Why ALEC Said ‘No Thanks’ to Renewable Energy Members
By Connor Gibson
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Leaked American Legislative Exchange Council documents published by The Guardian recently offered a glimpse into ALEC’s financial troubles, spurred by its role in peddling corporate laws through statehouses around the country. ALEC’s controversial work has caused its member companies to abandon it, such as pushing the National Rifle Association’s Stand Your Ground laws, efforts to undermine clean energy incentives and delay climate change regulations, and breaking workers unions.
The ALEC documents revealed its “Prodical Son” project [sic], a list of 41 corporate members the legislator-lobbyist matchmaker would like to entice back into its roster. ALEC has lost about 60 corporate members since 2011, the year ALEC Exposed was launched by the Center for Media and Democracy.
But there are some private sector members that ALEC doesn’t want back. Sixty companies left ALEC and it’s asking 41 to rejoin…so who is missing from the Prodigal Son list?
Conspicuously, both the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) are not on ALEC’s secret Prodigal Son list. Not surprising, since an ALEC staffer accused residential solar rooftop owners of being “freeriders,” despite how they feed extra electricity back into the grid and spare utilities the capital costs of installing those solar panels themselves.
The solar trade group SEIA left ALEC in the fall of 2012. Shortly before that, ALEC’s Energy, Environment & Agriculture task force considered, but didn’t ever approve, the Solar Streamline Permitting Act (see p. 18). It’s pretty much what it sounds like–making it faster and easier for state governments to approve solar projects, a concept that you might assume ALEC’s conservative member legislators would embrace.
But ALEC didn’t pass the solar permitting model bill. At the same time, ALEC was incubating its assault on state clean energy incentives through The Heartland Institute’s proposed Electricity Freedom Act, the repeal of state renewable portfolio standards, later introduced in some form in 15 states, according to ALEC.
ALEC’s documents list SEIA among “Lapsed” members, with a note explaining “left because their bill did not pass the task force.” SEIA was ALEC’s only interest dedicated entirely to solar energy at the time, and with both SEIA and AWEA absent from ALEC’s ranks, ALEC has no members predominantly focused on clean energy development.
Check out Rachel Maddow’s recent interview with Guardian reporter Ed Pilkington for more on ALEC’s work against clean energy and other revelations from ALEC’s leaked documents:
ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force: Hostile Territory for Clean Energy
Members of ALEC’s EEA task force include Koch Industries, the engine of climate denial finance, not to mention many groups its billionaire owners fund and even helped create, like Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute and The Heartland Institute.
There’s ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute, the architects of the leaked 1998 master plan to publicly attack climate science and scientists, which included ALEC itself and other ALEC members like DCI Group.
There’s Peabody Energy, which commands its PR spokespeople to deny global warming. There’s Duke Energy and Arizona Public Service, two major utilities fighting to make residential rooftop solar energy more expensive for residents and small businesses owners in their respective regions. ALEC’s utilities are joined by their top trade association, Edison Electric Institute.
And don’t forget the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the heavily advertised “coalition that hates each other.” ACCCE was caught subcontracting groups that forged letters to Congress against 2009′s failed national climate policy.
Mining, petrochemical, utility, & agribusiness interests supporting ALEC:
Many dirty energy interests have recently sponsored ALEC’s conferences, pay to participate in ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force meetings, or both. ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force is currently co-chaired by American Electric Power’s Paul Loeffelman and Wyoming state Representative Thomas Lockhart.
*Companies with membership on ALEC’s national corporate board are indicated with asterisks.*
*Koch Industries*—with business in oil and gas exploration, pipelines, refining and trading, coal and other carbon product logistics, timber and consumer paper products, commodities trading and investing, chemicals, fertilizer, ethanol, cattle and game ranching, glass, fiber optics, electronics and plenty of awkward public relations.
The Charles Koch Foundation and Koch-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation both fund ALEC outside of Koch Industries’ membership dues, together giving ALEC hundreds of thousands of dollars. ALEC has long depended on the Koch brothers.
Oil & Gas:
- Atmos Energy
- Cheniere Energy
- Chesapeake Energy
- Continental Resources
- Devon Energy
- EnCana Corporation
- Energy Transfer
- Marathon Oil
- McMoRan Exploration Company
- OXY USA (Occidental Petroleum)
- QEP Resources
- Spectra Energy
- TransCanada Pipelines
- Williams Companies
Oil & Gas Lobby:
- American Petroleum Institute (API)
- American Gas Association (AGA)
- America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA)
- Center for Liquified Natural Gas
- *Peabody Energy*
- Cloud Peak Energy
Utilities (primarily Coal, Gas and Nuclear generation):
- American Electric Power (AEP)
- Arizona Public Service (APS)
- Dominion Resources
- Duke Energy
- *Energy Future Holdings*
- MDU Resources
- MidAmerican Energy, PacifiCorp, NV Energy (all owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway)
- PG&E Corporation
- Salt River Project (SRP)
Coal, Chemical & Fossil Fuel Product Shipping Railroad Co’s:
- Burlington Northern Santa Fe (owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway)
- CSX Corporation
- Genessee & Wyoming Inc.
- Norfolk Southern
- Union Pacific
Coal & Utility Lobby:
- American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE)
- Edison Electric Institute (EEI)
- Indiana Energy Association
- National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)
- Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives (NRECA member)
- Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI)
Chemical, Agribusiness and Paper Industry Interests:
- LyondellBasell Industries
- American Chemistry Council
- American Plastics Council
- J.R. Simplot Company
- CropLife America (lobbying group for Monsanto & other agribusiness corporations)
- International Paper
Uranium Mining & Nuclear Technology:
- Virginia Uranium
State Policy Network, SPN members & SPN associate members:
- State Policy Network (umbrella for 64 state-based orgs and over 250 formally-affiliated allies—see full SPN member list)
- Americans for Prosperity
- Atlas Foundation
- Competitive Enterprise Institute (co-authors ALEC reports against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pollution rules)
- The Heartland Institute (IL)
- Goldwater Institute (AZ)
ALEC notes show that SPN members the Commonwealth Foundation (PA) and John Locke Foundation (NC) have recently lapsed but would like to rejoin ALEC’s ranks. Each of these SPN groups are part of the the Koch-funded climate denial machine.
Public Relations firms with known Fossil Fuel Clients:
- Dezenhall Resources (consulted for ExxonMobil)
- DCI Group (climate denial PR for Exxon, API; represents coal companies pushing for exports in the Pacific Northwest)
- Harris Deville & Associates (PR work for Koch Pipelines, American Petroleum Institute, Dow, and others)
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
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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