ALEC Gives Congressional Climate Deniers Their 2015 Marching Orders
If secretive rightwing lobbying group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has its way, the U.S. will become a cesspool of pollution, helping to hasten global climate change rather than address it. With complete Republican control of Congress and the party's tighter grip on state legislatures nationwide, the fossil fuel-dominated group can expect its member legislators—overwhelmingly Republican and in some cases a majority of the state legislature—to dutifully introduce and rubber-stamp its prepared legislation.
Today it opened its three-day 2015 States and National Policy Summit in Washington D.C. unveiling an agenda that would set U.S. environmental progress back decades while lining the pockets of its major funders such as Charles and David Koch of the fossil fuel-based Koch Industries, the world's largest private-sector coal company Peabody Energy and oil companies like Chevron and Exxon. While becoming something of a hot potato for modern technology and Internet companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Yelp! and Google, which have all dropped their memberships, and a lightning rod for progressive activism, ALEC's new majority in Congress gives it the power to potentially ride roughshod over public opinion and the general welfare.
In DC this week, it's telling its member legislators how to do that, although given its penchant for secrecy, we don't know the full range of what it's proposing, according to environmental advocates who joined a tele-press conference this afternoon to talk about what they are doing to monitor and expose ALEC's activities.
They revealed that among the so-called "model bills" ALEC has in the pipeline are proposals to completely eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and turn its duties and powers over to state agencies, block President Obama's proposed rules to limit carbon pollution from power plants, expand offshore oil drilling, weaken protections from smog and other air pollutants, and roll back protections for endangered specials.
“The goal is to clearly block any action whatsoever on climate change," said David Goldston, head of government affairs for participating group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "It’s not to shape action on climate change.”
Aliya Haq from the NRDC said on the call, "Based on the conference agenda, ALEC's new motto should be 'limited government, unlimited pollution.' Over the past several years, ALEC has promoted the work of extreme climate denial organizations and individuals such as the Heartland Institute and passed model legislation to mandate the teaching of climate denial in classrooms. At this week’s conference, ALEC’s Energy Task Force will discuss model bills to abolish the EPA and limit the EPA’s authority to establish nationwide carbon pollution standards. The EPA is directly in ALEC’s crosshairs."
Encouragingly, she said that proposal has no chance of success. But she added that it shows ALEC's trend toward ever more extreme environmental proposals and that its attempts to block EPA carbon rules have more legs. She pointed out that in 2014, nearly 20 states adopted ALEC-promoted resolutions to oppose the EPA standards before they were even proposed. She also mentioned two pieces of legislation the group will unveil this week to "politicize pollution reduction," creating so many new regulations and procedures that implementing carbon reduction would be close to impossible.
"ALEC’s ultimate goal here in to block an action on climate change," said Haq. "We're all watching ALEC's every move."
"Most corporate groups have evolved, but ALEC has not evolved," he said. "They're using exact same language they were in 1998. ALEC has doubled down. This meeting shows a top-heavy fossil fuel agenda—everything good for Peabody, Exxon, Chevron, Koch Industries, nothing good for climate."
Gabe Elsner from the Energy and Policy Institute said to expect to see a ramping-up of anti-environmental policies on the state as well as the federal level through ALEC's State Policy Network.
"These s0-called free market organizations influencing state-level policies, many are funded by fossil fuel interests that are part of ALEC," he said. "On the anti-renewable energy bills introduced in 15 states, these groups were behind them."
At its meeting this week in DC where it will issue its marching orders to its Congressional members, it will offer a briefing from Rick Berman, a rightwing strategist who specializes in sabotaging initiatives such as anti-smoking laws and healthy food regulations using "astroturf" groups—industry-created groups posing as grassroots groups—and personal attacks on opponents. In October, the New York Times exposed a meeting Berman had with representatives of oil and gas companies to attack environmental groups like Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch and the Natural Resources Defense Council through the "Big Green Radicals" campaign of personal smears.
Nick Surgey of the Center for Media and Democracy emphasized ALEC's longstanding penchant for secrecy and the work of groups like his and the others to expose ALEC's activities to public scrutiny.
"There's limited information about their agenda [for this week's meetings] on their website. We read between the lines." He pointed callers to his group's website, alecexposed.org, warning "It's not complete because ALEC keeps information about its funders and members secret."
As The Guardian of London noted in its story about the DC meetings this week, "Alec does not generally welcome media coverage of its activities. The group rejected The Guardian’s request to attend this week’s meeting."
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.