77 ALEC Bills Advance Big Oil, Big Ag Agenda in 2013
At least 77 bills to oppose renewable energy standards, support fracking and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and otherwise undermine environmental laws were introduced in 34 states in 2013, according to a new analysis from the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of ALECexposed.org. In addition, nine states have been inspired by ALEC's Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act to crack down on videographers documenting abuses on factory farms.
ALEC, Fueled by Fossil Fuel Industry, Pursues Retrograde Energy Agenda
For decades, ALEC has been a favored conduit for some of the world's largest polluters, like Koch Industries, BP, Shell, Chevron and Exxon Mobil, and for decades has promoted less environmental regulation and more drilling and fracking.
ALEC bills in recent years have pulled states out of regional climate initiatives, opposed carbon dioxide emission standards, created hurdles for state agencies attempting to regulate pollution and tried to stop the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation introduced in 2013 carries on this legacy. ALEC bills favor the fossil fuel barons and promote a retrograde energy agenda that pollutes our air and water and is slowly cooking the planet to what may soon be devastating temperatures.
"Disregarding science at every turn, ALEC is willing to simply serve as a front for the fossil fuel industry," says Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org. "Given the stakes—the Earth's climate—that's shabby and sad."
ALEC Tours the Tar Sands
In October 2012, ALEC organized an "Oil Sands Academy" where nine ALEC member politicians were given an all-expenses-paid trip to Calgary, Canada and flown on a tour of the Alberta tar sands while accompanied by oil industry lobbyists. The trip was sponsored by pipeline operator TransCanada and the oil-industry funded American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. Email records obtained by CMD show that after the trip, ALEC urged legislators to send "thank you" notes to corporate lobbyists for their generosity.
At least 10 states in 2013 have introduced variations on the ALEC Resolution in Support of the Keystone XL Pipeline, calling on the President and Congress to approve the controversial project. Environmentalists oppose the pipeline because extracting oil from Canadian tar sands would unlock huge amounts of carbon, increasing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Despite being promoted as a "job creator," the pipeline would only create between 50 and 100 permanent positions in an economy of over 150 million working people.
In Nebraska, CMD filed an ethics complaint against state senator Jim Smith, the ALEC state chair for Nebraska, who never revealed to his constituents that he had gone on the "Oil Sands Academy," and failed to disclose over a thousand dollars of travel expenses paid for by the government of Alberta, Canada. Sen. Smith has been exceptionally vocal when it comes to his support for the Keystone XL pipeline. For example, he sponsored a 2012 Nebraska law that would—if it survives a continuing legal challenge—bypass the U.S. State Department and allow TransCanada to start building the Nebraska portion of the pipeline right away, regardless of any future decision by the federal government.
ALEC Partners with Heartland Institute for Rollback of Renewables
Even more extraordinary is ALEC's push this year to repeal Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which require that utility companies provide a certain amount of their total energy from renewable sources like wind.
"ALEC's long time role in denying the science and policy solutions to climate change is shifting into an evolving roadblock on state and federal clean energy incentives, a necessary part of global warming mitigation," says Connor Gibson, a research associate at Greenpeace.
In Germany, where the nation has set a goal of getting 35 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020, public commitment to clean energy technologies is transforming markets, driving innovation and generating huge numbers of jobs. Even in the U.S., where there has been less public investment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says 3.1 million clean energy jobs have been created in recent years.
Perhaps because of RPS' job-creating qualities, ALEC's bill to repeal renewable standards, the Electricity Freedom Act, was too much even for the most conservative legislatures. It failed to pass in every state where it was introduced—even in North Carolina, where it had the backing of Grover Norquist, and whose Republican-dominated legislature has been rolling multiple ALEC bills into law in 2013.
It may be little surprise that ALEC's attack on renewables was spearheaded by one of its looniest members: the bill was brought to ALEC in May 2012 by the Illinois-based Heartland Institute, a group best known for billboards comparing people who believe in climate change to mass murderers like the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
ALEC is usually very secretive about its model legislation and its efforts in the states, but ALEC did not disguise the fact that it had made the Electricity Freedom Act a priority for the 2013 session. ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Director Todd Wynn published blog posts on the topic and was quoted in the press discussing how ALEC was working with Heartland to promote the repeal bills.
In many of the states that have proposed versions of the Electricity Freedom Act, the right-wing infrastructure has sprung into action, almost according to a script. The Beacon Hill Institute publishes a study (using discredited analysis) claiming that a state's renewable standards lead to higher energy costs, as it did in states like Maine, Ohio, Wisconsin and Arizona. The David Koch-founded and-led Americans for Prosperity organizes an event to "educate" its members about how renewables are "punishing" consumers, as they did in Nebraska, and perhaps invite a guest from the Heartland Institute to make similar claims, as they did in Kansas.
