Q&A: ALEC’s new tactics to weaken renewable laws

This Q&A originally appeared in Midwest Energy News. 

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ALEC40Though bills meant to revoke or undercut renewable standards in numerous states failed last session, clean energy advocates say the model Market Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act proposed by ALEC’s energy task force during the conference pose a fresh threat.

The Market Power Renewables Act argues for a “voluntary market” that would allow people to invest in renewable energy if they choose without instituting mandates, and it claims that such an approach could lead to more renewable energy development overall.

The Renewable Energy Credit Act would expand the types of energy that would count toward credits. It would also remove caps on the proportion of an RPS that can be met through credits – a provision now enshrined in many states’ laws. And it would also allow the renewable standard’s full term – for example through 2025 – to be met in advance by bulk purchases of credits to meet future requirements.

The ALEC conference also included presentations by the American Petroleum Institute on local hydraulic fracturing bans; offshore energy as “good sense and good cents”; nuclear energy’s role in baseload electricity production; and the U.S. EPA’s “assault on state sovereignty,” hosted by a representative of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Gabriel Elsner, director of the pro-clean energy watchdog Checks and Balances Project, was among the advocates banned from ALEC’s meeting in Oklahoma City in May. Elsner was in Chicago for the recent conference, in an effort to learn more about state legislators’ and corporate executives’ ties with ALEC. The Checks and Balances Project also collaborated with the Center for Media and Democracy and Greenpeace to publicize ALEC’s confidential agenda and proposed model bills.

Midwest Energy News spoke with Elsner during his visit.

Midwest Energy News: Given that ALEC was unable to pass its bills last year, how serious a threat do these model bills pose to RPS standards and to renewable energy development as a whole?

Elsner: ALEC completely failed in 2013 to weaken or eliminate RPS laws. We’ve seen that because there’s bipartisan support for clean energy. Businesses and communities are seeing local economic development and job creation because of these laws.

ALEC’s new model legislation is a stealth attack on RPS’s. They are framed in a way that makes them seem pro-clean energy, but would open up RPS’s to allow sources of electricity – from large hydropower to landfill gas — to be included in state laws that are supposed to incentivize clean energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal. The net effect would be reduced incentives for local, clean energy development in states that adopted this new bill.

 

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Fossil Fuel Interests Continue Attacks on Clean Energy Policies

This response was originally posted at National Journal’s Energy Insiders blog, which asked energy experts this week, “How Bright Is Renewable Energy’s Future?”

The outlook for clean energy remains strong because smart investments like state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are combining with technological innovation to produce tremendous growth for the industry and tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs. These policies have successfully stood up to forceful attacks from entrenched fossil fuel interests in more than a dozen states in the past year. Washington should take note that the public supports and wants more energy from renewable sources.

At the state level, fossil fuel interests have worked through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to weaken or eliminate RPS, because the clean energy industry poses a competitive threat to their market share. State renewable energy standards are projected to add enough new renewable power capacity by 2025 to power 47 million homes.

So, it’s no surprise that fossil fuel interests like American Electric Power, Peabody Coal, ExxonMobil and others are working to rollback renewable energy laws. These corporations that sell electricity produced from coal and natural gas are in direct competition with electricity generated from clean energy sources. This year, ALEC members and fossil fuel-funded front groups worked to rollback RPS laws in at least 13 states. But, a bipartisan coalition of business leaders, farmers and clean energy advocates stopped them in their tracks. Of all the bills proposed by ALEC members to weaken or eliminate RPS, 0 out of 13 passed, including in key target states like Kansas, Missouri and North Carolina.

Despite failing completely in 2013, ALEC’s energy task force met last week to propose new model bills that would effectively gut RPS laws by allowing large, existing hydro and landfill gas and other electricity sources from out-of-state to count towards the Renewable Portfolio Standards. The Market-Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act would let utilities meet the clean energy standards by purchasing credits from out-of-state companies instead of generating or buying their own clean energy. In effect, the new model bills would eliminate incentives for in-state clean energy investment that are creating jobs and economic opportunities. Since their inception 10 years ago, RPS laws have leveraged over $100 billion in private sector investment in clean energy in 29 states.

