With most of America enduring major heat waves this week, mild and sunny San Diego is not a bad place to be -- especially if you want to ignore climate change and block clean energy solutions. Turns out that's where polluting companies and conservative state lawmakers are gathering right now for the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) annual summer conference. ALEC, funded by industry interests like Peabody Coal and the Koch brothers, is hosting the typical round of closed-door discussions for polluter lobbyists to write model bills for legislators.
This past year has left ALEC in crisis mode - it lost nearly all of its state battles against climate action, while a growing number of high-profile members like Google and Facebook have cut ties over ALEC's climate denial positions.
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But despite these major fails, ALEC's draft conference agenda indicates that its crisis-management strategy is to stay the familiar course: defend polluters, hinder clean energy development, and obstruct climate solutions. ALEC isn't even coming up with interesting new schemes to stymie progress -- it is simply adding new twists on the tired polluter strategies that have already flopped. Here's a quick look at some of the model bills up for discussion this week:
- Attacking the EPA's Clean Power Plan: The "State Power Accountability and Reliability Charter (SPARC)" is a new variation on ALEC's failed strategy last year, supporting Senate Leader Mitch McConnell's call to governors to "just say no" to the Clean Power Plan. ALEC is pushing state legislatures to block governors from complying with the EPA's carbon pollution limits on power plants and prevent state agencies from adopting measures that would reduce customers' electricity bills. Here's a roundup and a handy map showing this approach failed in 22 out of 23 states since January 2015.
- Weakening state renewable standards: The "Act Providing Incentives for Carbon Reduction Investments" is the Orwellian title for a proposal that aims to weaken and delay existing state renewable standards. Since ALEC and its polluters have been trying unsuccessfully to repeal state renewable standards for many years, the new twist in this model bill promotes palatable measures like energy efficiency and electric vehicle chargers, but with the ultimate goal to undermine renewable energy development in states.
- Opposing solar for homeowners: The "Resolution Concerning Special Markets for Direct Solar Power Sales" is a real gem in ALEC's long-running strategy to subvert solar markets. This attack is particularly strident, castigating rooftop solar as a threat to "free markets" with its "monopoly privilege." While we all know that the electricity market is a paragon of Adam Smith laissez-faire economics (note to readers: this is sarcasm), it seems a bit much to label solar as a monopolistic threat. Rooftop solar gives consumers choice; shouldn't we be working to make it available to more people not fewer? Furthermore, Econ 101 taught us that the hidden costs of fossil pollution is a market failure, and solar incentives level the playing field for clean energy to protect public health and the environment. These attacks are most likely coming from vested polluter interests (including some ALEC members who are actual regulated monopolies) that want to protect their profits.
- Establishing environmental litigation slush fund: A new strategy for ALEC is the "Environmental Impact Litigation Act," which would allow third parties, like polluting companies, to give (seemingly unlimited) donations to the state for a litigation fund. This fund would cover any expenses for challenges pertaining to key federal environmental laws like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Additionally, this ALEC bill would set up an advisory committee with industry representatives to help determine how the fund is spent. It would seem ALEC is trying to formalize the secretive, backchannel practice recently exposed by the New York Times.
We will have to wait until the end of the ALEC conference to see which of these draft bills win approval as official ALEC model legislation. But there is no waiting required to see that ALEC is still the same old organization pushing the same old polluter agenda.