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May 19, 2016

NextEra rejects call to report risk of sea level rise to its waterfront nuclear plants

NextEra EnergyIn a swift 17-minute meeting held in a Oklahoma City hotel Thursday, NextEra Energy successfully won shareholder approval of a $31 million compensation package for its five top executives, and defeated two proposals aimed at increasing transparency over how the company is handling sea level rise and political contributions.

"The company you own had a very strong 2015,'' declared NextEra president and CEO Jim Robo as he called the quick meeting to order at the Embassy Suites hotel in downtown Oklahoma city.

He is among the company’s five top executives who, shareholders agreed will be paid $31 million in performance pay and stock because of the company’s strong financial performance in the last year. Robo alone earned at least $15.2 million in compensation in 2015, according to the company proxy statement.

The Juno Beach-based company is the parent of Florida Power & Light and one of the nation's largest utility conglomerates. The audio cast of the annual meeting for company shareholders is available on the company’s web site.

Robo cited NextEra’s better than average reliability, its lower than average customers bills, its satisfaction among business customers, its acquisition of a Texas pipeline, and its expanding wind and solar market as evidence of “the whole company delivering outstanding financial performance for our shareholders.”

Robo did not make note of the troubles ahead, such as the federal and state orders for FPL to clean-up its leaking cooling canals in order to stop a plume of saltwater from migrating into South Florida’s drinking water supplies and leaking into Biscayne Bay or the resistance the company faces in its bid to purchase Hawaii Electric.

Robo recognized a representative for Coral Gables activist and NextEra shareholder, Alan Farago and his wife Lisa Versaci, to present their shareholder proposal to require the company to report each year on the risk its faces from sea-level rise, under a range of scenarios and according to the best available science.

Farago has argued that FPL's position as the supplier of electricity to Florida's east coast is "extraordinarily vulnerable to the financial disruptions of climate change."

Continue reading "NextEra rejects call to report risk of sea level rise to its waterfront nuclear plants" »

Supreme Court rejects Florida Power & Light's attempt to make customers pay for fracking

In a rebuke to Florida Power & Light, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that state regulators exceeded their authority when they allowed the company to charge customers for its speculative investment into an Oklahoma-based fracking company.

In June of last year, the Public Service Commission rejected its staff recommendation and unanimously approved guidelines that gave FPL the right to charge its customers up to $500 million a year for speculative natural gas fracking activities without oversight from regulators for the next five years.

In a 6-1 opinion, written by Justice Ricky Polston, the court concluded that the PSC did not have statutory authority to authorize the charge and called its decision "overreach."

"Treating these activities as a hedge requires FPL’s end-user consumers to guarantee the capital investment and operations of a speculative oil and gas venture without the Florida Legislature’s authority," Polston wrote. Justice Charles Canady dissented with an opinion, arguing that the PSC did have the authority to allow the costs of the investment to be recovered under the FPL fuel clause.

Here's the ruling: Download SCOFLA Woodford case

The proposal, called the Woodford Gas Reserves Project, is a joint venture between FPL with Oklahoma-based PetroQuest Energy, Inc. which develops and operates the natural-gas wells. FPL has earned profit off the investment -- about 11.3 percent -- and claimed that it would provide a long-term hedge against volatile fuel costs and should therefore be charged to customers under its fuel cost-recovery clause. 

Update: As of April 30, 2016, FPL has recovered $21.9 million through the Fuel Clause related to the Woodford Project, the PSC said Friday. 

The court disagreed with FPL and ruled that the investment was a risk that should be charged to shareholders, not ratepayers. It said PSC's ability to allow FPL to recover costs "is permissible only for costs arising from the 'generation, transmission, or distribution' of electricity','' while "the exploration, drilling, and production of fuel falls outside the purview of an electric utility as defined by the Legislature."

"It is undisputed that FPL is an electric utility,'' Polston wrote. "It is also undisputed that the PSC’s ratemaking authority encompasses the authority to examine fuel cost expenditures and approve cost recovery to compensate for utilities’ fuel expenses through the fuel clause...However, the PSC does not have the statutory authority to approve cost recovery for FPL’s investment in the Woodford Project."

