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ALEC Looking to Turn the Clock Back on Renewables

By RP Siegel | November 15th, 2012

 Shell McDonalds koch industries Johnson & Johnson ExxonMobil Electricity Freedom Act coca cola carbon tax cap and trade BP Amazon ALEC It’s often been said that the best defense is a good offense. So if you are a conservative organization that enjoys generous support from various fossil fuel companies, such as Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, and the Koch Brothers, and your side has just lost the election, you know that progressives are going to be pushing forward a rejuvenated clean energy agenda. So, what do you do?

Well, if you are ALEC, the corporate “bill mill” otherwise known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, whose sole function is to ghost-write win-at-all-costs draft legislation that is little more than a set of amoral wish lists for their corporate sponsors – the clear choice is to go on the offensive. That is exactly what they have done, and this latest move of theirs is about as offensive as you can get.

The Electricity Freedom Act is nothing more than a shameless attempt to repeal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) legislation in any and all of the 29 states (plus D.C.) in which it exists, for the simple reason that doing so would increase sales of fossil fuels – let the climate and the people who depend on it, be damned.

Not that it’s likely that such efforts will pass, but every time these folks crawl out from under their well-appointed rock, it is usually under the cover of darkness when they hope that no one is looking. It would be good if someone was looking.

You may recall that there was a mass exodus of companies divesting themselves of any affiliation with ALEC last year, including Coca-Cola, Amazon, McDonalds, Johnson & Johnson among others, out of sheer embarrassment at the group’s extreme positions. You would think that would leave those hangers-on withering in the blinding glare of public disdain. But you would be wrong. As dependable as dusk, the group has managed to keep some 2,000 state legislators on their membership rolls. State legislative seats can be purchased fairly cheaply these days, given the relatively small voter turnout, small margins of victory and even smaller salaries paid to those elected. This is one of the major reasons why the Mitt Romneys of the world want more power given to the states.

The Electricity Freedom Act is based on the false premise that renewable energy is more expensive than conventional sources of power. It completely ignores the fact that even with the distorted economics that discount the many serious impacts of fossil fuels as “externalities,” the cost of wind power, as an example, is now one third cheaper than power from a new coal plant.

As newer legislation designed to let the economics to catch up with the science comes online in the form of carbon taxes or cap and trade programs (like the one that just began this week in California), this price difference will become even more pronounced.

Still, groups like this one, determined to keep their heads in the sand, would not know about that. Instead, they say, “Forcing business, industry, and ratepayers to use renewable energy through a government mandate will increase the cost of doing business and push companies to do business with other states or nations, thereby decreasing American competitiveness.”

Their hope is to spread fear through misinformation about Renewable Portfolio Standard legislation, much as folks like them have done with Agenda 21. But the fact is energy prices have not gone up in the decade since RPS legislation has been introduced, and air quality has improved significantly.

President Obama said in his victory speech, “The recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward.”

But if you are determined to do everything possible to avoid going forward, what better way than to start pulling backwards as hard as you can? Who knows, maybe you’ll end up with a “compromise” that will leave things exactly where they were.

In addition to the Electricity Freedom Act, ALEC has resolutions opposing limits on CO2 emissions, blocking the enforcement of numerous federal protections, including clean air and water laws, safeguards for mine workers, rules that prohibit the sale of tobacco to children, and even protection from discrimination, as well as a whole array of public health measures for things like lead poisoning, that they would prefer to be rid of.

Of course, they claim to be doing all this in the name of freedom. The problem is, these people define freedom in much the same way that criminals do. That is to say, they want law enforcement and government regulations to leave them alone so that they can go about their dirty business unhindered. As to whether the activities of ALEC’s sponsors can be considered criminal or not, well that depends entirely on the outcome of their lobbying activities. If they are successful, the new laws will be written with loopholes big enough to drive trucks filled with toxic waste through and they will be “just doing their business.”


RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.