Koch-Funded Misinformation Campaign Aims to Derail Renewable Energy Growth
The campaign is being spearheaded by a stealthy, Koch-funded lobby group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that drafts and attempts to implement state legislation that serves the interests of its corporate backers. Teaming up with ALEC is the industry-backed Heartland Institute, the folks now probably best known for posting a billboard in Chicago last spring that compared people who accept the reality of global warming with “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski. These two groups have already begun to foist legislation called the “Electricity Freedom Act” on state legislatures across the nation.
The notion of “electricity freedom” sounds appealing enough. But don’t be fooled. The proposed legislation is a direct attack on states’ efforts to move toward clean, renewable sources of electricity. And it is being sold to legislators and the public with the help of bogus findings from studies funded by—you guessed it—the Koch brothers.
Renewable Energy Standards Are Working
Here’s the background: 29 states and the District of Columbia now have standards on their books that require electric service providers to ramp up the percentage of electricity they generate from renewable energy sources like wind and solar power by a target date. These so-called renewable electricity standards (or sometimes renewable portfolio standards) are working well across the country. They are modernizing our energy grid with clean, cost-effective renewable electricity sources. They are reducing carbon emissions that lead to global warming. And they are helping boost the economy with a significant number of new, green energy jobs.
Who wouldn’t like those results? Well, some coal and oil companies, that’s who, because state renewable electricity standards cut directly into their profits as older coal-fired power plants get phased out to make room for cleaner, greener alternatives.
Enter the fossil-fuel industry-backed ALEC and the Heartland Institute with their aggressive campaign to try to weaken or repeal state renewable electricity standards. The campaign comes with two key components: First, the “Electricity Freedom Act,” proposed legislation for state legislatures that seeks repeal of state renewable electricity standards characterizing them as an unwarranted “tax on consumers of electricity” (which they most certainly are not). Secondly, these groups push the argument, based on thoroughly debunked, Koch-funded “studies,” that renewable energy dramatically drives up consumers’ electricity rates. It doesn’t.
Despite the scare tactics, the evidence already mounting in states around the country tells a very different story.
The pertinent fact here is that, even aside from environmental considerations, aging coal plants are getting increasingly costly to run. Renewables, meanwhile, are becoming significantly cheaper. Solar photovoltaic modules prices are now 75 percent lower than they were in mid-2008 and are projected to fall further. According to a recent Department of Energy study, the wholesale price of wind power was competitive with prices for a range of power prices seen in 2011. As a result, in Illinois, for instance, the growth of wind and other renewable technologies has actually reduced wholesale electricity prices by displacing coal and other energy sources with high operating costs, saving ratepayers an estimated $177 million in 2011 alone.
While some aggressive state renewable electricity standards might incur modest (and almost always explicitly capped) rate increases in the short term, the payoff can be significant over time. Among other reasons, that is because there are no fuel costs for most renewable energy sources, which can help reduce the risk of future price spikes by an overdependence on fossil fuel power plants that are often subject to fuel price volatility. Any serious analysis will show that renewables can offer sizable savings to consumers in the long run.
In fact, when analysts at the Union of Concerned Scientists crunched the numbers in a major 2009 study, they found that a nationwide 25 percent renewable electricity standard that phased in by 2025 would lower annual consumer electricity rates by 4.3 percent by that date, saving ratepayers across the country $64.3 billion on their electricity and natural gas bills.
But serious projections and evidence-based analysis don’t seem to have slowed down this anti-renewable energy campaign. In the last election cycle, bills were introduced in five state legislatures designed to freeze or repeal existing renewable electricity standards. In 14 more states other attempts were made to weaken these standards. So far, the efforts have been largely unsuccessful. Now, however, according to reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere, the Koch-funded campaign is ramping up to aggressively increase its attacks on renewable electricity standards in all the states that have them.
In its efforts so far, the campaign has gone after current or proposed standards in more than a dozen states, including Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and New Jersey, pushing misleading analyses of each from the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University. These analyses, funded in part by the Koch brothers and commissioned by the Koch-funded American Tradition Institute and "free-market" state think tanks associated with the Koch-funded State Policy Network, include skewed data and outdated sources to build a shoddy case of negative impacts.
Jeff Deyette, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, closely dissected one of these analyses last fall. Deyette found that the study, addressing a proposed renewable electricity standard in Michigan, made highly questionable assumptions about renewable energy technologies and often cited out-of-date, controversial or unsubstantiated material to support their assertions instead of using real-world cost and performance data from local projects.
As Deyette explains, “It is not surprising, given the poor quality data these analysts used, that they would inaccurately project higher costs for renewables right from the start. But the more troubling part of a campaign like this is to recognize that, unless we’re vigilant, a lot of people might be swayed by this kind of misinformation.”
So, if and when the “Electricity Freedom Act” surfaces in your state, Deyette recommends that you fight back by making sure your elected officials review the real evidence about the environmental and economic success of increasing our use of renewable energy.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLE ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>