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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.

June 14 2011

23:19

Climate Change and the West: A Picture of the Western United States in the Coming Decades


Fire rages in ArizonaOver the last several years, a picture has emerged of the American west in a climate-changed world.

Water
Last week findings of a study by the U.S. Geological Survey show a sharp decline in the snowpack of the northern Rocky Mountains over the past 30 years. Published in the journal Science, the study says the “almost unprecedented” decline, as compared with data analyzed for snowpack conditions over the past 800 years, could have severe consequences for more than 70 million people dependent on water supply from the Columbia, Colorado, and Missouri rivers – all three of which are fed from high-mountain snowpack runoff. But this is only a part of the emerging picture of a changing west.

Wildfire
The mega-fire burning in Arizona, raging for more than two weeks, has now crossed into New Mexico. With over 469,000 acres consumed, the fire is now the largest on record for Arizona.

While no single fire is “caused by global warming” – such an assertion is a fundamental misunderstanding of climate change – projections call for more frequent and intense wildfires as conditions in the west become hotter and drier. Recent years have brought record years for wildfires in California and throughout the west.

The fire in Arizona (and now New Mexico) demonstrates the impact such conflagrations have on air quality. The damage caused by such intense firestorms is more than the fire itself. Beyond the short-term consequence of smoke and ash, wildfires become a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in a warmer environment. A new study, published in the journal PLos ONE, shows that wildfires not only release GHG through burning through forests, but also as a result of the aftermath of the fire, where “dentrifier” bacteria can lead to increased nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from plant material. N2O is a greenhouse gas with a potency 300 times that of CO2.

But even without the raging, all-consuming firestorms, trees are dying at record numbers throughout the western United States.

Forest health

GlobalWarmingisReal has reported on several occasions on the growing and pervasive infestation of bark beetles throughout western forests of North America. Millions of acres have been lost to the infestation, impacting entire ecosystems and threatening forest health throughout the west. Warmer winters allow the beetle to survive winter and move to higher ground, where trees are defenseless to the infestation.

A picture emerges

Climate plays out in decades, centuries and patterns develop, sometimes subtly or almost imperceptibly. And sometimes not so subtly. The realization of what could be more to come frames a picture of a parched, dry, tinderbox west, with vast swaths of disease-ridden forest clinging to life.

The fire in Arizona is not global warming, nor is a dead tree or one season of runoff (unusually large this year, and contrary to the larger trend). But there is always a point where the pattern does emerge, and this is the picture of the American west in the 21st century. Ignoring it will only make it worse.

Sources and further reading:
NASA Wildfire Model
Daily Kos – Climate Change and Record Winter Wildfires
NOAA – State of the Climate
The Watchers – Wildfires burn across Northern America continent

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February 25 2011

19:56

A Future Mega-Drought in the Southwest?

The added warmth from emissions of greenhouse gases could tip the Southwest into an era of severe drought potentially lasting a millennium or more, a researcher says.

February 11 2011

17:39

February 07 2011

14:13

Criticism Intensifies of New Mexico’s Climate Denying Energy Secretary, Harrison Schmitt

Harrison Schmitt has had an impressive and storied career: Apollo astronaut and moonwalker, U.S. Senator,  Ph.D. geologist. Since his recent appointment to head the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources, however, much attention is being focused on Schmitt’s highly unconventional views about climate change.

It’s not just that Republican Governor Susana Martinez’s new pick for the state’s top energy and environment role is a climate denier. It’s the highly politicized nature of his views and past statements--and just how wrong he is about technical matters in climate science--that’s particular stunning.<!--break-->

Politics first: Schmitt thinks that the environmental movement today is “what was previously considered the communist movement.” According to Schmitt, this occurred due to the fall of the Berlin wall: “the great champion of the opponents of liberty, namely communism, had to find some other place to go and they basically went into the environmental movement.For this reason, Schmitt says, citizens need to “wake up enough so that they can take control of their government again.”

It’s bad enough to have someone who thinks this way about environmentalists heading an agency whose mandate includes environmental conservation. But in some ways still worse is what we might call Schmitt’s hyper-wrong technical arguments used to support his climate denialist position.

This issue has already been getting attention in New Mexico newspapers. And now, climate bloggers Scott Mandia and John Cook both have posts this morning about a 2009 paper on climate models that Schmitt submitted to NASA.

