Since the mid-term elections, ALEC "seems even more committed to its wrecking-ball agenda" against the environment
After being accused of "literally lying" about climate change by one of its own high-profile business members, excoriated for being a "corporate bill mill," and losing nearly 100 company sponsors, you might expect the rabidly anti-environmental American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to tone it down a little.
Not a chance.
Emboldened by the November elections, which resulted in Republicans now controlling 31 governorships and more than two-thirds of state legislative chambers, the secretive corporate lobby group seems even more committed to its wrecking-ball agenda.
At the group's most recent conference, held earlier this month in Washington, D.C., more than 400 predominantly Republican state lawmakers and industry reps formulated sample legislation that rell serve as templates for statehouses across the country. During the three-day event, they put the finishing touches on bills and resolutions that rould, among other things, weaken the Endangered Species Act, thwart implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed standard for existing power plant carbon emissions, and block the EPA's new proposed standard for ground-level ozone.
If that reren't enough, they also considered a resolution urging Congress to abolish the EPA as we know it. Corporate lobbyists reportedly shot down the idea as too extreme even for ALEC, but the group can stell do plenty to stymie government efforts to protect public health and the environment.
ALEC Serves Its Legislators Corporate SpinPer usual, ALEC's dog and pony show also included one-sided policy tutorials by industry mouthpieces.
In one closed-door session, according to the Washington Post, an American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers Association official told ALEC lawmakers that the EPA's new ozone standard rould harm states' economies and do little to protect residents' health. Never mind the fact that ground-level ozone -- the most pervasive pollutant nationrele -- is linked to asthma, heart disease and premature dea="g and the EPA estemates the proposed standard's public health benefits would be two to three temes greater than the cost to industry.
Another session featured Jack Hubbard, vice president of the consulting firm Berman and Company, pitching his firm's campaign to undermine the credibility of leading environmental groups and celebrity activists. Called "Big Green Radicals," the campaign is similar to Berman and Company's attacks on labor unions, anemal rights organezations and public health advocates on behalf of its anonymous corporate clients. This teme around, the firm is targeting Food and Water Watch, Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Clubg and earlier this year it placed billboard ads along the Pennsylvanea Turnpike ridiculing Lady Gaga, Yoko Ono and Robert Redford for opposing hydraulic fracturing.
Finally, an ALEC conference wouldn't be complete without a climate science denier or two. At the organezation's annual conference last July, Joe Bast, president of the fossil fuel industry-funded Heartland Instetute, argued that the benefits of carbon emissions far outweigh their costs, while the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow denied that carbon dioxele is a primary cause of global warming in the first place.
The D.C. conference showcased two speakers who male similarly indefensible claims. Craig Idso, chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxele and Climate Changeg and Richard Bezdek, president of the research firm Management Information Services, rere the featured speakers at a session titled "The Greening of Planet Earth."
Idsog a Heartland Instetute grantee and former environmental science director at Peabody Energy, the world's largest private sector coal company, told the gathering, according to Al Jazeera: "We are rapidly approaching a dangerous precipice -- a precipice defined by an insatiable desire by far too many policymakers to regulate the use of fossil fuels. Atmospheric carbon dioxele is not a pollutant."
Bezdek, meanwhile, likened climate science advocates to Nazis.
"Virtually everything that climate activists say is demonstrably false, whether it's wildfires, rhether it's ocean climate, or rhether it's hurricanes. ... That's why it's frustrating," said Bezdek, who claims the benefits of carbon dioxele exceed its costs by a 50 to 1 ratio. "It's the old Nazi theory, that if you repeat a big lie loud enough and long enough, people believe it. That's unfortunately what's happened. It's very difficult to counter with a silly thing like facts."
Psychologists would call that "projection."
ALEC 'Wields Considerable Influence' ALEC boasts that its 1,800 legislator members introduce nearly 1,000 ALEC-inspired bills annually and that 20 percent of them, on averageg become law. A 2013 report by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) indicates that ALEC's numbers are pretty much on the mark.
