American Legislative Exchange Council

NC to Duke Energy: Have You Dumped ALEC Yet?

Amid a dump of leaked American Legislative Exchange Council documents published by The Guardian last week, North Carolina is asking Duke Energy: Have you finally dumped ALEC?

NC WARN and ProgressNC have both raised the question, based on Duke Energy's inclusion in a list of "Lapsed" private sector ALEC members featured in The Guardian and an article in the Raleigh News & Observer.

ALEC's notes for Duke Energy's lapsed membership, as of April 22, 2013, only say "Merged with Progress Energy, new contacts," indicating that Duke's absence was only temporary as new personnel were assigned to participate in ALEC's work. Duke and Progress merged into the largest U.S. utility company last year.

Duke Energy, North Carolina's monopoly utility company, has long been a member of ALEC. Last year, Duke Energy refused to leave ALEC even after being petitioned, emailed and called by over 150,000 people to defect. ALEC's controversial legacy includes blocking climate change policies as part of Big Oil's 1998 master plan, the NRA's Stand Your Ground laws, which increase homicide rates, and "Voter ID" bills that suppress legitimate American voters, especially students, the elderly and people with brown skin.

While Duke Energy has resisted calls to dump ALEC, it has responded to the pressure by distancing itself from several items on ALEC's dirty lobbying laundry list:

  • Duke has repeatedly pushed back on any association with ALEC's Stand Your Ground and voter suppression laws.
  • Duke's call for action to address global warming clash with ALEC's legacy of climate change denial, including new draft policies to interfere with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's greenhouse gas rules, and a bill that forces teachers to misrepresent climate change science to their students, now law in at least four states, thanks to state legislators implementing ALEC's model bills.
  • Duke has explicitly denounced ALEC's attacks on state Renewable Portfolio Standards-laws to increase utility electricity generation from cleaner sources. Duke takes credit for helping create North Carolina's RPS.

So why has Duke Energy resisted popular pressure to leave ALEC, including from its own ratepayers? If Duke doesn't like ALEC's history shilling for climate change deniers, nor the National Rifle Association, nor the Republican party's voter disenfranchisement strategies, what is making Duke stay?

ALEC's new attacks on rooftop solar electricity producer are right in line with Duke Energy's attempt to pay back 29% less to homeowners whose solar panels feed extra electricity back into the grid, despite the fact that these homeowners fronted the costs of installing and maintaining solar panels themselves.

Duke is terrified of the prospect of rooftop solar energy, which threatens its century-old monopoly business model. Duke is used to being the dominant company providing power to North Carolina residents, and they can basically charge customers as much as they want. More customers are choosing to install their own solar panels as the technology rapidly becomes cheaper, keeping money in the pockets of ratepayers rather than Duke's executives.

ALEC's Updating Net Metering Policies Resolution, discussed last week at its States and Nation Policy Summit in Washington, DC, would complement dirty utilities like Duke Energy that are working to make it more costly for people to feed their own solar power into the electrical grid. See here for ALEC's new anti-environmental resolutions.

Which Utilities will be Using ALEC's State Lawmakers to Attack Solar Energy?

ALEC's utility member companies The new ALEC resolution was crafted with help from lobbyists at Edison Electric Institute, the primary trade association for Duke and most other large U.S. utility companies.

EEI's roster also includes Arizona Public Service (APS), the utility that tried to force Arizona's residential solar electricity producers to pay $50 per month for feeding unused electricity back into the grid. In the end, the monthly fee was reduced to $5 per month, which still serves as a disincentive for homeowners to install their own solar panels.

As it sought to make net metering more expensive for small-scale solar producers, APS lied to the public, denying its funding of anti-solar TV advertisements run by Koch brothers front groups.

APS recently rejoined ALEC after disassociating for a short year. ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force includes APS and presumably Duke Energy, among other dirty energy giants. The EEA task force is governed by American Electric Power's Paul Loeffelman and Wyoming state Representative Thomas Lockhart, friend of the coal industry.

Duke Can Still Do the Right Thing

Duke Energy needs to make its intentions clear.

The company can go with the Koch brothers, ALEC, and companies like APS, and financially punish North Carolinians who choose to produce their own electricity. Or, it can finally dump ALEC, its bad policies and anti-democratic processes and shift to a business model that embraces the power of the sun. It can continue to plan around a cost on carbon emissions and phase out dirty coal that aggravates everything from climate change to water pollution to asthma.

We hope to get the right answer from Duke Energy soon.

