Climate

Inside, And Kicked Out Of, ALEC’s Secretive Policy Summit

CREDIT: AP/John Hanna

This week the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive free-market lobbying group that brings together conservative politicians and major corporate interests, is holding its annual policy summit at the Hyatt Regency in the nation’s capital. On Thursday, ThinkProgress ventured down to the scene to try and get into the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture subcommittee meeting after being denied a media pass earlier in the week. Shortly after inquiring about either attending the closed-door meeting or briefly talking with John Eick, director of the Energy, Environment and Agriculture (EEA) task force — who was standing just a few feet away — ThinkProgress was ushered two floors up back to the lobby.

“I don’t know why some people are allowed in and others aren’t,” said the security guard. “I don’t know who’s on the list — just who’s not on the list.”

Much like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank’s experience last year, this felt like going into the belly of the beast, and quickly being spat out.

At the time Milbank said this brusque closed-door policy with the media “probably won’t fly much longer,” as the organization had received a lot of bad press — in large part for backing Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, a substantial part of the national discussion following the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Milbank pointed out that “corporate sponsors, including Amazon, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Kraft, McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, quit ALEC” by this time last year.

In the intervening year, another slew of corporations have quit ALEC, this time mostly for, in the words of Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt, spreading lies about global warming and “making the world a much worse place.”

Major Silicon Valley companies recently cutting ties with ALEC over the organization’s extremist climate-denial positions include Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Yelp, Microsoft, and AOL.

While this exodus may have led the group to try and present themselves as more media friendly, and in some cases, even environmentally friendly, this is nothing more than window dressing. ALEC’s new CEO, Lisa Nelson, recently said that she “doesn’t know the science” on climate change.

As far as improving transparency, Dave Weigel, a political reporter for Bloomberg tweeted on Thursday around the time ThinkProgress was at the summit, that he only counted “four other reporters in the press seat at its DC conference.”

ALEC, which does not publish a full list of all dues-paying members, includes some 2,000 state legislators, corporate executives, and lobbyists. Many of the state legislators have gone on to become members of Congress. It is also well-documented that most of ALEC’s revenue comes from corporations and corporate foundations, including those associated with petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch, rather than legislative dues. An analysis by the Energy & Policy Institute found that between 1998 and 2012 ALEC’s membership fees totaled just over $1 million while gifts, grants, and contributions were just over $78 million. ALEC received $500,000 in funding from various Koch foundations from 2005-2011 and $1.4 million from ExxonMobil this past decade.

At ALEC’s mid-year conference in Dallas, the EEA task force mission statement and list of resolutions focused on pushing back on changes to the Clean Water Act, promoting liquefied natural gas, obstructing the EPA’s proposed guidelines for reducing carbon emissions, and a presentation from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change. The NIPCC is funded by the Heartland Institute, which questions the existence of climate change, considers the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be “a joke,” and has equated people that believe in climate change with the Unabomber.

Some five months later, ALEC may have suffered some serious funding blows, but that the same time the group has been emboldened by the November elections in which Republicans gained seats. This is especially true at the state level — where ALEC operates — as more legislatures and governors align as Republican, increasing the likelihood that ALEC’s model legislation can actually pass. Republicans now control 31 state legislatures, 24 of which also have Republican governors.

“I think it’s worth bearing in mind that ALEC is probably pretty buoyed by the election results that took place a month ago,” said Nick Surgey, research director for the Center For Media and Democracy’s PR Watch, on a conference call on Wednesday. “And that the conference that’s taking place this week is probably quite lively. It’s a very packed agenda — and we’re likely to see increased numbers of these ALEC bills popping up in 2015.”

One item on the agenda is an act requiring state legislatures to approve any state agency’s plan to implement carbon guidelines on existing power plants — a process that would basically take away a level of approval that most state environmental agencies already have, according to David Doniger, director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“What this would do is repeal state laws and require passage of new state laws,” said Doniger on a conference call. “In other words, the goal is to pass legislation that repeals existing laws in most states and makes states start over again to pass another law.”

Then there’s the resolution demanding that Congress replace the Environmental Protection Agency with a committee made up of six delegate-employees from each of the 50 states, “with a final committee of 300 replacing the 15,000 employees currently employed by EPA.”

The resolution says that over the past 30 years the “EPA has become an almost wholly owned subsidiary of the liberal environmental movement,” and that that even though “today’s air and water quality are better than at any time in the past century” it’s still time to replace the EPA.

“This conference puts the EPA directly in ALEC’s crosshairs,” said Aliya Haq from the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Ultimately this ALEC proposition to abolish the EPA is fairly ludicrous, but it nonetheless shows the group’s trend towards more extreme environmental propositions.”

There is one ALEC resolution that reads as environmentally friendly: the Environmental Management and Protection Principles statement, which says its mission is to “promote a healthy environmental legacy” and “create opportunities for hiking, hunting, fishing and enjoying natural resources.”

However the content of the resolution is clearly aimed at limiting regulations and promoting property rights and free markets.

“This is clearly a less than halfhearted attempt by ALEC to greenwash itself,” said Haq. “Not a single item in ALEC’s agenda would reduce pollution or protect the environment. In fact, they all do the opposite.”