agriculture

Exposed: ALEC's new anti-environmental agenda in Chicago this week

  • Posted on: 7 August 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

New internal documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reveal new methods that fossil fuel companies, agrochemical interests and corporate lobbying groups will influence certain state policies in the coming months through the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

ALEC's annual meeting is taking place in Chicago this week, just as Common Cause and CMD have filed a complaint to the IRS over ALEC's corporate-funded "Scholarships" for state legislators--ALEC is a tax exempt non-profit despite their mission of facilitating an exchange of company-crafted laws with state legislators in closed-door meetings.

ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force is drafting new model bills on behalf of its members like Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and Peabody. ALEC's anti-environmental agenda in Chicago is available for viewing (see E&E PM and Earthtechling). These are the new model bills ALEC and its energy, chemical and agricultural interests are finalizing this week.

The Market-Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act: ALEC and other Koch-funded State Policy Network groups like the Heartland Institute haven't had much success with their attempts to repeal state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) laws through the ALEC/Heartland Electricity Freedom Act. The Market-Power Renewables Act and Renewable Energy Credit Act are two newer, more subtle attempt to weaken RPS laws by phasing in a renewable power voluntary program, creating space for existing and out-of-state energy credits to displace new clean energy, and eventually repealing the RPS requirements entirely.

To slow the growth of clean energy competition, ALEC's fossil fuel members wrote these bills to allow increasing portions of a states clean energy generation requirements to be fulfilled by Renewable Energy Credits, or RECs. RECs are allowed to qualify in some states' RPS laws already, often in limited amounts, and they are not created equal. For instance, the benefits of burning gas leaking from landfills--something waste management companies would be selling anyway--are not on par with the societal benefits from building new sources of clean energy and displacing older, dirtier sources. You can see why ALEC member companies like American Electric Power or Duke Energy may take issue with this, given their reliance on coal and gas electricity generation.

Increasing the amount that RECs can qualify for state RPS targets means allowing more out-of-state energy. This could displace in-state jobs and economic benefits from clean energy development. The RECs may also come from sources that aren't defined as "renewable" in some states' RPS laws, or are only allowed in limited amounts, such as hydropower, biomass or biogas, creating a lowest common denominator effect. At the end of any given year, the ALEC bill would allow states to bank any extra energy generated from RECs beyond what the RPS law requires and use them to meet RPS targets for the following year. This could continually delay the growth of new, clean energy.

Resolution in Opposition to a Carbon Tax: Despite support for a carbon tax from ALEC members like ExxonMobil, ALEC is creating a model bill to weigh in on what will become the keystone policy battle for climate change science deniers, a battle that is already creating a rift among conservative groups, like the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation and the Heartland Institute against the R Street Institute. R Street formed when Heartland's Fire, Insurance and Real Estate program split away last year, after Heartland's insurance company funders were uncomfortable with the group comparing those who acknowledge climate change to the Unabomber.

Pre-Emption of Local Agriculture Laws Act: This bill would prevent governments under the state level (cities, towns, counties) from creating new laws or enforcing existing laws that have to do with the regulation of seeds and seed products--ie crops, flowers, and pretty much all food products grown in a state. This would allow companies like Monsanto (indirectly represented in ALEC through its membership in CropLife America, an agrochemical front group and ALEC energy task force member) to bottleneck regulations of their GMO seeds and products at the state government level and stop community resistance to their abusive patent laws and enforcement through lawsuits.

For examples of what ALEC has already been busy with this year, check out PR Watch's roundup of 77 anti-environmental ALEC bills that have popped up in state legislatures in 2013, supporting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project, rolling back renewable energy incentives and making it illegal to document animal abuse, among other issues.

More info on ALEC's broader corporate agenda can be found on ALEC Exposed.

Industry: 

Institute for Southern Studies: How renewable energy won in North Carolina

  • Posted on: 25 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

(Photo from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.)

This article by Sue Sturgis was crossposted from Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.

A bill that would have ended North Carolina's renewable energy program was voted down this week by a state House committee in a bipartisan vote by a surprisingly wide margin.

