The American Legislative Exchange Council, more popularly known as the corporate bill mill ALEC, is holding its annual meeting this week in San Diego, which is second only to Los Angeles in terms of US cities with the most installed photovoltaic solar capacity.
Even looking at per capita solar capacity, San Diego still ranks in the top five major US cities (unlike Los Angeles), making it uniquely poised to capitalize on the benefits of the solar boom.
But that probably has nothing to do with why ALEC is holding its annual meeting there, given that the group is actively engaged in a campaign to cripple the growing solar industry at the behest of the fossil fuels companies it counts among its corporate members.
This week, conservative lawmakers from across the country will be rubbing elbows with corporate lobbyists in hotel bars and conference rooms, admiring the stunning views of San Diego’s sunny coastline.
They’ll likely discuss how to kill net metering laws and renewable energy mandates across the US, in order to make sure no other cities follow San Diego’s lead in tapping the sun’s potential to provide abundant, clean, renewable energy.
But just what, exactly, goes down behind the closed doors at a gathering like ALEC’s annual meeting? (Besides keynote speeches by climate denying politicians like Scott Walker and Ted Cruz, of course.)
A local TV news crew in Atlanta, Georgia recently tried to find out by attending ALEC’s Spring Task Force Summit: “The 11Alive Investigators tracked lawmakers to a resort hotel in Savannah last week, where we observed state legislators and lobbyists mingling in the hotel bar the night before they gathered in private rooms to decide what new laws would best serve the corporations.”
The news crew was not welcomed, to say the least. Here’s their report:
Here’s 11Alive’s conclusion:
There really are back rooms where corporate lobbyists have direct access to lawmakers completely out of sight, with no transparency or public filings. They’re also wined and dined after hours at these events with nothing recorded on ethics reports.
We know because we saw one of these back rooms with our own eyes, and were kicked out with the aid of off-duty police officers on orders from ALEC staff.
ALEC may not want the world to know what’s going on at its confabs with legislators and lobbyists, where the model legislation the group pushes in statehouses around the country is crafted and agreed upon. But the group’s track record of anti-democracy, anti-science work on behalf of fossil fuels interests is plain for all to see.
ALEC‘s work on behalf of fossil fuels
Dirty energy has more than a seat at the table whenever ALEC convenes one of its get-togethers. ALEC’s annual meeting last year was dominated by oil and coal interests, for instance. In fact, according to the Center for Media and Democracy’s Nick Surgey, “One-third of the official ALEC conference sponsors [were] dirty energy companies, their trade associations, and their political front groups.”
As Surgey documented, lobbyists spent the first day of the 2014 annual meeting giving legislators a crash course on how to talk about climate and energy issues, calling into question ALEC’s insistence that its agenda is led by lawmakers and not by industry.
But aiding and abetting improper contact between legislators and industry lobbyists and drafting model legislation based on corporate wish lists isn’t all ALEC is doing in its attempt to ensure the US energy mix continues to be controlled by the group’s funders in the fossil fuel industry.
Together with its corporate membership, ALEC adopts and promotes a variety of model bills that undermine efforts to address the climate crisis and protect the environment. Surgey writes:
One such bill opposes state low-carbon fuel standards, which otherwise could limit the sale of dirty Canadian tar sands. ALEC receives funding from the Canadian company TransCanada, which is aiming to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. This ALEC bill was introduced in twelve states in the 2013 and 2014 sessions. According to an e-mail obtained by this reporter, after an ALEC-organized all-expenses paid trip to Alberta in 2012, sponsored by TransCanada, ALEC wrote to the legislators on the trip reminding them of what each lobbyist had paid for on the trip and suggesting they send them “thank you notes.”
ALEC has also adopted legislation that aims to stymie the growth of renewable energy technologies like solar and wind by repealing state-level renewable energy targets, or Renewable Portfolio Standards, based on a proposal sponsored by the climate denial group the Heartland Institute. The legislation is called the “Electricity Freedom Act,” ironically. It was adopted in 2012.
After failing to gain traction in 2013, ALEC scored its first major “Electricity Freedom” victory last year when Ohio froze its renewables mandate for two years in June 2014 after Gov. John Kasich signed legislation pushed by state senator and ALEC board member Bill Seitz. West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed a similar law earlier this year, and renewable energy standards are currently under attack in several states across the US.
Another front in ALEC’s war on renewables is the dismantling of “net metering” laws, by which homeowners and business owners who have installed solar photovoltaic panels — i.e. rooftop solar — are compensated by utilities operators when they feed excess energy back into the grid.
An ALEC official once infamously described the over 600,000 households and businesses that have gone solar in the US as “freeriders on the system” because they’re not only threatening the stranglehold of fossil fuels on our economy, but the monopoly that large utility companies have on providing electricity to US consumers — which is why utility trade groups have been funding ALEC’s work to roll back net metering laws.
Most states currently have net metering laws in place. Arizona is one of the only states to amend its law in response to ALEC’s campaign, and that was a limited victory for Arizona’s utility operators at best.
How does ALEC respond to all of these allegations that it’s on the wrong side of the climate and energy debate? By threatening to sue anyone who points out ALEC’s climate denial.
Image via PRWatch.org