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August 15 2013

19:19

ALEC Must Die

ALEC seeks to thwart open democracy and progress on clean energy and climate actionThere is a sinister force that is corrupting American politics by giving the most environmentally destructive elements of Big Business significant control over state legislatures. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) turns 40 this year. This organization is composed of large corporations and state lawmakers. They draft environmentally harmful model laws that have been adopted in state legislatures across the country.

ALEC describes itself as “nonpartisan public-private partnership” and is registered as a not for profit organization. While the organization enjoys 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, many groups see it as little more than a front for one of the most powerful and influential lobby groups in America.

The threat to America’s democracy from ALEC should not be underestimated as this is a well-funded and well-coordinated organization that has a proven track record of successfully manipulating state legislatures.

According to a new report from the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), ALEC continues to hold sway over statehouses across the country. In total, CMD identified 466 ALEC bills that were introduced in state legislatures during the first seven months of 2013. At least eighty-four of these measures have become law.

As reviewed in PR Watch, ALEC’s real mission in state legislatures is, “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,” says Connor Gibson, a Research Associate at Greenpeace.

Fossil fuel lobby

One of the most egregious threats to the public interest comes from the fossil fuel industry’s involvement with ALEC. “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.

Corporate sponsors of ALEC include the leaders of the fossil fuel industry. Companies like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Duke Energy, Peabody Energy, BP, Shell, Chevron, TransCanada and American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, as well as industry trade associations and large corporate foundations provide almost all of ALEC’s funding.

ALEC’s goals are clear, they seek to provide financial rewards and protections to the companies that they work with.

According to Calvin Sloan, a legislative researcher with People for the American Way, corporations pay $50,000 each for full membership in ALEC. The purpose of the ALEC meetings is to instruct lawmakers on policy initiatives, which according to Sloan is “a fossil fuels-funded agenda.”

“They [ALEC] have participating corporations like fossil fuel companies drafting legislation that benefits those corporations directly, and then can get that legislation introduced in 50 states within a year,” Sloan said. “It’s part of an overall framework of corporations exerting their will and agenda upon the people.”

ALEC supports some of the most destructive fossil fuel legislation ever tabled including bills supporting coal, fracking and the Keystone XL Pipeline project.  It should come as no surprise that TransCanada Corp., the company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline, is also a member of ALEC. The company even sponsored an expense-paid trip called “ALEC academy” for nine ALEC-member state legislators. Following the trip, some of those in attendance introduced resolutions backing the pipeline in their state legislatures.

According to CMD, 77 ALEC bills promoting fossil fuels and undermining environmental protections were introduced in 34 states in 2013. At least seventeen of these measures have become law.

Climate change denial

ALEC’s activities extend beyond support for fossil fuel interests and encompass climate change misinformation. The Environmental Literacy Improvement Act which passed in at least four states, teaches children that climate change is a “controversial theory.” (The truth is that with 98 percent support, there are few theories that have garnered more support from scientists than anthropogenic climate change).

ALEC is a leading organization that actively denies the veracity of anthropogenic climate change and opposes limits on climate change causing emissions. At the 2013 meeting of ALEC, climate change was one of the items on the agenda.

One of the speakers at this year’s ALEC meeting was Joe Bastardi, he is a leading climate change denier and television weather forecaster who frequently comments on Fox News. He has called human-caused global warming an “obvious fraud.”  This year, Bastardi was the speaker at a plenary breakfast meeting misleadingly titled “A Thoughtful Approach to Climate Science.” In 2011, he spoke about “The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2″ at ALEC’s annual meeting.

As reported in a May 2013 Forbes article, Bastardi says that “blaming turbulent weather on global warming is extreme nonsense.” While many have speculated as to whether he is willfully ignorant, willful, or just plain ignorant, as a meteorologist Bastardi should know better.

Opposition to renewable energy

ALEC does not only work in support of dirty hydrocarbons, it also is working to snuff out renewable energy. “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 Gibson.

Through legislation called the Electricity Freedom Act, ALEC sought to prevent states from requiring energy companies to increase electricity production from renewable energy sources. Because the Electricity Freedom Act failed to gain the support of state legislatures, ALEC is modifying its plan of attack against renewable energy standards. At its August 2013 meeting, ALEC introduced a bill called the Market Power Renewables Act, which seeks to undermine the Renewable Portfolio Standard or RPS.

As explained by PR Watch, this legislation “would phase-out a state’s RPS 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.”

Opposition to emissions reduction

ALEC has drafted laws that seek to oppose state efforts to reduce emissions. This includes a model bill titled, “State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives”, which opposes limiting climate change causing carbon emissions.

ALEC bills have not only opposed efforts from state agencies to regulate pollution, they even tried to stop the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

In essence, ALEC’s goal is to undermine emissions reduction efforts and to continue our reliance on fossil fuels. Resistance to limiting atmospheric CO2 represents a serious threat to global health as it is widely understood that failure to reign in carbon emissions will have catastrophic consequences.

Control of water, land and information

An ALEC bill titled “Environmental Services Public-Private Partnership Act” would give for-profit companies control over wastewater treatment and drinking water. Another ALEC law titled “Disposal and Taxation of Public Lands Act” would give states access to resources in federal lands that are protected as wilderness preserves.

In addition to promoting anti-environmental bills, and seeking control over resources, they also craft legislation to control information and help industry escape public accountability. ALEC’s Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act would quash the First Amendment rights of reporters, investigators and videographers by making it harder for them to document issues associated with food safety and animal cruelty.  This is similar to Utah’s ag-gag law of 2012, which led to charges against a young woman named Amy Meyer, who filmed the outside of a slaughterhouse from public land. This ALEC model bill could also criminalize environmental civil disobedience.

Click here to view the full list of 2013 bills from the ALEC Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force bills.

Growing resistance

The American public is increasingly aware of ALEC’s activities. As ALEC gathered for its 40th annual meeting in Chicago on August 7, they were met by protesters who marched outside the Palmer House Hotel where the meeting was held. The thousands who demonstrated included environmentalists, union members, civil rights activists, and social justice campaigners. Although this was not the first protest against ALEC, it was the largest to date.

Groundbreaking news coverage has helped to expose ALEC. Some of the most inclusive coverage of ALEC was provided by the CMD in the 2011 piece titled “ALEC Exposed.” Another was a documentary from Bill Moyers & Company titled “United States of ALEC.

One of the ways that ALEC has managed to wield so much power is by virtue of the fact that they have always functioned in the shadows. However, people are increasingly coming to terms with the nefarious ways in which ALEC threatens democracy and efforts to combat climate change.

The normally clandestine activities of ALEC are no longer hidden under a blanket of secrecy. Companies are increasingly understanding that involvement with ALEC is a PR liability.  Already, there have been a number of big multinationals that have withdrawn from the organization. Over the past year-and-a-half, almost 50 global corporations have dropped their ALEC membership and national campaigns are encouraging others to abandon ALEC.

After four decades of covert operations, ALEC is starting to feel the pressure from public scrutiny. Although ongoing resistance can be expected from the fossil fuel industry, public awareness can divest ALEC of its influence over state legislatures.