Oops! CEO of Corporate Front Network Lied to Reporters - State Policy Network

State Policy Network CEO Tracie Sharp

Last week, the Center for Media and Democracy and ProgressNow released a series of reports on how the State Policy Network coordinates an agenda carried out by affiliate "Stink Tanks" in all 50 states. Responding to questions from reporters, SPN's CEO Tracie Sharp demanded that each of the seemingly independent groups were "fiercely independent."

But Jane Mayer at the New Yorker reports Tracie Sharp said the opposite to attendees of SPN's recent annual meeting. In Oklahoma City last September, Ms. Sharp plainly told her associates how to coordinate a broad agenda and pander directly to the interests of billionaire funders like the Koch brothers and the Searle family for grants:

Sharp went on to say that, like IKEA, the central organization would provide “the raw materials” along with the “services” needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. “Pick what you need,” she said, “and customize it for what works best for you.” During the meeting,

Sharp also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization’s often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. “The grants are driven by donor intent,” she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, “the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.” She said that the donors also sometimes determined in which states their money would be spent.

Tracie Sharp responded to the New Yorker with a generic statement that didn't address her contradictory statements. And who knows if there's anything useful she could say at this point, The State Policy Network was just caught with its pants down.

For those who don't spend their days reading about the inner workings of the corporate-conservative political machine, the State Policy Network isn't a familiar name. But it's an important entity. SPN serves as the umbrella of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and all of its state and national allies pushing a coordinated corporate-friendly agenda through all 50 states.

SPN and ALEC have led the coordinated attack on clean energy in states like North Carolina, Kansas and now Ohio. Dozens of SPN groups are longtime players in the Koch-funded climate change denial movement. By orchestrating against policies to lessen global warming impacts or by directly undermining the science, SPN's efforts have ranged from urging inaction on global climate treaties and forcing teachers to misrepresent climate science to their students.

Beyond shilling for the coal, oil, gas and nuclear companies bankrolling ALEC and SPN's operations, these coordinated entities attack public employee unions, wages and pensions, block Medicaid expansion, suppress legitimate voters, push to defund and privatize schools, and undermine choice in women's health.

And who pays for SPN's work in all 50 states?

SPN's main purpose is to advance the interests of its corporate funders: dirty coal and petrochemical industries, the tobacco giants, agribusiness, pharmaceutical companies, private education firms, tech and telecom companies, and the usual web of trade associations, law firms and lobby shops paid to represent each of those industries. Corporations use SPN to advance political campaigns they are typically embarrassed to associate with publicly.

The State Policy Network also serves to advance an ideological agenda that tends to undermine the interests of most Americans in favor of those who are particularly wealthy and well-connected.

The Koch brothers fit this description, of course. But they're joined by a legion of lesser known multi-millionaires and billionaires, sometimes coordinating directly with the Kochs.

These SPN funders include Richard Mellon Scaife, Phil Anschutz, Art Pope, the Coors family, the DeVos family, the Searle family, and the remains of the Bradley family fortune, to name a few of the better known of these sources of dark money. Few citizens recognize the names of this quiet minority of political puppetmasters, but people still feel the bruise of plutocratic spending as state and national politics are pushed to new extremes.

More on the State Policy Network can be read in the National Stink Tanks report. SourceWatch has the full list of SPN members and affiliates and SPN funders.

Ohio Clean Energy still in Koch & ALEC crosshairs

Crossposted from Greenpeace’s blog: The Witness.

Ohio is currently fighting this year's final battle in a nationally-coordinated attack on clean energy standard laws, implemented by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other groups belonging to the secretive corporate front group umbrella known as the State Policy Network (SPN).

ALEC and SPN members like the Heartland Institute and Beacon Hill Institute failed in almost all of their coordinated attempts to roll back renewable portfolio standards (RPS) in over a dozen states--laws that require utilities to use more clean energy over time. After high profile battles in North Carolina and Kansas, and more subtle efforts in states like Missouri and Connecticut, Ohio remains the last state in ALEC's sites in 2013.

ALEC Playbook Guides the Attack on Ohio Clean Energy

 After Ohio Senator Kris Jordan's attempt to repeal Ohio's RPS went nowhere, ALEC board member and Ohio State Senator William Seitz is now using ALEC's new anti-RPS bills to lead another attack on the Ohio law--see Union of Concerned Scientists.

ALEC's newly-forged Renewable Energy Credit Act allows for RPS targets to be met through out-of-state renewable energy credits (RECs) rather than developing new clean energy projects within Ohio's borders. RECs have varying definitions of renewable energy depending on the region they originate from, lowering demand for the best, cleanest sources of power and electricity.