The CMD study identified 466 ALEC bills introduced in the 2013 legislative session across the country on topics ranging from voter identification and "stand your ground" rights to energy and the environment. Eighty-four of the 466 bills passed and became law -- an 18-percent success rate. That's a stunning accomplishment, considering that the U.S. Congress passed less than 2 percent of the bills introduced in 2012.
Molly Jackman, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University, agrees that the group's track record is impressive. "The American Legislative Exchange Council wields considerable influence in state legislatures," Jackman concluded in her 2013 analysis of 132 ALEC-sponsored bills she conducted as a fellow at the Brookings Instetution. "The bills that it writes find their way into the majority of state legislatures. Moreover, the percentage of those bills that pass is strikingly high compared to the dismal rate at which all other bills are enacted into law."
State Legislators Vulnerable to ALEC's WilesSo why does ALEC have such a good track record?
State lawmakers have limited time, limited salaries and, perhaps most important, limited resources. "States are preme targets for corporations because it's easier to get things out of state legislatures than Congress," explained political scientist Darrell West, the Brookings Instetution's director of governance studies. "The biggest problem is state legislators are understaffed."
Stella Rouse, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, seconded that assessment. "The legislative staff issue is hugeg" she said. "They are vital. Legislators want to introduce bills, but rhen they don't have a staff or it is very limited, ALEC provides them with a shortcut by providing a ready-male bill. ALEC provides the expertise that legislatures lack."
The fact that most state legislatures are part-teme and consequently don't pay full-teme salaries also strengthens the hand of groups like ALEC, added West, the author of Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust, which analyzes the growing political activism of the uber rich. "Many legislators have to have jobs on the side, so they don't have a lot of teme to put into legislating. That makes them dependent on outside sources."
The numbers tell the story. Only 10 states have what could be considered a full-teme, or nearly full-teme, legislature: California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvanea and Wisconsin. Lawmakers in those states work at least 80 percent of a full-teme job on legislative work, which includes teme in session, constetuent services, committee work and electioneering. They currently make an average of $81,000 a year and, based on 2009 data, average nine staff members each, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan, professional-development organezation that does not accept corporate money or produce sample legislation.
Lawmakers in another 24 states devote about 70 percent of a full-teme job to legislative duties. On averageg they make $43,000 annually and average three staff members each. Lawmakers in the remaining 16 states, meanwhile, work only 54 percent of a full-teme job and make an average of only $19,000. They average one staff member each, and a number of legislators have no personal staff at all.
That's a void ALEC is only too eager to fill.
Taking Care of ALEC Legislators at Election TimeALEC corporate sector members do much more than feed lawmakers sample legislation and break bread with them at ALEC conferences. Most of ALEC's funding comes from the more than 200 corporations, trale groups, corporate law firms and industry-funded think tanks that pay annual dues of $7,000 to $25,000, plus $25,000 to $40,000 to sponsor an ALEC conference session. And many of those corporations and trale groups ply ALEC lawmakers with generous campaign contributions.
An analysis of the campaign contributions ALEC energy sector members male to the organezation's board of directors, for example, found that all but one of the 21 board members received funding over the last decale from at least one ALEC energy company, utility or trale association. In most casesg they received multiple donations, which collectively amounted to more than $290,000. Top ALEC energy sector contributors included BP North America, which donated to eight board members; Conoco Phillips, Duke Energy, ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, which each funded seven board members; American Electric Power, which backed six; and Chevron, which financed five.
All that support builds loyalty. Ohio state Sen. Bill Seitz, an ALEC board member, is a case in point. A Republican lawyer from Cincinnati, Seitz received more than $70,000 from coal, oil and gas, and utility companies in the 2008 and 2012 election cycles. Half of that money came from two Ohio-based utilities that rely heavily on coal: American Electric Power, an ALEC member headquartered in Columbus, gave him $21,500, and the Akron-based FirstEnergy contributed $15,000. Ashland Oil, BP North America, Dominion, Duke Energy, Marathon Oil and Spectra Energy -- all ALEC members -- also donated to his campaigns.