Shinning a spotlight on ALEC’s activities will kill the succubus that is draining the lifeblood of America’s democracy.
——————-
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Main image credit: DonkeyHotey, courtesy flickr
Featured image credit: Light Bridgading, courtesy flickr

 

The post ALEC Must Die appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

August 29 2012

23:49

Coalition Calls On Duke Energy To Dump American Legislative Exchange Council

A coalition of environmental, civil rights and democracy reform groups today called upon Duke Energy to join the 38 other companies that have left the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. In their letter sent to Duke CEO Jim Rogers this morning, the coalition requests that Duke Energy "disassociate and stop funding ALEC immediately."

"We collectively call upon Duke Energy to drop all financial and staff support to ALEC due not only to their role in blocking clean energy implementation and solutions to global warming, but due to their direct attacks on democracy and our civil rights."

As Greenpeace's Connor Gibson points out in his blog about the effort,

"Duke Energy has distinguished itself from other polluters with rhetorical commitments to tackling global warming and implementing clean energy, but stops short of meaningful action. By dumping ALEC, Duke would take a step in the right direction toward the potential it has to become a cleaner energy company."
  

Here is the full-text of the letter to Jim Rogers:


    Dear Mr. Rogers,

    We, the undersigned, a coalition of environmental, civil rights, and democracy reform groups are writing to express our concern for the extensive support provided by Duke Energy to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and request Duke Energy disassociate and stop funding ALEC immediately.

    ALEC is not only responsible for drafting model state laws attacking renewable energy programs and climate policies, it is also intentionally crafting and supporting Voter ID bills and other legislation designed to suppress people from voting and participating in our democracy. We are concerned about this fundamental attack on our democracy and civil rights, and Duke Energy’s support for it.

    Duke Energy has repeatedly stated concern over climate change, yet is participating in ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, which includes notorious climate skeptics like the Heartland Institute and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (which we understand Duke Energy disassociated from in 2009 due to its role in obstructing national climate policy). In direct opposition to Duke Energy’s position on climate, ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force continues to advance legislative efforts that attempt to deny the realities of climate change.

    ALEC more broadly demonstrates an attack against state action on climate change and renewable energy, promoting laws and resolutions that undermine state’s abilities to address climate change and expand clean energy. While Jim Rogers has called for the US to “wean [itself] from the use of foreign oil,”[viii] Duke works alongside multinational oil companies like ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Chevron within ALEC, all of which are known for their heavy obstruction of U.S. climate and clean energy policies.

    Perhaps most alarmingly, ALEC is spearheading attacks on our democracy and civil rights, promoting Voter ID legislation and other bills intended to make it more difficult for people to vote and participate in our democracy. These bills will most dramatically hit young people, people of color and poor people, suppressing them and their ability to vote.

    We collectively call upon Duke Energy to drop all financial and staff support to ALEC due not only to their role in blocking clean energy implementation and solutions to global warming, but due to their direct attacks on democracy and our civil rights.

    We look forward to a quick response and would be happy to provide any clarification or additional resources informing our questions, if needed.

    Sincerely,

    Energy Action Coalition
    Greenpeace
    Common Cause
    Center for Media & Democracy
    CREDO Action
    Public Citizen
    Friends of the Earth
    Progressive Change Campaign Committee
    Oil Change International
    Southern Energy Network
    Checks & Balances Project

 

August 02 2012

20:09

What To Expect When You’re Electing: Mitt Romney’s Energy Advisors

In the last few months, the press has been drawing a lot of parallels between presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former Republican President George W. Bush. And they have plenty of reasons for doing so. Romney has already tapped many of the same Bush economic and foreign policy advisers, and rumors were swirling earlier this year that Romney would tap Bush’s energy advisers as well.

As it turns out, those rumors are true.

Climate Progress has compiled a list of people who have been tapped, or will likely be tapped, by Romney for his energy team. The roster is a virtual “Dream Team” of dirty energy industry representatives from the coal industry, the shale gas industry, the oil industry, mountaintop removal mining companies, and lobbyists - all of whom were close advisers and friends of George W. Bush.

The most terrifying name on the list is American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard. Climate Progress points out that Gerard has been a longtime supporter of Romney, and that Romney considers Gerard a close, personal friend. Gerard’s stated goals, goals that we have to assume he’ll pressure Romney to fulfill, include placing an oil lobbyist in every district in America, opening up all federal lands for oil drilling, and removing many existing safety regulations.


The pick for Romney’s chief energy adviser is Harold Hamm, the head of oil-shale company Continental Resources. As the 78th richest man in the world, Hamm already has a significant amount of power, but being a chief adviser to the President of the United States would give him all the power he needs. His top priority, and the priority he says a Romney administration would approve immediately, is the Keystone XL pipeline, which would provide a gigantic financial benefit for Hamm.

Then we have Tom Farrell from the coal industry, a Romney campaign adviser, who wants to roll back the Clean Air Act and restrict the EPA from regulating harmful mercury emissions.

David Wilkins, a tar sands lobbyist, handles Canadian oil issues for the Romney campaign. He is also a card-carrying member of ALEC, who has worked to create special legal loopholes for lobbyists to push anti-environmental bills.

Rounding out the team are lobbyists Linda Stuntz, Jeffrey Holmstead, Greg Mankiw, and Jim Talent, all working on behalf of sectors within the dirty energy industry. Collectively, they have pushed for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, opening federal lands to drilling (including offshore drilling in protected areas), and reducing pollution controls and taking away what little power the EPA has left to wield.

Romney has already proposed plans that would greatly benefit the industries from which his advisers came from, including an expansion of the oil industry tax breaks and subsidies, effectively raising the annual giveaway to about $8 billion a year (up from an estimated $4 billion a year). His tax break plan would give another $2.3 billion to the top five oil companies alone.

On top of that tax giveaway, Romney has also proposed a plan that would exempt income made overseas from U.S. taxes, which would be an enormous boon to the oil industry. Last year alone, Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips made a combined $76 billion overseas, and under Romney’s plan, they could bring that money back into the U.S. without having to pay a dime in taxes.

And at the same time he’s proposing these huge gifts to the dirty energy industry, he’s also touting a plan that would strip tax credits away from renewable energy projects, specifically the production tax credit for wind energy. Not only would this cripple that renewable energy sector, it would also cost the U.S. an estimated 37,000 jobs that are funded by that tax credit.

As I pointed out in part 2 of this series, Romney’s environmental policies as governor of Massachusetts were surprisingly progressive. But when he made the decision to run for national office, his policies fell more in line with the far right of the Republican Party, not unlike Senator John McCain during his bid for the Republican nomination. The fact that Romney is looking to the same energy advisers that served President Bush shows that his policies will likely shift even further, becoming almost indistinguishable from those of the dirty energy industry.

History is the best lesson for the future, and going forward, Mitt Romney needs to remember one very important number: 22. That was the percent of the American population that approved of George W. Bush when he left office, the lowest approval rating upon leaving office in the history of American presidential polling. If Romney chooses the same path as Bush, he could easily be looking at similar poll numbers in the very near future.

July 28 2012

13:00

The Real Train Wreck: ALEC and "Other ALECs" Attack EPA Regulations

When business-friendly bills and resolutions spread like wildfire in statehouses nationwide calling for something as far-fetched as a halt to EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, ALEC is always a safe bet for a good place to look for their origin.