ALEC, the Heartland Institute and the Beacon Hill Institute all have received money from foundations associated with Charles and David Koch, and each are also part of the State Policy Network (SPN), an umbrella group of right-wing organizations that claim adherence to the free market. SPN has received at least $10 million in the past five years from the mysterious Donors Trust, which funnels money from the Kochs and other conservative funders. SPN was also a "Chairman" level sponsor of ALEC's 2011 Annual Conference and ALEC is an Associate Member of SPN.
But even though the ALEC/Heartland anti-renewable energy fight found little success in 2013, the group is not giving up.
New Avenue Sought to Rollback Renewables
“I expect that North Carolina and Kansas will probably pick up this issue again in 2014 and lead the charge across the country once again,” Wynn said.
ALEC now appears to be modifying its strategy to find a more palatable way to attack renewable standards.
At its August 2013 meeting, ALEC will consider a watered-down version of the Electricity Freedom Act with a bill called the Market Power Renewables Act. That legislation would phase-out a state's RPS and instead create a renewable "market" where consumers can choose to pay for renewable energy, and allow utilities to purchase energy credits from outside the state. This thwarts the purpose of RPS policies, which help create the baseline demand for renewables that will spur the clean energy investment necessary to continue developing the technology and infrastructure that will drive costs down.
But, it would satisfy ALEC's goal of preserving reliance on dirty energy from fossil fuels.
ALEC Bills Undermine Environmental Regulations, First Amendment
ALEC energy, environment and agriculture bills moving in the first six months of 2013 include:
- The Electricity Freedom Act, introduced in six states, repealing (or in some states weakening) Renewable Portfolio Standards. The standards have been a key component driving renewable energy growth—which threatens the profits of ALEC's polluter members.
- Variations on the Resolution in Support of the Keystone XL Pipeline (introduced in 10 states) calling on the federal government to approve the controversial project to transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada across the U.S. It is no coincidence that pipeline operator TransCanada is an ALEC member and funder.
- The misleadingly-named Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act (introduced in five states) which would actually make it harder to find out what chemicals are being pumped underground through the fracking process. The bill, which was brought to ALEC by Exxon Mobil, carves out a giant loophole for "trade secrets"—potentially concealing the information the public might want to know.
- The Environmental Literacy Improvement Act (introduced in five states) seeks to sow doubt in the minds of young people about man's role in the warming planet by requiring that educators "teach the controversy" when it comes to topics like climate change, where the science is beyond dispute.
- The Environmental Services Public-Private Partnership Act (introduced in two states) would give for-profit companies control of vital public health services like treating wastewater and drinking water—the last place where you want a company to cut corners to increase profits.
- The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act (variations of which were introduced in nine states) have come to be known as "Ag-Gag" bills, as they criminalize investigations into abuses on factory farms and deem videographers "terrorists."
- The Disposal and Taxation of Public Lands Act (considered in seven states) was modeled after a Utah law from 2012 and is an updated version of the ALEC Sagebrush Rebellion Act, where Western states assert control over federal lands that are being protected as wilderness preserves, in many cases to allow for resource extraction.
ALEC Corporations Reap the Rewards
The corporations bankrolling ALEC and benefiting from bills advanced by the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force include:
- Keystone XL pipeline operator TransCanada, a member of the ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force and which sponsored ALEC's Spring Task Force Summit at the "Vice Chairman" level. It was one of the sponsors of the ALEC "Oil Sands Academy" where nine ALEC member legislators were given an all-expenses-paid trip to Calgary and flown around the Alberta tar sands while accompanied by oil industry lobbyists.
- Shell Oil, one of the largest fossil fuel conglomerates in the world, operates a tar sands extraction facility and sponsored lunch at the ALEC "Oil Sands Academy." Shell has long been an ALEC member and funder, for example sponsoring ALEC's 2011 annual meeting at the "Chairman" level (which in the past has cost $50,000) and hosting plenary sessions. Shell is also a member of the ALEC Civil Justice Task Force, presumably to advance legislation that would protect it from liability in case of oil spills or other disasters.
- British Petroleum (BP), the United Kingdom's largest corporation and the company responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, has long supported ALEC, including sponsoring ALEC's 2011 meeting in New Orleans—not far from the site of BP's oil spill—at the "Presidential" level (which in the past has cost $100,000).
