November 25, 2012

Conservative forces unite to shape state energy laws

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - The Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank skeptical of climate change science, has joined with the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council to write model legislation aimed at reversing state renewable energy mandates across the country.

The Electricity Freedom Act, adopted by the council's board of directors in October, would repeal state standards requiring utilities to get a portion of their electricity from renewable power, calling it "essentially a tax on consumers of electricity." Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have binding renewable standards; in the absence of federal climate legislation, these initiatives have become the subject of intense political battles.

The legislative council, or ALEC, is a conservative-leaning group of state legislators from all 50 states that has sought to roll back climate regulation in the past. It lost some corporate sponsors early this year because of its role promoting "stand your ground" laws that allow the use of force in self-defense without first retreating when faced with a serious threat.

But the involvement of the Heartland Institute, which posted a billboard in May comparing those who believe in global warming to domestic terrorist Theodore Kaczynski, shows the breadth of conservatives' efforts to undermine environmental initiatives on the state and federal level.

The Heartland Institute received more than $7.3 million from Exxon Mobil between 1998 and 2010, and nearly $14.4 million between 1986 and 2010 from foundations affiliated with Charles and David Koch, whose firm Koch Industries has substantial oil and energy holdings.

James Taylor, the Heartland Institute's senior fellow for environmental policy, said he was able to persuade most of ALEC's state legislators and corporate members to push for a repeal of laws requiring more solar and wind power use on the basis of economics.

"Renewable power mandates are very costly to consumers throughout the 50 states, and we feel it is important that consumers have access to affordable electricity," Taylor said. "We wrote the model legislation and I presented it. I didn't have to give that much of a case for it."

But renewable energy officials -- including ones from the Solar Energy Industries Association and the American Wind Energy Association, both ALEC members -- questioned the new policy. "ALEC is going to wake up and realize that the Heartland Institute, which is funded by special interests, is pushing them in a direction that's making them irrelevant to, or at best out of touch with, the American public," said SEIA President Rhone Resch. "And they can't afford to do that."

 

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