In the midst of hosting its 39th Annual Meeting this week in Salt Lake City, Utah, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is appropriately described as an ideologically conservative "corporate bill mill" by the Center for Media and Democracy, the overseer of the ALEC Exposed project. 98 percent of ALEC's funding comes from corporations, according to CMD**.

ALEC's meetings bring together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to schmooze and then vote on what it calls "model bills." Lobbyists, as CMD explains, have a "voice and a vote in shaping policy." In short, they have de facto veto power over whether the prospective bills they present at these conferences become "models" that will be distributed to the offices of politicians in statehouses nationwide.

For a concise version of how ALEC operates, see the brand new video below by Mark Fiore.

 
ALEC Rock

ALEC, though, isn't the only group singing this tune.

As it turns out, one of the "Other ALECs," or a group that operates in a similar manner to ALEC, will be hosting its conference in the immediate aftermath of ALEC's conference: the Council of State Government's (CSG) regional offshoot, the Southern Leadership Conference (SLC).

Like ALEC, CSG produces its own "model bills," which it calls "Suggested State Legislation" (SSL). SSL is enacted via an "up or down" vote manner at CSG's national meetings. This process mirrors that of its cousin ALEC, with corporate lobbyists also able to vote in closed door meetings.

Some key differences between CSG and ALEC: the former is bipartisan in nature, while the latter is Republican Party-centric; CSG has a far larger budget, due to the fact that 43 percent of its funding comes from taxpayer contributions; and CSG is not explicitly ideological in nature because it was founded as a trade association for state legislators (not as a corporate front group like ALEC, although CSG is now heavily influenced by the same forces).

SLC's annual meeting will be held in Charleston, West Virginia from July 28-31.

TruthOut's ongoing "Other ALECs Exposed" series (written by yours truly) digs deep into the machinations of "Other ALEC"-like groups.

One of the key threads tying these two particular groups together is their agreement on derailing what they describe as "job-killing" EPA greenhouse gas emissions regulations. ALEC has referred to these sensible standards on multiple occassions as a "Regulatory Trainwreck."

ALEC, SLC and EPA "Regulatory Trainwreck" Resolutions

ALEC's "Regulatory Trainwreck" Resolution

ALEC has two model bills on the books that call for EPA regulations to be eliminated: the State Regulatory Responsibility Act and the Resolution Opposing EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck. Essentially clones, the two bills passed nearly a decade apart from one another, the former in 2000, the latter in 2011.

ALEC's description of EPA regulations reads like the apocolypse is looming.

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun a war on the American standard of living," it wrote. "During the past couple of years, the Agency has undertaken the most expansive regulatory assault in history on the production and distribution of affordable and reliable energy…These regulations are causing the shutdown of power plants across the nation, forcing electricity generation off of coal, destroying jobs, raising energy costs, and decreasing reliability."  

Former CMD reporter Jill Richardson wrote in a July 2011 story that the concept behind the resolution originated at ALEC's December 2010 policy summit. Richardson explained,

The policy summit included a session led by Peter Glaser of Troutman Sanders LLP law firm in which Glaser, an attorney who represents electric utility, mining and other energy industry companies and associations on environmental regulation, specifically in the area of air quality and global climate change, told the crowd that "EPA's regulatory trainwreck" is "a term that's now in common use around town. I think everybody should become familiar with it." (See the video here.) Along with the presentations, ALEC published a report called "EPA's Regulatory Trainwreck: Strategies for State Legislators" and provided "Legislation to Consider" on its site, RegulatoryTrainwreck.com. For the public, they created the website StopTheTrainwreck.com.

The Resolution calls for the EPA to stop regulating greenhouse gases for the next two years as a "jobs creation" mechanism.

After the midterm election ransacking, in which the GOP won large majorities in state legislatures nationwide, it was off to the races for "Regulatory Train Wreck" resolutions to pass around the country, and pass they did. 

The "Regulatory Trainwreck" resolution, according to ALEC, has been introduced in an astounding 34 states, passing in 13, as of a June 2011 press release.

This assault conducted by ALEC and its corporate backers is merely the tip of the iceberg. ALEC itself boasts,

There are 27 groups of state and local officials that opposerecent EPA action, including tens of thousands of state legislators, utility commissioners, agricultural department officials, foresters, drinking water administrators, fish and wildlife agencies, solid waste management officials, state wetland managers, mayors, counties, and cities.

One of these 27 groups included CSG's Southern Leadership Conference.

SLC Adopts the "Regulatory Train Wreck" Resolution as its Own

On July 19, 2011, the SLC adopted the ALEC Regulatory Train Wreck resolution at its 65th Annual Meeting in Memphis, TN. The Resolution called for, among other things, to

  1. "Adopt legislation prohibiting the EPA from further regulating greenhouse gas emissions for the next 24 months, including, if necessary, defunding the EPA greenhouse gas regulatory activity;"
  2. "Impose a moratorium on the promulgation of any new air quality regulation by the EPA, including, if necessary,the defunding of the EPA air quality regulatory activities, except to address an imminent health or environmental emergency, for a period of at least 24 months;"  

In other words, this is a copycat of the ALEC Resolution. SLC, like ALEC, chocks it up to the false dichotomy of regulation vs. jobs, and regulations "killing jobs." As DeSmogBlog has written, the opposite is actually the case.

The resolution's opening paragraph is a case in point. It reads,

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed, or is in the process of proposing, numerous regulations regarding air quality and regulation of greenhouse gases that likely will have major effects on Southern state economies, impacting businesses, manufacturing industries and, in turn, job creation and U.S. competitiveness in world markets."

Lobbyists representing the Nuclear Energy Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), Southern States Energy Board (a lobbying tour de force, which has a whole host of dirty energy clients in the oil, gas, and nuclear power sectors), Piedmont Natural Gas, Spectra Energy, and Southern Company were all in attendance to vote on this resolution. 

Dirty energy sponsors of the 2011 SLC meeting included the likes of Spectra, General Electric, ACCCE, Chevron, Honeywell, Piedmont Natural Gas, BP, Southern Company, and Atmos Energy, to name several.

If adopted at a federal level, this resolution would, of course, make all of these companies a hefty fortune.  

ALEC's Bifurcated Approach: Strip Federal Regs, Attack Local Democracy

Oil, gas, nuclear and utility corporations that fund ALEC and groups like CSG would like nothing more than to see EPA regulations disintegrate into thin air.

Part one of DeSmog's investigation on ALEC's dirty energy agenda showed that, along with pushing for the elimination of EPA regulations, it has also succeeded in promulgating legislation that would eliminate local democracy as we know it, including altering key standards such as zoning rights - a Big Business giveaway of epic proportions.

This would mean only extremely underfunded and understaffed state regulatory agencies like the New York Department of Environmental Conservation would have any oversight on environmental regulatory issues. 

If anything is clear, it's this: statehouses have become one of Big Business' favorite domiciles for pushing its "Corporate Playbook." 

Image CreditLane V. Erickson ShutterStock

(**Full Disclosure: Steve Horn is a former employee of CMD and worked on the ALECExposed project)

July 27 2012

10:30

Exposed: Pennsylvania Act 13 Overturned by Supreme Court, Originally an ALEC Model Bill

On July 26, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled PA Act 13 unconstitutional. The bill would have stripped away local zoning laws, eliminated the legal concept of a Home Rule Charter, limited private property rights, and in the process, completely disempowered town, city, municipal and county governments, particularly when it comes to shale gas development.