ALEC and fossil fuel-front groups are lobbying our state representatives and spreading disinformation behind closed doors to attack pro-clean energy laws. With energy policy mostly stalled at the federal level, fossil fuel-funded attacks on the state level will continue and likely ramp up in the future, posing a major threat to the clean energy industry and the policies that support its growth.

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After Fossil Fuel Front Group Attacks on Clean Energy Fail, New Model Bill Emerges to Weaken RPS Laws


Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), including fossil fuel corporations and front groups, will meet in Chicago this week to discuss their next round of attacks on clean energy policies. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), The Checks & Balances Project (C&BP) and Greenpeace releasedALEC’s confidential model bills and agenda ahead of their Annual Meeting taking place in Chicago, that include a new anti-clean energy model bill, “The Market-Power Renewables Act.”

“A little sunlight is a powerful force for good. ALEC is trying every trick in the book to keep the agenda of their upcoming meetings secret,” said Nick Surgey of The Center for Media and Democracy. “They are even claiming every state’s public record laws don’t apply to them. This is preposterous. The ALEC documents that CMD obtained show that ALEC is continuing to scheme on behalf of fossil fuel corporations, working together to undermine state’s efforts to promote renewable energy production.”

“The Market-Power Renewables Act” will likely serve as the model for another round of attacks on state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in 2014 following ALEC’s failure to weaken or eliminate clean energy policies this year. The new bill would significantly weaken state clean energy laws by broadening the eligible electricity sources to include existing, large hydroelectric power plants, biomass, biogas and other sources of electricity.

“Fossil fuel-backed efforts to rollback clean energy laws in states across the country have failed, including in at least three critical battleground states,” said Gabe Elsner, Director of C&BP. “It’s no surprise that ALEC is pushing a new model bill that would eliminate incentives for in-state investments in clean energy. These policies are boosting investment in the clean energy industry and creating jobs, which poses a major threat to fossil fuel interests.”

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ALEC’s Most Wanted: Exposing a front group for fossil fuel interests (and other corporations)


ALEC Most Wanted
The Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) Brendan Fischer and Nick Surgey uncovered an internal document from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) at the controversial organization’s meeting last week in Oklahoma City. The document entitled “OKC anti-ALEC photos” featured the headshots of eight reporters and public interest advocates that have written about ALEC or been critical of ALEC’s activities (as a front group working on behalf of its corporate membership).

CMD’s Surgey attempted to attend the keynote address by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, which was billed as open to the press. After registering for press credentials at the ALEC registration desk, Mr. Surgey ascended the escalator towards the keynote speech, but was confronted by ALEC staff members and then approached by a uniformed Oklahoma City police officer.

Mr. Fischer and Surgey recount the exchange in which Surgey had his credentials revoked and was ejected from the ALEC meeting.  From PR Watch:

“I need those credentials,” the officer said.

“I registered,” Surgey replied.

“No, you didn’t,” said a female ALEC staffer, who was accompanying the officer.

“I did, downstairs,” he said.

“It was… you shouldn’t have been able to.”

The reason Surgey shouldn’t have been allowed to register, according to the ALEC staffer: “Because we know who you are.

Surgey asked the ALEC staffer for her name as she asserted that he had to leave:

Can I ask your name?” Surgey asked the ALEC staffer who challenged his press credentials.

“Erm, why?” she replied.

“Is there any reason you wouldn’t want to tell me your name?”

“Yeah, because I know who you are,” she said.

The staffer — whose organization had developed talking points claiming to support the First Amendment, which protects a free and vibrant press — added: “Because you’re going to write an article about it.”

Less than 10 minutes after registering as press, Surgey had his credentials revoked and was ejected from the ALEC meeting by a police officer. As he was escorted away, the ALEC staffer repeated: “We know exactly who you are.”

As Director of the Checks & Balances Project, I was one of the eight people featured on the “ALEC Most Wanted” document alongside other reporters and public interest advocates who have criticized ALEC’s efforts to influence state legislators on behalf of special interests.  

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The Maine Players Attacking Renewable Energy: The Koch Brothers

In a new report, the Maine Conservation Alliance asks: are we debating renewable energy, or the Koch brothers’ profits?”

Maine RPS StudyMaine’s renewable energy standards have been the prime target of the Koch Machine – front groups, think tanks, and legislators with financial ties to Koch Industries and its two billionaire owners: the Koch brothers.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires utilities to provide 30% of their energy through renewable sources, has led to $2 billion in investment and over 2500 local jobs. It has proven to be great for Maine’s economy – but it threatens the profit margins of fossil fuel companies like Koch Industries, which pumps 300 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year.

