The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive organization that brings together conservative politicians and major corporate interests, is out to correct the impression that it’s a “climate denier” organization by threatening to sue groups that refer to it as one. But after a string of abandoned sponsors, the expansive free-market group’s threat to sue Common Cause and the League of Conservation Voters appears to be more motivated by containing its public relations spiral, rather than reshaping its anti-climate and anti-clean energy agenda.
As the Washington Post reports, in recent weeks attorneys for ALEC sent letters to the two organizations asking them to immediately “cease making false statements” and “remove all false or misleading material” suggesting that ALEC does not believe that “human activity has and will continue to alter the atmosphere of the planet.”
The letter states that ALEC’s position is clear: ALEC does not deny climate change. The possibility of any productive outcome from this threat is unclear, said David Willett, LCV’s senior vice president for communications.
“Threatening legal action is a funny way to start a dialogue and discussion,” Willett told ThinkProgress. “They clearly have realized that their approach is becoming politically toxic.”
Willett said LCV still has every reason to believe ALEC is still working to undermine the Clean Power Plan and renewable energy standards in states across the country. Willett said the approach appears to be consistent with the one taken by most former climate deniers these days.
“They know it’s unwise to attack the scientific consensus and they are scrambling for ways to continue pushing their existing agenda without that talking point,” he said, pointing out that the legal justification for their demands was not made clear in ALEC’s letter.
“It certainly does seem that the recent defections, including companies like Google who specifically cited climate issues, must be of concern to them,” Willett added.
A growing number of major corporate backers have cut ties with ALEC over the group’s controversial policies. The group’s backing of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, a substantial part of the national discussion following the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, led to multiple sponsors leaving the group, and the focus has now shifted to climate change.
In September, Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt said groups were abandoning ALEC for spreading lies about global warming and “making the world a much worse place.”
Corporate sponsors including Amazon, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Kraft, McDonald’s, and Wal-Mart quit ALEC even before this climate meltdown. More recently major Silicon Valley companies including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Yelp, Microsoft, and AOL, have cut ties with ALEC over the organization’s extremist anti-climate positions.
In responding to ALEC’s cease and desist letter, Common Cause President Miles Rapoport stated that ALEC’s legal threats “are an effort to shut down debate about its policies and matters of national importance,” and that the group wants “to chill our right to advocate for the public interest.”
Rapoport said Common Cause “will not be strong-armed into silence.” Common Cause will not retract its statements or make any public corrections as requested by ALEC.
Common Cause points out that in citing 1998 model legislation acknowledging that “human activity has and will continue to alter the atmosphere of the planet,” which “may lead to demonstrable changes in climate,” in its letter, ALEC is omitting key sections of the legislation, including that “such activity may lead to deleterious, neutral, or possibly beneficial climatic changes,” and “a great deal of scientific uncertainty surrounds the nature of these prospective changes, and the cost of regulation to inhibit such changes may lead to great economic dislocation.”
So even if ALEC accepts the reality of human-caused climate change, the group also believes that climate change may be beneficial and that the nature of these changes is still extremely uncertain. Putting aside the increasingly strong scientific evidence collected over the last 17 years indicating the devastating consequences of human-caused climate change, what ALEC really seems to care about is another clause in the legislation: that “some states will be unduly impacted by such regulation especially those that export or produce large amount of carbon-based energy feedstock.”
ALEC wants to protect fossil fuel interests. Whether the group acknowledges climate change is somewhat beside the point if it doesn’t want to do anything about it. ALECClimateChangeDenial.org, a new website set up by DeSmogBlog, the Center for Media and Democracy, Common Cause and other organizations, documents ALEC’s long history of climate obfuscation and denial. One example: ALEC’s 2014 mid-year conference in Dallas, Texas, included 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.
Peabody, the largest private sector coal company in the world, is a longtime ALEC member, and Kelly Mader, Peabody’s top lobbyist, is a member of ALEC’s corporate “advisory council.”
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.