The Court ruled that Act 13 "…violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications – irrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise."

Act 13 — pejoratively referred to as "the Nation's Worst Corporate Giveaway" by AlterNet reporter Steven Rosenfeld — would have ended local democracy as we know it in Pennsylvania.

"It’s absolutely crushing of local self-government," Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), told Rosenfeld. "It’s a complete capitulation of the rights of the people and their right to self-government. They are handing it over to the industry to let them govern us. It is the corporate state. That is how we look at it."

Where could the idea for such a bill come from in the first place? Rosenfeld pointed to the oil and gas industry in his piece.

That's half of the answer. Pennsylvania is the epicenter of the ongoing fracking boom in the United States, and by and large, is a state seemingly bought off by the oil and gas industry.

The other half of the question left unanswered, though, is who do oil and gas industry lobbyists feed anti-democratic, state-level legislation to?

The answer, in a word: ALEC.

PA Act 13, Originally an ALEC Model Bill 

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is in the midst of hosting its 39th Annual Meeting this week in Salt Lake City, Utah. ALEC is appropriately described as an ideologically conservative, Republican Party-centric "corporate bill mill" by the Center for Media and Democracy, the overseer of the ALEC Exposed project. 98 percent of ALEC's funding comes from corporations, according to CMD**.

ALEC's meetings bring together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to schmooze, and then vote on what it calls "model bills." Lobbyists have a "voice and a vote in shaping policy," CMD explains. They have de facto veto power over whether their prospective bills become "models" that will be distributed to the offices of politicians in statehouses nationwide.

A close examination suggests that an ALEC model bill is quite similar to the recently overturned Act 13. 

It is likely modeled after and inspired by an ALEC bill titled, "An Act Granting the Authority of Rural Counties to Transition to Decentralized Land Use Regulation." This Act was passed by ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force at its Annual Meeting in August 2010 in San Diego, CA

The model bill opens by saying that "…the planning and zoning authority granted to rural counties may encourage land use regulation which is overly centralized, intrusive and politicized." The model bill's central purpose is to "grant rural counties the legal authority to abandon their planning and zoning authority in order to transition to decentralized land use regulation…"

The key legal substance of the bill reads, "The local law shall require the county to repeal or modify any land use restriction stemming from the county’s exercise of its planning or zoning authority, which prohibits or conditionally restricts the peaceful or highest and best uses of private property…"

In short, like Act 13, this ALEC model bill turns local democractic protections on their head. Act 13, to be fair, is a far meatier bill, running 174 pages in length. What likely happened: Pennsylvania legislators and the oil and gas industry lobbyists they serve took the key concepts found in ALEC's bill, ran with them, and made an even more extreme and specific piece of legislation to strip away Pennsylvania citizens' rights.

There were many shale gas industry lobbyists and those affiliated with like-minded think-tanks in the house for the Dec. 2010 San Diego Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting where this prospective ALEC model bill became an official ALEC model bill. They included Daren Bakst of the John Locke Foundation (heavily funded by the Kochs), Russel Harding of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (also heavily funded by the Koch Family Fortune), Kathleen Hartnett White of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (again, heavily funded by the Kochs), Mike McGraw of Occidental Petroleum, and Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center (a think tank that sits under the umbrella of the Koch Foundation-funded State Policy Network).

A Model That's Been Passed and Proposed Elsewhere

The Act Granting the Authority of Rural Counties to Transition to Decentralized Land Use Regulation model bill has made a tour to statehouses nationwide, popping up in Ohio, Idaho, Colorado, and Texas. The model passed in some states, while failing to pass in others.

Here is a rundown of similar bills that DeSmogBlog has identified so far:

Ohio HB 278

Long before the ALEC model bill was enacted in 2010, Ohio passed a similar bill in 2004, HB 278, which gives exclusive well-permitting, zoning, and regulatory authority to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Ohio is home to the Utica Shale basin.

Mirroring ALEC's model, HB 278 gives the "…Division of Mineral Resources Management in the Department of Natural Resources…exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, location, and spacing of oil and gas wells in the state.."

Could it be that the ALEC model bill was actually inspired by HB 278? It's very possible, based on recent history.

As was the case with ALEC's hydraulic fracturing chemical fluid "disclosure" model bill (actually rife with loopholes ensuring chemicals will never be disclosed), ALEC adopted legislation passed in the Texas state legislature as its own at its December 2011 conference.

Idaho HB 464 

Idaho's House of Representatives passed HB 464 in February 2012 in a 54-13-3 roll call vote. A month later, the bill passed in the Senate in a 24-10-1 roll call vote. Days later, Republican Gov. Butch Otter signed the bill into law.

Key language from HB 464 reads

It is declared to be in the public interest…to provide for uniformity and consistency in the regulation of the production of oil and gas throughout the state of Idaho…[,] to authorize and to provide for the operations and development of oil and gas properties in such a manner that a greater ultimate recovery of oil and gas may be obtained.  (Snip)

It is the intent of the legislature to occupy the field of the regulation of oil and gas exploration and production with the limited exception of the exercise of planning and zoning authority granted cities and counties…

The Democratic Party State Senate Minority Office was outraged about the bill's passage. 

"[HB] 464 establishes Idaho law governing oil and gas exploration and development including limits to local control over the location of wells, drilling processes, water rights and the injection of waste materials into the ground," reads a press release by the Idaho State Senate Minority Office. "[HB 464] preempts local land-use planning statute dating back to 1975. Counties will have little input in the permitting process whereby well sites are selected (or restricted) and no role in planning and zoning."

Sound familiar? Like PA Act 13 and the ALEC model? It should.

Full-scale fracking has yet to take place in Idaho, though the race is on, with Idahoans signing more and more leases with each passing day. Thanks to gas industry lobbyists' use of ALEC's model bill process, the industry will have far fewer hurdles to clear in the state when the race begins. 

Colorado SB 88

The Demoratic Party-controlled Colorado State Senate struck down an ALEC copycat bill, SB 88, in February 2012.

The Bill Summary portion of SB 88 explains the bill concisely, mirroring, once again, PA Act 13 and the ALEC Model Bill: "…the Colorado oil and gas conservation commission has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate oil and gas operations, and local regulation of oil and gas operations is preempted by state law."

Colorado sits atop the Niobrara Shale basin. Like Pennsylvania, it has seen many cities successfully move to ban fracking, making the goal of a bill of this nature all the more obvious.

From Colorado Springs to Boulder County, cities and counties across Colorado have passed measures against fracking,” Sam Schabacker of Food and Water Watch told the Colorado Independent at the time SB 88 was struck down. “This bill is an attempt by the oil and gas industry to strip local governments of what little power they have to protect their citizens and water resources from the harms posed by fracking.” 

Far from a completed debate, as covered in a June 2012 follow-up story by the Colorado Independent, things are just getting underway on this one in The Centennial State.  

I don’t know where it goes from here. I suspect there is a happy medium and there is a compromise that can be reached,” Democratic Party State Senate President Brandon Shaffer told the Independent. “I also suspect next year additional legislation will come forward on both sides of the spectrum. Ultimately I think the determination will be made based on the composition of each of the chambers. If the Democrats are in control of the House and Senate, there will be more emphasis on local control.”  

