Defeating 'Corporate Personhood' Means Defying Corporate Power - From the Ground Up

When officials in Marin County,
California announced they would form their own public power agency in
order to offer residents a cleaner energy mix than the state's mega-utility,
Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation (PG&E), local community activists
were glad.

When officials in Marin County,
California announced they would form their own public power agency in
order to offer residents a cleaner energy mix than the state's mega-utility,
Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation (PG&E), local community activists
were glad.

After all, 'Community Choice
Aggregation' (CCA) is a concept whose time has come - and it is not
unprecedented. States like Massachusetts and Ohio have been very successful
with their CCA programs, which, in theory, place purchasing authority
in the hands of accountable county agencies, municipalities or other
aggregates who will actually feel the impact of their decisions, thus
making long term investment in renewable electricity more likely. In
Marin, such a move would also move the county closer to coming into
compliance with California's 'Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006'
(AB 32).

But, somewhere on its road
to 'green-ness,' Marin County lost its way.

Shell Energy North America
- Marin's Dirty Deal for 'Clean Energy'

It was late 2009 when Marin
County announced that its energy authority had unanimously approved
a five-year contract with Shell Energy North America (a subsidiary of
Royal Dutch Shell) to supply the county with the electricity it would
need to compete with Marin's current utility, PG&E.

The contract, said county officials,
was "a means to a greater end." They reassured investors and city
council members that once the county was generating its own revenues,
it would have the necessary revenue stream to invest in renewable energy
projects without Shell. And, as one local newspaper put it, "While
some council members voiced concerns and reservations about the ambitious
cutting-edge program ... not one suggested the city should withdraw
from the joint powers authority by the Jan. 12 deadline."

The news didn't seem to phase
local community activists either. Not a word from their ranks about
the profound irony of county officials purchasing 'clean' energy
from one of the dirtiest corporations on the planet; not a press release
or even a statement disassociating themselves from the county's decision
to contract with Shell. Instead, they uniformly insisted that the county's
contract with one of the world's worst environmental polluters and
human rights abusers was a great victory - not only for ratepayers,
but for clean, locally produced power.

Marin County residents were
left in the dark about the true nature of Marin's contractual agreement
with Shell, under which the county would not produce any of its own
power for at least five years - clean or otherwise. To this day, most
don't understand that, under the county plan, ratepayers would be
dependent on not one, but two mega-corporations to meet their energy
needs: One (PG&E) would continue to control transmission and distribution,
while another (Shell Energy North America) would provide the product.

The Path to Fake Green-ness:
How Local Activists Were Co-opted by Corporate

Back in early 2007, a group
of grassroots organizers, having apparently made the decision to channel
their collective political energy into the county's 'clean energy'
plan, came together to do just that. One group of local public power
activists calling themselves, "Womens' Energy Matters" (WEM) even
hired a private PR firm to help the county market the plan. However,
once the campaign was launched in earnest, critics began complaining
that the county and its supporters seemed more interested in promoting
their product than improving it.

As it turned out, getting liberal-minded
'Marinites' to buy into the official 'clean energy' spin wasn't
a particularly hard sell, and by the end of 2009, the county's version
of CCA, promoted as "clean, cheap and local" had garnered overwhelming
support from Marin residents. This despite the fact that, as details
of the county plan emerged, it was beginning to look as if it would
be none of the above - at least to those (relative few) who understood
the complex language of the energy business.

Still, a number of individuals
and groups - including local labor advocates, the state's largest
solar industry organization (CALSEIA) and the Marin County Grand Jury
- did attempt to weigh in on the process. Attorney and labor activist
Lisa Maldonado called Marin's CCA a "bad and dirty deal." She
was disturbed by what she called, "the unwillingness of people on
one side to listen to concerns without attacking and labeling those
who disagree with them as shills" [for PG&E]. In reference to
the contract with Shell, she asked: "Are people's green (not to
mention humanitarian) principles so shallow and self serving that they
will get into bed with a company that is murdering indigenous activists
and destroying the planet simply so they can feel better about themselves
as 'green?'"

In a letter to the local paper,
CALSEIA's executive director Sue Kateley wrote that she was concerned
because the county's failure to include local renewables in their
plan had been all but ignored. "CALSEIA has consistently requested
that the Marin business plan be amended to include locally owned and
locally constructed renewable energy projects and a specific carve-out
for solar generation ... CALSEIA has not received a response to its

Then, on December 2, 2009,
Marin's Grand Jury issued a scathing report recommending that, for
a host of financial and other reasons, the county should 'pull the
plug' on its energy plan. The Grand Jury, it seemed, was concerned
with just about every conceivable aspect of what it called "a massive
experiment in power procurement."

The county and its advocates
remained unmoved.

The Grand Jury report, claimed
Charles McGlashan, president of Marin's Board of Supervisors, was
little more than "a hit job." As for the concerns of labor and solar
advocates (including CALSEIA), to hear Marin's sustainability planner
and chief PR flack Dawn Weisz tell it, these groups couldn't be trusted.
"They have connections to PG&E," she told reporters in January.

So it was that the opposition
to Marin County's CCA was 'neutralized' - marginalized and muted
by the county's PR machine, which, you will recall, included the vast
majority of its 'grassroots activists.'

Local CCAs Should Be Boycotting
Shell, Not Contracting with It

It is understandable that local
activists would climb on board the county bandwagon to support a "clean
energy alternative" to the not-so-clean energy mix provided by their
local utility. Yet, by allowing politicians and corporate lawyers to
contract with one of the dirtiest corporations on the planet in the
name of 'green-ness,' these local groups may have missed a golden
opportunity to empower the community to work toward real transformation
and sustainability.

The county's CCA is set to
be implemented as early as this Spring, 2010, despite new concerns that
the contract with Shell, as currently being negotiated, won't reduce
the state's greenhouse gases (GHGs) at all.

Any long term strategy, if
it is to be effective, will require citizens to take on - not contract
with - the fossil fuel industry and the corporate economy that supports
it. Contrary to what greenwashed corporate marketing literature would
have us believe, the reason human life on the planet is imperiled is
not only because consumers are using the wrong kinds of light bulbs
or haven't yet purchased an energy-efficient refrigerator. It is because
corporations view everything - including human beings and the environment
- as exploitable commodities. It is because consumption is the engine
of corporate profits.

Companies like Shell spend
millions of dollars annually to market the environmental crisis as one
of consumer choice, not corporate responsibility. This strategy has
proved extremely effective in keeping otherwise well meaning citizens
from taking on the bigger problem - the corporations themselves, who
garner ungodly profits under the current unsustainable system.

Now that corporations have
the same rights as people, challenging the corporate state is more important
than ever. Without tangible, direct action (ie: boycotts, lawsuits,
civil disobedience), 'green-ness' seems destined to remain little
more than a buzzword, more useful in promoting the status quo than a
better world.

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