- Peabody Energy is the largest producer of coal in the U.S. and boasts that it generates 10 percent of the country's energy, and also has a lobbyist representative on the ALEC corporate board; it was the 2011 winner of ALEC's "Private Sector Member of the Year" award and has sponsored ALEC meetings and events. In 2007, it spun-off coal mines it owned in West Virginia and Kentucky into an independent company, which then filed for bankruptcy and sought to be released from its pension and retirement operations.
- Duke Energy is one of the largest electric utility companies in the U.S., and has publicly expressed concern about global warming and support for clean energy, but its continued support for ALEC undermines those rhetorical positions. A coalition of environmental groups have been urging Duke to drop ALEC for the past year, so far to no avail.
- Koch Industries, the privately-held multinational corporation owned by billionaire financiers David and Charles Koch, is involved in an array of industries including petroleum refining, fuel pipelines, coal supply and trading, oil and gas exploration, chemicals and polymers, fertilizer production and commodity speculation. Koch Industries has long funded ALEC, sponsored its meetings and had a lobbyist representative on the ALEC Private Enterprise Board. Charitable foundations associated with David and Charles have also been ALEC funders, with the Charles G. Koch Foundation giving ALEC a half-million-dollar loan in 1996.
Average Americans Pay the Price
The ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force has not only promoted anti-environmental bills, but also legislation to help industrial farms escape public accountability—which would prevent a twenty-first century Upton Sinclair from going undercover and creating a documentary work like The Jungle, which led to a new wave of food safety regulations in the early 1900s.
ALEC's Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act was the ideological ancestor for "ag-gag" laws, introduced in nine states in 2013 to quash the First Amendment rights of reporters, investigators and videographers by making it harder for them to document issues with food safety and animal cruelty. The bills take many forms, but generally make it a crime to shoot video of a farm or slaughterhouse, or to apply for employment at these facilities under "false pretenses."
Modern-day Upton Sinclairs have been using similar techniques as The Jungle's author to document food safety issues—Sinclair got a job at a Chicago slaughterhouse under false pretenses so he could write his book—but are using twenty-first century tools.
In 2007, for example, an undercover video investigation by the Humane Society showed sick “downer” cows—which are banned from human consumption because they were implicated in the spread of mad cow disease—being pushed towards slaughter with forklifts and cattle prods, leading to the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
The ALEC-influenced "ag-gag" bills seek to criminalize this type of investigation.
In March, ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling defended the laws, telling the Associated Press,"at the end of the day it's about personal property rights or the individual right to privacy."
Utah passed an ag-gag law in 2012, which led to charges against a young woman named Amy Meyer, who did nothing else besides film the outside of a slaughterhouse from public land. Meyer regularly passed the slaughterhouse on her way to volunteer at an animal sanctuary, and began filming when she witnessed what appeared to be animal cruelty with possible public health repercussions: a sick (but still living) cow being carried away from the building on a tractor. The slaughterhouse owner asserted that she had trespassed, despite there being no damage to the barbed wire fence surrounding his property.
"This was the first time anyone has been charged under the ag-gag law," Meyer told CMD. "But as long as these ag-gag laws are around, this won't be the last prosecution, unfortunately."
Less than 24 hours after journalist Will Potter publicized her story—but months after she was first charged—the prosecution dropped its case against Meyer.
"The only purpose [of ag-gag laws] is to punish investigators who expose animal cruelty and journalists who report on the ag industry," she said. "These laws are intended to keep consumers in dark and shield factory farms from scrutiny."
As written, the ALEC model bill could also criminalize environmental civil disobedience, such as when activists "obstruct" the business operations of a logging or mining facility through tree-sits or road blockades. A bill reflecting these provisions was introduced in Oregon this year to outlaw most civil disobedience against logging operations.
Polluters Stand With ALEC
Over the past year-and-a-half, at least 49 global corporations have dropped their ALEC membership—including companies like Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart and Amazon—but oil and energy companies have stood by ALEC.
"Despite its terrible reputation, ALEC is still valued by polluting companies like ExxonMobil, Duke Energy and Koch Industries, which finance and help craft ALEC's state policies to smother competition from clean energy industries and offer handouts to fossil fuel companies at every turn," says Greenpeace's Gibson.
"ALEC's guise of 'free market environmentalism' is just a code word for its real mission in our states' legislatures: to allow dirty energy companies to pollute as much as they want, to attack incentives for clean energy competitors and to secure government handouts to oil, gas and coal interests," Gibson says. "That's not a free market."
View the full list of 2013 bills from the ALEC Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force bills here.
ALEC Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Bills 2013
Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
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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