Former Sen. Mike Kopp (R) was one of the public sector attendees at the Dec. 2010 Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting where the ALEC model bill passed. 

Texas HB 3105 and SB 875

In May 2011, TX SB 875 passed almost unanimously. The bill essentially calls for the elimination, in one fell swoop, of the common law of private nuisance in Texas.

SB 875's key operative paragraph explains,

[Entities] subject to an administrative, civil, or criminal action brought under this chapter for nuisance or trespass arising from greenhouse gas emissions [have] an affirmative defense to that action if the person's actions that resulted in the alleged nuisance or trespass were authorized by a rule, permit, order, license, certificate, registration, approval, or other form of authorization issued by the commission or the federal government or an agency of the federal government…

Texas — home to the Barnett Shale basin and the Eagle Ford Shale basin — played a dirty trick here, but what else would one expect from the government of a Petro State?

The ALEC model bill calls for a transition from centralized power by local governments to individual property rights under the common law of private nuisance, a civil suit that allows those whose private property has been damaged to file a legal complaint with proper authorities. Now, under the dictates of SB 875, even these rights have been eviscerated.

Perhaps Texas exemplifies a realization of the oil and gas industries' ideal world: legal rights for no one except themselves.

"This [bill allows] the willful trespass onto private property of chemicals and or nuisances, thus destroying the peaceful enjoyment of private property, which someone may have put their life savings into," Calvin Tillman, former Mayor of Dish, Texas and one of the stars of Josh Fox's Academy Award-nominated documentary film, "Gasland," wrote in a letter. "Therefore, private citizens would have no protection for their private property if this amendment was added."

HB 3105's key language, meanwhile, makes the following illicit (emphases mine): 

the adoption or issuance of an ordinance, rule, regulatory requirement, resolution, policy, guideline, or similar measure…by a municipality that..has effect in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality, excluding annexation, and that enacts or enforces an ordinance, rule, regulation, or plan that does not impose identical requirements or restrictions in the entire extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality…or damages, destroys, impairs, or prohibits development of a mineral interest

This bill, unlike SB 875, never passed, though if it did, it would do basically the same thing as PA Act 13 and the ALEC model. If it ever does pass, however, it would mean that Texans would have literally no legal standing to sue the oil and gas industry for wrongdoing in their state.

ALEC's Bifurcated Attack: Erode Local Democracy, Strip Federal Regs,

Coming full circle, though PA Act 13 was struck down, for now, as constitutional, that doesn't necessarily mean ALEC copycat versions like it won't start popping up in other statehouses nationwide. 

Sleep on this for awhile. There's more to come.

Part two of DeSmog's investigation on ALEC's dirty energy agenda will show that, along with pushing for the erosion of local democracy as we know it today, ALEC has also succeeded in promulgating legislation that would eliminate Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions - another Big Business giveaway of epic proportions.

If anything is clear, it's this: statehouses have become a favorite clearinghouse for polluters to install the "Corporate Playbook" in place of democracy.

Stay tuned for Part Two of DeSmog's investigation, coming soon.

(**Full Disclosure: Steve Horn is a former employee of CMD and worked on the ALEC Exposed project)

Image Credit: Center for Media and Democracy | ALEC Exposed

January 26 2012

08:15

ALEC Model Bill Behind Push To Require Climate Denial Instruction In Schools

On January 16, the Los Angeles Times revealed that anti-science bills have been popping up over the past several years in statehouses across the U.S., mandating the teaching of climate change denial or "skepticism" as a credible "theoretical alternative" to human caused climate change came.

The L.A. Times' Neela Banerjee explained,

"Texas and Louisiana have introduced education standards that require educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah passed resolutions denying climate change. Tennessee and Oklahoma also have introduced legislation to give climate change skeptics a place in the classroom."

What the excellent Times coverage missed is that key language in these anti-science bills all eminated from a single source: the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

ALEC Exposed: No, Not Alec Baldwin* 

In summer 2011, "ALEC Exposed," a project of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD)**, taught those alarmed about the power that corporations wield in the American political sphere an important lesson: when bills with a similar DNA pop up in various statehouses nationwide, it's no coincidence. 

Explaining the nature and origins of the project, CMD wrote, "[CMD] unveiled a trove of over 800 'model' bills and resolutions secretly voted on by corporations and politicians through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These bills reveal the corporate collaboration reshaping our democracy, state by state."

CMD continued, "Before our publication of this trove of bills, it has been difficult to trace the numerous controversial and extreme provisions popping up in legislatures across the country directly to ALEC and its corporate underwriters."

CMD explained that ALEC conducts its operations in the most shadowy of manners (emphases mine):

"Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have membership in ALECCorporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve 'model' billsCorporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills."

So, what is the name of the "model bill" this time around?

The Trojan Horse: The "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act"

The Trojan Horse in this case is an Orwellian titled model bill, the "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act."[PDF]

The bill was adopted by ALEC's Natural Resources Task Force, today known as the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force, at ALEC's Spring Task Force Summit on May 5, 2000 — it was then approved by the full ALEC Board of Directors in June of 2000.

The bill's opening clause reads [PDF], "The purpose of this act is to enhance and improve the environmental literacy of students and citizens in the state by requiring that all environmental education programs and activities conducted by schools, universities, and agencies shall…"

Among other things, the bill stipulates that schools, universities and agencies should, 

  • "Provide a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner."
  • "Provide instruction in critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific and economic controversies." 
  • "Be presented in language appropriate for education rather than for propagandizing."
  • "Encourage students to explore different perspectives and form their own opinions."
  • "Encourage an atmosphere of respect for different opinions and open-mindedness to new ideas."
  • "Not be designed to change student behavior, attitudes or values." 
  • "Not include instruction in political action skills nor encourage political action activities."

How does this language compare with legislation passed or proposed in various states? A review is in order.

ALEC Bills: From Model to Reality

The "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act," or at minimum, the crucial language found within it, has been proposed in seven states, and passed in three states, Louisiana in 2008, Texas in 2009 and South Dakota in 2010.

Louisiana

In 2008, the Louisiana state legislature introduced and eventually passed S.B. 733, the Louisiana Science and Education Act. The bill was originally sponsored by four members of the Senate, three of whom are current dues paying members of ALEC: Sen. Ben Wayne Nevers, Sr. (D-12); Sen. Neil Riser (R-32); and Sen. Francis Thompson (D-34).

The three ALEC members received a total of $9,514 from the oil and gas industry in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles in campaign money combined, and the four of them together received $13,814 in campaign cash from the oil and gas industry, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics' FollowTheMoney.org.

ALEC Model vs. S.B. 733

The Louisiana bill calls for, "an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including…global warming…" The bill also calls for "instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner."

This bill mirrors the provisions of the ALEC bill which say that teachers should "provide instruction in critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific…controversies," and mandates that "balanced and objective environmental education materials and programs will…be used."

South Dakota

In 2010, the South Dakota Legislative Assembly passed House Concurrent Resolution 1009, a non-binding resolution introduced by 33 members of the House of Representatives and 6 members of the Senate, 39 in total, and 12 of whom are current members of ALEC. The bill calls for "balanced teaching of global warming in the public schools of South Dakota."