Sen. Bill Seitz's SB 58 takes advantages of existing provisions of Ohio's RPS law and tweaks other sections to mirror the key aspects of ALEC's Renewable Energy Credit Act. His RPS sneak-attack is matched by House Bill 302, introduced by ALEC member Rep. Peter Stautberg.

Just five years ago, Senator Seitz voted for Ohio's RPS law. Now, Seitz calls clean energy incentives "Stalinist."

Attacks on Ohio's Clean Energy Economy: Fueled by Dirty Energy Profits

Most of ALEC's money comes from corporations and rich people like the Koch brothers, with a tiny sliver more from its negligible legislator membership dues ($50/year). This includes oil & gas giants like ExxonMobil ($344,000, 2007-2012) and Big Oil's top lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute ($88,000, 2008-2010). Exxon and API just two of dozens of dirty energy interests paying to be in the room during ALEC's exclusive Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force meetings.

Other polluting companies bankrolling ALEC's environmental rollbacks include Ohio operating utilities like Duke Energy and American Electric Power. AEP currently chairs ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force. Some of these companies (like Duke Energy and the American Petroleum Institute) pay into a slush fund run by ALEC that allows Ohio legislators and their families to fly to ALEC events using undisclosed corporate cash (see ALEC in Ohio, p. 6).

Ohio Senator Kris Jordan used corporate money funneled through ALEC to attend ALEC events with his wife (ALEC in Ohio, p. 7). With electric utilities as his top political donors, Sen. Jordan has dutifully introduced ALEC bills to repeal renewable energy incentives (SB 34), along with other ALEC priorities like redirecting public funds for private schools (SB 88, 2011), and blocking Ohio from contracting unionized companies (SB 89, 2011).

Koch-funded Spokes & Junk Data Bolsters the ALEC Attack

The behavior of Senator Bill Seitz indicates he's more beholden to ALEC and the dirty energy utilities dumping tens of thousands of dollars into his election campaigns* than his constituents. There is support from a majority of Ohioans for utilities to obtain at least 20% of their electricity from clean sources. Ohio veterans spoke up for the RPS for increasing the state's energy security and lowing wholesale energy costs.

Rather than listening to these voices from Ohio, Senator Seitz has sided with out-of-state Koch-funded mouthpieces invited to testify against the Ohio RPS. Back in March, Seitz heard anti-RPS testimony from The Heartland Institute's James Taylor, who repeated false claims that the RPS will make electricity unaffordable.

Taylor's assertions mimicked those made in a debunked series of reports written for ALEC's RPS attacks. The Ohio anti-RPS report was co-published by the Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute and the American Tradition Institute (ATI), sister group to the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. ATI, now known as the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, was largely funded by Montana petroleum millionaire Doug Lair.

Senator Seitz also heard testimony from Daniel Simmons of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), who recited long-debunked statistics from the so-called "Spanish study" and "Danish study." Koch-funded groups have used these two papers for years to stifle clean energy growth in the United States. Daniel Simmons previously worked for ALEC and the Mercatus Center, which was founded by the Kochs. Heartland and the Institute for Energy Research have financial or personnel ties to the Kansas billionaire Koch brothers.

RPS and Energy Efficiency Are Helping Build Ohio's Economy

Thanks in part to energy efficiency incentives and the RPS law, Ohio's clean energy economy is expanding rapidly, with 25,000 Ohioans employed by 400 companies in the sector. Wind energy is set to expand rapidly, with the American Wind Energy Association projecting $10 billion in investments over the next decade, thanks to the RPS targeted by ALEC and its dirty companies through loyal politicians like Senator Seitz.

Not content to just weaken incentives for clean energy growth, Bill Seitz's SB 58 would also undermine energy efficiency standards, another item on ALEC's agenda. This despite a projected $2.7 billion in savings for Ohio by 2012, as directed by the efficiency and RPS laws.

No wonder ALEC got dumped by its wind and solar trade members.

----

*Since 2007, Senator Seitz has received $46,450 from coal utilities that are ALEC member companies:

  • $21,500 from American Electric Power (AEP)
  • $15,300 from Duke Energy
    • $4,800 of this bundled from Duke Employees in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana during the 2008 election cycle
  • $4,000 from NiSource
  • $3,000 from Dominion
  • $2,650 from the Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, a member of the nation's top dirty energy lobbying heavyweight, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

If you add contributions from FirstEnergy, AES subsidiary Dayton Power & Light, and the Ohio Coal Association, Sen. Seitz's coal money since 2007 tops $66,000.

