The giants of the tech industry are fleeing the American Legislative Exchange Council. In the wake of Microsoft’s departure last July, Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Yelp announced that they too will drop their memberships, shunning ALEC’s environmental policies. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was quoted as saying that ALEC has been “literally lying” about the reality of climate change.
ALEC’s response was to deny that they are climate change deniers. A total of 156 ALEC legislators signed a letter to top Google executives stating the company’s departure was based on “misinformation from climate activists.” I was not asked to sign the letter.
Before they left, the tech leaders did try to reform ALEC from within. At the last ALEC meeting I attended in August, a representative from Google, Yahoo, Facebook and eBay delivered a presentation to the environmental and energy subcommittee urging cooperation around policies that support renewable energies.
The tech guy explained that the Internet companies were looking to operate in places where there are “robust” renewable energy supplies because operating sustainably is very important to them and their consumers, and renewable energy is cost-effective. These companies need huge amounts of energy to run their many data centers around the country, which house thousands of computer servers.
The tech guy urged ALEC to work with them, recognizing that their interests have not always been aligned.
That was the understatement of the day. Despite sitting through hours of environmental subcommittees, task force meetings and various environmental presentations, I have never, ever heard anybody else at ALEC speak favorably about renewable energy or acknowledge that climate change posed a threat to human or our planet’s health. Not ever.
Sitting in the room listening to this pitch for “more robust” policies encouraging renewables were lobbyists from Peabody Energy, Edison Electric, and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, among others.
At the end of the presentation, the energy titans thanked him, praised his attendance, and started on their anti-renewable litany of objections: renewables aren’t economical (the tech guy responded that they are economical), renewables exist because of subsidies (the tech guy responded that all energy is subsidized) and net metering is terrible (the tech guy responded that though they don’t use net metering, which credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid, it has encouraged solar). So much for progress.
As the conference wore on, my (unrealistic) hope for a reasonable dialogue around renewable energy totally evaporated. The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a group originally formed to shut down PIRG chapters on college campuses and a corporate sponsor of the conference, likely paid thousands more dollars to lead an afternoon session entitled “How to Think and Talk about Climate and Energy Issues.” One presenter blamed coal regulations, supported by radical environmentalists like the American Lung Association, for causing people to have heart attacks, commit suicide and abuse drugs and alcohol. Another presenter, proudly calling himself the “Muhammed Ali” of climate deniers, showed slide after slide of quotes from people, including Dan Aykroyd from the 1984 movie “Ghostbusters,” to prove that climate change “alarmists” have existed throughout the centuries.
The next day, the Heartland Institute, the nation’s No. 1 climate change denier, took their shot. Their “scientific” panel, subsidized by the coal and oil industry, concluded that “global warming is not a crisis,” “there is no need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and no point in attempting to do so.” They stated that policies should focus on repealing renewable power mandates, opposing net metering, reining in the EPA, and opposing the regulation of hydraulic fracturing and carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. So much for only being focused on “the scientific and economic aspects of the issue of climate change,” as the ALEC legislators stated in their letter.
The ALEC legislators conclude their letter to Google by stating, “To ALEC, nothing is more anathema than the government picking winners and losers.” Instead, ALEC believes that it should pick the winners and losers, which is exactly what their model policies do. In energy policy, the big winners are the kings of coal, including Peabody Energy and Koch Industries. The losers are you and I, who live with the ramifications of a coal-dominated energy industry that threatens our planet and our health.
Chris Taylor, D-Madison, is the state representative of the 76th Assembly District and an ALEC member. Portions of this column were previously published by The Progressive.