77 ALEC Bills in 2013 Advance a Big Oil, Big Ag Agenda

2 Aug

by Brendan Fischer / PR Watch

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At least 77 bills to oppose renewable energy standards, support fracking and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and otherwise undermine environmental laws were introduced in 34 states in 2013, according to a new analysis from the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of ALECexposed.org. In addition, nine states have been inspired by ALEC’s “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” to crack down on videographers documenting abuses on factory farms. 

ALEC, Fueled by Fossil Fuel Industry, Pursues Retrograde Energy Agenda

For decades, ALEC has been a favored conduit for some of the worlds largest polluters, like Koch Industries, BP, Shell, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil, and for decades has promoted less environmental regulation and more drilling and fracking. 

ALEC bills in recent years have pulled states out of regional climate initiatives, opposed carbon dioxide emission standards, created hurdles for state agencies attempting to regulate pollution, and tried to stop the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation introduced in 2013 carries on this legacy. ALEC bills favor the fossil fuel barons and promote a retrograde energy agenda that pollutes our air and water and is slowly cooking the planet to what may soon be devastating temperatures.

“Disregarding science at every turn, ALEC is willing to simply serve as a front for the fossil fuel industry,” says Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org. “Given the stakes–the earth’s climate–that’s shabby and sad.”

ALEC Tours the Tar Sands

2012 ALEC Academy attendees (Photo via Twitter)

2012 ALEC Academy attendees (Photo via Twitter)

In October of 2012, ALEC organized an “Oil Sands Academy” where nine ALEC member politicians were given an all-expenses-paid trip to Calgary and flown on a tour of the Alberta tarsands while accompanied by oil industry lobbyists. The trip was sponsored by pipeline operator TransCanada and the oil-industry funded American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, and email records obtained by CMD show that after the trip, ALEC urged legislators to send “thank you” notes to corporate lobbyists for their generosity.

At least ten states in 2013 have introduced variations on the ALEC “Resolution in Support of the Keystone XL Pipeline,” calling on the president and Congress to approve the controversial project. Environmentalists oppose the pipeline because extracting oil from Canadian tar sands would unlock huge amounts of carbon, increasing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Despite being promoted as a “job creator,” the pipeline would only create between 50 and 100 permanent positions in an economy of over 150 million working people.

In Nebraska, CMD filed an ethics complaint against state senator Jim Smith, the ALEC State Chair for Nebraska, who never revealed to his constituents that he had gone on the “Oil Sands Academy,” and failed to disclose over a thousand dollars of travel expenses paid for by the Government of Alberta, Canada. Sen. Smith has been exceptionally vocal when it comes to his support for the Keystone XL pipeline. For example, he sponsored a 2012 Nebraska law that would — if it survives a continuing legal challenge — bypass the U.S. State Department and allow TransCanada to start building the Nebraska part of the pipeline right away, regardless of any future decision by the federal government.

ALEC Partners with Heartland Institute for Rollback of Renewables

Even more extraordinary is ALEC’s push this year to repeal Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which require that utility companies provide a certain amount of their total energy from renewable sources like wind.

“ALEC’s long time role in denying the science and policy solutions to climate change is shifting into an evolving roadblock on state and federal clean energy incentives, a necessary part of global warming mitigation,” says Connor Gibson, a Research Associate at Greenpeace. 

In Germany, where the nation has set a goal of getting 35% of its energy from renewables by 2020,  public committment to clean energy technologies is transforming markets, driving innovation and generating huge numbers of jobs. Even in the U.S., where there has been less public investment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says 3.1 million clean energy jobs have been created in recent years. 

Perhaps because of RPS’ job-creating qualities, ALEC’s bill to repeal renewable standards, the “Electricity Freedom Act,” was too much even for the most conservative legislatures. It failed to pass in every state where it was introduced — even in North Carolina, where it had the backing of Grover Norquist, and whose Republican-dominated legislature has been rolling multiple ALEC bills into law in 2013.