The court's ruling was hailed by the Office of Public Counsel, which represents the public before the PSC, the Florida Retail Federation, and the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, which opposed the PSC's decision because it gave FPL unprecedented permission to use ratepayer dollars to finance an energy exploration and production business.

"This is a great victory for ratepayers and will prevent them from having to bear the cost of some very speculative risk,'' said JR Kelly, the head of the Office of Public Counsel. 

FPL, a regulated monopoly and Florida's largest utility, entered into the $191 million joint venture with PetroQuest Energy of Oklahoma to explore for natural gas, including using a process known as hydraulic fracking. The process involves injecting large volumes of water, sand and chemicals at high pressures to release oil and natural gas from rock caverns deep underground.

FPL used the investment as a guaranteed new source of revenue that allowed it to increase its rate base in the face of increasing competition from solar and other alternative energy sources. As an investor-owned utility, the PSC allows FPL to earn a guaranteed profit -- return on investment -- of up to 11.5 percent of its rate base. By allowing the company to increase that by $750 million a year, FPL and its parent company, NextEra, were guaranteed higher profits.

The return on investment for customers, however. At its hearing on its fuel costs last year, FPL revealed that the Woodford project had customers about $5 million, rather than save them in fuel costs. 

According to an analysis by the PSC’s staff, FPL was the first utility in the nation to be allowed to use ratepayer money for such an “non-regulated risk.” 

The court called out that strategy as an inappropriate use of the fuel cost-recovery clause which is intended to be used to hedge against price swings.

"Permitting advance recovery of FPL’s investment in the Woodford Project’s exploration and production of natural gas will not pay for the costs of actual fuel,'' Polston wrote. "It will provide recovery, instead, for investment, operation, and maintenance and operation of assets that will provide access to an unknown quantity of fuel in the future."

The court said that because it "is impossible to know what the costs of the natural gas will be until it is actually produced. There is more uncertainty from this investment rather than less" and therefore the investment " cannot be characterized as a physical hedge."

Polston said that the Woodford Project "is a guaranteed capital investment for FPL; it is not a hedge to stabilize fuel costs."

Polston added that while the speculative capital investments in gas exploration and production by an electric utility "may be a good idea,'' whether it is in the public interest "is a policy determination that must be made by the Legislature."

Last year, the PSC staff drew a similar conclusion, which the PSC rejected, saying the project was untested, a risky investment in a volatile energy market, and had the potential to benefit FPL’s shareholders more than its customers.

Canady, however, disagreed, scolding the court's majority for overturning the PSC. 

"...the majority is merely substituting its judgment for the PSC’s judgment and expressing disagreement with the PSC’s factual findings,'' he wrote. "The testimony and exhibits presented at the evidentiary hearing provide competent, substantial evidence to support the PSC’s conclusion that the Woodford Project acts as a long-term physical hedge.

Kelly, the public counsel, said the next step will be “to go back and figure out how to undo the portion of the commission's order than the court has now overruled,’’ he said. “It will certainly come in the form of some refund to the FPL ratepayers.”

Bev DeMello, PSC spokeswoman, said Friday that "as with all costs recovered through the Fuel Clause, the final amount is subject to true-up.  The actual amount, if any, that FPL will be permitted to recover related to the Woodford Project will be the subject of an evidentiary hearing held in November."  


Congressional Hispanic Caucus backs Patrick Murphy


The Congressional Hispanic Caucus' BOLD political action committee has endorsed Democrat Patrick Murphy in Florida's U.S. Senate race.

U.S. Reps. Tony Cardenas and Juan Vargas, both of California, made the announcement on behalf of the caucus this morning on a conference call with Murphy and reporters.

They praised Murphy, a congressman from Jupiter, for his desire to raise the minimum wage, pursue comprehensive immigration reform and make higher education more affordable.

Cardenas said the caucus did not ever consider endorsing Murphy's primary opponent -- fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando.

"As far as we can tell, Alan Grayson did not petition to be considered in our process and Patrick Murphy did," Cardenas said, adding that the 27-member caucus endorsed Murphy unanimously.