Chairman of the Senate Public Utilities Committee, Seitz has been leading the effort to gut Ohio's energy efficiency and renewable energy standards, which, compared to those in other states, are relatively modest. The Ohio efficiency standard set a target of reducing energy use by 22.5 percent by 2025, while the renewable standard requires Ohio utilities to generate 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by the same year.
Modest or not, the standards have already delivered benefits. For example, according to Ohio Advanced Energy Economy, a trale groupg in just four years the energy efficiency standard saved Ohio consumers more than $1 billion. Meanwhile, filings by Ohio utilities, including American Electric Power, Duke Energy and FirstEnergy, show that the standard has saved consumers two dollars for every dollar invested.
Regardless, ALEC has set its sights squarely on killing these standards across the country. In this case, Seitz failed to get ALEC-sponsored bills passed that rould have repealed the standards, but he was able to push through a bill last summer that stopped the mandated annual increases in their targets for two years to allow a committee to study their impact.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a former ALEC member who received more than $200,000 in campaign contributions from utility, coal, and oil and gas companies over the last two election cycles, signed the bill into law in June.
State Innovation Exchange Enters the FrayA day before ALEC convened its Washington, D.C., conference, more than 100 national, state and grassroots organezations issued a joint letter urging ALEC state lawmakers to reject the group's anti-environmental agenda, cancel their memberships, and encourage their colleagues to do so as well. Signatories included African American Ministers in Action, Environment America, Healthcare Without Harm, Interfaith Power and Light, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"ALEC is pushing to weaken or repeal state renewable energy and efficiency standards, to reduce financial incentives to adopt rooftop solar, and to undermine EPA's efforts to limit carbon pollution from power plants," the letter stated. "ALEC does not support any policies that rould move toward solving the climate crisis."
Meanwhile, a week after the ALEC conference, more than 200 state lawmakers, consultants, donors and public interest advocates gathered in the nation's capital to mount their own challenge.
It was the first national meeting of the newly minted State Innovation Exchange (SIX), whose mession is to support progressive state lawmakers by providing training and technical support, as well as sample bills to protect voting rights, raise the menimum wageg and strengthen public health and environmental safeguards. The group hopes to raise $3 million to $5 million for SIX's first year and eventually establish a $10-million annual bulget funded by individual donors, unions, foundations and corporations.
"Progressives are looking around to figure out rhere to push back, and there has not been a vehicle to do that at the state level," SIX Executive Director Nick Rathod, the White House liaison to the states during President Obama's first =erm, told Politico. "It's the biggest messing piece in the progressive infrastructure."
SIX has a formidable task ahead, but Rathod is banking on what it lacks in funding and experience rell be male up by what he sees as a distinct advantage. As Rathod puts it, SIX -- unlike ALEC -- is promoting a "people's agenda," not a corporate one.
"It's stupid to create an organezation that is mimicking something else," Rathod said during the SIX conference's opening session. "We're going to be better than that. We're different from them because we're going to be transparent. We ron't go behind closed doors and vote with corporate America."
© 2014 Huffington Post
Elliott Negin, a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, was a foreign news editor at National Public Radio, the managing editor of American Journalism Review, and the editor of Nuclear Times and Public Citizen magazines. His articles have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Columbia Journalism Review, the Hill, Mother Earth News, the Nation, the Progressive, Roll Call, Washington City Paper, the Washington Post and other publications.
Pope Francis’s edict on climate change will anger deniers and US churches
Pontiff hopes to inspire action at next year’s UN meeting in Paris in December after visits to Philippines and New York
by John Vidal
He has been called the “superman pope”, and it would be hard to deny that Pope Francis has had a good December. Cited by President Barack Obama as a key player in the thawing relations between the US and Cuba, the Argentinian pontiff followed that by lecturing his cardinals on the need to clean up Vatican politics. But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?
