Inside ALEC's Powerful, Right-Wing Indoctrination Machine
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Defense budgets and illusory UN taxes are tangential to ALEC's main thrust at the moment: the push to privatize public lands and public education.
Big Energy loves ALEC. It always has. Internal documents show the group has counted on financial support from Koch Industries, Peabody Coal, the American Gas Association, the Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and their numerous subsidiaries (a stealth way to increase ALEC voting power). In line with their long-term investment, the industry enjoys a special status at ALEC events. Last year's ALEC conference in New Orleans featured a workshop called "Warming up to climate change," at which a panel of climate change skeptics touted "the many benefits of increased atmospheric CO2."
Mark Pocan, a Democratic Wisconsin state representative who joined ALEC to investigate the source of so much right-wing legislation he saw bubbling up from nowhere in Madison, attended the forum. He remembers the Texas legislator who introduced the event comparing ALEC legislators to a football team. "He said, 'Okay, everybody, listen up. These guys [corporate lobbyists and industry-funded think tanks] are the coaches, and we're the players," says Pocan. "That really is how they see the relationship."
The agenda in Salt Lake City was heavy on energy themes. Keynoting one of the luncheons was Robert Bradley, CEO of the free-market and pro-climate change Institute for Energy Research. Bradley informed the legislators packed into the Grand Ballroom that "the human impact on the climate is a probably a net positive," and boasted of America's growing production of oil, coal and gas. His chirpy manner darkened only when he noted China's growing lead in the production and use of coal. "China beats us on coal," lamented Bradley. "If not for China, we'd be number one." His PowerPoint presentation listed ALEC's core energy principles, such as: "oil, gas, and coal are cleaner than renewable," and "environmental regulation only benefits environmental elites." He praised a "powerful" new Shell ad campaign promoting offshore drilling, and spoke of his fear that massacres would soon begin taking place in doctors' offices as a result of The Affordable Care Act, which ALEC has attacked repeatedly.
In conclusion, Bradley assured his audience, "You have the environmental high ground in supporting dense energy [oil and coal] over [renewable] sources that require so much surface space, is unsightly, is noisy, and all the rest of it."
Like all ALEC speakers, Bradley spiced his lecture with odes to the free-market and the graceful movement of Invisible Energy Hands. But a central aspect of the classical free-market argument is the free exchange of information, and ALEC's model bills concerning energy and the environment make enemies of transparency. ALEC has passed bills opposing the mandatory disclosure of energy sources on utility bills and the chemicals used in fracking. Then there is ALEC's support for the nuclear power industry, which is heavily dependent on state subsidy for everything from construction to waste disposal.
ALEC's energy politics are of a piece with its push to privatize public lands. The afternoon following Bradley's talk, attendees were treated to Rep. Rob Bishop's (R-UT) thoughts on the need for states to assert "local use and control" over millions of acres of protected federal land. He pointed with pride to the passage of Utah's Public Land Transfer Act, an ALEC model bill sponsored by Utah state reps (and ALEC members) Ken Ivory and Wayne Niederhauser. The bill was written in conjunction with energy companies eager to rip up Utah's wild acres and develop "unconventional" carbon fuels like oil from shale rock and tar sands. In arguing for the need to develop Utah's outback, Bishop urged lawmakers to think of the children. "Our kids are hurting because of our land policies," said Bishop. "If we allow states to have a new paradigm, to let federalism be the salvation of this country, we'll have more money for our education budgets."