Our Biggest Enviro Threat? 77 ALEC Bills in 2013 Advance a Big Oil, Big Ag Agenda
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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."
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 forbillboards 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.
The corporations bankrolling ALEC and benefitting from bills advanced by the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force include:
- Keystone XL Pipeline Operator TransCanada, a member of the ALEC Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force and which sponsored ALEC's Spring Task Force Summit at the "Vice Chairman" level. It was one of the sponsors of the ALEC "Oil Sands Academy" where nine ALEC member legislators were given an all-expenses-paid trip to Calgary and flown around the Alberta tarsands while accompanied by oil industry lobbyists.
- Shell Oil, one of the largest fossil fuel conglomerates in the world, operates a tarsands extraction facility and sponsored lunch at the ALEC "Oil Sands Academy." Shell has long been an ALEC member and funder, for example sponsoring ALEC's 2011 Annual Meeting at the "Chairman" level (which in the past has cost $50,000) and hosting plenary sessions. Shell is also a member of the ALEC Civil Justice Task Force, presumably to advance legislation that would protect it from liability in case of oil spills or other disasters.
- British Petroleum (BP), the United Kingdom's largest corporation and the company responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, has long supported ALEC, including sponsoring ALEC's 2011 meeting in New Orleans -- not far from the site of BP's oil spill -- at the "Presidential" level (which in the past has cost $100,000).
- Peabody Energy is the largest producer of coal in the U.S. and boasts that it generates 10% of the country's energy, and also has a lobbyist representative on the ALEC corporate board; it was the 2011 winner of ALEC's "Private Sector Member of the Year" award and has sponsored ALEC meetings and events. In 2007, it spun-off coal mines it owned in West Virginia and Kentucky into an independent company, which then filed for bankruptcy and sought to be released from its pension and retirement operations.
- Duke Energy is one of the largest electric utility companies in the United States, and has publicly expressed concern about global warming and support for clean energy, but its continued support for ALEC undermines those rhetorical positions. A coalition of environmental groups have been urging Duke to drop ALEC for the past year, so far to no avail.
- Koch Industries, the privately-held multinational corporation owned by billionaire financiers David and Charles Koch, is involved in an array of industries including petroleum refining, fuel pipelines, coal supply and trading, oil and gas exploration, chemicals and polymers, fertilizer production, and commodity speculation. Koch Industries has long funded ALEC, sponsored its meetings, and had a lobbyist representative on the ALEC Private Enterprise Board. Charitable foundations associated with David and Charles have also been ALEC funders, with the Charles G. Koch Foundation giving ALEC a half-million-dollar loan in 1996.
The ALEC Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force has not only promoted anti-environmental bills, but also legislation to help industrial farms escape public accountability -- which would prevent a 21st Century Upton Sinclair from going undercover and creating a documentary work like The Jungle, which led to a new wave of food safety regulations in the early 1900s.
ALEC's "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act" was the ideological ancestor for "ag-gag" laws, introduced in nine states in 2013 to quash the First Amendment rights of reporters, investigators and videographers by making it harder for them to document issues with food safety and animal cruelty. The bills take many forms, but generally make it a crime to shoot video of a farm or slaughterhouse, or to apply for employment at these facilities under "false pretenses."
Modern-day Upton Sinclairs have been using similar techniques as The Jungle's author to document food safety issues -- Sinclair got a job at a Chicago slaughterhouse under false pretenses so he could write his book -- but are using 21st Century tools.
In 2007, for example, an undercover video investigation by the Humane Society showed sick “downer” cows -- which are banned from human consumption because they were implicated in the spread of mad cow disease -- being pushed towards slaughter with forklifts and cattle prods, leading to the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
The ALEC-influenced "ag-gag" bills seek to criminalize this type of investigation.
In March of this year, ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling defended the laws, telling the Associated Press, "at the end of the day it's about personal property rights or the individual right to privacy."
Utah passed an ag-gag law in 2012, which led to charges against a young woman named Amy Meyer, who did nothing else besides film the outside of a slaughterhouse from public land. Meyer regularly passed the slaughterhouse on her way to volunteer at an animal sanctuary, and began filming when she witnessed what appeared to be animal cruelty with possible public health repurcussions: a sick (but still living) cow being carried away from the building on a tractor. The slaughterhouse owner asserted that she had trespassed, despite there being no damage to the barbed wire fence surrounding his property.
"This was the first time anyone has been charged under the ag-gag law," Meyer told CMD. "But as long as these ag-gag laws are around, this won't be the last prosecution, unfortunately."
Less than 24 hours after journalist Will Potter publicized her story -- but months after she was first charged -- the prosecution dropped its case against Meyer.
"The only purpose [of ag-gag laws] is to punish investigators who expose animal cruelty and journalists who report on the ag industry," she said. "These laws are intended to keep consumers in dark and shield factory farms from scrutiny."
As written, the ALEC model bill could also criminalize environmental civil disobedience, such as when activists "obstruct" the business operations of a logging or mining facility through tree-sits or road blockades. A bill reflecting these provisions was introduced in Oregon this year to outlaw most civil disobedience against logging operations.Polluters Stand With ALEC
Over the past year-and-a-half, at least 49 global corporations have dropped their ALEC membership -- including companies like Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and Amazon -- but oil and energy companies have stood by ALEC.
"Despite its terrible reputation, ALEC is still valued by polluting companies like ExxonMobil, Duke Energy and Koch Industries, which finance and help craft ALEC's state policies to smother competition from clean energy industries and offer handouts to fossil fuel companies at every turn," says Greenpeace's Gibson.
"ALEC's guise of 'free market environmentalism' is just a code word for its real mission in our states' legislatures: to allow dirty energy companies to pollute as much as they want, to attack incentives for clean energy competitors and to secure government handouts to oil, gas and coal interests," Gibson says. "That's not a free market."
View the full list of 2013 bills from the ALEC Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force bils here.