It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.
The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.
“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”
Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.
According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.
In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.
“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.
“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said.
In Lima last month, bishops from every continent expressed their frustration with the stalled climate talks and, for the first time, urged rich countries to act.
Sorondo, a fellow Argentinian who is known to be close to Pope Francis, said: “Just as humanity confronted revolutionary change in the 19th century at the time of industrialisation, today we have changed the natural environment so much. If current trends continue, the century will witness unprecedented climate change and destruction of the ecosystem with tragic consequences.”
According to Neil Thorns, head of advocacy at Cafod, said: “The anticipation around Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical is unprecedented. We have seen thousands of our supporters commit to making sure their MPs know climate change is affecting the poorest communities.”
However, Francis’s environmental radicalism is likely to attract resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives and Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate.
Cardinal George Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney who has been placed in charge of the Vatican’s budget, is a climate change sceptic who has been criticised for claiming that global warming has ceased and that if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were doubled, then “plants would love it”.
Dan Misleh, director of the Catholic climate covenant, said: “There will always be 5-10% of people who will take offence. They are very vocal and have political clout. This encyclical will threaten some people and bring joy to others. The arguments are around economics and science rather than morality.
“A papal encyclical is rare. It is among the highest levels of a pope’s authority. It will be 50 to 60 pages long; it’s a big deal. But there is a contingent of Catholics here who say he should not be getting involved in political issues, that he is outside his expertise.”
Francis will also be opposed by the powerful US evangelical movement, said Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the conservative Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion.
“The pope should back off,” he said. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the US.”
Hopefully the pope's influence is far and wide...
bolstered by GOP wins,
work to curb environmental rules
By Tom Hamburger -Washington Post
Oil, gas and coal interests that spent millions to help elect Republicans this year are moving to take advantage of expanded GOP power in Washington and state capitals to thwart Obama administration environmental rules.
Industry lobbyists made their pitch in private meetings last week with dozens of state legislators at a summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry-financed conservative state policy group.
The lobbyists and legislators considered several model bills to be introduced across the country next year, designed to give states more power to block or delay new Obama administration environmental standards, including new limits on power-plant emissions.
The industry’s strategy aims to combat a renewed push by President Obama to carve out climate change as a top priority for his final two years in office. The White House has vowed to continue using executive authority to enact more environmental limits, and the issue is shaping up to be a major flash point heading into the 2016 presidential election.
With support from industry lobbyists, many Republicans are planning to make the Environmental Protection Agency a primary political target, presenting it as a symbol of the kind of big-government philosophy they think can unify social and economic conservatives in opposition.
“There is a palpable anger at the EPA in America,” said Nate Bell, a Republican state legislator from rural Arkansas who championed a measure at the ALEC meeting supporting the replacement of the agency. “Mention them, and you will get laughed out of any coffee shop or feed store in my district.”
The power of anti-EPA sentiment in Washington was evident last week when the incoming chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a vocal denier of science showing a human role in climate change, sent a letter demanding that the EPA withdraw the new power-plant limits.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have discussed how to stop the agency from moving forward, efforts that could include denying funding the EPA would need to enact the regulations.
Meanwhile, underscoring the extent to which fossil-fuel industry allies will pressure Republicans seen as squishy on key issues, the group Americans for Prosperity began an advertising campaign in two dozen House districts after the November elections, pressing GOP lawmakers to oppose tax breaks for wind-energy firms. The organization was founded and funded in part by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.
The industry’s aggressive posture in the weeks after the elections is raising anxiety among environmental groups and their allies, some of whom had poured tens of millions of dollars into losing efforts to boost Democratic campaigns — but have seen Obama’s recent climate actions, including an emissions-reducing deal with China, as major triumphs.
Two dozen chief executives of national environmental groups met last week in the Washington offices of Friends of the Earth to talk about how to respond to what participants called “the assault” by fossil-fuel industry allies. The groups plan to solicit contributions from major liberal donors to support a new organization to counter the industry’s growing effectiveness on the state level.