The 2009 paper claims, among other things, that Arctic sea ice extent had seen a recovery, so that 2009 levels were back to where they’d been 20 years earlier in 1989. But as Mandia and Cook explain, that's simply not true. Furthermore, even if Schmitt were right about sea ice extent, extent isn’t the same as sea ice volume, as I explained in this New Scientist piece. The decline in volume is also unequivocal and probably what matters more, because thinner ice has less chance of surviving the summer melt season.

This troubling claim about sea ice is just one of many that Schmitt has used to bolster his climate denialist stance, but it’s important because it’s so stark. Will Schmitt admit he was mistaken, and Arctic sea ice is indeed in marked decline? That would be a start towards showing the scientific and environmental community that he can put public service above ideology in his new role.

 

January 27 2011

22:31

New Mexico's Supreme Court Overrules Climate Skeptic Governor: Greenhouse Gases Will Be Regulated

On Wednesday, New Mexico’s newly elected Governor Susana Martinez, a climate change skeptic, suffered a major defeat. After suspending global warming regulations on her first day in office, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against the Governor, requiring the state to regulate global warming emissions and to implement a carbon reduction program.

Highlighting years of climate action during his administration, and following two years of deliberation, members of former Governor Bill Richardson’s (D-NM) Environmental Improvement Board (EIB)  voted 4-3 in November to mandate global warming emissions reductions from large stationary sources (3% per year from 2010 levels, starting in 2013); and to approve a state cap and trade system.

Riding the Republican climate skeptic wave to power in the fall elections, however, Martinez wasted little time undoing her predecessor’s progress. She issued Executive Order 2011-001 on January 1st in an effort to halt proposed and pending science-based rules and regulations (including the EIB’s decision) for a period of 90 days. The new governor had no scientific reasoning for her position, however, it was purely based on ideological opposition to climate action. <!--break-->

Scott Darnell
, a spokesman for the Governor, explained her strategy: “The cap and tax regulation had not been published in the New Mexico register, which means it was not yet valid or enforceable.”

Not content with simply quashing a science-based regulation, three days later, the Governor fired all 7 members of the EIB:


“Unfortunately, the majority of EIB members have made it clear that they are more interested in advancing political ideology than implementing common-sense policies that balance economic growth with responsible stewardship…”

She also appointed former Senator, astronaut, NASA geologist and fellow climate skeptic Harrison “Jack” Schmitt to head the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. 

Arguing that Martinez did not have the authority to interfere in the rule-making process, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) filed lawsuits in January against the Governor, the Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department and the New Mexico State Records Administrator. On behalf of New Energy Economy and Amigos Bravos, the NMELC petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to require the Governor and Environment Department to comply with existing law, and to compel the State Records Center to publish the global warming emissions regulations in the State Register.

“The issue is whether the suspension of the printing of the rules was proper,” stated New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels who delivered the decision. While he stopped short of issuing a writ against the Governor or the Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, he was clear that the law had been broken: “We will issue a writ against the State Records Administrator. She has a non-discretionary administrative duty to follow the law.”

Bruce Frederick, NMELC staff attorney applauded the judge’s decision:

“This is a tremendous and deserved victory for the administration of justice in New Mexico…The ruling ensures that our regulations will continue to be developed in a public and open process, and be protected from revision through secret, backroom deals.”

Darnell, speaking for Martinez, responded to the court's decision:


“In the case of Cap and Tax…a new EIB will be appointed consisting of bi-partisan members who we fully expect will put science ahead of political ideology in every matter they consider.”

That seems to confirm the Governor’s ideology will continue to cloud her grasp of science, since it was in fact science that won the day over ideology in the court's ruling that the state must regulate emissions.  Hopefully the new governor and her skeptical staff will learn the difference between ideology and science sometime soon, otherwise it will be a long four years for New Mexicans who understand the urgent need to curb global warming pollution.

January 26 2011

20:29

December 16 2010

21:42

December 07 2010

21:24

November 01 2010

21:11

June 01 2010

19:59

A Bullish View of Wind Power Out West

A study has found that the power grid for five western states - Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming - could operate on as much as 30 percent wind and 5 percent solar without the construction of extensive new infrastructure.

March 11 2010

17:01
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