ALEC Wasn't First Industry Trojan Horse behind Fracking Disclosure Bill
By Steve Horn
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), put on the map by the Center for Media and Democracy in its "ALEC Exposed" project, is the archetype of von Bismarck's truism. So too are the fracking chemical disclosure bills that have passed and are currently being pushed for in statehouses nationwide.
State-level fracking chemical disclosure bills have been called a key piece of reform in the push to hold the unconventional gas industry accountable for its actions. The reality, though, is murkier.
On April 21, The New York Times penned an investigation making that clear. The Times wrote:
Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants.
A close reading of the bill, however, reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets. Most telling, perhaps, the bill was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking—something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home.
The Texas law The Times refers to is HB 3328, passed in June 2011 in a 137-8 roll call vote, while its Senate companion bill passed on a 31-0 unanimous roll call vote. Since then, variations of the model bill have passed in two other key states in which fracking is occuring.
Like dominos falling in quick succession over the following months, Colorado, Pennsylvania and, most recently, the Illinois Senate passed bills based on the ALEC model. Louisiana also has introduced a similar bill.
Other states where the bill has been proposed but has not yet passed—or has been killed dead in its tracks—include Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Indiana, California and Arkansas, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The tale of how the Texas bill became a national model exemplifies the stranglehold polluter power and corporations like ExxonMobil—referred to as a "private empire" in investigative journalist Steve Coll's new book—have over both the federal government and statehouses nationwide.
But was ALEC the only trojan horse behind the loophole-filled bill? The short answer is "no"—here's why.
First A Council of State Governments Model Bill…Then ALEC Model
Lost in the shuffle of the ALEC Exposed discussion has been another corporate-funded bill mill that has flown almost entirely under the radar: the Council of State Governments (CSG). While a CSG 101 is worthy of a series of articles in of itself, it is worth pointing out a few basics:
- CSG has a total operating budget of roughly $30 million a year, compared to ALEC's operating budget of roughly $6 million a year, according to each organization's IRS 990.
- Both organizations are funded by corporate largesse, with corporate membership costing in the range of $6,000-$25,000/year for CSG depending on what type of membership a corporation purchases, and between $7,000-$25,000 for ALEC.
- Unlike ALEC, which is Republican Party dominated, CSG is completely bipartisan in nature, with politicians from both sides of the aisle actively participating in it.
- Perhaps most importantly, corporate lobbyists that have a voice and vote as co-equals on "model bills" at ALEC's annual legislative conference have the same privilege at CSG's conferences, where they have a voice and a vote on "suggested state legislation" (SSL), as it calls it.
Texas HB 3328 became a piece of CSG's SSL arsenal at its October 2011 National Conference, which took place in Bellevue, Washington. In other words, this was a CSG model bill roughly two months before it became an ALEC model bill.
"I have not seen the CSG model bill so I would not be able to verify it was the same language. A lot of times ALEC model bills are derived and introduced in states before they even come to ALEC," Todd Wynn, the ALEC Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force director told DeSmogBlog in an interview.
"What is interesting is that there has been bipartisan support for hydraulic fracturing fluid disclosure all across the country. Even President Obama supports it, as he stated in his last State of the Union address," Wynn continued.
ExxonMobil and API High-Level Sponsors of CSG Conference
DeSmogBlog has obtained a copy of the model bill, a list of lobbyists and politicians who attended the SSL session for the 2011 Conference, and the rest of the legislative docket that received "up" or "down" votes at the 2011 Conference, as well.
While no oil and gas industry lobbyists appear on the SSL "up/down vote" list, that does not necessarily mean they were absent from the Conference at-large, as the list of lobbyist attendees is not publicly available information.
That said, ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute (API) were both Conference Sponsors at CSG's 2011 National Conference. ExxonMobil was a Gold Level Sponsor, while API was a Silver Level Sponsor. CSG Director of Membership, Marketing & Media, Kelley Arnold, told DeSmogBlog that CSG does not disclose how much money each sponsorship level is worth.
ExxonMobil was also the sponsor of the ALEC model bill.
It doesn't end there.
The disclosure standards found within both the CSG and ALEC models, in turn, were initially decided by a gas industry-heavy Obama Administration-created Panel formed in May 2011.
