Report on Smart Meter Problems

The December 2012 report “Analysis: Smart Meter and Smart Grid Problems – Legislative Proposal” is available to the public. This 173-page report by activist Nina Beety has extensive referenced information about many of the problems and risks of the Smart Meter program, with information from state, national, and international resources. Supplemental documents can be downloaded here.

Originally written for California legislators, this updated report also provides a legislative and regulatory action plan for halting this program, and suggestions for reforming utility regulation so that the public is protected in the future.

Table of Contents

What is a Smart Meter?
Smart Grid/Smart Meter problems and issues
– Overview
– Overcharging, accuracy, and the Structure Group report
– Reliability
– Privacy invasion
– Fires and electrical problems
– Health problems Continue reading

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CPUC President Peevey: “There really are people who feel pain, etc. related to EMF”

A massive corruption scandal is unfolding in California at the Public Utilities Commission.

As a result of a lawsuit by the City of San Bruno, PG&E was forced to release 65, 000 emails. Buried in those emails is a startling admission from former CPUC President Michael Peevey in September 2010. This is EMF Safety Network’s report on that email.

CPUC President Peevey “There really are people who feel pain related to EMF”
February 7, 2015

In April 2010 the EMF Safety Network filed a CPUC application on smart meters. We asked for a moratorium, an independent technical review, evidentiary hearings on health and safety, and the right to opt out.

In December 2010 CPUC President Michael Peevey approved PG&E’s motion to dismiss our application.  He stated “I believe that relying on the FCC in this case is reasonable, prudent and fully consistent with our responsibilities to provide safe and reliable electric service to ratepayers.” He concluded his statements by stating, “You should take these concerns to the FCC, it’s the proper body.”

Nearly five years later 65,000 emails between PG&E and the CPUC have been publicly released. Emails reveal the collusion between CPUC and PG&E. They discussed the smart meter problems privately, violating their own rules of procedure.

In September 2010 Peevey emailed PG&E’s Brian Cherry on smart meters.  He did not say he thought we should take the issue to the FCC.

Peevey believed people were suffering from smart meters.  He believed PG&E should do something about it. However, instead of regulating the utility to ensure public safety,  he deferred his lawful responsibility to PG&E.

Michael Peevey wrote, “One thought for the company: If it were my decision I would let anyone who wants to keep their old meter keep it, if they claim they suffer from EMF and/or related electronic-related illnesses and they can produce a doctor’s letter saying so (or expressing concern about the likelihood of suffering same). I would institute such a policy quietly and solely on an individual basis. There really are people who feel pain, etc., related to EMF,etc., and rather than have them becoming hysterical, etc., I would quietly leave them alone. Kick it around. And, it sounds like the company may already have taken this step, based on a couple of the comments at yesterday’s public hearing.

He writes, “If it were my decision”.  As the Commissioner assigned to the proceeding- it was HIS decision. Yet, Peevey defers his lawful duty to PG&E.  And he delayed on this case for years.

Peevey wanted PG&E to keep it quiet- didn’t want other customers, or the rest of the world to know there’s a problem with smart meters causing customers pain, etc.

You can find this email/quote here:

Stay tuned for more EMAIL exposé! Yet to come: emails showing CPUC and PGE discussing alternatives to smart meters, including a phone line option. Email showing the CPUC stopped PG&E from giving small businesses an analog meter option, AND MORE!

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Smart Meters—not so smart; “I’ve never been so sick in my life”

How Dangerous and Expensive Became “Smart” An Exposé of the “Smart Grid”
Amy Worthington
Published by the Weston A. Price Foundation,

Electric “smart” meters were installed in Cindy deBac’s Scottsdale, Arizona, neighborhood in 2012. She recalls the day a new meter was mounted on her home as a sort of digital Pearl Harbor attack. “I’ve never been so sick in my life,” she says. “Nausea, a crushing migraine headache, and painful heart palpitations laid me low right away.”