ALEC's December, 2012 meeting in Washington, DC was heavily sponsored by coal companies, including AEP, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and Edison Electric Institute, the utility trade group whose membership includes Duke Energy, AEP, NiSource, Dominion, AES and FirstEnergy.

Data aggregated by the National Institute for Money in State Politics - FollowTheMoney.org

GREENPEACE REPORT: Climate Change Denial Machine vs. Scientists

Written by Cindy Baxter, crossposted from Greenpeace: Dealing in Doubt.

Who likes being lied to by people paid by the oil industry who pose as “experts” on climate change?

Did you know it’s been going on for 25 years?

In a couple of weeks, the UN’s official advisors on climate change science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will update its global assessment on the issue. Yet in the background, more attacks on the climate science are underway

For the last quarter century, the climate science denial machine, its cogs oiled by fossil fuel money, has been attacking climate science, climate scientists and every official US report on climate change, along with State and local efforts – with the aim of undermining action on climate change.

Our new report, Dealing in Doubt, sets out the history of these attacks going back to the early 90s. These are attacks based on anti-regulatory, so called “free market” ideology, not legitimate scientific debate, using a wide range of dirty tricks: from faked science, attacks on scientists, fake credentials, cherry-picking scientific conclusions: a campaign based on the old tobacco industry mantra: “doubt is our product”.

We give special attention to perhaps today’s poster child of the climate denial machine’s free market think tanks, the Heartland Institute, which is about to launch a new version of its “NIPCC” or “climate change reconsidered” report next week in Chicago.

Unlike the real IPCC, with thousands of scientists involved from around the world, the Heartland Institute’s handful of authors is paid. Several of them claim fake scientific credentials. They start with a premise of proving the overwhelming consensus on climate science wrong, whereas the real IPCC simply summarizes the best science to date on climate change.

This multi-million dollar campaign has been funded by anti-government ideologues like the Koch brothers, companies like ExxonMobil and trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute.Big Oil funding of climate denial declines. "Anonymous" funding through Donors skyrockets. Interesting.

More recently, less visible channels of funding have been revealed such as the Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, organization that that has been called the “ATM of the conservative movement”, distributing funds from those who don’t want to be publicly associated with the anti-environmental work product of organizations like the Heartland Institute.

In the last week we’ve seen new peer-reviewed science published, linking at least half of 2012’s extreme weather events to a human carbon footprint in the atmosphere and on the weather and climate.

As the scientific consensus strengthens by the day that climate change is happening now, that carbon pollution is causing it and must be regulated, the denial machine is getting increasingly shrill. But today, while they are being increasingly ignored by a majority of the public, their mouthpieces in the US House of Representatives, for instance, have increased in number.

They’re still fighting the science – and they’re still being funded, to the tune of millions of dollars each year, to do it.

Dealing in Doubt sets out a history of these attacks. We show how the tactics of the tobacco industry’s campaign for “sound science” led to the formation of front groups who, as they lost the battle to deny smoking’s health hazards and keep warning labels off of cigarettes, turned their argumentative skills to the denial of climate change science in order to slow government action.

koch brosWhat we don’t cover is the fact that these organizations and deniers are also working on another front, attacking solutions to climate change. They go after any form of government incentive to promote renewable energy, while cheering for coal, fracking and the Keystone pipeline.

They attack any piece of legislation the US EPA puts forward to curb pollution. Decrying President Obama’s “war on coal” is a common drumbeat of these anti-regulation groups. One key member of the denial machine, astrophysicist Willie Soon from the Smithsonian Institute for Astrophysics, has portrayed himself as an “expert” on mercury and public health in order to attack legislation curbing mercury emissions from coal plants.

This recent history, as well as the prior history of denial by the tobacco companies and chemical, asbestos and other manufacturing industries, is important to remember because the fossil fuel industry has never admitted that it was misguided or wrong in its early efforts to delay the policy reaction to the climate crisis. To this day, it continues to obstruct solutions.

The individuals, organizations and corporate interests who comprise the ‘climate denial machine’ have caused harm and have slowed our response time. As a result, we will all ultimately pay a much higher cost as we deal with the impacts, both economic and ecological.

Eventually, these interests will be held accountable for their actions.

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

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.

Koch throws ALEC under the bus to dismiss George Zimmerman funding rumor

Amid public outrage over the acquittal of George Zimmerman after the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, Koch Industries wants to clarify something: they did not finance Zimmerman's legal defense...but they did and do continue to fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which took up the NRA's Stand Your Ground law in Florida and spread it to over two dozen other states. 

Using their Koch "Facts" website, lobbyists at Koch Industries pushed back on the Zimmerman rumor and cite Snopes, a popular reference for confirming or debunking rumors. Snopes explains how Koch has backed ALEC's operations, including peddling Stand Your Ground laws that increase homocides:

"A rumor claiming that Koch was paying the legal fees of George Zimmerman, the defendant in the Trayvon Martin shooting case, and calling for a boycott of Koch-owned paper companies began to spread in mid-April 2012. This rumor appears to be tied to a combination of George Zimmerman's launching a web site soliciting donations for his lawyers and living expenses and news reports linking Koch to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative policy group "that came under attack after the Trayvon Martin shooting for pushing Stand Your Ground gun laws nationwide".

ALEC's work for Koch and other companies has resulted in a barrage of bad state policies, taken home by ALEC's member state legislators who then turn a wishlist of corporate-crafted bills into law. Koch in particular is interested in ALEC's polcies to prevent action on climate change at every opportunity, blocking accurate teaching of climate science in K-12 schools, promotion of fossil fuel extraction, attacking clean energy incentives, limiting liability for corporations when their actions harm the public, and other cynical tactics that undermine the public interest. 

Koch Industries is a member of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force. Koch lobbyist Mike Morgan sits on ALEC's national corporate board and the Koch brothers' foundations have given hundreds of thousands to ALEC's general operations, supporting a wide variety of issues including the dissemination of the NRA's Stand Your Ground laws. 49 corporations and 6 nonprofits have stopped supporting ALEC due to Stand Your Ground, Voter Suppression and other controversial policies, including Wal-Mart, the nation's largest gun retailer. Meanwhile, Koch has stood behind ALEC during controversy after controversy.

Every "fact" that Koch Industries posts comes with an invisible asterick that readers must fill in themselves. Koch uses KochFacts to intimidate, lie and bend the truth, and will continue to do so in attempts to prevent reporters and watchdogs from highlighting its bad behavior.

Keystone Academy: Where Legislators Learn the Etiquette of Serving Special Interests

2012 ALEC Academy attendees. Photo via twitter

Written by Nick Surgey, crossposted with permission from PR Watch.

In October 2012, nine U.S. state legislators went on an industry paid trip to explore the Alberta tar sands. Publicly described as an "ALEC Academy," documents obtained by CMD show the legislators were accompanied on a chartered flight by a gaggle of oil-industry lobbyists, were served lunch by Shell Oil, dinner by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and that the expenses of the trip were paid for by TransCanada and other corporations and groups with a direct financial interest in the Alberta tar sands and the proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline.

Among the nine legislators on the tour was the new ALEC national chairman, Representative John Piscopo from Connecticut, and Senator Jim Smith from Nebraska who has sponsored legislation in his state to speed up the building of the Nebraska segment of KXL. Email records obtained by CMD show that after the trip, legislators were asked by ALEC to send “thank you notes” to the lobbyists for their generosity in Alberta.

Far better than a mere "thank you," Rep. John Adams from Ohio returned from the trip and sponsored a bill given to him by a TransCanada lobbyist calling for the approval of KXL. As previously reported by CMD, similar legislation, reflecting both an ALEC “model” bill and language taken from a TransCanada set of talking points, has been introduced in seven states in 2013.

The tar sands of Alberta are estimated to be the third largest reserve of crude oil on the planet. But the process of turning the tar-like bitumen into a refined product that can be used as fuel is extremely energy intensive and highly polluting. The former NASA scientist James Hansen, warned that the extraction and use of Canadian tar sands would mean "game over" for the climate. TransCanada is the operator of the proposed KXL pipeline, which would carry the tar sands to Texas for processing and likely for exports to markets abroad.

In Private Jets and "Petroleum Club" Dinners, U.S Politicians Get the Dirt on Canadian Tar Sands

Officially, ALEC organized the Alberta tour as an "ALEC Academy." In ALEC’s description of corporate sponsorship opportunities, this type of event is described as being "an intensive, two--day program for legislators that focus on a specific area of policy." It comes with an $80,000 fee to sponsor. Unofficially however, and made clear to legislators on the trip in emails from ALEC obtained by CMD, the expenses were paid for by lobbyists from the oil-industry and by the government of Alberta. In an email sent to Ohio representative John Adams ahead of the trip, ALEC staffer Karla Jones reassured participants that all transportation, accommodation costs and meals would be paid for.

According to a copy of the trip itinerary obtained via a public records request, legislators flew into Alberta on Tuesday October 16, 2012, and were met by TransCanada lobbyists who took them on a tour of their facilities in Calgary.

TransCanada, which is a member of ALEC, sponsored ALEC’s Spring Task Force Summit in Oklahoma City in May 2013, alongside other corporations with tar sands interests including BP, Devon Energy and Koch Industries. TransCanada’s Vice President Corey Goulet presented to legislators at the conference during a session called "Embracing American Energy Opportunities."

Dinner on the first night was at the up-market Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in downtown Calgary, paid for by American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM). The dinner included a presentation to the captive audience of lawmakers from AFPM about Low-Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS), a mechanism designed to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. As CMD has reported recently, LCFS is considered a real threat to the tar sands industry, because it might restrict the U.S. market for fuels derived from the tar sands. AFPM, which has funded one of the other groups on the tour – the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) – to work to oppose LCFS legislation, would successfully sponsor an ALEC "model" bill on this issue just weeks after the trip, called "Restrictions on Participation in Low-Carbon Fuel Standards Programs."

On Wednesday morning, after breakfast at the hotel, legislators were taken to the airport where a private charted plane was waiting to fly them around a number of different tar sands operations. Accompanying the legislators and ALEC staffer Karla Jones, were lobbyists from AFPM, TransCanada, Devon Energy, CEA, Shell Oil, and the Government of Alberta. The flight was chartered by the Alberta Government, at a cost of $22,000, with the costs split evenly between them and another unknown entity.

During the day, legislators toured facilities owned by Shell – which also provided lunch – and Devon Energy, where they viewed the massive "Jackfish" tar sands projects. At these facilities, Devon utilizes Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), an energy intensive process that injects steam into the dirty bitumen to access otherwise inaccessible deposits too deep for mining. This process is expected to open up further areas of Alberta for tar sands extraction, including by Koch Industries subsidiary Koch Exploration Canada which has a pending permit request in Alberta to utilize SAGD.

Dinner on Wednesday night was served at the Petroleum Club, sponsored by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. On the Thursday morning, just before their return flight, legislators did have a brief meeting with a representative from the Pembina Institute, an Alberta environmental group that calls for responsible exploitation of the tar sands. According to the ALEC trip itinerary, this was to "provide the opposing point of view."

Although Pembina does represent a different view from those that want completely unrestrained extraction of the tar sands, the group is not representative of those that oppose tar sands extraction. There are plenty of organizations that could have provided alternative viewpoints, particularly first nation tribes who are campaigning vigorously on this issue, but perhaps unsurprisingly they were not included. Even Pembina’s - somewhat limited - opposing voice was not wanted during the tour of the oil sands facilities, and they were not invited to the lobbyist-sponsored dinners.

ALEC as Emily Post

A month after the trip, the Director of International and Federal Relations at ALEC, Karla Jones, sent participants an email helpfully reminding them of what each industry lobbyist had paid for on the tour. CMD obtained a copy of that communication via a public records request, which included a spreadsheet containing the names, telephone numbers and mailing addresses of each of the lobbyists on the trip. The ALEC email also prompted legislators to send each of the sponsoring corporations a "thank you note."

The phenomenon of ALEC legislators sending such letters to lobbyists is something CMD has previously reported on. Ohio Rep. Adams, for example, sent at least a dozen letters to corporate lobbyists in 2010, thanking them for writing checks to the ALEC scholarship fund, which paid his and his colleagues way to an ALEC conference.

"Because of your help and others like you, the trip to ALEC was made possible for our legislators," Adams wrote to AT&T lobbyist Bob Blazer.

“Rather than sending thank you notes to their corporate lobbyist sponsors, these legislators should instead consider an apology to their constituents,” Stephen Spaulding, Staff Counsel for the good government group Common Cause told CMD. "I doubt lobbyists want thank you notes in return for bankrolling legislators' international vacations – they would rather a bright, shiny souvenir in the form of corporate-drafted legislation."

Better Than a Thank You Note, Payback in Ohio

After the trip to Alberta, Rep. Adams, the Assistant Majority Floor Leader and Ohio ALEC state chair, led the calls in Ohio for the approval of the KXL pipeline, sponsoring a bill (HCR 9) and talking publicly about the proposed pipeline. "It is of the upmost importance that we strongly urge the U.S. government to take the necessary steps towards operation of the Keystone Pipeline," Adams wrote in March 2013 while promoting his bill. Rep. Rosenberger, the other Ohio legislator on the ALEC trip to Alberta, accordingly co-sponsored the Adams bill.

