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ALEC’s New Target: Renewable Energy

J. Mijin Cha

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been quietly advancing a radical right-wing agenda at the state level for decades. Their efforts recently came under fire when it was discovered that they were behind the “Stand Your Ground” law implemented in Florida, which was used to justify the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Due to advocacy efforts by progressive groups, like Color of Change, 13 corporations have ended their ties with ALEC and now legislators are also starting to distance themselves. ALEC’s IRS status as a tax-exempt organization is being challenged by Common Cause due to ALEC’s heavy emphasis on what appears to be lobbying in direct violation of their non-profit tax status.

Indeed, ALEC’s latest target shows their intent is not to “educate” but to lobby—on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. ALEC is working to repeal state-level renewable energy mandates, otherwise known as renewable portfolio standards. Under renewable portfolio standards, a state mandates that a certain percentage of its total electricity produced comes from renewable energy. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have adopted a standard. The specific target varies from state to state. Hawaii, for instance, has a high target of 40 percent by 2050 while Oklahoma has a more modest target of 15 percent but by 2015. As we’ve discussed before, renewable energy production mandates provide a guaranteed demand for renewable energy and market stability that encourages private market investment.

Renewable portfolio standards have been around for a while. Iowa adopted their first target in 1983. Yet, despite the longevity of the program, ThinkProgress details how ALEC is now focusing on dismantling these programs using a tried-and-true method of misinformation and model legislation. Their success with model legislation is impressive with legislators often introducing the bills verbatim.

The great irony, of course, is that while groups like ALEC bang on about state’s rights, their true agenda of corporate dominance comes through in their actions. Renewable portfolio standards are a great example of state’s rights, with each state deciding what would be an appropriate target for their specific natural resource wealth, i.e. solar, wind, etc., and then implementing policies that support local economic growth. Renewable portfolio standards also allow states to move forward with their clean energy goals in the face of federal inaction. This last point is the whole reason we have a federal system: the federal government sets the floor and then states are free to do what they want above and beyond.

Instead of recognizing a state’s right to advance clean energy and all the economic gains that come with it, groups like ALEC work to keep states and their citizens enslaved to the fossil fuel industry. Their radical agenda is finally being widely exposed. Perhaps as a result, ALEC will end up where it belongs--on the very fringes of the political spectrum with little to no influence.