Monoplop the Great. But the peasants knew a good joke when they saw it, and ignored the king, scuffed their feet in his direction, and drew his face with a large black eye on every tree where peasants gather. And thus it is children, that every foolish and powerful king shall one day get a black eye."

PG&E seems to have seen this children's play once too often, as this would explain the utter irony of PG&E working for years to gain an excellent environmental reputation, courageously withdrawing from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the Chamber's obstructionist position on climate change, yet standing behind "The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act" (Initiative 09-0015), an utterly obstructionist and monopolistic measure.

"The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act," is an Orwellian misnomer for what is transparently an effort to stave off local communities from exercising their power to aggregate electricity production. Asked why PG&E supports the measure, I was informed that PG&E is concerned that every taxpayer be able to vote on such actions. Hmmmm, really, really concerned?

Perchance someone powerful in PG&E thinks it's worth the risk to surreptitiously float this initiative because the upside is continued monopoly rolling back previous law allowing community aggregation, and on the downside, its a little black eye that will fade with time.

Section (a) of the initiative prohibits any city from "[incurring] any bonded or other indebtedness or liability in any manner or (using) any public funds for the construction or acquisition of facilities, works, goods, commodities, products or services to establish or expand electric delivery service..." So, it seems that before a city hires a consultant to look into "expanding electric delivery service," such is prohibited unless two-thirds of the voters approve in advance. The proponents blithely talk about feared expenditures of millions or billions of public dollars, but the initiative language sets no lower bound on the amount of expenditures prohibited absent a vote.

In stark contrast to the initiative's nonsense skullduggery, on Sept. 18, PG&E quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the Chamber's "extreme" position on climate change. PG&E's CEO, Peter Darbee, wrote "I fear [the Chamber] has forfeited an incredible chance to play a constructive leadership role on one of the most important issues our country may ever face." He continued, "PG&E considers climate change to be among the most serious issues ever for our company, our country and the world." Bravo, PG&E!

More groups should take like actions, departing their traditional hidebound approach, to embrace a pragmatic, cooperative effort to address climate change -- a problem which, if unchecked, will subsume all others.

Finally, PG&E was recently named the greenest utility in the United States in Newsweek magazine's green ranking of America's 500 largest publicly traded companies, citing their efforts to promote energy efficiency and growing use of renewable energy.

Next time, dear playgoers, we'll talk about how to earn a pirate's eyepatch.


Coffey is an attorney based in San Diego. He can be reached at daniel.coffey@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

View all comments
User Response
1 UserComments
Larry Hogue 12:48pm October 8, 2009

Nice to see you taking a utility to task, Dan. Think SDG&E will exit the Chamber? Would PG&E's initiative apply to the "financing through property tax bills" of solar panels that has worked so successfully in Palm Desert, or is this something different?