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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)

March 21 2012

23:20

ALEC Climate Change Denial Model Bill Passes in Tennessee

The month of March has seen unprecedented heat and temperatures. A rational thinking, scientifically-grounded individual could only posit, "Well, hmm, I bet climate change has something to do with the fact that in Madison, WI, it is 80 degrees in mid-March. Sometimes it's 60 or 70 degrees colder than this!"

While that individual would be positing something that is the well-accepted scientific consensus, in some states, under law, that is only a "controversial theory among other theories."

Welcome to Tennessee, which on March 19th became the fourth state with a legal mandate to incorporate climate change denial as part of the science education curriculum when discussing climate change.

First it was Louisiana, back in 2009, then Texas in 2009, South Dakota in 2010 and now Tennessee has joined the club, bringing the total to four U.S. states that have mandated climate change denial in K-12 "science" education. 

Many other states could follow in their footsteps as well, given that, as DeSmogBlog exposed in late-January, this is an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill, a near miror image of its Orwellian-titled "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act."[PDF]

The machinations of ALEC are best explained by the Center for Media and Demoracy's "ALEC Exposed" project.

The ALEC bill passed as H.B. 368 and S.B. 893, with 70-23 and 24-8 roll call votes, respectively. Tennesse Republican Governor Bill Haslam is likely to sign the bill into law soon.

read more

January 30 2012

12:29

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.

May 16 2011

01:55

Satellite Images Display Extreme Mississippi River Flooding from Space

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110513204423.htm ScienceDaily (May 14, 2011) — Recent Landsat satellite data captured by the USGS and NASA on May 10 shows the major flooding of the Mississippi River around Memphis, Tenn. and along the state borders of Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas as seen from 438 miles above Earth.  The flood crest of 47.87 feet on [...]

March 10 2011

23:40

A Bird Who Likes Shade-Grown Coffee

In the winter, cerulean warblers alight in Colombia, taking refuge in the shade of trees in mountain coffee-growing climes.
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