To dismantle the RPS, the Koch brothers have been extending influence through a legislative front group – the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC). ALEC has contributed over $750,000 to political action committees, candidates, and parties in Maine. Senator Mike Thibodeau, one of the anti-RPS bill’s co-sponsors, has received over $15,000 from ALEC-affiliated organizations.

It is the civic duty of Mainers to decide for themselves what is best for the state’s environment and economy, not an out-of-state corporate interest. The Maine Conservation Alliance affirms that the economy is not for sale.

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ALEC Attacks Clean Energy Standards: Ohio & Virginia

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Over the past couple weeks, fossil fuel interests and their allies have ramped up attacks on clean energy on the state level. As the Washington Post reported in November, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a fossil fuel-funded advocacy group, has made it a priority to eliminate clean energy standards across the country.

From the East Coast to the Southwest, ALEC members, alumni and operatives are moving full steam ahead to eliminate clean energy projects and the policies that support them.  However, not all of these attacks are coming from ALEC members sitting in state legislatures.  In Ohio and Virginia, former ALEC legislators, now in other positions, are driving anti-clean energy attacks. Below is part one of our series on former ALEC legislators spearheading fossil fuel-funded attacks on the clean energy industry.

 VIRGINIA

Two weeks ago, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a former ALEC legislator, struck an agreement with Dominion, one of the largest electric utilities in the U.S., to support legislation effectively eliminating the state’s voluntary clean energy standard. According to the Associated Press, under the agreement, the power companies would no longer have the same financial incentives for using sources of renewable energy in Virginia. Without a legally-binding clean energy standard, killing the financial incentives of the law would stop big utilities from investing in new sources of energy, especially when they can keep profiting off of old coal-fired power plants.

So why is the Attorney General Cuccinelli working to stop clean energy in Virginia? There’s one thing that might show his hand. Attorney General Cuccinelli is running for Governor of Virginia in the 2013 election, and has received over $100,000 from fossil fuel energy interests for his campaign (and over $400,000 from dirty energy interests since 2001) including:

  • $50,000 from David H. Koch, co-owner of Koch Industries, a major fossil fuel conglomerate.
  • $25,000 from Consol Energy, a coal and natural gas producer.
  • $10,000 from Alpha Natural Resources, a coal mining and processing company.
  • $10,000 from Appalachian Power, a subsidiary of American Electric Power, one of the largest electric utility companies.
  • $10,000 from Dominion, one of the largest electric utility companies.
  • $10,000 from Koch Industries, a major fossil fuel conglomerate.

The Attorney General’s office claims that he sought to eliminate the standard because it allowed utilities to buy renewable energy certificates from existing facilities rather than build new clean energy in the state of Virginia. Dominion charged ratepayers $77 million as part of the clean energy law, without building a single clean energy project in the state.

Ken Cuccinelli - Soiree

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli at an event sponsored by the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

But, Mike Tidwell, of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), which has worked with lawmakers to propose several bills to improve the incentive program, said that, “The standard is flawed; but there’s a clear way to fix that.” CCAN is working with Delegate Alfonso Lopez to propose a solution that would require Dominion to invest in wind and solar projects in Virginia in order to qualify for financial incentives.

But instead of trying to fix the renewable energy standard, Mr. Cuccinelli is advocating for the elimination of clean energy incentives while also raking in over $100,000 dollars from fossil fuel interests for his gubernatorial campaign. This clear conflict of interest is compounded by the fact that Mr. Cuccinelli was a member of ALEC, which has publicly stated eliminating clean energy laws as one of its goals for 2013. And, it is Mr. Cuccinelli’s fossil fuel donors, most of which are corporate members of ALEC, that stand to profit from killing clean energy laws and slowing the growth of the clean energy economy.

Instead of fighting for Virginia families and small businesses, it appears that Mr. Cuccinnelli is more concerned with the interests of his big, fossil fuel donors. It’s probably a good indication of how he’ll run the state from the governor’s mansion.