The 12 members of ALEC who sponsored HCR 1009 received $1,900 from the oil and gas industry in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles combined, according to FollowTheMoney.org.

The bill mirrors the provision of the ALEC bill that call for the providing of "a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner."

Kentucky

In 2010, the Kentucky state legislature proposed H.B. 397, the Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act, a bill that eventually failed to pass.

The bill was co-sponsored by two members of the Kentucky House of Representatives who were not members of ALEC, but one of whom, Tim Moore (R-26), took $3,000 from the oil and gas industry in the 2008 and 2010 campaign cycles combined, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

ALEC Model vs. HB 397

Two key provisions of the H.B. 397 "encourage local district teachers and administrators to foster an environment promoting objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories" and "allow teachers to use, as permitted by the local board of education, materials in addition to state-approved texts and instructional materials for discussion of scientific theories including…global warming…"

This bill mirrors major provisions of the ALEC model bill that say teachers should "provide instruction in critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific…controversies," and mandates that "balanced and objective environmental education materials and programs will…be used."

New Mexico

In 2011, ALEC member, Rep. Thomas A. Anderson, introduced H.B. 302. In the 2008 and 2010 campaign cycles, he raised $2,650, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics' campaign finance database.

ALEC Model vs. H.B. 302

H.B. 302 says that schools shall "not prohibit any teacher, when a controversial scientific topic is being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula, from informing students about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses pertaining to that topic." One "controversial scientific topic" listed is the "causes of climate change."

This bill mirrors the provisions of the ALEC model bill which call for teaching "a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner," teaching "different perspectives" to allow for students to "form their own opinions," and creating an "atmosphere of respect for different opinions and open-mindedness to new ideas."

Tennessee

Tennessee's House bill, H.B. 368, essentially a replica of the ALEC model bill, overwhelmly passed the House in April 2011, but its Senate-version cousin, S.B. 893, failed to pass. As the Los Angeles Times article makes clear, efforts to push the bill through are far from over.

Key clauses of that bill read,

  • "[T]eachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught."
  • "[P]ublic elementary and secondary schools…[should]…respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues." 

These excerpts match, almost to a "T," bullet points one, three and four of the ALEC model bill.  

Nine of the 24 co-sponsors of the H.B. 368 are ALEC members, according to CMD's ALEC Members database.

In addition, these nine ALEC member co-sponsors received $8,695 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry combined in the 2008 and 2010 campaign cycles, according to FollowTheMoney.org. The other 15 sponsors of the bill, while not members of ALEC, received $10,400 in their campaign cofffers in the 2008 and 2010 campaign cycles combined.

S.B. 893, on the other hand, was sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson (R-11), a recipient of $1,800 in oil and gas industry money in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles combined.

Translation: between the 25 of them, on top of a model bill handed to them by corporate oil and gas industry lobbyists, they were also furnished with $20,895 in campaign cash by these industries with the expectation to do their legislative bidding.

Oklahoma

Titled, the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act,” H.B. 1551 is also essentially a copycat of Tennessee's version of the ALEC model bill — it failed to pass. A Senate version of that bill, S.B. 320, was also proposed in 2009, but failed to pass through committee.

Key clauses of that bill read (emphases mine),

  • "[T]eachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught."
  • "[N]o student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories."

Notice how the first bullet is exactly the same in both the Tennessee and Oklahoma bills — also notice how similar bullet number two is in both language and substance in both states' bills.

Rep. Sally Kern (R-84), sponsor of H.B. 1551, is a member of ALEC, according to CMD. She received $12,335 from the oil and gas industry in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, in total, according to FollowTheMoney.org. Sen. Randy Brogdon (R-34), sponsor of S.B. 320, while not a member of ALEC, received $22,967 from the oil and gas industry while running and losing for Governor of Oklahoma in 2010, according to FollowTheMoney.org.

On the whole, sponsors and co-sponsors from the six states in which the ALEC bill was proposed were recipients of $44,409 in campaign money from the oil and gas industry, a miniscule down payment for some of the most lucrative corporations known in the history of mankind.

Texas

Texas, in this case, is a bit of a wild card. Rather than a bill proposed by a state legislature, in 2009, the Texas School Board passed an amendent calling for the "balanced" teaching of climate change, meaning both science and "skepticism."

The Austin Statesman explained,

"The State Board of Education…adopted standards on the teaching of global warming that appear to both question its existence and prod students to explore its implications.

Standards are used to guide textbook makers and teachers.

Language…instructed students to 'analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming,'"…

This provision mirrors and is likely inspired by the ALEC model bill provision on global warming, which suggested science teachers should "Provide a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner."

A Bill In the Corporate Polluter's Interest

The money paper trail for this ALEC model bill runs deep, to put it bluntly. 

When the ALEC model bill was adopted in 2000 by ALEC's Natural Resources Task Force, the head of that committee was Sandy Liddy Bourne, who after that stint, became Director of Legislation and Policy for ALEC. She is now with the Heartland Institute as vice-president for policy strategy. In Sandy Liddy Bourne's bio on the Heartland website, she boasts that "Under her leadership, 20 percent of ALEC model bills were enacted by one state or more, up from 11 percent." 

SourceWatch states that Liddy Bourne "…is the daughter of former Nixon aide and convicted Watergate criminal G. Gordon Liddy, who spent more than 52 months in prison for his part in the Watergate burglary…[and her] speech at the Heartland Institute's 2008 International Conference on Climate Change was titled, 'The Kyoto Legacy; The Progeny of a Carbon Cartel in the States."

The Heartland Institute was formerly heavily funded by ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, just like ALEC was at the time that Liddy Bourne's committee devised the "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act." These two corporations are infamous for their funding of climate change "skeptic" think tanks and front groups.  

Today, the corporate polluter members of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force include representatives from American Electric Power, the Fraser Institute, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Institute for Energy Research, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Heartland Institute, and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, to name several.

Getting Them While They're Young: A Cynical Maneuver 

In the United States, the politics of big-money backed disinformation campaigns have trumped climate science, and serves as the raison d'être for DeSmogBlog. Polluters with a financial interest in continuing to conduct business without any accountability for their global warming pollution have purposely sowed the seeds of confusion on an issue seen as completely uncontroversial among scientists.

Maneuvering to dupe schoolchildren is about as cynical as it gets. Neuroscience explains that young brains are like sponges, ready to soak in knowledge (and disinformation, for that matter), and thus, youth are an ideal target for the "merchants of doubt."

The corporations behind the writing and dissemination of this ALEC model bill, who are among the largest polluters in the world, would benefit handsomly from a legislative mandate to sow the seeds of confusion on climate science among schoolchildren.

Alas, at the very least, the identity of the Trojan Horse has been revealed: it's name is ALEC.

 

*Sorry Alec Baldwin, this isn't about you, please resume your Words With Friends. This ALEC is far more scandalous.

**Full Disclosure: At the time of the ALEC Exposed project's public release in mid-2011, Steve Horn was an employee of Center for Media and Democracy.

July 23 2011

19:24

Exxon and Koch Pay ALEC for Access to State Legislators

Corporations are circumventing lobby laws by purchasing direct access to the nation’s lawmakers, according to a recent Bloomberg investigative report. Through membership fees paid to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Washington D.C. based policy institute, corporate entities like Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries are playing an active role in shaping state legislation.