North Palm Beach attorney Pam Keith is also running in the Aug. 30 primary for the Democrats. Five Republicans are running in the GOP primary that same day.

Alan Grayson lacks evidence in attack on Patrick Murphy about All Aboard Florida

U.S. Senate candidate Alan Grayson dismissed a New York Times story about his hedge fund as "full of s---" in a sit-down with CBS4’s Jim Defede, a reaction so wrong his own campaign corrected him on the facts.

But that wasn’t the only attack in the interview that ran off the rails. Grayson called rival Patrick Murphy a "walking, talking crook" and zeroed in on Murphy’s wealthybusinessman father, another focal point in the race between the two Democratic congressmen running for Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat.

Grayson accused Murphy of flip-flopping on the passenger rail project when it snubbed a bid from builder Thomas P. Murphy Jr., owner of Coastal Construction Group.

Murphy "switched his vote on All Aboard Florida and tried to destroy the program -- the only Democrat in the entire country who voted to destroy the All Aboard Florida program -- because his father tried to get in a bid to build it and was unsuccessful," Grayson said May 15. "So he went from being in favor of the program to being against the program. That’s certainly using your congressional influence. He tried to kill the entire program -- the only Democrat to do so -- because his father didn't get a contract out of it."

Did Murphy really flip-flop on votes for All Aboard Florida after his father’s company lost its bid?

There is no dispute that Murphy initially supported the rail project and later opposed it. There is dispute, however, over why he did it.

Keep reading our fact-check from PolitiFact Florida.

May 18, 2016

Civil war in Democratic Party? Wasserman Schultz vs. Sanders

Just as she wants to focus all of her energy on the other party, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is in the middle of a nasty brawl with one of her own party’s presidential candidates

The South Florida lawmaker, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, is openly fighting with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a clash that came to a head after a violent melee at a state Democratic Party meeting in Nevada over the weekend where Sanders supporters threw chairs and threatened state party officials, using vulgar sexist language at times.

Wasserman Schultz criticized Sanders’ response as insufficiently critical of his supporters. He and his campaign manager, in turn, are escalating complaints that Wasserman Schultz has used the party machinery to help her friend Hillary Clinton. All this comes at the very moment Wasserman Schultz had hoped Democrats would start to unify and turn their attention to the Republicans and Donald Trump.

Read more here:


Read more here:


Joe Martinez running to take back his old County Commission seat from Juan Zapata



Joe Martinez gave up his District 11 County Commission seat four years ago and now he wants it back.

Martinez, who resigned to run for county mayor in 2012, has filed for the District 11 race in a bid to unseat the incumbent who replaced him, Juan C. Zapata. In filing papers Wednesday, Martinez instantly makes District 11 the most competitive among the seven commission seats up for reelection.

He held the District 11 for 12 years before, as chairman of the County Commission, he challenged Mayor Carlos Gimenez in the 2012 mayoral election. Gimenez won, and Zapata, a former state lawmaker, won Martinez's empty seat.  

Martinez is the only former county official challenging an incumbent commissioner, and only one of two who has held elected office before. (The other, former El Portal mayor Daisy Black, is running against Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.)

Zapata has already raised more than $200,000 for a race that faces its first vote in the Aug. 30 primary likely to decide most contests. (The non-partisan primary only moves to a November run-off if no candidate receives less than 50 percent of the vote.) He's also an active figure in his western suburban district, where he's been touting an economic-development plan and efforts to transform the image of West Kendall from sprawl to a more self-contained community. 

But Zapata has also drawn critics over a push to incorporate part of the district into a new city. His successful effort to rebrand West Kendall into the "West End" also sparked grumbles from long-time residents. Zapata last year also returned $30,000 in county funds he had secured to reimburse him for tuition while commuting to Harvard University for an advanced degree at Harvard University.

Martinez has two failed campaigns behind him: the 2012 mayoral campaign, and a bid for Congress in 2014, where he lost to Carlos Curbelo in the Republican primary. HIs filing for District 11 completes an odyssey of speculation and trial balloons regarding his political future over the last 12 months, when him suggesting his wife, Ana, might be the one to take on Zapata while he considered another challenge to Gimenez. 

