International fossil fuel giant Sempra, the parent company of SoCalGas and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), is flexing its political muscles for an end of session push that will raise Californians’ utility bills, according to critics of the controversial corporation.
Sempra is using a shady late session tactic used to avoid scrutiny on unpopular proposals called “gut and amends” in hopes of saddling ratepayers with the costs of building out “unproven hydrogen, biomethane, and carbon capture pipelines and infrastructure,” reported Alexandra Nagy of Sunstone Strategies in a press statement.
Check out the hydrogen and biomethane/ carbon capture gut and amend language.
“Sempra has long been greenwashing hydrogen, carbon capture, biomethane (or renewable natural gas) as climate solutions, when research on all fronts shows these fuels won’t work to solve the climate crisis but instead will raise utility bills for consumers adding to an already exacerbated affordability crisis for the highest-in-nation bills faced by ratepayers,” said Nagy.
“Under California’s rules, Sempra’s utilities SoCalGas and SDG&E are guaranteed a profit on infrastructure it builds. More pipelines and infrastructure for hydrogen, biomethane and carbon capture means higher profits for Sempra via bigger bills for customers,” she argued.
She said existence of the hydrogen “gut and amend” geared toward fast-tracking approval of the nation’s largest ever planned hydrogen pipeline called Angeles Link was first announced publicly at a Board of Directors meeting held by the Southern California Public Power Authority on August 17.
“Slides from that presentation describe the gut-and-amend provision as ‘Gov’s Hydrogen Bill,’ entailing it is Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposal. It comes just months after CPUC signed off on allowing SoCalGas to do a feasibility study for the pipeline, known in regulatory speak as a Memo Account Application. Angeles Link’s route remains undefined and out of view to the public which could see the line run through its communities, but Sempra has secured Governor Newsom’s support since the day it was announced,” Nagy reported.
She said forcing through 11th-hour rulemaking requires political influence, which the energy company pays for through lobbying firms, such as California Strategies & Advocacy, Capitol Strategies Group, and Prime Strategies.
“These lobby firms offer unique access to decision makers at the Capitol by employing former political insiders who have worked for everyone from state Senate leader Toni Atkins to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon to Gov. Gavin Newsom,” Nagy continued.
Lobbyists employed by Sempra Energy include the following.
- Longtime political insider Marybel Batjer was appointed by Governor Newsom in 2019 to serve as president of the California Public Utilities Commission. Today, she works forCalifornia Strategies.
- Neil Patrick Clerk was a legislative consultant for the California Speaker’s Office of Research and Floor Analysis under Anthony Rendon. He now works for Capitol Strategies.
- Greg Campbell has served numerous state politicians, including as chief of staff for John Pérez and Toni Atkins, the only staffer to serve in such capacity for two senior legislative leaders. Since 2016, he has run his own lobbying firm called Campbell Strategy & Advocacy.
- Dorian Almaraz was a senior legislative aide to former Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, who now heads the California Labor Federation and formerly represented the South Bay San Diego communities socio-economically hit the hardest by SDG&E’s exorbitant rates. Almaraz also served as the capitol director for Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo. He currently lobbies for Prime Strategies of California.
- Devon Ford has aided numerous political campaigns in the state, including Darrell Steinberg’s run for mayor of Sacramento and Gavin Newsom’s bid for Lieutenant Governor. He now works for California Strategies.
Sempra and its subsidiaries also directly employ a number of former political insiders:
- Sarah Taheri is a regulatory affairs manager for SDG&E. Before that she was, among other things, an associate energy specialist for the California Energy Commission under Gov. Jerry Brown.
- Dallin Young is a public affairs manager for SDG&E who has also worked as a field director for the California Democratic Party and former state Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez.
- Maryam Brown is the president of SoCalGas. Until 2016, she worked for the U.S. House of Representatives as a senior energy policy advisor to Republican Speakers of the House John Boehner and Paul Ryan.
- Dan Brouilette formerly served as U.S. Secretary of Energy under President Donald Trump and currently serves as President of Sempra Infrastructure.
“Sempra is betting on a profitable future with hydrogen, biomethane and carbon capture and is deploying well connected lobbyists to lay the groundwork for passing on costs to ratepayers,” Nagy stated.
“Before the California Public Utilities Commision are two proposals by SoCalGas and SDG&E to raise revenue by $4.9 billion and $3.6 billion respectively. Within this rate increase proposals are requests to recoup costs from hydrogen and carbon capture infrastructure. This is just the beginning of costs that could be passed on the ratepayers,” she added.
Here are the details below broken down by utility:
- $15.913 million requested for Clean Fuels Infrastructure Development and that SoCalGas wants to use to develop carbon or hydrogen pipelines.
- $14,073,048 million requested in capital costs for the SoCalGas’ Hydrogen Home Pilot Project.
- $1.011M requested for the Hydrogen Strategy and Implementation Department.
- $1.155M requested for the Hydrogen Build Ready Infrastructure Program.
“EJ and environmental advocates are staunchly opposed to these gut and amend proposals. Other processes have been underway to define “green hydrogen” like Asm. Bennet’s now-dead AB 1550 that the California Hydrogen Business Council and Green Hydrogen Coalition – both of which SDG&E and SoCalGas maintain memberships in – helped to kill. also lobbied against AB 1550,” Nagy stated.
Other efforts are also afoot to undo the carbon pipelines moratorium put into effect last year via AB 905 through a trailer bill, one oil company recently disclosed on an investor call, after a gut-and-amend effort failed upon media exposure. “These efforts fly in the face of good faith efforts to define and establish rules for these controversial fuels before passing off costs to ratepayers,” concluded Nagy.
Groups that will work to oppose these bills if carried by an author include Earthjustice, The Utility Reform Network (TURN), Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles and the Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability