CEI

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.

Koch Industries funds ALEC and State Policy Network front groups to kill Kansas clean energy standard

Crossposted from Greenpeace USA

Correction: this post listed Sen. Julia Lynn as a supporter of the RPS freeze--she is not and her name was removed from SB 82 co-sponsors below.

A recent flood of Koch-supported think tanks, junk scientists and astroturf groups from inside and outside of Kansas are awaiting the outcome of a bill this week that could stall progress on the growth of clean energy in Kansas.

States around the country, including Texas, Ohio, Missouri and North Carolina are poised to cut back on government support for clean energy jobs using model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, which brings companies together with state lawmakers to forge a wish list of corporate state laws behind closed doors, is coordinating this year's assault on state laws that require a gradual increase of electricity generated by clean energy sources.

ALEC and a hoard of other Koch-funded interests operating under the umbrella of the State Policy Network have hit Kansas legislators hard with junk economic studies, junk science and a junk vision of more polluting energy in Kansas' future. Koch Industries lobbyist Jonathan Small has added direct pressure on Kansas lawmakers to rollback support for clean energy.

This fossil fuel-funded attack ignores the good that wind energy has done for Kansas, a state known for its bipartisan support for its growing wind industry (see key report by Polsinelli Shughart). The state now has 19 operating wind farms that have brought millions to farmers leasing their land and millions more to the state, county and local levels (NRDC). The American Wind Energy Association says that Kansas wind industry jobs have grown to 13,000 with the help of incentives like the renewable portfolio standard.

Unfortunately, clean energy is not palatable to the billionaire Koch brothers or the influence peddlers they finance.

All of the following State Policy Network affiliates (except the Kansas Policy Institute) are directly funded by the Koch brothers, while most of the groups get secretive grants through the Koch-affiliated "Dark Money ATM," Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which have distributed over $120,000,000 to 100 groups involved in climate denial since 2002.

Beacon Hill Institute
  • $53,500 grant from Donors Trust in 2007
  • Koch-funded (Washington Post)
  • State Policy Network member

Based out of Suffolk University's economics department, the Beacon Hill Institute wrote the fundamentally flawed analysis that ALEC is using to scare legislators into thinking that renewable portfolio standards will destroy the economy. In reality, electricity prices do not correlate with state RPS laws (see also Kansas Corporation Commission).

An extensive debunk of the Beacon Hill report was done by Synapse Energy Economics, and similar critiques can be read in the Portland Press Herald and the Maine Morning Sentinel, the Union of Concerned  Scientists, the Nature Resources Defense Council and the Washington Post.

The definitive Post article confirms that the Beacon Hill Institute is Koch-funded. This may be through $729,826 in recent grants (2008-2011) from the Charles G. Koch Foundation to Suffolk University. The Kochs tend to send grants to economics departments, causing controversy at Florida State University and other schools over professor hiring processes.

Beacon Hill's Michael Head co-authored the reports that ALEC and the State Policy Network are using in several states. Mr. Head specializes in STAMP modeling, a form of economic analysis that has been criticized for its limitations and poor assumptions in the case of energy analysis. Michael Head testified before the Kansas legislature on February 14th to promote the flawed findings of his report. Mr. Head testified alongside members of the Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute (see more on each, below), all of which are members of ALEC and SPN.

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC): 

ALEC is leading the nationally-coordinated attack on state renewable portfolio standards as part of an ambitious dirty energy agenda for the members of its anti-environmental task force, like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, Duke Energy and other major oil, gas and coal interests.

ALEC's "Electricity Freedom Act" is a full repeal of state laws requiring increasing electricity generation from clean sources, although in some states the model has morphed into a freeze of those targets rather than a full repeal. Kansas is one of those states.

The bills running through Kansas' House and Senate are co-sponsored by legislators who are members of ALEC. The Senate Utilities committee sponsoring SB 82 has at least three ALEC members and the House Energy & Environment committee that introduced HB 2241 has at least three ALEC members:

  • Senators Forrest Knox, Ty Masterson and Mike Petersen.
  • Representatives Phil Hermanson, Scott Schwab, and Larry Powell (member of ALEC's anti-environmental task force that created the Electricity Freedom Act)
While it's unclear if the lead House sponsor Rep. Dennis Hedke is directly affiliated with ALEC, he spoke directly with a Koch Industries lobbyist about the bill and has a close relationship with the Heartland Institute, which promoted one of his books.
 
The Heartland Institute:

Heartland is based in Chicago and perhaps best known for its billboard comparing those who recognize climate change with the Unabomber (for which they lost over $1.4 million in corporate sponsorship along with the "mutiny" of their entire Insurance department, now the R Street Institute).