According to Bloomberg, Koch and Exxon are among energy companies that stand to benefit from a cross-country energy policy that they helped write. Both companies paid a participation fee between $3,000 and $10,000 to sit at a legislative drafting table, among policy authors and elected officials.

ALEC charges membership fees of up to $35,000 and levies additional costs if companies want to join in policy creation sessions. The resulting draft “model legislation” is then adopted by member officials who support its passage into law.

The process amounts to a legal loophole, through which corporations can influence public procedure without registering the activity as lobbying.

According to Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, “this is just another hidden way for corporations to buy their way into the legislative process.”

The alliance between lawmakers and some of the country’s most powerful corporate entities has elected representatives escorting industry issues through the political process. Companies like Exxon and Koch, who are generous campaign supporters, have direct access to legislators behind ALEC’s closed doors.

“It's an end-run around transparency and disclosure laws,” says former Democratic representative Jeremy Kalin. As paying members of ALEC, corporations are in effect “paying for an opportunity to connect directly with legislators” he says.

According to Bloomberg, ALEC’s internal financial structure is a guarded mystery, as is its confidential list of corporate and legislative members. Because ALEC is a tax-exempt organization it is not required to disclose industry funds. 

Bloomberg’s investigation uncovered internal documents that demonstrate a heavy reliance on corporate financing. Memberships for lawmakers are a meager $100 for two years, while companies can pay up to $100,000 for high-profile ‘sponsor’ positions and up to $35,000 for a seat at the drafting table. Companies can also sponsor events, like the one Exxon will pay $45,000 to host next month, to educate member politicians about unconventional gas.

“We try to provide our views on legislation to anyone who will listen, including legislators and non-governmental organizations,” says Alan Jeffers, Exxon spokesman.

There are currently more than 2000 state lawmaker and 300 private sector members of ALEC. There are 80 former ALEC members who currently represent their states in Congress.  

Not surprisingly, the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas reductions are emerging as a target for ALEC draft legislation, which is in part shaped by Exxon, Koch and other industry representatives. An ALEC report entitled “EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck: Strategies for State Legislators” encourages state officials to pressure Congress to stop the EPA “by any means necessary.” So far 13 states have implemented ALEC-style legislation.

ALEC spokesperson Raegan Weber says the organization is committed to supporting “good conservative policy” which, according to the company website, means the promotion of free markets, limited government, federalism and individual freedom.

The reduction of GHGs in the atmosphere, if managed by a federal agency like the EPA, would for ALEC amount to a corruption of these principles. “Our position on EPA regulations is that they’re usurping the legislative process,” says Weber, which is remarkably similar to how others would describe the activities of ALEC.

Image Credit: ThinkProgress

July 22 2011

12:15

Koch Brothers And ExxonMobil Join Forces To Fight RGGI With Copy-Paste State Legislation

As we’ve reported over and over again, the popular and successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and other regional climate agreements are under attack from polluters. Today, a bombshell report by Bloomberg News makes it undeniably clear who is leading the attack, and paints an ugly picture of collusion, influence, and state legislators deep in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry. 

The report shines a light on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which serves as a drafting board for industry-friendly state legislation and then subsequently as a sort of mixer for corporations and state politicians who are willing to accept financial favors to bring these copy-and-paste laws back to their home states.

Bloomberg reporter Alison Fitzpatrick 
writes:
The opportunity for corporations to become co-authors of state laws legally through ALEC covers a wide range of issues from energy to taxes to agriculture. The price for participation is an ALEC membership fee of as much as $25,000 -- and the few extra thousands to join one of the group’s legislative-writing task forces. Once the “model legislation” is complete, it’s up to ALEC’s legislator members to shepherd it into law.
Fitzpatrick calls out Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries as two companies whose handwriting (forget fingerprints) are all over the template legislation that forces states out of their regional climate agreements.
The process seems to work, at least to some degree. Within the past year, legistators in at least eight states have introduced provisions to leave their respective emissions reduction pacts. David Anderson, who writes the New Hampshire Primary 2012: Green blog about climate change and the 2012 election, first spotted the template. After doing some heroic digging, he found that in at least six of these states, the legislation introduced was literally copied-and-pasted from the template provided by ALEC. These states are Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington (all PDFs), and New Hampshire.

Anderson first spotted the language in the “findings” section of the New Hampshire bill. As he told Living on Earth: “It says ‘whereas there has been no credible economic analysis of the increasing cost of doing business in the state of,’ and then there’s a blank, so, in this case, they inserted the words, New Hampshire.”

When the bill was discussed in committee, Anderson reported this incredible exchange:

The bill’s lead sponsor, state Rep. Richard Barry (R), looked a bit like a dog caught with the family cat in its mouth when he was asked to explain the language at a public hearing; he nervously said that none of the bill’s sponsors had written this particular section, but stopped short of revealing ALEC as the source of the text. That didn’t sit well with Rep. James Garrity (R), chair of the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee, who later explained, “Our committee does not feel that editorials belong in laws.” The matter was resolved by dropping the ALEC text, and the amended bill went on to pass the House.

The language Anderson found in the New Hampshire bill is the same that Fitzpatrick identified (PDF) as the “eight-paragraph resolution,” that reads, in part, “there has been no credible economic analysis of the costs associated with carbon reduction mandates” and “a tremendous amount of economic growth would be sacrificed for a reduction in carbon emissions that would have no appreciable impact on global concentrations of carbon dioxide.”

Fitzpatrick reports that ALEC’s “model bills, which now total almost 1,000, are listed on its website, although their full texts can be called up only by members.” But the Center for Media and Democracy actually acquired the full texts of over 800 of the bills earlier this month, and posted them at ALECexposed.org.

ALEC has received at least $124,000 from the Exxon Mobil Foundation in dues and sponsorships, but that figure doesn’t include direct grants or gifts from the corporation itself. Greenpeace reveals that the Council has also received at least $408,000 from the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation since 1997.

This isn’t, of course, the first time we’ve seen Koch money directly influencing regional climate pacts.

Last month, Governor Chris Christie pulled New Jersey out of RGGI, stripping the ten state agreement of one of its key cornerstone partners. Next door in New York, Americans for Prosperity, a group whose ties to the Koch brothers are well established, sued the state for its continued commitment to RGGI.
So far, none of the legislative or alternative efforts to pull out of regional commitments have had great traction. New Jersey’s case was unique, as Christie was able to use a controversial executive order, but there's still a lengthy regulatory process to fully extricate the state from the pact, and Democratic leaders in the state senate and assembly are introducing new legislation to strip the governor of his authority over RGGI.

Despite
widespread public support in the Garden State, Christie, who doesn’t deny that humans are causing global warming, claimed that RGGI was "a failure and an ineffective approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” This claim has been widely and summarily dismissed by scores of economists, environmentalists, and five governors who remain fully committed to RGGI. "Governor Christie is simply wrong when he claims that these efforts are a failure," said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

Americans for Prosperity celebrated Christie’s decision, even taking direct credit for it in a public press release: Americans for Prosperity Declares Victory over RGGI Cap & Trade!

