How A Powerful Group Of Corporations Quietly Tried To Roll Back Clean Energy Standards, And Failed Miserably
"How A Powerful Group Of Corporations Quietly Tried To Roll Back Clean Energy Standards, And Failed Miserably"
When the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, wants a law passed, it has all the resources to make that happen.
The organization is known for helping to advance corporate interests by writing and then pushing to pass conservative legislation at the state level. With funding to the tune of $500,000 from billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch’s foundations from 2005-2011, and $1.4 million from Exxon Mobil this past decade, it shouldn’t be a surprise that ALEC has had many successes in its 40 years of existence. ALEC has most notably pushed “Stand Your Ground” and “Right-to-Work” legislation through state legislatures across the country. The organization has also created model legislation with intended loopholes that allow energy companies to withhold names of certain chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
This year ALEC decided to prioritize the dismantling of states’ renewable energy standards and targets across the country. Their record? 0 for 13. In the states where ALEC and its members sought to repeal or weaken renewable energy standards or targets, not a single bill passed in 2013.
ALEC was joined in this effort by the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank skeptical of climate change science and known for launching a billboard campaign that linked people who care about global warming to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, murderer Charles Manson, and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
ALEC and the Heartland Institute also recruited a host of other conservative organizations and wealthy donors into the fight against renewable energy, such as Art Pope, the John Locke Foundation, Grover Norquist, the American Conservative Union, and Americans for Tax Reform. Even with that considerable conservative firepower battling renewable energy, renewable energy won.
Renewable energy standards require electric utility companies to produce a portion of their electricity from wind, solar, and other renewable sources. These hard targets for renewable energy have been adopted in 29 states and the District of Columbia and another eight states have set renewable energy goals. Standards place an obligation on electricity-supply companies to reach set targets, while renewable energy goals are voluntary for companies—although states might incentivize a utility for reaching a set goal.
The plan to go after renewable energy laws was hatched last year when ALEC held their annual meeting in Salt Lake City. Every year, the organization’s “task forces” convene to create model legislation that will be sent to the ALEC Board of State Legislators for approval. The model legislation is then disseminated to their network of more than 2,000 state legislators across the country to be introduced in their upcoming legislative sessions.
At last year’s meeting, the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force adopted the Electricity Freedom Act, a model bill designed to repeal or weaken state renewable energy standards. The bill was approved by the ALEC Board of State Legislators in October.
Once the state legislative sessions began in January 2013, ALEC legislators set to work introducing bills in committees aimed at either weakening renewable energy standards or completely repealing the laws altogether.
The Center for the New Energy Economy found that there were over 100 unique pieces of legislation proposed in the 2013 session related to state renewable energy standards, and 22 states had bills introduced designed to weaken or repeal the standard.
ALEC and its web of conservative organizations were involved in 13 states:
- Arizona: At the behest of ALEC, the Arizona Corporation Commission proposed but later withdrew a plan to alter the state’s standard after a flood of opposition calls, emails, and petitions.
- Kansas: Both HB 2241 and SB 82 were introduced by legislators tied to ALEC and Koch but failed to pass their respective chambers.
- Maine: LD 646, sponsored by ALEC linked Sen. Youngblood, did not make it out of committee but has been carried over to next year’s legislative session.
- Minnesota: HF 306, authored by ALEC member Rep. Beard, died in the House. Minnesota actually passed a solar energy standard, HF 729, which makes the law stronger.
- Missouri: HB 44, sponsored by ALEC member Rep. Korman, did pass the House — however, the bill died in the Senate.
- Montana: SB 31, sponsored by ALEC linked Rep. Barrett, passed both chambers but was vetoed by Governor Steve Bullock.
- North Carolina: HB 298, sponsored by ALEC member Rep. Hager, died in the House.
- Ohio: SB 34, introduced by ALEC member Sen. Jordan, died in the Senate.
- Oregon: HB 2925, sponsored by ALEC affiliated Rep. Hanna, died in the House.
- Pennsylvania: HB 1073, sponsored by ALEC tied Rep. Stern, Rep. Saylor, and Rep. Hess, died in the House.
- Texas: HB 2026, introduced by ALEC linked Rep. Sanford, died in the House.
- Wisconsin: SB 47, introduced by ALEC member Sen. Grothman, died in the Senate.
- West Virginia: HB 2316, sponsored by ALEC members Del. Householder and Walters, died in House.
Despite attacking the laws in a diverse set of states, supporters of renewable energy standards were able to defeat ALEC for a number of reasons.
Most of the states with renewable energy standards on the books are meeting or are close to meeting their interim targets. The standards have proven to be an effective tool in lowering carbon emissions and improving public health. And residents are already experiencing the benefits of these policies — renewable energy standards have created robust clean energy economies that support American jobs and manufacturers. In fact, more than 119,000 people worked in the solar industry in 2012, and more than 75,000 people work in the wind industry. These laws also drive investments in the U.S. economy — over $100 billion has been generated over the past decade as a result of renewable energy standards. This led to business and industry speaking loudly in favor of their states’ clean energy standards. Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electric utility, for instance, publicly opposed the repeal and weakening bills introduced in North Carolina.
“Personally I support the renewable energy portfolio standard,” he said last month.
Local landowners also benefit from renewable energy development — specifically farmers, unlikely opponents for conservatives to face. When wind turbines are installed on privately-owned land, the land owners receive payments or royalties. This is an important source of income for rural farmers and their families, especially when crop seasons are impacted by climate change-fueled droughts. Renewable energy projects will also pay property and income taxes that help support states and local communities. These tax dollars are then used to support school systems, as well as police and fire departments.
Despite this year’s overwhelming failure, ALEC’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force, most likely won’t slow their attacks on renewable energy any time soon. Common Cause, a nonpartisan grassroots organization, has compiled a list of the corporations on the task force. Several of the corporations involved are: American Electric Power (co-chairs the task force), Cloud Peak Energy, Continental Resources, Dominion Resources Services, Peabody Energy, and PacifiCorp. These companies are either utilities that significantly use fossil fuels to generate electricity, or are coal and natural gas suppliers. Both industries don’t want to see renewable energy standards increase or spread across the country. Others in the task force include Koch Companies Public Sector, and Dezenhall Communications Management Group, a public relations company that specializes in media campaigns to defend corporations from progressive groups, and four of the the biggest oil and gas companies in the world – BP, Chevron, Exxon, and Shell.
These fossil fuel-based companies will continue to prop up ALEC and help create model legislation for lawmakers across the country to introduce in their states. Despite being rebuffed multiple times in his effort to dismantle the state’s successful renewable energy standard, North Carolina ALEC member Rep. Mike Hager hopes to have a state commission find a way to repeal the standard, and is also expected to resume the debate yet again next year.
Matt Kasper is the Special Assistant for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress. Patrick Maloney, Andrew Breiner, and Mari Hernandez contributed to this post.