The Washington Post reports that ALEC's "Electricity Freedom Act" was created by the Heartland Institute. Heartland has long been a paying member of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force along with Koch, Exxon and others. Citing the flawed Beacon Hill reports, Heartland has encouraged a repeal of Kansas' clean energy incentives on its website.

Heartland lawyer James Taylor testified before the Kansas legislature in February, opining that the growth of Kansas' clean energy sector is "punishing the state’s economy and environment." James Taylor was flown into Kansas City for an Americans for Prosperity Foundation event intended to undermine the Kansas RPS law. The AFP Foundation is chaired by David Koch.

Americans for Prosperity:
 

Americans for Prosperity was created by the Kochs with help from Koch Industries executive Richard Fink after the demise of their previous organization, Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), which split into AFP and FreedomWorks in 2004.

In addition to hosting an event against the Kansas RPS law featuring Heartland's James Taylor, AFP's Kansas director Derrick Sontag testified before the Kansas House committee on Energy and Environment. AFP's Sontag urged for a full repeal rather than a simple RPS target freeze:

"We believe that HB 2241 is a step in the right direction, but that it doesn't go far enough. Instead, AFP supports a full repeal of the renewable energy mandate in Kansas."

Derrick Sontag apparently only cited a range of debunked studies (the "Spanish" study and the flawed Beacon Hill report) and information from Koch-funded interests like the Institute for Energy Research and "State Budget Solutions," a project of several State Policy Network groups including ALEC and the Mercatus Center, a think tank founded and heavily-funded by the Kochs.

Kansas Policy Institute

The Kansas Policy Institute (KPI) has been the central coordinating think tank within Kansas as outside interests have backed ALEC's attack clean energy laws. KPI co-published the debunked Beacon Hill Institute report that ALEC has used for its clean energy standard repeal in Kansas (see sources in Beacon Hill section above for debunking).

Kansas Policy Institute Vice President & Policy Director James Franko testified in the Kansas legislature alongside representatives of Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity and Beacon Hill Institute on Feb. 14 to weaken Kansas's renewable portfolio standard.

Reasserting the false premise that clean energy standards substantially increase electricity prices, James Franko told the legislature's Energy & Environment committee:

We have no objection to the production of renewable energy. [...] Our objection is to government intervention that forces utility companies to purchase more expensive renewable energy and pass those costs on to consumers.

James Franko's free market logic comes with the usual holes--no mention of the "costs" of coal and other polluting forms of energy that taint our air, water and bodies, nor any mention of how the government spends billions each year propping up the coal and oil industries.

After KPI's Franko testified before Kansas legislators on February 14, KPI hosted a luncheon for legislators at noon on the same day. The luncheon, hosted at the Topeka Capital Plaza Hotel, featured Beacon Hill's Michael Head. From KPI's email invitation:

"Given the importance of this issue, we would like to invite you to join us for lunch on Thursday 14 February to hear from the author of a study we published last year exploring the costs and benefits of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Not only will we be discussing KPI’s study but offering a review of different studies that have been presented to the Legislature."

KPI has served as the glue for other State Policy Network affiliates entering Kansas to amplify the opposition to clean energy.

Chris Horner -- Competitive Enterprise Institute & American Tradition Institute

Chris Horner is a senior fellow at CEI and the lead lawyer at ATI, a close CEI affiliate known for its litigious harassment of climate scientist Michael Mann alongside Virginia attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who just worked with coal utility companies to kill Virginia's renewable energy law. ATI was behind a leaked memo encouraging "subversion" among local groups opposed to wind energy projects.

Horner testified before the Kansas legislature on February 12 to encourage the false notion that the renewable energy portfolio standard is going to make consumer electricity bills skyrocket (again, there is no correlation between state RPS laws and electricity prices). He cited the long-debunked "Spanish" study, which Koch front groups have cited for years in attempts to undermine clean energy.

Chris Horner is affiliated with several other Koch- and Exxon-funded State Policy Network affiliates such as the National Center for Policy Analysis and Tech Central Station (set up by DCI Group).

Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform:

ATR president Grover Norquist wrote a Feb. 27, 2013 letter supporting the Rep. Dennis Hedke’s House bill shortly before the bill was kicked back into the House Utilities commission. This Kansas letter followed an ATR op-ed in Politico encouraging rollbacks of state clean energy incentives, claiming they are a "tax," which is Norquist's consistent tactic against anything the financiers of ATR don't feel like supporting.

Junk scientists with Koch and Exxon ties:

Disgraced scientists Willie Soon and John Christy were flown in by Americans for Prosperity to assure state legislators that global warming isn't a problem (it's already a $1.2 trillion problem annually). Doctor's Soon and Christy themselves directly funded by Koch or directly affiliated with several Koch-funded interests like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Heartland.