The New Jersey chapter of AFP spent roughly $200,000 in the state on advertisements and other public efforts to fight RGGI, and plenty of analysts assume that Christie’s announcement was made to appease the notorious Tea Party funders as he sets his sights on a prospective White House run in 2012.

But while the New Jersey campaign was done in broad daylight, this Bloomberg News bombshell makes clear that Koch-funded organizations are still spearheading shadowy attempts to help states cut and run from their regional climate commitments.

With the prospects for nationwide carbon pricing at a ten-year low, regional agreements like RGGI, the Western Climate Initiative, and the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Accord seem to hold the best hope for creating a carbon market and generating revenue to fund clean energy and energy efficiency projects. For this reason, no doubt, polluting interests like Koch Industries are sharpening their swords, and their legislation drafting pencils.

July 13 2011

19:09

ALEC Exposed: Center For Media and Democracy Details ALEC's Industry-Friendly Legislation Machine

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has launched a new website, ALECExposed.org, to help consumers understand more about the secretive business group that is helping craft industry-friendly legislation. CMD has obtained more than 800 model bills that were crafted by ALEC for state governments across the country. From a CMD press release:

At an extravagant hotel gilded just before the Great Depression, corporate executives from the tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds, State Farm Insurance, and other corporations were joined by their "task force" co-chairs -- all Republican state legislators -- to approve “model” legislation. They jointly head task forces of what is called the “American Legislative Exchange Council” (ALEC).

There, as the Center for Media and Democracy has learned, these corporate-politician committees secretly voted on bills to rewrite numerous state laws. According to the documents we have posted to ALEC Exposed, corporations vote as equals with elected politicians on these bills. These task forces target legal rules that reach into almost every area of American life: worker and consumer rights, education, the rights of Americans injured or killed by corporations, taxes, health care, immigration, and the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The Center obtained copies of more than 800 model bills approved by companies through ALEC meetings, after one of the thousands of people with access shared them, and a whistleblower provided a copy to the Center. Those bills, which the Center has analyzed and marked-up, are now available at ALEC Exposed.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of ALEC, it’s important to understand where they came from. ALEC was founded by conservative operative Paul Weyrich. After receiving a healthy dose of cash from conservative Joseph Coors to create the Heritage Foundation, Weyrich decided that a normal think tank like Heritage wasn’t enough to turn congress into a pro-business, anti-consumer organization. Heritage served as Weyrich’s machine to help develop and pass out talking points, but Heritage could only provide words – words that could easily be ignored. Weyrich knew that in order to make these words become actions, he would need the money to be able to convince Congress to vote how he and his corporate allies wanted them to. To do this, he would have to merge business and politics, literally. This merging gave birth to ALEC.

Through his connections at the Heritage Foundation, and the burgeoning “Moral Majority” he was in the process of creating, Weyrich pulled together politicians from around the country along with some of the wealthiest businessmen in America to form ALEC. Their purpose was simple – promote their view of what a “free market” should look like, while at the same time diminishing the role of government in corporate America’s business. To give his new organization an air of exclusivity, he decided that it should be a “members only” club, where those who wanted to be a part of the group would have to pay a nominal fee. Businesses have to pay a minimum of $5,000, but elected officials are able to buy themselves a two year membership for no more than $50. In addition to a few handfuls of state legislators, ALEC immediately attracted the attention of all sorts of businesses, and quickly added to its member roster Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, VISA, Exxon, Texaco, Coors, and the American Petroleum Institute.

A report by People for The American Way exposed some of ALEC’s main funders:

“ALEC’s major funders include Exxon Mobil, the Scaife family (Allegheny Foundation and the Scaife Family Foundation), the Coors family (Castle Rock Foundation), Charles Koch (Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation), the Bradley family (The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation) and the Olin family (John M. Olin Foundation). These organizations consistently finance right-wing think tanks and political groups.

Members of ALEC’s board represent major corporations such as Altria, AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Koch Industries, Kraft, PhRMA, Wal-Mart, Peabody Energy, and State Farm. Such corporations represent just a fraction of ALEC’s approximately three hundred corporate partners. According to the American Association for Justice, over eighty percent of ALEC’s finances come from corporate contributions.”

They were now armed with money, members, and talking points. ALEC was ready to make its voice heard.

And when ALEC speaks, Congress listens. The American Association for Justice (AAJ) has compiled a great report on how ALEC has succeeded in helping corporate America fulfill their laundry list of requests from the federal government for their members. To assist their members in the oil industry, ALEC has successfully fought to role back environmental protections. For the pharmaceutical industry, they successfully fought to ban the importation of drugs from other countries. And they’ve helped push broad deregulation, which has benefited every one of their members.

But the AAJ report says that the activities of ALEC go far beyond lobbying – they say that the group is essentially ghost writing favorable laws for corporate America. For example, on behalf of Exxon, ALEC has written legislation that would prevent schools from teaching children about what they deem “non-verified” science theories. Thanks to groups like Weyrich’s own Heritage Foundation, the Right has successfully managed to convince Americans that the science on climate change is still in question, which would mean that schools will no longer be able to teach students about the impacts, or even the causes, of climate change.  

CMD’s new site, ALECExposed.org, has gone far beyond what other reports have detailed in the past, and actually provides copies of the legislation, along with summaries, that ALEC has helped draft.

A major ALEC project over the years has been their assault on the environment. ALECExposed.org lays out the numerous ways in which ALEC has worked to undo environmental progress as follows:

Limiting the ability of people to use their local governmental power to protect their towns and neighborhoods from pollution and other hazards.

Undermining environmental regulations through novel, aggressive legal theories that claim regulations limiting pollution, for example, constitute a "taking" of the right to pollute and thus require compensation under the Constitution.

Protecting polluting corporations from civil and criminal liability by making a company’s internal audit or assessments of its pollution "privileged" and thus inadmissible in legal proceedings.

Hindering state-level regulation of groundwater contaminants by establishing EPA standards as a ceiling, rather than a floor, giving an agribusiness-dominated agency a regulatory veto, and adding other burdens.

Giving states the power to appropriate national parks and other federal public land, possibly to allow greater oil, gas, and coal extraction.

Additionally, the "Limited Immunity for Persons Responding to Oil Spills Act" is available through the Heartland Institute website; it would free corporations from liability when they cause injury using toxic chemical dispersants to clean oil spills (as happened with the BP-funded cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon spill).

This assault on the environment comes as no surprise when you take a look at the organization’s funders mentioned above. But it is the Koch brothers who have received the lion’s share of benefits from ALEC’s anti-environment efforts. From Lisa Graves, CMD's Executive Director, writing in The Nation:

The Kochs have a penchant for paying their way out of serious violations and coming out ahead. Helped by Koch Industries’ lobbying efforts, one of the first measures George W. Bush signed into law as governor of Texas was an ALEC model bill giving corporations immunity from penalties if they tell regulators about their own violation of environmental rules. Dozens of other ALEC bills would limit environmental regulations or litigation in ways that would benefit Koch.

ALEC has managed to operate for decades in the dark. It wasn’t until this year that news stories about the group began making headlines, and groups like PFAW and the AAJ began looking into their activities. The resources that CMD's ALECExposed.org provides are among the most extensive and valuable of any information that has come out about the group. With a fierce 2012 presidential election battle looming in the United States, stories about ALEC and their activities are going to become more important as voters prepare to vote in 15 months.

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