According to documents CMD obtained from public record requests in Ohio, a draft bill was sent to Adams on January 23, from Steve Dimon of 21 Consulting LLC, who represents TransCanada. The bill was sent as an attachment to the Dimon email.

The email message itself simply read, "Thank you so much!"

Dimon stayed in touch with Adams' office over the proceeding months, providing his staff with further materials about Keystone XL, including a set of talking points stamped with the TransCanada logo.

By February 14, Adams had an updated draft that had been reviewed by the Ohio legislative service commission, the non-partisan body that assists legislators with drafting legislation. Adams staffer Ryan Crawford sent this language to Rob Eshenbaugh, a lobbyist with Ohio Petroleum Council, the state affiliate of the American Petroleum Institute. "Please let me know if I can be of further assistance," Crawford wrote to the lobbyist. Eshenbaugh responded with some requested changes, which Crawford then incorporated into the bill.

All this occurred prior to Adams sharing the bill with his fellow legislators, which didn't happen until February 20. Adams finally introduced his bill in the Ohio Assembly on March 9, without any public statement about his involvement with the ALEC Academy or that the source of the bill was a tar sands lobbyist.

The route of the proposed KXL pipeline takes it through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. This is a long way from Ohio, but the debate over the KXL project has become a national issue. The ALEC Academy, and subsequent lobbying from the oil-industry, demonstrates that TransCanada sees value in developing a list of states supportive of the project to influence the federal debate over KXL approval.

The precise details of the ALEC tour, including the trip being part-sponsored by TransCanada, are not mentioned in Adams’ financial disclosures, which only reports his expenses as being from ALEC and the Alberta Government. Adams is not breaking the law here. This is because of the way ALEC works to fund legislator travel. Its scholarship system allows corporations to “sponsor” legislator’s expenses, which are then simply disclosed as being a payment from "ALEC" and not from the sponsoring corporations or groups. CMD documented the ALEC scholarship fund in a 2012 report released jointly with Common Cause: "How the American Legislative Exchange Council Uses Corporate-Funded “Scholarships” to Send Lawmakers on Trips with Corporate Lobbyists."

Graduates of the Keystone Academy appear to be learning a lot about how ALEC works behind the scenes to promote special interest legislation while keeping the public entirely in the dark.

Heritage Foundation crisis clogs Koch Brothers outreach to Hispanic voters

The Heritage Foundation isn't helping billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch reach Hispanic and Latino voters.

If you were the Koch brothers and you wanted to connect better with Latino and Hispanic voters, after you just dumped millions of your own cash into a presidential election that didn't go in your favor, you'd probably be annoyed if one of your favorite front groups started undermining your voter outreach.

That's exactly what's happening with the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation. Heritage is having a public relations crisis after releasing a contentious report claiming that immigration reform would cost $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years, indebting taxpayers to support people who live in the U.S. illegally. The offensive kicker is that the Heritage report's freshly-resigned co-author, Jason Richwine, previously published a dissertation claiming that Hispanic and Latino immigrants have lower IQs than White people.

Here's a helpful meme for Mr. Richwine:

As Heritage Foundation is one of the billionaire Koch brothers' favorite groups to implement their political agenda--receiving more than $2.7 million from Koch-controlled foundations since 2005--this is a poor start for the Kochs' new interest in reaching Hispanic and Latino voters in the U.S.

Amid the fiasco, Heritage pulled out of Buzzfeed's forum on immigration sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute. See infighting over Heritage's assumptions about how so-called "illegals" contribute to the U.S. economy from the Koch-funded Reason Foundation, of which David Koch is a trustee.

Hispanic & Latino Voter Engagement is Central to the Kochs' Refined Political Plans:

After coordinating hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat President Obama with the direct help of other billionaires like Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess, and Philip Anschutz, the Kochs are meticulously refining their methods of controlling U.S. politics from behind the scenes. Some of those methods already involve serious marginalization of U.S. immigrants from Latin-American countries, as I've previously written:

It’s worth noting that the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council distributed Arizona’s controversial racial profiling law, SB 1070, to states around the country so private prison companies can rake a profit off the incarceration of immigrants.