Healthy and exuberant before the installation, deBac became unable to sleep normally. She soon became exhausted and tearfully anxious as she struggled with rashes and a chronically racing heart. For respite she spent nights away in her car. One of her dogs died of cancer within six months of the meter’s installation and the other developed large tumors. Today Cindy leads a global educational crusade to warn others about the myriad devastating health effects that electromagnetic radiation can unleash.

Across the U.S. installers continue to replace comparatively safe analog (mechanical) utility meters with digital “smart” meters for electrical, gas and water services. Most of the new meters are wireless two-way transmitters that pulse signals to communicate continuously between your home, school, or workplace and utility companies miles away. The new meters are part of a nationwide project dubbed Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). Most folks call this evolving make-over the “smart grid.”

The AMI “smart” meter below records electrical consumption data and sends the information wirelessly to energy system managers. “Smart” meters can be programmed to read and transmit data monthly, or up to every fifteen seconds. Data may be relayed by systems similar to mobile phones or Wi-Fi. Or information may be relayed via fiber optics (thin, transparent cables that carry signals by pulsing light). Of these methods, fiber optics may offer the safest transmission.

AMI is nested within the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009, and the Obama Administration has shoveled an estimated eleven billion dollars into incentive programs for utilities that participate. “Smart” grid advocates insist that the new two-way meters will reduce national energy consumption and allow consumers to make better choices about their energy needs.

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are among federal heavyweights behind the thundering AMI rollout. Several universities and corporations stand to profit hugely by providing AMI equipment, software and expertise. These include General Electric, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Siemens, Toshiba, Microsoft, Cisco, Verizon, Google, Itron and Tantalus.

With a financial and political engine of this magnitude, the AMI meter replacement project has moved at lightning speed. According to the Institute for Electric Efficiency (IEE), nearly 40 percent of U.S. households had an electric “smart” meter installed by August 2013. A total of sixty-five million “smart” meters are projected to be installed by 2015, covering more than half of all U.S. households.1 Among states hit hardest so far have been Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Maryland, Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Vermont, Florida, Georgia and Alabama.


Over the last three years, strong-arm installation tactics, fires caused by meters, skyrocketing utility bills, privacy concerns and disabling health effects have given momentum to a broad coalition of “smart” grid opponents. Many, including some government officials, say that the touted benefits of “smart” systems have not materialized, while the negative ramifications have proven disastrous. Continue reading

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Digital electronic “Internet of Things”(IoT) and “Smart Grid technologies” to fully eviscerate privacy

By Prof. James Tracy
Posted on Global Research, February 2, 2015

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) and Smart Grid technologies will together be aggressively integrated into the developed world’s socioeconomic fabric with little-if-any public or governmental oversight. This is the overall opinion of a new report by the Federal Trade Commission, which has announced a series of “recommendations” to major utility companies and transnational corporations heavily invested in the IoT and Smart Grid, suggesting that such technologies should be rolled out almost entirely on the basis of “free market” principles so as not to stifle “innovation.”[1]

As with the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, the FTC functions to provide the semblance of democratic governance and studied concern as it allows corporate monied interests and prerogatives to run roughshod over the body politic.

The IoT refers to all digital electronic and RFID-chipped devices wirelessly connected to the internet. The number of such items has increased dramatically since the early 2000s. In 2003 an estimated 500 million gadgets were connected, or about one for every twelve people on earth. By 2015 the number has grown 50 fold to an estimated 25 billion, or 3.5 units per person. By 2020 the IoT is expected to double the number of physical items it encompasses to 50 billion, or roughly 7 per individual.[2]

The IoT is developing in tandem with the “Smart Grid,” comprised of tens of millions of wireless transceivers (a combination cellular transmitter and receiver) more commonly known as “smart meters.” Unlike conventional wireless routers, smart meters are regarded as such because they are equipped to capture, store, and transmit an abundance of data on home energy usage with a degree of precision scarcely imagined by utility customers. On the contrary, energy consumers are typically appeased with persuasive promotional materials from their power company explaining how smart meter technology allows patrons to better monitor and control their energy usage.