Late Thursday, Zapata issued a statement that read:

 Our community should be moving forward not backwards. I have been very busy cleaning up the problems he left behind in our district. They will take time to resolve. Of greater disappointment, is to see the person that after 12 years in office, wants his old seat back, especially after his legacy left us with our traffic nightmare and numerous failed policies such as promoting red light cameras and the Marlins Stadium. We need new people with new voices, not failed politicians prone to lies.

In an interview, Martinez said: "I'm very happy where I'm at right now.... However, Mr. Zapata is taking the district in a direction where 95 percent of the people I speak to don't like it. And that's toward the direction of incorporation.... A lot of the people don't even know I'm not the commissioner anymore... Maybe, maybe I can get the district back on track again."

Carlos Curbelo blasts House Zika bill as 'half-hearted, short-sighted;' Ileana Ros-Lehtinen calls it 'inadequate'


Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Wednesday slammed a GOP-led effort to set aside far fewer emergency funds to fight Zika than what President Obama and other Florida Republicans want.

The House on Wednesday signed off on a scaled-back, $622 million funding measure that Obama has pledged to veto. The president wants $1.9 billion instead; the Senate has approved a compromise, $1.1 million package.

Only four Republicans -- Curbelo among them -- voted against the bill, which passed almost entirely along party lines. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called the $622 million inadequate.

"As a Member of Congress representing the country's southernmost district -- closest to the region where this disease is currently wreaking havoc -- I am acutely aware of the impacts Zika will have if not contained and eradicated," Curbelo said in a statement. "I cannot vote for this half-hearted, short-sighted effort, and I remain in strong support of funding the Administration's $1.9 billion Zika response requests."

Democrats have criticized Curbelo, a freshman in a swing district, for not being more forceful in his support of Obama's funding request. The congressman had instead focused on passing legislation intended to make sure any Zika money -- be it $1.9 billion or some other amount -- was spent efficiently. 

The Zika question has caused a rare divide among Miami Republicans in Congress. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told the Miami Herald he would support the House's $622 million to treat and prevent the mosquito-borne virus.

The third local Republican in the House, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was conspicuously silent on the issue ahead of the vote, but like Curbelo voted against the House measure Wednesday. So did a third Florida Republican, Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota. (The fourth 'No' GOP vote -- and the only one from outside Florida -- came from Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.)

With Wednesday's vote and statement, Curbelo made abundantly clear that he wants the full funding -- as does Sen. Marco Rubio, who has received abundant White House praise for his position.

"The threat posed by the Zika virus does not cease at the end of the government’s fiscal year, and rescinding funds in this bill on September 30 would provide little confidence that Congress is truly committed to fighting the disease," Curbelo said.

Florida looking for recommendations to replace Confederate general statue in U.S. Capitol


Two months after Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature agreed to remove a Confederate Army general's statue from the U.S. Capitol Building, the hunt for a replacement is officially on.

The Florida Department of State announced on Wednesday it has created an online survey to begin accepting names of Floridians who could replace the statue of General Edmund Kirby Smith in the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall. From now until June 10, the state will take names and then submit them to a committee tasked with trimming the list to 3 people. The Legislature would then decide whose statue will be made to replace Smith.

Since 1922, Smith has been one of two figures meant to represent Florida in National Statuary Hall, a regular stop for tours of Washington, D.C. by school groups and tourists.

But earlier this spring the Legislature passed a bill to remove Smith's statue. Bill sponsors argued that because he spent most of his life living outside of Florida the state should have someone more representative of Florida's past. Smith, who was born in St. Augustine, left Florida at a young age in the 1830s before Florida was even a state. Smith lived much of his adult life in Tennessee and was one of the last major commanding officers in the Confederate Army to surrender during the Civil War. Smith, a Lieutenant General fighting in Texas, did not surrender until June 2, 1865 in Galveston – nearly two months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union Army in Virginia.

Bill sponsors, Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, insisted that they are not removing Smith because he was a Confederate general as critics have contended. They both said Florida needs someone who better represents Florida. Henry Flagler, Walt Disney and Marjory Stoneman Douglas are among the names offered during debates as potential replacements.

