6 Signs That ALEC Is Losing Its War Against Solar
The American Legislative Exchange Council—popularly known as ALEC—operated in the shadows for years, writing its so-called "model legislation," which has been introduced and promoted in state assemblies across the country by member legislators.
That legislation features a conservative "free market" agenda—weakening unions, fighting increases in the minimum wage, reducing corporate taxation, supporting gun owner rights and fighting against the environmental regulations despised by its funders from the fossil fuel industry such as Exxon Mobile and the Koch brothers. Among other things, it's pushed for states to withdraw from climate compacts, penalize rooftop solar installations and repeal renewable portfolio standards.
ALEC has been around since 1973. But it's only in the past five years that the public has become more aware of its existence and its mission. Maybe that's why, despite some successes, it's starting to lose some key battles. Here are the top six:
1. In the last year, ALEC-affiliated legislators in multiple states introduced bills to repeal states renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which were widely established by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the last 10 years to encourage the growth of renewable energy industries, such as solar and wind, by requiring a certain percentage of energy to be generated by theses sources in the state. Despite several attempts to challenge these RPS laws, ALEC and its allies, such as Americans for Prosperity and the Heartland Institute, have not succeeded. However three states—Ohio, West Virginia and Kansas—have passed ALEC-affiliated legislation that altered its renewable energy goals.
Ohio froze its RPS for two years. Kansas reached a compromise that substituted voluntary standards for mandatory ones but took penalties for the wind industry off the table. And, according to the American Wind Energy Association, "West Virginia did not actually have an RPS. This standard (not counted as one of the 29 RPS laws) could have been met entirely without renewable energy. Besides renewables, the eligible resources included 'advanced coal technology,' coal bed methane, natural gas, including any component of raw natural gas, fuel produced by a coal gasification or liquefaction facility, and tire-derived fuel, among others. The law was enacted in 2011 and required no compliance until this year, 2015, but is now repealed."
These efforts are meeting resistance in other states too such as North Carolina where business and environmental groups are pushing back against a repeal bill introduced by an ALEC-affiliated legislator. Even the state's big utility Duke Energy isn't supporting the repeal. The state is third in the U.S. in the amount of solar power on its grid, thanks to its RPS. Apple already has two huge solar farms in the state and is developing a third. And the University of North Carolina is pushing ahead with a study on the potential for offshore wind farms off the state's coast. RPS repeal bills have also failed to advance in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and New Hampshire.
2. In Florida, ALEC joined with big utilities to launch an attack of rooftop solar, undermining its claim to "free market" principles. Former State Rep. Jimmy Patronis was ALEC's Florida chair and last September, Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. But an odd-bedfellows coalition of free-market advocates, Tea Party members, progressive environment organizations and Christian groups fought back in the sunny state that should be one of the country's solar leaders, and they're starting to make some inroads. The coalition, Floridians for Solar Choice, is working on a 2016 ballot initiative that would deregulate solar power, allowing third party-funded solar leasing and electricity sales by private parties, policies that have driven solar growth elsewhere. Perhaps bowing to the inevitable, two big utilities, Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy Florida, have announced large-scale solar projects.
3. The parade of high-profile businesses who were corporate members of ALEC has grown to a stampede, thanks to pressure campaigns by advocacy groups like Common Cause. and anti-climate denier group Forecast the Facts. Microsoft, Facebook, Yelp!, Yahoo, eBay, T-Mobile, BP and Google all dropped their memberships in the past year. Walmart, General Motors, Visa, Amazon and McDonalds departed in the previous three to four years as public awareness of ALEC's controversial stands and activities increased. Last September, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told NRP host Diane Rehm that its membership in ALEC was a "mistake," saying "The facts of climate change are not in question anymore. Everyone understands climate change is occurring, and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people—they’re just literally lying.”
4. ALEC exposed its vulnerability and got a public black eye this spring when it sent cease-and-desist letters to the League of Conservation Voters and Common Cause, threatening to sue them if they did not retract statements saying that ALEC promoted climate denial. ALEC claimed that it accepted the facts of human-caused climate change and even denied that Schmidt said ALEC was lying about the facts of climate change. In fact, ALEC has said that, while human activity "may" lead to changes in the climate, "a great deal of scientific uncertainty surrounds the nature of these prospective changes.” That's classic climate denier speak; very little scientific uncertainly surrounds them. So far, neither group has retracted its statements and neither has indicated that ALEC has sued it.
5. Not only is Common Cause not backing down but it's joined with the Center for Media and Democracy to file new evidence with the IRS that ALEC's long-claimed tax exempt status as a charity group is bogus and that it is really a lobbying organization, something it's always denied, despite its obvious direct advocacy to lawmakers for bills such as the renewable portfolio standards repeals and surcharges on rooftop solar. The groups are also calling attention to the fact that legislators are using tax dollars to pay for their ALEC memberships.
6. Speaking of public black eyes, ALEC got more unfavorable publicity recently, when Atlanta's TV 11 went undercover at a resort in Savannah where corporate lobbyists met in secret with Georgia state legislators at ALEC's Spring Task Force Summit, protected by armed guards. "There really are back rooms where corporate lobbyists have direct access to lawmakers completely out of sight, with no transparency or public filings," said TV 11. The TV 11 team was evicted from the hotel, where it was registered as a paying guest, at the request of ALEC officials. And the station was told by a lawyer for the general assembly that it could not have information about reimbursements and receipts legislators may have received because "The general assembly is not subject to the Georgia Open Records law."
Watch the video here:
On top of that, a TV 11 investigator reported a conversation he heard in which a legislator told a lobbyist, "I'm the state chair of ALEC, and I look for financial supporters, lobbyists and the like, to send us a couple thousand bucks every so often." Even in a conservative state like Georgia, this report will tarnish ALEC's reputation. And Georgia is moving ahead on clean energy anyway. Last month, the legislature passed and Gov. Nathan Deal signed the Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act, allowing third-party financing that makes solar installations more accessible to homeowners.
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By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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