Almost two decades ago media sociologist Rick Crawford defined Smart Grid technology as “real time residential power line surveillance” (RRPLS). These practices exhibited all the characteristics of eavesdropping and more. “Whereas primitive forms of power monitoring merely sampled one data point per month by checking the cumulative reading on the residential power meter,” Crawford explains,

modern forms of RRPLS permit nearly continued digital sampling. This allows watchers to develop a fine-grained profile of the occupants’ electrical appliance usage. The computerized RRPLS device may be placed on-site with the occupants’ knowledge and assent, or it may be hidden outside and surreptitiously attached to the power line feeding into the residence.

This device records a log of both resistive power levels and reactive loads as a function of time. The RRPLS device can extract characteristic appliance “signatures” from the raw data. For example, existing [1990s] RRPLS devices can identify whenever the sheets are thrown back from a water bed by detecting the duty cycles of the water bed heater. RRPLS can infer that two people shared a shower by noting an unusually heavy load on the electric water heater and that two uses of the hair dryer followed.[3]

A majority of utility companies are reluctant to acknowledge the profoundly advanced capabilities of these mechanisms that have now been effectively mandated for residential and business clients. Along these lines, when confronted with questions on whether the devices are able to gather usage data with such exactitude, company representatives are apparently compelled to feign ignorance or demur.

i210Yet the features Crawford describes and their assimilation with the IoT are indeed a part of General Electric’s I-210+C smart meter, among the most widely-deployed models in the US. This meter is equipped with not one, not two, but three transceivers, the I-210+C’s promotional brochure explains.[4]

One of the set’s transceivers uses ZigBee Pro protocols, “one of several wireless communication standards in the works to link up appliances, light bulbs, security systems, thermostats and other equipment in home and enterprises.”[5] With most every new appliance now required to be IoT-equipped, not only will consumer habits be increasingly monitored through energy usage, but over the longer term lifestyle and thus behavior will be transformed through power rationing, first in the form of “tiered usage,” and eventually in a less accommodating way through the remote control of “smart” appliances during peak hours.[6]

Information gathered from the combined IoT and Smart Grid will also be of immense value to marketers that up to now have basically been excluded from the domestic sphere. As an affiliate of WPP Pic., the world’s biggest ad agency put it, the data harvested by smart meters “opens the door to the home. Consumers are leaving a digital footprint that opens the door to their online habits and to their shopping habits and their location, and the last thing that is understood is the home, because at the moment when you shut the door, that’s it.”[7]

ESAs the FTC’s 2015 report makes clear, this is the sort of retail (permissible) criminality hastened by the merging of Smart Grid and IoT technologies also provides an immense facility for wholesale criminals to scan and monitor various households’ activities as potential targets for robbery, or worse.

The FTC, utility companies and smart meter manufacturers alike still defer to the Federal Communications Commission as confirmation of the alleged safety of Smart Grid and smart meter deployment. This is the case even though the FCC is not chartered to oversee public health and, basing its regulatory procedure on severely outdated science, maintains that microwave radiation is not a threat to public health so long as no individual’s skin or flesh have risen in temperature.

Yet in the home and workplace the profusion of wireless technologies such as ZigBee will compound the already significant collective radiation load of WiFi, cellular telephony, and the smart meter’s routine transmissions. The short term physiological impact will likely include weakened immunity, fatigue, and insomnia that can hasten terminal illnesses.[8]

Perhaps the greatest irony is how the Internet of Things, the Smart Grid and their attendant “Smart Home” are sold under the guise of convenience, personal autonomy, even knowledge production and wisdom. “The more data that is created,” Cisco gushes, “the more knowledge and wisdom people can obtain. IoT dramatically increases the amount of data available for us to process. This, coupled with the Internet’s ability to communicate this data, will enable people to advance even further.”[9]

In light of the grave privacy and health-related concerns posed by this techno tsunami, the members of a sane society might seriously ask themselves exactly where they are advancing, or being compelled to advance to.


