Monday, March 10, 2014
By JULIET EILPERIN 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.
Maine is among the states that have adopted renewable power standards. In 1999, the state passed a law that required 30 percent of retail electric sales to come from renewables. That law was updated in 2006 with a goal of increasing the standard by an additional 10 percentage points between 2008 and 2017.
Maine's standard has plenty of critics, most notably Gov. Paul LePage, who often has said the law hampers the state's ability to diversify its energy offerings and reduce costs for consumers.
ALEC, the council that is looking to write new model standards, 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. In many cases, the groups involved accept money from oil, gas and coal companies that compete against renewable energy suppliers.
The Heartland Institute received $736,500 from Exxon Mobil between 1998 and 2006, according to the group’s spokesman Jim Lakely, and $25,000 in 2011 from foundations affiliated with Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch, whose firm Koch Industries has substantial oil and energy holdings. Lakely wrote in an e-mail that the Koch donation was “earmarked for our work on health care policy, not energy or environment policy.” He added the institute had received financial support from the Koch brothers before 2001, but did not specify how much.
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."
Taylor dismissed the idea that his group pushed for the measure because it has accepted money from fossil-fuel firms: "The people who are saying that are trying to take attention away from the real issue -- that alternative energy, renewable energy, is more expensive than conventional energy."
Todd Wynn, who directs ALEC's energy, environment and agriculture task force, said the group decided to take up the issue because some members are worried about the mandates' "impacts on their state's economies and their constituents."
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