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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 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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