[1] Federal Trade Commission, Internet of Things: Privacy and Security in a Connected World, Washington DC, January 2015. Accessible at

[2] Dave Evans, “The Internet of Things: How the Next Evolution of the Internet is Changing Everything, Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, April 2011, 3. Accessible at

[3] Rick Crawford, “Computer Assisted Crises,” in George Gerbner, Hamid Mowlana and Herbert I. Schiller (eds.) Invisible Crises: What Conglomerate Control of Media Means for American and the World, Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1996, 47-81.

[4] “I-210+C with Silver Spring Networks Micro-AP” [Brochure], General Electric, Atlanta Georgia. Accessible at

[5] Stephen Lawson, “ZigBee 3.0 Promises One Smart Home Standard for Many Uses,”, November 16, 2014.

[6] One of the United States’ largest utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric, has already introduced tiered pricing to curb energy usage in summer months during “high demand” times of the day.

[7] Louise Downing, “WPP Unit, Onzo Study Harvesting Smart-Meter Data,”, May 11, 2014.

[8] Sue Kovach, “The Hidden Dangers of Cellphone Radiation,” Life Extension Magazine, August 2007; James F. Tracy, “Looming Health Crisis: Wireless Technology and the Toxification of America,”, July 8, 2012.

[9] Evans, 6.



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Ontario’s Smart Meter program called “abject failure”; 5,400 Smart Meters removed due to fire risk

New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns — “They blew billions of dollars on meters that haven’t saved us energy, haven’t saved us money, and are presenting a threat to public safety.”

Progressive Conservative MPP John Yakabuski — “yet another example of the Liberal government failing to respond to problems of their own making… As we’ve seen the smart meter program has been an abject failure since the beginning.”

Thousands of smart meters in Ontario to be removed over safety worries

Some 5,400 of Ontario’s 4.8 million smart meters are being removed and replaced because of a risk they could heat up, cause an electrical short and possibly spark a fire.

In Saskatchewan last summer, SaskPower removed a model of Sensus Corp. smart meter from homes and businesses after eight unexplained minor fires.

By: Robert Benzie Queen’s Park Bureau Chief, Jan 22 2015

In another jolt to Ontario’s troubled smart-meter program, 5,400 of the electricity conservation gauges are being removed due to a risk of fire.

The province’s Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) announced Thursday that Sensus 3.2 smart meters equipped with a remote disconnect feature are affected.

“We’re acting out of an abundance of caution,” ESA president and CEO David Collie told reporters at Queen’s Park, noting there are 4.8 million smart meters in Ontario.

“This particular meter is in very limited use,” said Collie, noting while there are about 50,000 Sensus 3.2 meters in Ontario, the safety concerns are with only the remote-disconnect models usually installed in seasonal properties, such as trailer parks or summer cottages.

It’s the latest snag to hit the controversial $2-billion smart meter program, which auditor general Bonnie Lysyk criticized last month for cost overruns and poor performance.

Lysyk found one in six of the meters had not yet transmitted any readings of electricity use and criticized the doubling in cost of a system that was supposed to come in at $1 billion.

Collie said the ESA began investigating after eight unexplained minor fires in Saskatchewan last summer linked to a different remote-disconnect meter, the Sensus 3.3.

SaskPower has since removed the Sensus meters in question from homes and businesses there.

After one minor problem was reported at an undisclosed Ontario location, the ESA issued a safety bulletin to all of the province’s 73 local utilities to replace the meters by March 31.

No Toronto Hydro or Hydro One customers are affected.

Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, under fire for recent problems with the time-of-use monitors, stressed “there have not been any reported incidents with this particular model of smart meter in Ontario.”

“The safety of all Ontarians is the number one priority of our government,” Chiarelli said in a statement.

His office said it is up to the local utilities to “recover all costs associated with this action” from Sensus.

