I just got off a conference call with Center for Media and Democracy Executive Director Lisa Graves, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Chair Seth Heald, Virginia Delegate Richard “Rip” Sullivan (D-48) and solar entrepreneur/veteran/Hampton Roads resident Nisha Witt regarding the just-released report, “ALEC EXPOSED: Corporate Polluters Undermining Clean Power in Virginia.” See below for the press release accompanying the report. Also, here are a few key points from the conference call and the report.
- This report particularly focuses on ALEC’s efforts to stymie the Clean Power Plan’s implementation in Virginia.
- As you can see from the report, corporate sponsors of ALEC active in Virginia include Altria, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, AT&T, Chevron, CSX, Devon Energy, Dominion, the Edison Electric Institute, ExxonMobil, the Koch Companies Public Sector, Norfolk Southern, Peabody Energy and Pfizer.
- I would note that Dominion Power is unique, in that it’s a theoretically state-regulated monopoly utility, to which many of us pay power bills every month, yet which spends huge amounts of money to “capture” our government, to block (or at least slow to a crawl) clean energy development in Virginia, etc.
- As for Virginia lawmakers with ALEC ties, check out these corporate shills, all of whom BADLY need to be defeated as soon as possible: Del. David B. Albo (R), Del. S. Chris Jones (R), Del. Richard P. Bell (R), Del. Terry G. Kilgore (R), Del. Kathy J. Byron (R), Del. R. Steven Landes (R), Del. Benjamin L. Cline (R), Del. Jim LeMunyon (R), Del. Mark L. Cole (R), Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R), Del. Marvin Kirkland Cox (R), Del. Daniel W. Marshall, III (R), Del. Thomas Greason (R), Del. Jimmie Massie (R), Speaker William Howell (R), Del. John O’Bannon (R), Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R), Del. Christopher Peace (R), Del. Riley E. Ingram (R), Del. Lee Ware (R), Sen. John A. Cosgrove, Jr (R), Sen. Thomas K Norment, Jr. (R), Sen. Ryan T. McDougle (R), Sen. Frank M. Ruff, Jr. (R), Sen. Stephen D. Newman (R), Sen. Frank Wagner (R).
- According to the report: “ALEC model bills are then introduced in Virginia’s General Assembly and in other state legislatures around the country…For example, in 2011 the Virginian-Pilot reported on a word-for-word copy of an ALEC model bill, that was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates, which would block the EPA from limiting greenhouse-gas pollution. “
- Seth Heald argued correctly that “ALEC helps large polluters in our state work behind the scenes to draft legislation to block action on climate change, pollution and in favor of clean energy….ALEC has been pretty consistent in fighting just about any action on climate change...Some corporate ALEC members here in Virginia do this while they’re at the same time claiming to be good corporate citizens and caring about sustainability,” but that it not at all credible.
- Attacks on the Clean Power Plan in Virginia’s General Assembly have not been random but “coordinated.” For instance, HB2 (attempting to block implementation of the CPP in Virginia) by Del. Israel O’Quinn was an ALEC model bill, as was a similar bill by Sen. Mark Obenshain. Fortunately, Gov. McAuliffe vetoed these bills.
- According to Heald, the “whole point of corporate ALEC membership” is that it allows “big corporations…to influence state legislators and state legislation while keeping the corporations’ names out of public view, and of course that’s the whole point of our report, is to try and shine some light on that hidden role.”
- Heald: “There’s no excuse for Virginia corporations…funding a group that is promoting [climate science denial] to our state legislators.”
- Heald: Dominion’s CEO actually admitted that it participates in ALEC “because we see value in it.” “I think it’s important that Virginia citizens and journalists be vigilant in exposing and rooting out ALEC’s coordinated influence over our state government...We should not tolerate corporate-backed efforts to block Virginia’s necessary transition to clean energy.”
- Del. Rip Sullivan: The CPP is actually a “great opportunity for Virginia that we should embrace,” will be a “jobs creator,” and there’s “plenty of data to make that case.” Potentially over 120,000 jobs by 2030 by focusing on clean energy, or 27 times the number of coal jobs today in Virginia. We can’t let ALEC keep renewable energy jobs out of Virginia.
