Six months after rolling out a disastrous billboard campaign that linked people who care about global warming to the Unabomber, the Heartland Institute is looking for another project to boost its profile.
And what better way for the organization to mend its tarnished image than to go after a policy that Americans overwhelmingly support?
The Heartland Institute, known for its campaigns to cast doubt about the science of climate change, is now teaming up with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to craft laws repealing state-level renewable energy targets. ALEC is best known as a “stealth business lobbyist” that helps corporate interests write and pass legislation friendly to their interests. This spring, the organization came under fire for its role in pushing Stand-Your-Ground laws that opponents blamed for the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Both the Heartland Institute and ALEC lost major funders throughout the spring as a result of the separate controversies.
The campaign to dismantle these types of laws isn’t new. Last summer, Bloomberg News reported on tax documents showing that Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil and other energy companies paid membership fees to ALEC in order to help write legislation repealing carbon pollution reduction programs in states around country. But after getting beat on the issues in national elections earlier this month, these groups are doubling down on their efforts to kill clean energy on the state level.
The Washington Post reported this weekend on how the embattled Heartland Institute is joining the campaign:
The involvement of the Heartland Institute, which posted a billboard in May comparing those who believe in global warming to domestic terrorist Theodore J. Kaczynski, shows the breadth of conservatives’ efforts to undermine environmental initiatives on the state and federal level. In many cases, the groups involved accept money from oil, gas and coal companies that compete against renewable energy suppliers.
The Heartland Institute received $736,500 from Exxon Mobil between 1998 and 2006, according to the group’s spokesman Jim Lakely, and $25,000 in 2011 from foundations affiliated with Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch, whose firm Koch Industries has substantial oil and energy holdings. Lakely wrote in an e-mail that the Koch donation was “earmarked for our work on health care policy, not energy or environment policy.” He added the institute had received financial support from the Koch brothers before 2001, but did not specify how much.
James Taylor, the Heartland Institute’s senior fellow for environmental policy, said he was able to persuade most of ALEC’s state legislators and corporate members to push for a repeal of laws requiring more solar and wind power use on the basis of economics.
Heartland and ALEC are building their campaign around economic research from the Beacon Hill Institute, a free-market think tank that has received money from Koch-backed groups:
As part of its effort to roll back renewable standards, ALEC is citing economic analyses of state policies co-published by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute and the State Policy Network. Both groups have received donations from foundations funded by the Koch brothers.
The analyses — which examine current or proposed standards in such states as Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and Oregon — assume that the Energy Information Administration’s projected renewable energy price estimates are too low, and that cost-containment measures embedded in state policies will fail. As a result, the reports conclude Kansas’s requirement to obtain 20 percent of its electricity will cost consumers $644 million over the next eight years, while Oregon’s goal of 25 percent renewable electricity by 2025 will cost consumers $992 million by 2025.
Beacon Hill Institute research economist Michael Head said he and his two co-authors were skeptical the cost caps outlined in legislation would kick in.
“We just left it out so we could provide the actual analysis of the policy itself,” Head said, adding that the central question is not whether renewable energy costs more but “the matter of degree. You’re certainly going to have these higher electricity prices. They will have profound negative consequences for the states’ economies.”
Richard Caperton, a renewable energy finance expert at the Center for American Progress, explained that the studies are based on a number of flawed assumptions.
“The Beacon Hill studies arbitrarily choose high-end estimates for the future price of renewables, they wrongly claim there are no environmental benefits to using renewable energy, they ignore the fact that most state targets have price caps built into them, and they ignore the data we already have showing that there is no evidence that state renewable energy targets drive up rates for consumers,” he told Climate Progress.
Conservative groups also claim that renewable energy mandates will stifle economic growth. However, the non-partisan Energy Information Administration recently modeled the impact of national Renewable Energy Standard and found that it would leave GDP growth virtually unchanged. Under an 80% clean energy standard by 2035, GDP would grow at 2.67% — just a .02 percent change from the baseline 2.69%.
In an effort to work with these conservative groups from within, the Solar Energy Industries Association and the American Wind Energy Association have become members of ALEC. (SEIA was a member until this summer). But the fight is less about the economics or social importance of renewable energy, and more about an ideological battle over the role of government in setting targets for clean energy.
“I think we’re going to see a real knock-out drag-out fight,” said Scott Sklar, president of the renewable energy consultancy The Stella Group, speaking to Climate Progress. “A lot of the conservative groups that didn’t get a lot of payback spending money the national level during this past election have increasingly been moving toward these state fights.”
Public polling suggests that these groups are on the wrong side of the issue. A recent survey from Harvard, Yale, and the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that Americans would be willing to pay $160 per year more to deploy clean energy. And a pre-election poll showed that 72 percent of swing voters agreed that the government should to more to promote solar energy — illustrating why the millions of dollars in attack ads this campaign season didn’t sway the election.
“This will be an interesting set of fights,” said Scott Sklar. “The clean energy industry is preparing for them. But I do believe the country is reaffirming its commitment to clean energy in all its forms, and I don’t think they’re going to be duped into these arguments against the industry.”