Obama Administration Announces DOE Fracking Safety Panel
In May 2011, the Obama Administration Department of Energy (DOE) announced the formation of a panel to "study the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and determine if there are ways, or even a necessity, to make it safer for the environment and public health," as we reported on DeSmogBlog.
The other half of that equation we reported back in May: "Unfortunately, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the administration stacked the panel with oil and gas industry insiders."
EWG provided a list of these figures, as seen below:
Panel chair John Deutch, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, now on the board of Cheniere Energy, Inc., a Houston-based liquified natural gas company that, according to Forbes Magazine online, paid Deutch about $882,000 from 2006 through 2009. During a stint on the board of Schlumberger Ltd., one of the world’s three largest hydraulic fracturing companies, Deutch received about $563,000 in 2006 and 2007, according to Forbes.
Stephen Holditch, head of the petroleum engineering department at Texas A&M University and a leader in the field of hydraulic fracturing designs, first at Shell Oil, later as head of his own firm, acquired by Schlumberger in 1997. Today, he is engineering committee chairman at Matador Resources, a Dallas oil and gas exploration company.
Mark Zoback, a geophysics professor at Stanford and senior advisor to Baker Hughes, Inc., a Houston-based oilfield services company engaged in hydraulic fracturing. Zoback is chair of GeoMechanics International, a consulting firm that advises on various oil and gas drilling problems and that was acquired by Baker Hughes in 2008.
Kathleen McGinty, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Clinton administration and a former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, now senior vice president of Weston Solutions, Inc., which consults for the oil and gas industry, including leading natural gas driller Chesapeake Energy, and a director of NRG Energy, a Princeton, N.J., wholesale power generation company whose assets include more than two dozen natural gas companies.
Susan Tierney, assistant secretary of the Energy department under President Clinton, now managing principal of Analysis Group, which consults for utilities that use natural gas and for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the natural gas pipeline industry association.
Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Prize, a 1991 book about the oil industry, and co-founder, chairman and executive vice president of IHS CERA, originally called Cambridge Energy Research Associates, acquired in 2004 by IHS, an international consulting firm whose clients include the oil, natural gas, coal, power and clean energy communities.
Also on the panel was a single environmental representative….kind of. That all depends on your definition of "environmental." Environmental Working Group explains it best:
The panel’s environmental representative is Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, a New York-based nonprofit that focuses on environmental issues. Scott Anderson, EDF’s senior policy advisor for energy and spokesman on hydraulic fracturing is a member of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, which opposes extending the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to hydraulic fracturing. The commission website asserts that fracking “needs no further study." Anderson is a former executive vice president and general counsel for the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association.
This industry friendly panel eventually published a report offering its advice on disclosure standards in August 2011, two months after the passage of the Texas bill. These standards were incorporated into both the Colorado and Pennsylvania bills that are copycats of the original Texas bill (which is now the ALEC/CSG model), according to blog posts written by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
EDF's Role in the Process
The Texas bill, in turn, was written collaboratively by the EDF and gas industry insiders, according to Earthworks, an environmental advocacy group which also expressed other concerns with the bill, writing,
HB 3328 continues a long Texas tradition of letting the oil and gas industry decide what's best. It requires only incomplete chemical disclosure of fracturing fluids, no advance notice to landowners that this information is available, and has no provision for third-party challenges to any trade secret exceptions.
Most of HB 3328 focuses on how industry may claim a trade secrets exemption and avoid chemical disclosure, and with no provision for a water user or a landowner to challenge the claim.
Other outspoken gas industry supporters of this loophole-laced Texas bill: Apache, El Paso, Petrohawk, Pioneer Natural Resources, and Talisman, according to EDF's Scott Anderson. (Anderson is a former high-ranking oil and gas industry official himself.)
Not the "Schoolhouse Rock" Version of Bill Creation
In December 2011, the fracking chemical fluid disclosure bill became an ALEC model bill at its States & Nation Policy Summit, which took place in Phoenix, Ariz.
It sure looks more and more like Otto von Bismarck was right on the money (excuse the pun!) nearly two centuries ago.
For more information, click here.
<div id="7aab6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4bff71c40172c15736f73fe73ed18078"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1330967606585593857" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Today, I’m announcing the first members of my national security and foreign policy team. They will rally the world… https://t.co/bAisIQk5P6</div> — Joe Biden (@Joe Biden)<a href="https://twitter.com/JoeBiden/statuses/1330967606585593857">1606162380.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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