- Del. Sullivan talked about the “scare tactic” from Virginia opponents of the Clean Power Plan is that “electricity rates will go up,” when the fact is that Virginia’s “residential electric bills are the 9th-highest in the country.” The Clean Power Plan “can actually help lower our electricity bills if Virginia focuses as it should on energy efficiency, the fastest and least-expensive way to reach our compliance goals.”
- Del. Sullivan said it was a “tough session” in Virginia for renewable energy bill and the Clean Power Plan. Basically, almost nothing good made it out of committee, and the “Clean Power Plan opponents haven’t given up” in trying to slow or kill the Clean Power Plan.
- Nisha Witt said she is infuriated by the “extreme greed…of organizations and entities that block action on climate change…and ALEC is one of those organizations.” She added that this is “not a problem of technology,” but of “political will” and “greed.”
- Witt noted that in Hampton Roads, where she lives, people can see the impact of climate change “almost on a daily basis,” and “it’s only getting worse.”
- Witt: “We need for the governor to side with the people, not with Dominion, when it comes to implementation” of the Clean Power Plan in Virginia.
- Sandy Hausman of Virginia Public Radio asked whether in addition to looking at ALEC, right here in Virginia “the real issue is Dominion…the largest campaign contributor in the state.” Seth Heald responded that the focus today is that Dominion, through ALEC, is “able to support efforts that they would not publicly be willing to have their name associated with,” but no question Dominion is an important ALEC member and a powerful influence on our state government.”
- Heald also noted that when Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell is asked about ALEC, he is “quick to say well we don’t agree with all positions of all groups we belong to.” Heald added that ALEC has taken “such extreme positions on climate change, that I would argue that it’s incumbent on an organization” to leave ALEC or to at least publicly disagree with ALEC on climate change.
- Del. Sullivan said “there’s no question that [Dominion has] been resistant to progress in this area” of clean energy development in Virginia.
- Seth Heald said this report highlighting Dominion’s ALEC membership is important because this hasn’t been covered well in the press, so most Virginians aren’t even aware of it.
- Del. Rip Sullivan said “we need to win more elections” and get the legislature where it’s “willing to stand up” against the polluters and for clean energy and the environment. He hopes we soon reach a “tipping point” and that things change for the better.
- As for Speaker Howell’s absurd argument in defense of ALEC, that it’s just doing what groups on “both sides” (FALSE!!!) do, Lisa Graves said that ALEC ‘has engaged in extensive lobbying in the state…[yet] told the IRS that it spent zero money on lobbying, year after year after year…These corporations are getting a tax writeoff…for funding ALEC…that they wouldn’t get for funding lobbying…because ALEC is considered to be a CHARITY under the 501c(3) rules of the IRS.” In sum, ALEC is not at all the same as other groups, engaging in extensive lobbying and utterly failing to report that. As for Speaker Howell, he has on many occasions “inaccurately described ALEC to the public...because they don’t want…the public to actually see corporations having these votes.” For instance, see ALEC Politician Claims ALEC Meetings Are “Open to the Public.” Really?
- Seth Heald added that “there are laws requiring public disclosure of amounts spent on lobbying…but Dominion Resources does NOT disclose how much it pays to ALEC each year…that is one difference between straightforward lobbying and the way it’s done with ALEC, it’s the secrecy and lack of disclosure…and the equal voting between corporate interests and legislators.”
- And no, as Lisa Graves put it: “There is NO liberal group that has voting by corporate lobbyists and special interest groups along with members. Can you imagine, you’d have wall-to-wall coverage on Fox News until everyone was run out of office if it turned out that Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi were secretly voting with corporations on bills before they were introduced in the legislature…this is unheard of…a substantial problem…and precisely why ALEC refuses to let reporters see that voting happen.”
New Report Reveals the Dangerous Influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on Climate Policy in Virginia
Report from Sierra Club Virginia Chapter and Center for Media and Democracy unveils ALEC’s attempts to delay action on climate change and reveals legislative polluter ties
RICHMOND, VA– Today, the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter and the Center for Media and Democracy released AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC) EXPOSED: Corporate Polluters Undermining Clean Power in Virginia, a report that reveals the influence that ALEC and its political allies have exerted to stymie state climate and clean energy policies.
The report focuses on ALEC’s efforts to stop the Clean Power Plan, which sets the nation’s first-ever protections against harmful carbon pollution by giving each state a carbon reduction goal to help cut national carbon pollution from power plants by 32% from 2005 levels by the year 2030. EPA has estimated that by 2030 the Clean Power Plan will prevent 150,000 asthma attacks and up to 6,600 premature deaths annually.The Clean Power Plan is an important part of the U.S. commitment to reduce harmful carbon pollution under the Paris international climate agreement, and the goal for Virginia is modest compared to surrounding states.
“I was pleased that during the 2016 General Assembly session we were able—at least so far—to fend off ALEC’s attempt to derail Virginia’s plan to curb emissions and comply with the Clean Power Plan,” said Virginia Delegate Rip Sullivan (D-48).“It is disappointing and troubling, though, that ALEC-inspired HB2 and SB21 passed the General Assembly–thankfully not by veto-proof majorities. Virginia should be leading the way on clean energy, but sadly, we lag far behind. I will continue to work hard to push for meaningful progress, moving Virginia toward a new clean energy economy.”
For decades, billionaires Charles and David Koch have invested in ALEC and their state-based work promoting the interests and lobbying agenda of fossil fuel companies. Top beneficiaries of the policy pushed by ALEC include Koch Industries,their oil and gas conglomerate that is the second largest privately-held company in America and that has an especially poor environmental record. Numerous corporate funders, including Google and American Electric Power, have recently cut ties with ALEC as its opposition to renewable energy and action on climate change have become more widely known. But Dominion Resources remains in ALEC, and Virginia lawmakers linked to ALEC continue attempts to block implementation of the Clean Power Plan.
“ALEC helps large polluters in Virginia work behind the scenes to craft legislation blocking action on climate change and pollution,” said Seth Heald, chair of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. “Some ALEC members in the Commonwealth do this while simultaneously claiming to be good corporate citizens and caring about sustainability, but the fact is you simply cannot be serious about reducing carbon pollution and addressing climate change while also supporting ALEC.”
“We all pay the price for pollution. These costs–to our health, our wallets, our communities, and our future well being–will continue to mount unless we act,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. “The Clean Power Plan takes important steps to help curb dangerous carbon pollution from new and existing power plants for the first time ever, and we need a strong implementation plan in Virginia and other states to protect our health and our planet. The public should not let polluter profits and ALEC’s pay-to-play agenda stand in the way of these crucial protections.”
This session, Virginia lawmakers have introduced three bills and amended the state budget in an effort to impede development of Virginia’s plan to curb emissions. A side-by-side analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy and the Sierra Club shows that these bills are almost verbatim to “model” bills that have already been secretly voted on by corporate lobbyists and special interest groups voting as equals with legislators at closed-door ALEC task force meetings.
The Virginia versions of these bills are expected to be vetoed; but odds are high that they will be introduced again next session, and if they do not succeed, the session after that.
Meanwhile the seas continue to rise along Virginia’s coast, and other climate impacts are being felt across the Commonwealth. In particular, the state’s low-income communities/communities of color continue to bear the disproportionate negative burdens of carbon pollution.
“Where I live we see the impacts of climate change on an almost daily basis. The smallest rainstorm can cause severe flooding and makes some areas impassable, and it is only getting worse,” said Nisha Witt, a Navy veteran from Hampton Roads. “We are also threatened by the increased strength and frequency of extreme weather events like hurricanes, and are very vulnerable to storm surge. Sea levels are rising faster than average in Hampton Roads, and if we don’t take action to reduce carbon pollution now we are really gambling with the future of our region.”
Dirty fuel energy sources are among the largest creators of carbon pollution, the main contributor to climate disruption, fueling superstorms, ﬂoods, wildﬁres, and record drought. Additionally, the power plants spewing this dangerous carbon pollution have a disproportionately negative effect on low-income communities and communities of color already suffering from the worst effects of toxic air pollution, including heart attacks, asthma, and premature death.