The state is recommending people pick only figures who have been citizens of Florida and those who have been dead for at least 10 years. 

"No recommendations of fictional characters, animals, plants, structures, or other non-human entities or beings will be considered by the committee," the Department of State warns people before submitting the survey.

Those who would rather mail proposals can submit them to:

Division of Historical Resources

ATTN: National Statuary Hall

3rd Floor, R.A. Gray Building

500 S. Bronough Street

Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250

Florida lawmaker wants AG opinion on feds’ transgender bathroom rules; Pam Bondi declines


An outgoing conservative lawmaker in Florida who is running for Nassau County schools superintendent wants state Attorney General Pam Bondi to issue an official opinion on what she believes to be the "constitutional encroach" of the Obama administration's new guidance to public schools over transgender students' bathroom access.

State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, called the president's new policy a "clear violation" of states' rights under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"It is clear that the Obama administration is once again circumventing the Congress and even its own federal rule-making process to impose new federal rules and laws on Florida’s public schools," Adkins said in a statement this morning.

MORE: Read Rep. Adkins' letter to Bondi

But Bondi’s office isn’t wading into the issue. Deputy Attorney General Kent J. Perez wrote in a response to Adkins on Wednesday afternoon: “We do not issue legal opinions on federal law.”

On Friday, the U.S. departments of Education and Justice sent letters of guidance to all public schools nationwide informing them that they must treat students in ways that match their gender identities -- or risk losing federal money under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in educational programs based on sex.

Republican leaders in Florida have been reluctant to comment so far on the new guidelines. But Adkins, the outgoing chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee, wants a swifter response: For the state to challenge the Obama administration's directive.

Read the full story here.

Published 10:49 a.m.; Updated 4:30 p.m.

Republicans attack 'Privileged Patrick' Murphy for affluent South Florida upbringing


What Republicans describe as the "privileged" upbringing of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy is the subject of a new online attack ad released today by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

National Republican operatives have nicknamed the Jupiter congressman as "Privileged Patrick" in an attempt to paint him as the product of an affluent family and as someone who rode into congressional office thanks to help from "Daddy Murphy."

"Born the son of a South Florida real estate tycoon, Privileged Patrick has lived his life high on the family fortune," a Robin Leach-style narrator says to begin the 2-minute ad.

Murphy's father -- Thomas Murphy Jr. -- runs a prominent construction company based in Miami, called Coastal Construction Group, which has helped build several high-profile projects in South Florida. He has been a substantial contributor to Murphy's campaigns, including his current bid for U.S. Senate.

As the ad notes, Murphy did graduate from high school at the elite Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. After graduating from the University of Miami and working as an auditor for a few years at Deloitte & Touche in Miami, Murphy did get a job with Coastal as VP of a new division focused on environmental clean-up.

But the NRSC's ad revives an old, misleading attack on Murphy involving his 2003 arrest outside a Miami-area nightclub for disorderly intoxication and possessing a fake ID. The charges were later dropped, but the incident was famous fodder in Murphy's first U.S. House campaign four years ago against Republican Allen West.

Politifact previously rated as "Mostly False" a claim from West that Thomas Murphy gave the prosecutor a "huge campaign donation" after the charges against his son were dropped.

In a prepared statement, Patrick Murphy's campaign said Wednesday: "Clearly Republicans have learned nothing from the last time these misleading ads failed to persuade voters."

"Once again, Republican politicians are misleading voters and distorting Patrick’s record," the campaign said. "The truth is that Patrick first ran for office to fight the Tea Party and their destructive, my-way-or-the-highway tactics. That’s why they’re desperate to mislead the voters, because they know that in the U.S. Senate, Patrick will fight for progressive values and get things done for Floridians.”

The NRSC said its running the online ad on social media. The political group aims to elect Republicans to the U.S. Senate and is expected to aggressively target Murphy, since Florida's U.S. Senate seat -- currently held by Republican Marco Rubio -- could switch parties in November and possibly decide control of the U.S. Senate in 2017.

Murphy faces fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, and North Palm Beach attorney Pam Keith in the Aug. 30 primary.