‎In a statement late Thursday, Sensus officials said the North Carolina-based company was “disappointed” in the ESA’s decision and would be following up to determine why the safety authority acted.

“The Sensus iConA Generation 3.2 remote disconnect meters have a perfect record in Ontario,” the firm said.

New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto—Danforth) said the Liberals have created “a total mess” of the smart meters that were designed to save consumers money by encouraging them to use electricity at off-peak hours.

“They blew billions of dollars on meters that haven’t saved us energy, haven’t saved us money, and are presenting a threat to public safety,” said Tabuns.

“The government has a lot of answers to provide.”

Progressive Conservative MPP John Yakabuski (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke) said it’s “yet another example of the Liberal government failing to respond to problems of their own making.”

“We’ve been calling for the ministry to take action on this issue since August. Ensuring Ontario families are safe should not take six months,” Yakabuski said in a statement.

“As we’ve seen the smart meter program has been an abject failure since the beginning.”

More than 400 of the problem Sensus meters have already been removed, but there are still almost 5,000 in use — 3,492 of them are Bluewater Power Distribution customers in the Sarnia area.

There are also 449 Waterloo North Hydro customers; 327 with Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro; 266 with EnWin Utilities in Windsor; 161 with ‎Greater Sudbury Hydro; 115 with Brant County Power; 108 with Cobourg’s Lakefront Utilities; 27 with Canadian Niagara Power; 24 with Norfolk Power Distribution; seven with Oakville Hydro; and three with Algoma Power.

Smart meters enable utilities to charge fluctuating prices at different times of day, meaning electricity will be more expensive at peak times of day such as the dinner hour.

That’s to encourage conservation because consumers should be able to save money by using their dishwashers and other appliances at night.

Since 2011, the devices have been linked to 13 small fires, according to the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office.

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Message from Economic Forum in Davos: Privacy is Dead.

Commercial interests and governments’ intelligence apparatus want privacy to be dead. However, privacy only gets murdered if people allow that and if they don’t fight every attempted incursion and theft.

And the assault and theft of DNA written about below, though it is connected to loss of genetic privacy, is assault and theft. None of it is acceptable, and this article blurs definitions — also a feature of the Orwellian world we are becoming.

Would George Orwell have been surprised at how many people welcome the loss of privacy?

From, January 22, 2015

Imagine a world where mosquito-sized robots fly around stealing samples of your DNA - hat is the terrifying dystopian world portrayed at Davos

Imagine a world where mosquito-sized robots fly around stealing samples of your DNA – hat is the terrifying dystopian world portrayed at Davos

Imagine a world where mosquito-sized robots fly around stealing samples of your DNA. Or where a department store knows from your buying habits that you’re pregnant even before your family does.

That is the terrifying dystopian world portrayed by a group of Harvard professors at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday, where the assembled elite heard that the notion of individual privacy is effectively dead.

“Welcome to today. We’re already in that world,” said Margo Seltzer, a professor in computer science at Harvard University.

“Privacy as we knew it in the past is no longer feasible… How we conventionally think of privacy is dead,” she added.

Another Harvard researcher into genetics said it was “inevitable” that one’s personal genetic information would enter more and more into the public sphere.

Sophia Roosth said intelligence agents were already asked to collect genetic information on foreign leaders to determine things like susceptibility to disease and life expectancy.

“We are at the dawn of the age of genetic McCarthyism,” she said, referring to witch-hunts against Communists in 1950s America.

What’s more, Seltzer imagined a world in which tiny robot drones flew around, the size of mosquitoes, extracting a sample of your DNA for analysis by, say, the government or an insurance firm.

Invasions of privacy are “going to become more pervasive,” she predicted.

“It’s not whether this is going to happen, it’s already happening… We live in a surveillance state today.”

‘Nasty little cousin’

Political scientist Joseph Nye tackled the controversial subject of encrypted communications and the idea of regulating to ensure governments can always see even encrypted messages in the interests of national security.