House Bill 298 was backed by more than a dozen conservative advocacy groups including the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the John Locke Foundation -- organizations that have considerable influence in North Carolina's Republican supermajority-controlled legislature.

So how did the measure lose?

In a word: jobs.

From the moment talk of repealing the state's renewable energy standard began intensifying following last year's election among conservative groups that have long denied the reality of global warming, the state's sustainable energy industry and environmental advocates pushed back by focusing on the law's track record of creating jobs and other economic benefits.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, an industry lobby group, commissioned an economic analysis of the law, which passed in 2007 by a wide bipartisan margin and was the first of its kind in the Southeast. Released in February, the study conducted by RTI International and La Capra Associates found that North Carolina's law has been a driver of clean energy development, which in turn as been an important job creator for the state.

The researchers found that while the state's economy lost more than 100,000 jobs from 2007 to 2012, clean energy development led to a net gain in employment of 21,162 "job years" (one job that lasts one year) over the same period. It also found that tax credits used by renewable energy projects were important revenue generators for state and local governments, and that the bill would save ratepayers millions of dollars over the long term by avoiding construction of costly new power plants.

In all, the study found that North Carolina has reaped $1.7 billion in total economic benefits from the law over the past six years.

When the repeal bill came up for its first public hearing earlier this month in a House Commerce subcommittee, the only people who spoke in favor of it were from Americans for Prosperity and the Civitas Institute, another conservative advocacy group. The overwhelming majority of speakers praised the renewable energy law's positive economic impact. Besides owners of clean energy companies, they included farmers who have begun investing in systems to generate power from livestock waste methane, which counts as a renewable under North Carolina's law. They were also joined by rural economic development advocates who spoke about how clean energy generation has created jobs and expanded the tax base in struggling rural communities.

It proved a convincing message in a state with the nation's fifth-highest unemployment rate and entrenched poverty in rural areas, where many of the state's renewable energy projects are located.

Though the repeal bill squeaked by in its first subcommittee vote by 11-10, two key Republicans voted against it. State Rep. Mike Hager (R-Rutherford), a former Duke Energy engineer and House majority whip who was one of the bill's four primary sponsors and its most outspoken proponent, saw that his proposal was in trouble. He has made several revisions to the measure in an effort to win support.

This week the proposal was scheduled to be heard in the House Environment Committee chaired by Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte -- one of the Republicans who voted against the measure in the Commerce subcommittee. But on Monday, the measure was re-referred to the House Public Utilities Committee, which is chaired by Hager himself, for an April 24 hearing.

It was there that the repeal bill appears to have been defeated with the help of a half-dozen of Hager's fellow Republicans, including three GOP leaders. After a relatively brief half-hour debate in which lawmakers noted that the policy has brought investments and jobs to their districts, the committee voted 18-13 to kill the bill. The wide margin surprised many observers, who thought it would likely go either way by a single vote.

"This vote to defeat the REPS repeal bill was not just a good outcome, it was the right outcome," said Ivan Urlaub, executive director of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association. "North Carolina businesses, ratepayers, workers, and state and local economies all had a stake in this outcome, and they all won a victory today."

While the bill appears dead for now, the possibility remains that it could come back in a revised form. Hager told the Associated Press after the vote that the sponsors are "going to try and patch it up."

In the meantime, Dallas Woodhouse, director of the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), told The News & Observer of Raleigh that Republicans who voted against the repeal "need to be held accountable." AFP and allied opponents of North Carolina's renewable energy law portrayed it as a burdensome tax on consumers. Duke Energy's residential customers pay 22 cents a month and Progress Energy's 42 cents to subsidize renewables under the law.

AFP had joined with the John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina think tank that has been a leading voice of climate science denial and an opponent of renewable energy initiatives, to launch a StopGreenEnergyTax.com website to promote the repeal bill. Following the bill's defeat, the Locke Foundation posted a statement saying the committee voted to continue a "raw deal for tax payers and rate payers."

The effort to repeal North Carolina's renewable energy law is part of a broader conservative attack against such laws in a number of states including Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Many of the groups involved in the repeal effort, including AFP, have financial ties to fossil-fuel interests.