Don’t Get Me Started: A Tale of Energy Solutions
Under water—not just for homeowners anymore.
by John deJong
I once had a neighbor who wasn’t so bright. Which is not to say not conservative. I’ll call him Joe-Who’s-Not-a-Plumber so he doesn’t get mad at me. One day the sewer line from Joe’s nearby property broke. Being the good Libertarian he is, he immediately called the city and tried to get them to fix the mess. They told him the connection to the main sewer line in the street was his responsibility.
Joe has a can-do attitude and figured he could fix it himself. Any fool can dig a trench, he told me later, and how hard can plumbing be? When Joe got down to the broken pipe, sewage was still coming out. This made digging out around the broken pipe a little messy. It also reminded him that he hadn’t told his tenants about the ‘waste’ problem.
Later that afternoon Joe returned from the hardware store with a short piece of sewer pipe one diameter too small and a flat of petunias—so his tenants might overlook the “minor” problem (to say nothing of the health risk).
He tried to make the narrow pipe fit between the two larger ends of the existing sewer line. He tried bailing wire, duct tape and epoxy. Amazingly, he managed to get the line tight and began backfilling the hole.
I considered telling him the whole sewer line was likely corroded and that he should take this opportunity to replace the whole thing. I was also tempted to tell him that a bottleneck is not a good thing in a sewer line. But Joe likes to find things out for himself, so I decided to kick back and enjoy the show. Sometimes ’visory’ is the best part of being a supervisor.
It wasn’t long before the next episode of Joe’s shit show aired. His yard oozed grey water. Now he knew he had to replace the whole line. He began digging from the building. It was a pretty good trench. Six feet deep and wide enough for a man to stand in and throw shovels of dirt out as he progressed toward the street.
Joe’s a nose-to-the-sewer-pipe kind of worker, when he gets going, so it wasn’t until he reached the sidewalk that he looked back and saw his trench half filled with dirt he had carelessly thrown back over his shoulder.
Salt Lake-based EnergySolutions. the largest nuclear waste company in the world, is in the same sort of pickle Joe was in. We’ve benignly accepted their naming rights to our local arena—corporate petunias—but that doesn’t mean all is well below.
The pending sale of EnergySolutions to Energy Capital Partners is the third episode of corporate debt ditch-digging, where a crushing load of debt is added to the ’value’ of the corporation. Its stockholders have already taken several baths. In 2008, shortly after buying 30 million shares at $25, they saw the share price drop to $5 in three months. That’s a loss of market capitalization of $600 million. Talk about a hair cut. The stock has never recovered and was trading in the $3.44 range when the buyout was announced.This time the corporation will be taken private. The transaction sets the “enterprise value” of EnergySolutions at $1.1 billion. Energy Capital Partners is taking over the obligation on some $761.5 million of debt. That’s a lot of debt to service.
Energy Solutions is so far under water that the new owners’ only hope of seeing the light of day on their capital is sweet-talking Utah’s elected representatives into allowing higher-level nuclear wastes at the Clive landfill. Based on past performance, that’s a reasonable expectation.
EnergySolutions has done $401,370 worth of sweet-talking/bribing/crossing palms with silver up on the hill over the last three years: $117,410 in 2010, $108,210 in 2011 (which wasn’t even an election year) and $175,750 in 2012.
Virtually every one of Utah’s Republican state senators and representatives as well as a handful of county officials in Salt Lake and Tooele counties have taken campaign contributions from EnergySolutions. EnergySolutions’ largess even extends to the Democratic leadership, though not the rank-and-file, making it appear very much like hush money.
When it comes to nuclear waste, the Utah Legislature is EnergySolutions’ bitch, as a political scientist might put it.
This is the ultimate catastrophe of the 2010 Supreme Court decision on Citizens United, allowing virtually unlimited corporate contributions to political candidates.
It wouldn’t be such a problem if Utah had ethical ethics laws that required elected officials to recuse themselves when they had conflicts of interest. Presently, they are only required to disclose conflicts of interest when they actually work for someone. They are not required to report campaign contributions as conflicts of interest, although campaign contributions are the life blood of every politician. It’s a lot like asking a vampire whether blood is important to him and believing him when he says no.
Short of resorting to pitch forks, there’s not much the average citizen can do. One way would be to help Move to Amend overturn the Supreme Court’s undemocratic Citizens United decision. Another would be to help Utahns for Ethical Government pass an ethics law with teeth.
In addition, it’s always good to pause occasionally, look over your shoulder, and see that the solution to your problem doesn’t take even more energy and create a bigger problem.