“Governments are talking about putting in back doors for communication so that terrorists can’t communicate without being spied on. The problem is that if governments can do that, so can the bad guys,” Nye told the forum.

“Are you more worried about big brother or your nasty little cousin?”

However, despite the pessimistic Orwellian vision, the academics were at pains to stress that the positive aspects of technology still far outweigh the restrictions on privacy they entail.

In the same way we can send tiny drones to spy on people, we can send the same machine into an Ebola ward to “zap the germs,” Seltzer said.

“The technology is there, it is up to us how to use it,” she added.

“By and large, tech has done more good than harm,” she said, pointing to “tremendous” advances in healthcare in some rural areas of the developing world that have been made possible by technology.

And at a separate session on artificial intelligence, panellists appeared to accept the limit on privacy as part of modern life.

Rodney Brooks, chairman of Rethink Robotics, an American tech firm, took the example of Google Maps guessing—usually correctly—where you want to go.

“At first, I found that spooky and kind of scary. Then I realised, actually, it’s kind of useful,” he told the forum.

Anthony Goldbloom, a young tech entrepreneur, told the same panel that what he termed the “Google generation” placed far less weight on their privacy than previous generations.

“I trade my privacy for the convenience. Privacy is not something that worries me,” he said.

“Anyway, people often behave better when they have the sense that their actions are being watched.”

The World Economic Forum in the swanky Swiss ski resort of Davos brings together some 2,500 of the global business and political elite for a meeting that ends Saturday.


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U.S. federal attorneys must investigate California Public Utilities Commission

Los Angeles Daily News, January 19, 2015
Editorial by Thomas Elias

Memo to U.S. attorneys in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego: It’s high time you investigate the former president and some current members and officials of the California Public Utilities Commission for things like conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.

Evidence against current commissioners and former commission President Michael Peevey has mounted steadily over the last six months, but there has been no action against anyone.

State rules forbid utility regulators from communicating individually with executives of the companies they regulate
. Any letters, texts or emails must go to all five commissioners, as a means of preventing secret deals favoring the companies over their business and residential customers.

Yet, emails have shown that Peevey for years communicated privately and had understandings with executives of both Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the Southern California Edison Co., of which he was formerly president. He even hosted at least one high PG&E official at his country home in Sea Ranch, north of San Francisco.

He also communicated privately with Edison execs, setting up a dinner in London with one, and in one case reported by the U-T San Diego newspaper agreeing to delay a PUC action that would limit the percentage of Edison’s executive bonuses it could bill to ratepayers until after that year’s bonuses had been paid under old rules.

Current Commissioner Mike Florio has recused himself from some votes affecting PG&E because of his role in a “judge-shopping” attempt. Emails showed Florio helped the utility choose a sympathetic commission administrative law judge to preside over a key case.

And there was the recently disclosed 2012 phone call between Edison’s external relations director and the administrative law judge presiding over a case to determine how Edison and its customers would split the cost of retiring the disabled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Edison says that call covered only technicalities.

All this led Michael Picker, the new commission president, in a public meeting, to call the emails “troubling and very painful to read.”

One bottom line in all this is that customers of California’s big regulated utilities — PG&E, Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — pay power rates averaging almost twice as much as consumers served by the municipal utilities in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Riverside, Sacramento and Anaheim. Power rates have consistently risen, while consumption has remained steady. Details are contained in a report about San Onofre generated by former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

No, utility profits are not supposed to lead to doubly high energy bills. That, in fact, is what the PUC was set up to prevent.

This column has frequently documented PUC favoritism of the big companies over their rate payers, labeling Peevey a “fox guarding the chicken house” as early as 2005. But the emails released in recent months provide a smoking gun pointing toward possible criminal conspiracy. If so, it could be charged as mail fraud and/or wire fraud because excessively high rates set via conspiracy would have been billed by mail or email.

