Jill Richardson is the Food Rights Network Fellow. She is also the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.
By Jill Richardson on July 27, 2011
posted on Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch
As the U.S. suffers through catastrophic tornadoes, heat waves, and other climate extremes - no doubt just a small taste of what the climate crisis will bring in the future - polluting industries and the politicians that serve them want to convince you that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is actually a good thing.
Last December, almost like clockwork, Republican legislators in state houses across the nation sounded the alarm about an "out of control" Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). What had the EPA suddenly done to earn such criticism? The EPA had dared to take the first baby steps towards regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
By January 2011, Indiana became the first state to pass a resolution urging Congress to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions (by defunding the EPA if necessary), to impose a two year moratorium on any new air quality regulations, and urging the federal government to complete a study identifying all planned regulatory activity by the EPA and its impact on the economy, jobs, and American economic competitiveness.Between February and May, 13 other states passed similar resolutions (AL, IA, KS, KY, MI, MO, MT, ND, PA, TX, UT, VA, and WY). Six more states had resolutions introduced that never passed (AK, FL, IL, MN, OH, and OK). Because the Center for Media and Democracy has now launched the ALEC Exposed archive, we can now trace the emergence of this rash of legislation to the bill factory know as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
ALEC and KyotoALEC's campaign against any regulation of greenhouse gases began long ago, when the U.S. was in the midst of debating the Kyoto Protocol, an international effort to rein in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to control the climate crisis. In the spring of 1998, ALEC ratified a model resolution for states to pass calling on the U.S. to reject the Kyoto Protocol and banning states from regulating greenhouse gases in any way. With ALEC friend George W. Bush entering the White House in 2001, the energy interests that sit on ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force - easily got their way on keeping the U.S. out of Kyoto.
With a Board of Directors that includes lobbyists from ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Koch Industries, ALEC's interests in avoiding any regulation of greenhouse gases is easy to understand. ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force is currently chaired by the American Gas Association, an organization that promotes natural gas "fracking," and was previously chaired by Peabody Energy. Other ALEC members include BP America and Chevron.
ALEC also receives substantial funding from fossil fuel interests. It has received at least $600,000 from Koch Industries, between 1997-2009, during which time it fought vigorously against greenhouse gas regulation, which would no doubt help Koch Industries' bottom line as the company profits handsomely from oil and natural gas, so much so that it was named one of the nation's top 10 air polluters in 2010. ALEC received an additional $1.4 million from ExxonMobil since 1998. Both companies, and many more whose funding is harder to trace, are getting their money's worth as ALEC member and Congressional alumni parrot corporate talking points on the dangers of reducing America's GHG emissions.
ALEC and State Climate Change InitiativesWith Kyoto dead in the United States under the Bush administration, ALEC went after what they called "Son-of-Kyoto" legislation: state efforts to regulate greenhouse gases, like the California law limiting CO2 emissions from vehicles by 2009. Simultaneously, they wrote and promoted model bills advocating natural gas "fracking," offshore drilling for oil and natural gas, and nuclear energy.
In addition to individual state laws regulating carbon, regional initiatives sprang up, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in ten Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states and, later, the Western Climate Initiative, which includes U.S. states, Mexican states, and Canadian provinces throughout the western half of the continent. ALEC drew up a resolution for legislatures to pass, urging their governors to pull their states out of these regional initiatives. They had a major success when Arizona Governor and ALEC alum Jan Brewer pulled her state out of the initiative in early 2010.
ALEC and the EPA's "Regulatory Trainwreck"ALEC and its dirty energy leaders, members, and funders found itself faced with a new challenge when President Obama was elected in 2008 and actual environmentalists were put in charge of the EPA. In 2009, the EPA made its "Finding," that "the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) — in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations." Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA was then required by law to regulate these greenhouse gases.
ALEC launched into hyperdrive. On December 1-3, 2010, ALEC held a policy summit in which it brought its troops in line on the issue of "the EPA's regulatory trainwreck." ALEC sought to frame the EPA's enforcement of the Clean Air Act as "higher prices, fewer jobs, and less energy." The policy summit included a session led by Peter Glaser of Troutman Sanders LLP law firm in which Glaser, an attorney who represents electric utility, mining and other energy industry companies and associations on environmental regulation, specifically in the area of air quality and global climate change, told the crowd that "EPA's regulatory trainwreck" is "a term that's now in common use around town. I think everybody should become familiar with it." (See the video here.) Along with the presentations, ALEC published a report called "EPA's Regulatory Trainwreck: Strategies for State Legislators" and provided "Legislation to Consider" on its site, <RegulatoryTrainwreck.com. For the public, they created the website StopTheTrainwreck.com.
ALEC'S Federal Echo ChamberWith friends and alumni at the federal level, ALEC has a ready made echo chamber. At the December 2010 summit, Nebraska Senator and former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns presented a talk called "Opening Agricultural Markets by Restraining the EPA and Expanding Trade." His presentation is not online, but it's not difficult to guess what he might have said. Less than one week later, he appeared on the radio show AgriTalk to comment on the very same subject. "They make the Clinton administration look like shrinking violets on this. I mean, it's just incredible how active this Lisa Jackson and her team has been and it's not positive for agriculture at all, or for the economy."
ALEC alumni and incoming chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) echoed Johanns comments on the same show one week later and used his new power in the House to hold a hearing on "the impact of EPA regulation on agriculture" on March 10, 2011. Meanwhile, in February 2011, Peter Glaser, who led ALEC's Policy Summit session on their anti-EPA GHG regulation campaign, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Energy and Power subcommittee in a hearing on "The Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011." (The vice chair of the subcommittee, Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK), is another ALEC alum.)
To drum up "grassroots" support for their campaign, the Koch Industries-funded Tea Party group FreedomWorks is now working to bring Tea Party activists into the campaign, calling on them to support another bill by Rep. John Sullivan, H.R. 2401: Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act of 2011, which is designed to delay the enactment of any EPA regulations of GHGs.
With the Democrats in control of the White House and in the majority in the Senate, thus far ALEC has not been successful in shepherding its legislation through at a federal level. But just last month, it issued a press release congratulating itself for pushing back against "EPA's onslaught of regulations."