At the Kochs' most recent political strategy and fundraising meeting, the Kochs prioritized outreach to Hispanic voters, according to leaked material published by Mother Jones. Kevin Gentry, a Koch Industries employee and Koch World's central fundraiser, explained the new priority in his invitation to "several hundred of America's top business owners and CEOs" attending last month's Koch meeting:

Among other topics, in April, we'll discuss how to more effectively engage growing demographic groups, such as Hispanic and Latino voters, and how to encourage principled and effective advocates of free enterprise to run for office.

Kevin Gentry then offered mild elaboration to invitees of the Koch meeting:

Hispanic, women and youth engagement. Allies will present an approach to more effectively communicate to these growing demographics, all of which will play a critical role in advancing free enterprise.

New Heritage President Jim DeMint's History with Koch World:

It's unclear if anyone from the Heritage Foundation attended the recent Koch meeting, although Heritage's new President and former U.S. Senator James DeMint has repeatedly attended the Kochs' secretive confabs in the past. In turn, the Kochs were one of the top contributors to Jim DeMint's political piggy bank while he ran and served in the Senate (2004-2012). Sen. DeMint's campaign and leadership PACs received a total $76,000 from Koch Industries and the Koch family (see p. 21 of Greenpeace's 2011 Koch report).

Either Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation didn't heed the notes from the Kochs' latest gathering, or Heritage staff didn't realize that calling people stupid isn't the best way to sell an ideology.

On a human level, the Kochs don't get it. Even ignoring the offensive work of the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, and other Koch front groups, the recent focus on Latino and Hispanic voter outreach is clearly a self-serving political tactic, where broadly-defined groups of people are used as a means to an end.

Koch Industries bid for U.S. Newspapers includes major Spanish outlets:

The Koch brothers could potentially influence U.S. Latino voters through Koch Industries' controversial bid for a pile of major U.S. newspapers owned by Tribune Company. Tribune Co's print news in Chicago and Los Angeles isn't limited to the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times; Tribune Co. owns Hoy, the nation's second largest daily U.S. newspaper published in Spanish, as well as two major weekly outlets in Florida: El Sentinel de Florida Central and El Sentinel del Sur de la Florida, published in conjunction with two Tribune daily papers written in English, the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Each Saturday, 127,000 copies of El Sentinel is distributed to its reader base, while Hoy's weekend edition reaches over one million homes in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Tribune Company's widely distributed English newspapers also include the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant, and the Allentown, PA's Morning Call and Hampton Road, VA's Daily Press.

While Koch Industries doesn't yet own any media, a network of Koch-friendly media has shown it is capable of spreading misinformation on key topics like climate change. Due to the high possibility of warped editorial reporting if Koch buys Tribune, ten public employee unions and groups like Free Press, FAIR, Forecast the Facts, Courage Campaign, Daily Kos, and the Center for Media and Democracy have all urged the public and owners of the Tribune Company to reject an offer from Koch Industries.

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

(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.

Center for Media and Democracy releases a Reporter's Guide to the "State Policy Network"

The Center for Media and Democracy has released a new report on the State Policy Network, a web of interconnected groups that attack climate change science and oppose support for renewable energy.  The new guide details the $80 million that right-wing billionaires and corporations are spending each year to fuel Tracie Sharp's State Policy Network (SPN) and its 59 state "think tank" members.

The guide, a product of a three month investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy, has found previously unreported funding for SPN flowing directly from Koch Industries, in addition to the known contributions from the Koch family foundations. CMD also tracks SPN's connections to the Koch funded Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, known as the "Dark Money ATM" for attacks on climate science.

 State Policy Network’s connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), are also explored in the report. According to the guide:

 "Through ALEC, SPN helps draft templates to change state laws; then ALEC's public sector and private sector members vote in secret for those bills; and then SPN supports the introduction or adoption of those bills as law, sometimes with help from David Koch's [Americans for Prosperity] AFP echo chamber in a state.”

Called the Reporters Guide to the State Policy Network, CMD’s report details how SPN works, who funds it, what the network's groups do, and looks at some of their legislative goals, including undermining workers' rights and weakening unions as well as undoing renewable energy laws and expanding ways in which tax dollars are redirected to the private sector, for example through funding so-called "virtual schools." Key resources include:

  • Documentation that exposes the close funding connections between SPN, its members, and the controversial ALEC.
  • Highlights of the significant and previously unknown Koch brothers' funding for SPN groups, demonstrating that prior estimates of Koch funding have been understated. (These materials were discovered by CMD and researchers in materials filed with the IRS by two of the SPN groups.)
  • Entries about every SPN member think tank on CMD's SourceWatch.org.

Read CMD’s Reporter’s Guide to the “State Policy Network” here.

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