Aguirre suggests the U.S. attorneys convene special grand juries like the one that indicted PG&E for its conduct surrounding the fatal 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.

“We need to investigate how utility rates got so high,” Aguirre said. “It’s been a swamp of dishonesty.”

Aguirre suggests investigating, for example, what happened to money collected by the big companies to ensure utility safety. “Edison was paid money for defective San Onofre steam generators. PG&E was paid money (since the 1950s) to fix (gas lines), but failed to do so,” his report said. Similarly, he said, defective SDG&E equipment caused a huge 2007 San Diego County fire.

“In each case, the PUC blocked its (staff’s) investigations into utility executive wrongdoing,” Aguirre charges. No one knows what happened to billions of maintenance dollars paid by customers.

Efforts to ask Picker about these charges and any plans to improve PUC practices were rebuffed.

The bottom line: The pattern of utility regulators’ favoritism of the companies they oversee, even possible collusion with them, has been plain for decades. [1] But the email and telephone call evidence emerged only lately.

That evidence is so strong it would be dereliction of duty for prosecutors to ignore it.

Thomas D. Elias is a writer in Southern California. Reach the author at .
Full bio and more articles by Thomas D. Elias
Utilities regulators’ actions should be investigated: Thomas Elias

[1] Ed.: See,0 “The secret life of Michael Peevey

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New York Times fails to report conflicts of interest in coverage of power line health issue

By Paul Brodeur, former staff writer at the New Yorker
Published in Huffington Post, December 12, 2014 ml

In recent days, employees of The New York Times have posted no fewer than three pieces on the newspaper’s website, asserting that the risk of harm from the electromagnetic fields (EMF) given off by power lines is negligible, and that fears of it are unfounded. Among the postings is a seven-minute video produced by Kyra Darnton for Retro Report, entitled “Long After an 80’s Scare, Suspicion of Power Lines Prevails.” An accompanying article with the same title has been posted by a reporter for Retro Report named Clyde Haberman, and a third piece entitled “A Fresh Look at Power Lines, Cancer and the Dread-to-Risk Ratio” has been put up by a reporter for the newspaper named Andrew C. Revkin.

The video produced by Darnton and some colleagues at Retro Report relies preponderantly on the testimony of two researchers — David Savitz, who is vice-president for research at Brown University, and John Moulder, director of radiation biology at the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Early in his career, Savitz conducted studies showing that children living in homes near power lines were developing leukemia twice as often as children who did not live in such homes. Later, he received a five-million-dollar contract from the Electric Power Research Institute — an organization financed by the electric utility industry — to study the risk of cancer among electric utility workers. Savitz found an increased risk of brain tumors in these workers, but he subsequently renounced this finding and challenged similar findings on the part of other researchers. He also renounced his finding of increased leukemia in children exposed to power-line electromagnetic fields, and challenged similar findings by other researchers. In Darnton’s video, he declares, “it’s quite questionable whether these fields cause leukemia at all.”

Savitz has every right to renounce his work on electromagnetic fields, and to challenge the validity of studies conducted by other researchers, but is it good journalistic practice for Darnton and her colleagues at The Times to omit any mention of the fact that he has received heavy financing from the electric utility industry?

John Moulder, who, like Savitz, also plays a leading role in Darnton’s video, tells its viewers that the “Current state of the science says power lines cannot be a major public health hazard.”

Moulder has every right to express such an opinion, but is it good journalistic practice for Darnton and her colleagues to omit any mention of the fact that he has testified repeatedly as a paid consultant for the electric utility industry that electromagnetic fields given off by power lines do not pose any health risk?

As for Moulder’s assessment of the current state of scientific research regarding the power-line health hazard, how in the name of any claim to objectivity could Darnton and her colleagues omit mention of a report issued by a panel of scientists convened by the prestigious International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in Lyon, France, whose twenty-five members reviewed the findings of dozens of studies of childhood leukemia victims and the proximity of where they lived to power lines, and concluded unanimously that power-frequency magnetic fields are “possibly carcinogenic to humans”? (Among the members of the panel were representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Radiological Protection Board, the Yale University Medical School, and the World Health Organization.)