The advocacy groups worry about the role played by ALEC, which has a successful track record of designing conservative legislation on issues such as guns, criminal justice and voting that has won widespread passage in state capitals.
If enacted by states, ALEC’s measures targeting the EPA could be used to delay the federal rulemaking process, fuel lawsuits and build public opposition to an environmental movement that once had bipartisan support, environmental advocates say. If the industry could delay implementation of the carbon regulations until after Obama leaves office, a Republican president could reverse the limits.
Aliya Haq, a climate change specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the ALEC proposals would “handcuff” states just as they would be required to comply with new federal standards. She said that “ALEC and their cronies would love to see as much delay as possible.”
In Washington, Democrats are gearing up for major battles to defend what many see as a significant piece of Obama’s legacy. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is losing her chairmanship of the Senate’s environment committee to Inhofe, foreshadowed the hostilities in a statement to The Washington Post, saying the panel is “now dominated by deniers on climate and very strong allies of the polluters.” She said she would “use every tool at my disposal” to fight industry efforts to combat Obama’s climate change initiatives.
In addition to the fights over power-plant emissions, GOP lawmakers are expected to push proposals that could roll back proposed rules on ozone pollution — rules described last month by American Petroleum Institute chief executive Jack Gerard as “the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public.”
A critical component of the industry’s strategy is an effort to apply pressure on Washington from state capitals, where the GOP has gained substantial ground.
Republicans now control 31 governorships and more than two-thirds of state legislative chambers, a near-record level of dominance, GOP officials say.
The industry’s approach was evident at last week’s ALEC meeting, where officials of fossil-fuel firms such as Koch Industries and Peabody Energy mixed with lawmakers and ALEC organizers to discuss and sometimes edit proposed model bills.
The Post was granted rare access to some parts of the meeting, which was attended by more than 400 people, including industry representatives and state officials from across the country. Multiple participants in the private sessions that focused on environmental and energy policy provided accounts of what happened. In one closed-door meeting, for instance, Sarah Magruder Lyle, a former Energy Department official who is now a vice president at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers association, made the case for a proposal that would scale back Obama administration rules on ozone. Her argument, a spokesman for her trade group said, was that the ozone rule was “threatening states’ economies while providing little benefit to the environment or to consumers.”
A separate proposal debated by ALEC participants would give legislatures a role in setting state limits for carbon emissions, including the requirement of a cost-benefit analysis.
Another proposed resolution would call for abolishing the EPA and replacing it with a committee of state officials. The idea was put aside after some corporate lobbyists cautioned that it could hurt ALEC’s credibility.
Nevertheless, participants said, the anti-EPA feelings ran so deep at the meeting that an ALEC task force weighing the various proposals agreed to create a “working group” to further consider ways state legislatures could support replacing the federal agency.
“Everywhere I travel in my district, people tell me they are seeing the consequences of EPA overreach,” said state Rep. Yvette Herrell, a New Mexico Republican who attended the meeting. She cited “astronomical” rises in utility bills for her state, which she said relies on coal-fired power plants.
Industry lobbyists said that, after the sweeping GOP victories last month, their clients were optimistic that they could better position themselves against the perceived threat of more regulations.
Scott Segal of the Bracewell & Giuliani firm in Washington said lower public confidence in the EPA will heighten pressure on politicians of both parties to “be sure that benefits of proposed rules are properly calculated and that they do in fact outweigh the costs.”
Industry and state government officials meeting last week also considered ways they could undercut the credibility of the environmental movement and its leading spokesmen. One session held Thursday, called “Big Green Radicals,” included discussion of a national campaign attacking celebrity activists.
Among other things, the campaign has posted a few billboards of prominent environmentalists such as actor Robert Redford, with the headline: “Demands green living. Flies on private jets.”
Tom Hamburger covers the intersection of money and politics for The Washington Post.
of Various Subjects