OHIO

In Ohio, no legislation has been proposed to rollback the state’s “Alternative Energy Resource Standard,” yet. But three weeks ago, former ALEC legislator Todd Snitchler, now Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), and two other commissioners, decided to squash a solar power plant proposed by American Electric Power (AEP) – a move that seems to correlate with ALEC’s agenda to stop the growth of the clean energy market.

 

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Are Fossil Fuel Corporate Interests Influencing Legislators Through the National Conference of State Legislatures?

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) describes itself as “a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation’s 50 states, its commonwealths and territories.  NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues.”

Affiliated with NCSL, is the NCSL Foundation which was created by NCSL as a  “nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation that offers opportunities for businesses, national associations, nonprofit organizations and unions seeking to improve the state legislative process and enhance NCSL’s services to all legislatures.”

While the descriptions sound benign, the access to legislators NCSL and the NCSL Foundation provide to fossil fuel interests and other corporate “sponsors” sounds a lot like lobbying. Sourcewatch defines lobbyists as those who do “work on the behalf of their clients or the groups they’re representing to convince the government or others involved in public policy development to make a decision that is beneficial to them.”

Nowhere in the descriptions of NCSL or the NCSL Foundation is the unique access to state legislators granted to corporate funders characterized as lobbying.

In fact, William Pound, NCSL’s Executive Director, said in an interview with Checks & Balances Project at NCSL’s 2012 Fall Forum in Washington, D.C., that legislators are being educated, not lobbied.

However, this access has been called “stealth lobbying” by Steve Horn and Sarah Blaskey in a recent Truthoutpiece.

According to the NCSL Foundation website, there are many ways for fossil fuel interests to “educate” state legislators. They include:

  • Opportunity to participate in the annual standing committee new officer orientation session
  • Regular forums with NCSL officers and NCSL standing committee officers
  • Opportunity to suggest topics to standing committee officers
  • Opportunity to attend NCSL Executive Committee subcommittee meetings
  • Invitations to attend receptions and dinners with legislative leaders at yearly NCSL leadership meetings

In addition, with legislators from 40 out of the 50 states earning an average of $35,326 for their work and an average staff of 3.1 per member (or 1.2 staff in some states),[1] it raises questions of how much time and resources they have to research issues versus relying on positions posted by corporate sponsors or NCSL papers which corporate sponsors have had input on, according to Pound.

Given the role of Michael Behm as the Vice President of the NCSL Foundation and a Senior Vice President for Stateside Associates, a lobbying firm focused on lobbying state-centric groups like NCSL and theCouncil of State Governments (CSG), the partnerships being enabled by NCSL between legislators and fossil fuel interests should not be surprising.[2] This is especially true, given that many of Stateside Associates’ clients are alsoNCSL Foundation’s sponsors.

 

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Coalition Sends Letter to Duke Energy CEO: Drop ALEC

Today, the Checks & Balances Project joined a coalition of democracy advocates calling on Jim Rogers, Chairman, President and CEO of Duke Energy Corporation, to drop his company’s affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC serves as a conduit to feed big business-sponsored legislation to members of state legislatures across the country.

ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Committee is filled with major fossil fuel interests, including ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries, and Peabody Energy, to name a few (here is the full list). It’s not surprising that ALEC is pushing “sample legislation” that would eliminate renewable energy standards and insert loopholes into fracking disclosures, thereby allowing companies to hide the chemicals they are pumping underground.

ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Committee is filled with major fossil fuel interests including ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries, and Peabody Energy (to name a few, here is the full list). It’s no wonder that ALEC is pushing “sample legislation” to state legislators that would eliminate renewable energy standards and insert loopholes into fracking “disclosure” laws to allow companies to hide the chemicals they are pumping underground.

The question remains — Why is Duke Energy involved with these unsavory companies and organizations that are part of ALEC? Duke Energy Corporation’s own website says:

Clean, reliable and affordable energy is the key to creating a growing economy. Duke Energy is already hard at work promoting policies, partnerships and technologies that will ensure our success in the new Clean Market Economy.

Thirty-eight companies have already left ALEC because of “stand your ground” laws that many believe contributed to the death of Trayvon Martin, voter ID laws that are restricting access to the ballot box, and anti-clean energy laws being introduced in legislatures across the country.
For Duke’s own reputation, the Checks & Balances Project implores Duke Energy to drop all ties with ALEC.

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