Willie Soon in particular has a habit of conducting climate "research" on the exclusive dime of coal and oil interests over the last decade:

  • ExxonMobil ($335,106)
  • American Petroleum Institute ($273,611 since 2001)
  • Charles G. Koch Foundation ($230,000)
  • Southern Company ($240,000)

Dr. Soon's questionable climate research now receives funding through the Donors Trust network--$115,000 in 2011 and 2012.

See Skeptical Science's profile of John Christy for a through explanation of why he is not a credible voice in the scientific community studying climate change, using peer-reviewed climate research as refutation.

State Policy Network

KOCH INDUSTRIES

  • Based in Wichita, Kansas
  • Operations in oil refining, oil and gas pipelines, fossil fuel commodity & derivatives trading, petrochemical manufacturing, fertilizers, textiles, wood and paper products, consumer tissue products, cattle ranching, and other ventures.
  • $115 billion in estimated annual revenue
  • 84% private owned between brothers Charles Koch and David Koch, each worth an estimated $34 billion (Forbes) to $44.7 billion (Bloomberg).
  • Member of ALEC's anti-environmental task force
  • Associated foundations fund State Policy Network, ALEC, Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Beacon Hill Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform and Dr. Willie Soon.
  • Koch brothers founded Americans for Prosperity and helped establish the Heartland Institute.

The money trail of the out-of-state groups inundating Kansas with their sudden interest in killing the state's incentives for wind energy leads back to the Koch brothers. While Koch Industries has deployed its own lobbyists to compliment the effort, the brothers who lead the company have tapped into their broader national network to aid the fight against clean energy in Kansas.

Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who own Koch Industries, have spent over $67,000,000 from their family foundations on groups who have denied the existence or extent of global climate change, promote fossil fuel use and block policies that promote clean energy development.

The Kochs obscure millions more in annual giving through Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which collect money from the Kochs and other wealthy corporate interests and pass it on to State Policy Network groups.  This video provides a visual overview of how the Koch-funded network amplifies unscientific doubt over climate science and blocks clean energy policies:

 

 

Report Highlights Failure of Media to Disclose Fossil Fuel Interests

Freshly released today: a report by the Checks & Balances Project examining how often top U.S. newspapers fail to attribute fossil fuel ties to organizations or people that appear news articles to promote fossil fuels, demonize clean energy or promote delay of climate change solutions. Tracking ten of the top fossil fuel front groups in 58 leading U.S. newspapers, the new report finds over 1,000 instances where ties to or funding from coal, oil and gas interests was not disclosed when including a shill group or quoting one of its "experts."

Only 6% of the time were fossil fuel ties disclosed when these top 58 newspapers reported on the ten fossil fuel front groups examined in the study. These groups wind up in the paper, on average, at least once every other day. In the five-year window the report uses, the ten front groups got at least $16 million from coal, oil and gas interests.

According to Checks & Balances:

These groups, and their proponents, have been quoted on average every other day for the past five years in 60 of the largest mainstream newspapers and publications. Despite having received millions of dollars from fossil fuel interests, such as ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, these groups’ financial ties to the fossil fuel industry are rarely mentioned.

Deniers are already taking notice--see Steven Milloy's complaints here. Steve Milloy has been a central climate denier, who was paid to shill for tobacco company Phillip Morris and oil giant Exxon before work for the Cato Institute (see below) and starting the climate denial website "JunkScience."

The ten groups that Checks & Balances examined are well-established fossil fuel apologists. Here is a roundup of watchdog sites with more information on each of these organizations' historic funding from and work for fossil fuel interests like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries (2006-2010 funding figures compiled in the Checks & Balances Project report):

American Enterprise Institute (AEI): $1.675 million from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI): $88,279 from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Cato Institute: $1.385 million from Koch/Exxon (2006-2010)

George C. Marshall Institute: $675,000 from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Heartland Institute: $115,000 from Exxon (2006-2010, see also $25,000 grant from Charles Koch in 2011)

Heritage Foundation: $2.523 million from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Hudson Institute: $75,000 from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Institute for Energy Research (IER): $310,000 from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Manhattan Institute: $1.38 million from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Mercatus Center: $8.06 million from fossil fuel interest (2006-2010)

Americans for Prosperity's Lisa Thrun faces public scrutiny in NY RGGI lawsuit [VIDEO]

States participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

“I’m not a scientist, I’m an event planner,” explained Lisa Thrun when I asked her if she believed burning coal and oil contributed to climate change. Oh really, Ms. Thrun? If you’re just an event planner, what are you doing giving a presentation on the economic impacts of a regional plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? See the video:

 
Lisa Thrun, the chair of grassroots for the New York Chapter of Americans for Prosperity, was invited by the Tompkins County Republican Committee to speak about the economic impacts of RGGI. Pronounced “Reggie,” the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a cap-and-trade program, which promises to reduce CO2 emissions 10% by 2018 among Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  
Thrun is the lead plaintiff in a New York lawsuit against RGGI - a serious conflict of interest since Americans for Prosperity was started and is still funded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers. David Koch is the chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, AFP's sister group. It’s pretty ironic that the lead plaintiff in a suit against plant emissions works for an organization that is heavily involved in the ongoing orchestration of campaigns to sell doubt over climate science. When I asked Thrun about this conflict of interest, she responded, "You know what? I don't know what the Koch brothers do. It just goes to show you our independence from the Koch brothers."See the video:

 

 
AFP's ongoing suit against RGGI in New York is ironic for another reason: Koch Industries, which funnels profits to AFP through the Koch brother's foundations, was involved in the very first trade of physical carbon allowances under RGGI. Thrun’s main argument focused on economic implications for states (and families) involved in the cap-and-trade program. One slide during the presentation demonstrated how initiatives like cap and trade can be detrimental to big business. The charts proudly boasted the logos of groups including the Heritage Foundation, the Competative Enterprise Institute, and the Beacon Hill Institute - all three of which have been involved in Koch-funded scandals. Thrun continuously warned that RGGI is a costly program, even though the average residential bill increases less than 50 cents a month and RGGI participating states show $3-$4 benefits for every $1 invested. The invested money then goes into state-designed consumer benefit and strategic energy programs, like home weatherization which can reduce household heating energy needs by 15 to 30 percent. (source: RGGI Proceeds Report Press Release) In response, Thrun implied that winterizing homes helps to save us money and energy, but “we should be doing it on our own.”
 
As the New York lawsuit is pushed forward by the polluter apologists running Americans for Prosperity, we will see if AFP is can finish pushing New Jersey out of RGGI. Gov. Chris Christie caved to AFP pressure last year, announcing New Jersey's withdrawal from the profitable program and then bragging about it right to the Koch brothers faces at their private political meeting in Vail, Colorado.
 
The Koch brothers are not running out of money. Their wealth has increased by $13 billion each in the last five years (Forbes, 2006 and 2011) and they will continue to bankroll ideological attacks on environmental initiatives that threaten their billions in private profits. What Charles and David have lost is the ability to ghost run the country in secret.
 
PolluterWatch will continue to track the development of Koch-backed attacks on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and other dirty campaigns. For more, see PolluterWatch's profiles for Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity.

Koch Brothers, Cuccinelli, Peabody and others Named "Climate Villains"

Similar to Rolling Stone's "The Climate Killers" article that was released at the beginning of the year, AlterNet has just profiled some of the most influential political, financial and popular enemies of the Earth's increasingly disrupted climate.

Snide comments aside, both reports nail some of the most influential staples: Koch Industries, an infamous engine of the climate denial machine; Warren Buffet, the filthy-rich investor who has placed his bets on coal; and Joe Barton, Big Fossil's purchased U.S. Representative (over 1.7 million dirty dollars over the last decade).

AlterNet's newer spotlight identifies Harold Lewis and Freeman Dyson, who are similar to the likes of S. Fred Singer and Patrick Michaels in their use of scientific credentials for corporate public relations rather than, say, active climate studies...or scientific study in general.  Also like Singer and Michaels, they have ties to prominent denier think tanks such as Cato, the Heartland Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, all of which are currently or formerly funded by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.  Similarly, AlterNet mentions Anthony Watts, whose skeptic blog is the go-to hub for climate-solutions obstructionism, and whose credentials as a TV weatherman (not certified by the American Meteorological Society) fool people into thinking he's a climate expert.  Like the other junk scientists mentioned in the article, Watts has ties to the Heartland Institute.

In a contrasting look at university integrity, AlterNet also profiles Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general who has used the "climategate" nonscandal as grounds to continue harassing Michael Mann, the influential University of Virginia climatologist whose university research was a primary target of the hacked East Anglia emails.  While Mann was defended by his university and cleared of wrongdoing after investigations, the same can't be said for George Mason University's Edward Wegman.  AlterNet points out that Wegman is currently under formal investigation his George Mason for pushing bogus climate material for none other than Texas Rep. Joe Barton.

It is worth noting that George Mason University (GMU) is a known breeding ground for climate deniers and heavily supported by the Koch brothers; both the Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) operate out of the University have received millions of dollars from the Kochs.  There's also Koch Industries executive Richard Fink, who taught and filled various other positions at GMU, co-founded and directs GMU's Mercatus Center, directs the Institute for Humane Studies, is the president of two Koch family foundations that fund these groups, founded the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation (which became the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, of which Fink is a director)...Rich Fink pretty much lives up to his name.

Glenn Beck (who attended Charles Koch's secret election strategy meeting last June), Mitch McConnell, former BP CEO Tony Hayward, Peabody CEO Gregory Boyce, and others are also credited for their dirty work in the full article.

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