The answer to this question is that Darnton and her colleagues did not try to find out if there was any evidence to cast doubt upon the conclusion that exonerates power-line electromagnetic fields of posing any health risk. If they had seen fit to contact me — the author of half a dozen articles about the EMF hazard in The New Yorker — or Louis Slesin, the editor and publisher of Microwave News — a meticulously researched newsletter that has carried information about the health hazards posed by EMFs and microwave radiation for more than thirty years — they could easily have learned about the conflicts of interest that may well taint the views of Savitz and Moulder, as well as about the unanimous findings of the IARC report.

(Disclosure: I appear in Darnton’s video giving a three-second answer to a question asked by Tex Koppel during a Nightline program about EMFs that aired back in the early 1990s. Both Louis Slesin and I have written letters to Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of The Times, pointing out the conflicts of interest on the part of Savitz and Moulder, and the necessity of acknowledging such conflicts when reporting on public health issues.)

This is not the only time that The New York Times has failed to inform its readers adequately about the existence of a major public health risk. During a twenty-year period between the 1960s and 1980s, I wrote a number of articles for The New Yorker about the massive health hazard posed by exposure to asbestos, as well as the extensive toxic tort litigation being brought in jurisdictions around the nation by sick and dying asbestos workers and the families of dead workers against asbestos manufacturers, who had concealed the hazard for half a century — in some cases, neglecting to inform their workers when X-ray examinations revealed that they had developed fatal lung disease. During that whole period, The Times carried articles about the asbestos problem on its business pages, and often referred to asbestos as an “alleged carcinogen,” thus conferring legal rights upon a mineral that had killed or disabled tens of thousands of American workers, and been shown to be the most important industrial cause of cancer in the world. Moreover, The Times invariably “balanced” the findings of researchers whose studies had demonstrated that asbestos was carcinogenic with denials issued by researchers financed by the asbestos industry.

Only when the nation’s largest asbestos company, Johns-Manville, filed for bankruptcy on August 26, 1982 — an event brought about because juries around the nation had found the company guilty of outrageous and reckless misconduct, and levied millions of dollars in punitive damages against it — did the story find its way to the front page of The Times.

A day later, an editorial writer for the newspaper proved to be so ignorant of the fifty-year cover-up of asbestos disease by the nation’s asbestos manufacturers that he compared the human agony they had visited upon their workers with the fiscal uncertainty besetting them. “Asbestos is a tragedy,” he wrote, “most of all for the victims and their families but also for companies, which are being made to pay the price for decisions made long ago.”

Asbestos proved to be a powerful carcinogen that inflicted cancer and other disease upon workers who inhaled its fibers in occupational settings. It also posed a health hazard for people in the general population, who were exposed to asbestos insulation that had been sprayed as fireproofing on the girders of buildings — a practiced now banned nationwide. Studies of power-frequency electromagnetic fields show them to be are a far weaker carcinogen than asbestos, but also demonstrate that they pose a cancer hazard for telephone linemen, electric utility workers, and workers exposed to EMF emanating from electrically powered equipment and machinery. As for children and people in the general population, a glance along any street in the United States should be sufficient to show that power-line EMFs are ubiquitous in the environment, and to serve as a warning that their potential to cause widespread harm should not be ignored or denied.

One might have hoped that The Times had learned by now to inform its readers about conflicts of interest that could skew the accuracy of its reports on matters relating to the public health. However, judging from Darnton’s video and the pieces by Haberman and Revkin, who have rubber stamped its flawed conclusions, one would have been mistaken to do so.

One might hope that in the future The Times will inform its readers regarding conflicts of interest in people it presents as reliable sources, so readers may make better-informed decisions about the information being transmitted to them.

Don’t bet on it.


Paul Brodeur is the author of several books, including The Zapping of America and Currents of Death.

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