It's been a big week for secretive lobbying group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), although not the kind of big week they'd probably prefer.
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This week, Google, followed by Facebook and Yelp!, announced that they were dropping out of the organization, which signs up corporations, nonprofits and legislators to support "model legislation" intended to benefit big business above all. And Google CEO Eric Schmidt specifically took a shot at ALEC's climate change policies saying it was "just literally lying."
ALEC CEO Lisa B. Nelson shot back with an indignant statement that said, “It is unfortunate to learn Google has ended its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council as a result of public pressure from left-leaning individuals and organizations who intentionally confuse free market policy perspectives for climate change denial. In the case of energy generation, ALEC believes renewable energy should expand based on consumer demand, not as a result of a government mandate. Google’s renewable energy commitment—as well as those found throughout private industry—is completely consistent with ALEC policy because the companies in question chose renewables absent a mandate."
But in fact, ALEC promotes many policies, programs and pieces of legislation contingent on denying climate science. Environmental advocacy group Forecast the Facts, which has organized campaigns to pressure companies like Google to drop ALEC, and the Center for Media and Democracy, which monitors p.r. spin, helpfully provided five ways ALEC does this.
1. ALEC invites climate deniers to its annual meetings to provide legislators with misinformation. At its most recent meeting, groups like far-right thing tank the Heartland institute and nonprofit Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, which promotes unregulated development, armed with talking points, including that there is no need to reduce carbon emissions and that in fact they are healthy, that there is no scientific consensus about human-caused climate change, and that the likely benefits of man-made global warming (which doesn't exist) exceed the likely costs.
2. ALEC's "model legislation" on climate says that while human activity has led to climate change and global warming, this could be beneficial. It suggests establishing a commission to do more research, even though the research has been done and confirmed, thus delaying action indefinitely.
3. ALEC's "model legislation" on science education promotes the "teach both sides" approach favored by anti-evolution types when there is no scientific debate on climate change. Its so-called "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act" requires that a range of perspectives be offered and that students be encouraged to explore even erroneous contentions to form their own opinions. Tennessee, Texas, South Dakota and Louisiana have all passed nearly identically worded bills, crafted by ALEC, opening the door to bringing climate denial into science classrooms.
4. Prominent ALEC leaders are climate deniers. Its incoming national chair, state rep. Phil King (R-TX) has said,"I think the global warming theory is bad science" and has accused President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency of pushing "unproven" technologies intended not for the "stated objective of combating climate change" but to crush the coal industry. Its current chair, state rep. John Piscopo (R-CT), claims, "There are ice ages and periods of warming throughout Earth’s history. We could be in a period between ice ages. It’s not human-induced, not catastrophic. It’s nothing to panic over. I think it’s a move by government to take over and tax our energy system." And Ohio state senator Bill Seitz, an ALEC board member, was the prime mover behind Ohio's recent move to freeze its renewable energy standards, the first state in the U.S. to do so. He has referred to the standards as "some Stalinist government mandating" and is pushing for permanent total repeal.
5. ALEC has a long history of denying climate science, including a 2005 report called "Top 1o Myths about Global Warming," which appeared on its website for many years. Among the "myths" it purported to debunk: that human activity causes global warming, that extreme weather events are caused by global warming, that there's been any significant warming at all in the last century and that what it calls "carbon reduction schemes" will be relatively inexpensive.
Ultimately, it's not about whether ALEC really believes that climate change is happening or that it's human-caused. It's about promoting legislation embodying "free market principles" that benefit its members, which include many major polluters such as Peabody Energy, ExxonMobile, Chevron and TransCanada, impacts be damned.
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For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
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Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
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