by Stephen Lacey and Jessica Goad
The American Legislative Exchange Council, a “stealth business lobbyist” that helps corporations write state and federal legislation supporting their interests, has taken major heat for backing controversial laws.
More than a dozen companies — including Coca Cola and Procter & Gamble — have pulled out of the organization over the last month due to ALEC’s support of voter ID requirements and the Stand-Your-Ground law blamed by many for the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
While the controversy around these laws has been widely reported, ALEC’s efforts to help corporate interests cut down climate legislation, renewable energy, and environmental protections are only now being heavily scrutinized. Funded by coal and oil companies, ALEC has made it a priority to stop any changes to the fossil-fueled status quo.
Below, we document the five of the worst anti-environmental initiatives being pushed by ALEC.
Stopping a Price on Carbon
While calling into question anthropogenic climate change, ALEC has been trying to block carbon pricing for many years. In 2010, while receiving tens of thousands of dollars from Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil and other large energy companies, the organization adopted a model resolution stating that “a tremendous amount of economic growth would be sacrificed for a reduction in carbon emissions.” The resolution was introduced by lawmakers in at least six state legislatures around the country virtually untouched from its original form.
Stripping Targets for Renewable Energy
ALEC has already written a resolution that would discourage states from participating in a nation-wide renewable energy target. With the possibility of getting such a target passed in Washington so slim, ALEC officials now indicate they will move their battle to states with existing targets. These laws have helped spur tens of billions of dollars in economic activity and have put the coal industry on the defensive. Not surprisingly, Peabody Energy — the largest private coal company in the world — sits on ALEC’s Enterprise Board and served as chairman of ALEC’s 2011 annual conference, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.
Turning Over Public Lands to the States
Some state legislatures are considering laws that would require Congress to turn over millions of acres of public lands to the states — a move that could eventually open these lands up to extraction industries. The Republican governors of Utah and Arizona are currently considering such bills. The Associated Press reported that “lawmakers in Utah and Arizona have said the legislation is endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that advocates conservative ideals, and they expect it to eventually be introduced in other Western states.” A similar bill was considered in Colorado, and there are rumors that the legislation will also come up in Montana, Idaho, and New Mexico.
Watering Down Public Disclosure of Fracking Chemicals
A number of states are considering new regulations to deal with the rush of natural gas drilling, particularly for hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Many lawmakers and residents believe natural gas companies should be required to let the public know what chemicals are being pumped underground to help extract the gas. Some of the chemicals in facking mixtures are known or suspected carcinogens. In order to protect the industry from disclosure, ALEC has crafted legislation that would provide large loopholes for companies wanting to protect “trade secrets.” A disclosure bill currently being considered in the Illinois legislature uses ALEC’s language. According to the New York Times, the legislation was sponsored by Exxon Mobil.
Preventing Regulation of Toxic Coal Ash
In 2008, a storage pond filled with more than a billion gallons of coal ash spilled into a Tennessee community — decimating homes, polluting local water resources, and causing around $1 billion in damage. The incident sparked renewed calls for federal regulation of coal ash, a bi-product of burning coal that can contain high levels of arsenic and heavy metals. According to one investigation, coal ash can be more radioactive than waste from a nuclear power plant. But ALEC has crafted model legislation opposing any federal regulation of coal ash waste. And these efforts are reaching national politicians. Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing new rules on storage of this toxic waste product.
ALEC is a strong force working behind the scenes to stop any meaningful action on climate and clean energy. This is just a small snapshot of the pro-polluter bills the organization has crafted over the years. With the largest, dirtiest energy companies funding ALEC, it’s clear who these “model” laws are designed to help.