RFK Jr. and NRDC part ways on power plants in SF

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On May 12, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, founder of Waterkeeper, senior counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and as big a wig as Al Gore in the environmental hall of fame, decided to weigh in on San Francisco's plan to build two fossil fuel-burning power plants. He sent this letter to the Board of Supervisors, Mayor Gavin Newsom, the CPUC's Mike Peevey, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging them to back away from a future hooked to fossil fuels.

"Given the size and impact of this project, I respectfully urge you to listen to the public interest and environmental groups such as Sierra Club and SPUR that are calling for an independent study to determine whether these power plants are truly required in 2008," Kennedy wrote.

But, lest you get confused about how emphatically concerned an eco-heavy-hitter like NRDC is about San Francisco's energy future, the group sent another letter three days later saying they don't have a position on the controversial issue, and don't plan on taking one. That letter was signed by Ralph Cavanagh, who handles energy issues for NRDC and has been a champion of decoupling -- which utility companies love because it separates the profit-making from the energy-consuming, thus ensuring they still take home a pretty penny while encouraging customers to cut back on energy use.

Craig Noble, spokesperson for NRDC, explained the discrepancy by email, writing, "Bobby wasn’t representing NRDC in his official capacity when he took a position on that particular project. It was unclear to some people that he was speaking as a private citizen, so NRDC released a letter of clarification – we have not looked at this project and therefore have not taken a position." He also wrote they probably wouldn't, as they tend to focus on broader policy issues rather than individual projects.

A number of environmental and social justice groups have also allied against San Francisco's plan to build the peakers, strongly urging city officials to step it up with renewables rather than natural gas, and sending letters with their eco-group stamps all over them. They also met with Newsom to express alternatives to the peakers, according to Josh Arce of Brightline Defense, one of the leaders of the environmental front.

But it wasn't until Newsom's staff met with PG&E, the quiet giant of the anti-peaker movement, that the Mayor put the brakes on the power plant's approval process. After that meeting, Newsom intervened last week at the Board of Supervisors, temporarily pausing the approval process of the peaker plan while he called for the exploration of other alternatives.