It may be little surprise that ALEC’s attack on renewables was spearheaded by one of its looniest members: the bill was brought to ALEC in May 2012 by the Illinois-based Heartland Institute, a group best known for billboards comparing people who believe in climate change to mass murderers like the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

ALEC is usually very secretive about its model legislation and its efforts in the states, but ALEC did not disguise the fact that it had made the Electricity Freedom Act a priority for the 2013 session. ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Director Todd Wynn published blog posts on the topic and was quoted in the press discussing how ALEC was working with Heartland to promote the repeal bills. 

In many of the states that have proposed versions of the Electricity Freedom Act, the right-wing infrastructure has sprung into action, almost according to a script. The Beacon Hill Institute publishes a study (using discredited analysis) claiming that a state’s renewable standards lead to higher energy costs, as it did in states like Maine and Ohio and Wisconsin and Arizona. The David Koch-founded and-led Americans for Prosperity organizes an event to “educate” its members about how renewables are “punishing” consumers, as they did in Nebraska, and perhaps invite a guest from the Heartland Institute to make similar claims, as they did in Kansas.

ALEC, the Heartland Institute, and the Beacon Hill Institute all have received money from foundations associated with Charles and David Koch, and each are also part of the State Policy Network, an umbrella group of right-wing organizations that claim adherence to the free market. SPN has received at least $10 million in the past five years from the mysterious Donors Trust, which funnels money from the Kochs and other conservative funders. SPN was also a “Chairman” level sponsor of ALEC’s 2011 Annual Conference and ALEC is an Associate Member of SPN.

But even though the ALEC/Heartland anti-renewable energy fight found little success in 2013, the group is not giving up.

New Avenue Sought to Rollback Renewables 

“I expect that North Carolina and Kansas will probably pick up this issue again in 2014 and lead the charge across the country once again,” Wynn said.

ALEC now appears to be modifying its strategy to find a more palatable way to attack renewable standards.

At its August 2013 meeting, ALEC will consider a watered-down version of the Electricity Freedom Act with a bill called the “Market Power Renewables Act.” That legislation would phase-out a state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards and instead create a renewable “market” where consumers can choose to pay for renewable energy, and allow utilities to purchase energy credits from outside the state. This thwarts the purpose of RPS policies, which help create the baseline demand for renewables that will spur the clean energy investment necessary to continue developing the technology and infrastructure that will drive costs down.

But, it would satisfy ALEC’s goal of preserving reliance on dirty energy from fossil fuels.

ALEC Bills Undermine Environmental Regulations, First Amendment

ALEC energy, environment, and agriculture bills moving in the first six months of 2013 include:

  • The “Electricity Freedom Act,” introduced in six states, repealing (or in some states weakening) Renewable Portfolio Standards. The standards have been a key component driving renewable energy growth — which threatens the profits of ALEC’s polluter members. 
  • Variations on the “Resolution in Support of the Keystone XL Pipeline” (introduced in ten states) calling on the federal government to approve the controversial project to transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada across the United States. It is no coincidence that pipeline operator TransCanada is an ALEC member and funder.
  • The misleadingly-named “Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act” (introduced in five states) which would actually make it harder to find out what chemicals are being pumped underground through the fracking process. The bill, which was brought to ALEC by Exxon Mobil, carves out a giant loophole for “trade secrets” — potentially concealing the information the public might want to know.
  • The “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act” (introduced in five states), seeks to sow doubt in the minds of young people about man’s role in the warming planet by requiring that educators “teach the controversy” when it comes to topics like climate change, where the science is beyond dispute.
  • The “Environmental Services Public-Private Partnership Act” (introduced in two states) would give for-profit companies control of vital public health services like treating wastewater and drinking water — the last place where you want a company to cut corners to increase profits.
  • The “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” (variations of which were introduced in nine states) have come to be known as “Ag-Gag” bills, as they criminalize investigations into abuses on factory farms and deem videographers “terrorists.” 
  • The “Disposal and Taxation of Public Lands Act” (considered in seven states) was modeled after a Utah law from 2012 and is an updated version of the ALEC “Sagebrush Rebellion Act,” where Western states assert control over federal lands that are being protected as wilderness preserves, in many cases to allow for resource extraction.

To read more, including how ALEC corporations reap rewards from anti-environmental laws and how citizens pay the price, continue here.

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