checks and balances project

ALEC Energy Director Misleads the Wall Street Journal

  • Posted on: 2 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Todd Wynn: director of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, formerly of Cascade Policy Institute. Cascade and ALEC are two of the many front groups coordinated under the umbrella of the State Policy Network.

Written by Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project. Crossposted with permission from Huffington Post: ALEC Energy Director Misleads the Wall Street Journal

In Friday's Wall Street Journal story, "States Cooling to Renewable Energy," American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Director Todd Wynn claimed, "I have not received one dime to work directly on renewable-energy mandates." Wynn may not have received a check where the memo read: "For your efforts to attack clean energy policies" but his ALEC paycheck certainly comes (in part) from fossil fuel interests.

ALEC received approximately 98 percent of its budget from corporations, trade associations and corporate foundations, according to IRS 990 tax forms from the organization in 2009.

The members (as of June 2011) of Mr. Wynn's task force include at least 23 fossil fuel companies and utilities, like ExxonMobil, Continental Resources, Peabody Energy and Duke Energy, that have a direct financial interest in slowing the growth of clean energy. Task force members fund almost all of ALEC's operations.

ALEC corporate members each pay between $7,000 and $25,000 or more to be members. The corporate task force members also pay fees to have a vote on what pieces of "sample legislation" should be sent to state legislators. And, last fall, the energy task force members voted to push the "Electricity Freedom Act," which repeals state clean energy standards, through state legislatures across the country.

So it's no surprise these bills are showing up and being pushed by fossil fuel interests and front groups in states across the country. Wynn probably received at least a few dimes to coordinate this effort to attack clean energy policies. If ALEC wants to provide some transparency on its budget, Checks and Balances Project would be happy to take a second look.

Follow Gabe Elsner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GabeElsner
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Study: Koch and Tobacco behind Birth of Tea Party

  • Posted on: 14 February 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Americans for Prosperity is the Koch-controlled half of what formerly was known as Citizens for a Sound Economy.

A new report in the peer-reviewed academic journal Tobacco Control offers a deeper look at the history of the Tea Party. Commonly thought to be a grassroots uprising spurred by a TV rant in 2009, the report documents how tobacco companies and a front group established by Charles and David Koch were attempting to begin the revolt years earlier.

The study, titled "‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third-party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party," shows that the Koch front, Citizens for a Sound Economy, set up a website in 2002 for the "U.S. Tea Party." Here is an archived image from that website, which is now owned by FreedomWorks.

As previously reported by DeSmogBlog's Brendan DeMelle on Huffington Post:

The two main organizations identified in the UCSF Quarterback study are Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks. Both groups are now "supporting the tobacco companies' political agenda by mobilizing local Tea Party opposition to tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws." Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity were once a single organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). CSE was founded in 1984 by the infamous Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch, and received over $5.3 million from tobacco companies, mainly Philip Morris, between 1991 and 2004.

The ties between the Koch brothers' Citizens for a Sound Economy and tobacco are extensive, with Charles Koch's right hand man, Richard Fink, getting direct praise from the Tobacco Institute for his leadership in urging the U.S. Surgeon General to avoid foreign trade restrictions on tobacco products. The Checks and Balances Project has a report on Koch Industries executive Richard Fink and tobacco:

In 1988, Fink wrote to the Surgeon General to express concern about the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health’s inquiries into the subject of tobacco and U.S. trade policy. He warned that it would be unwise to suggest any foreign trade barriers, ending, “we hope that you will keep these thoughts in mind as your department discusses U.S. trade policy toward tobacco.” This letter was tracked down by the Checks & Balances Project in the Tobacco Archives, with an addendum from Samuel Chilcote – President of The Tobacco Institute – urging others to follow Fink’s lead and support.

For Fink’s efforts, Chilcote thanked Fink in a hand-signed letter on behalf of the tobacco industry, writing, “When an advisory body such as the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health ventures into the field of U.S. trade policy, it is vitally important that the public record be balanced by the sound economic views and sensible business judgments that you provided.”

In summarizing the significance of the Koch-Tobacco-Tea Party insight from the report, DeSmogBlog's DeMelle hits the nail on the head:

Finally, this report might serve as a wake-up call to some people in the Tea Party itself, who would find it a little disturbing that the "grassroots" movement they are so emotionally attached to, is in fact a pawn created by billionaires and large corporations with little interest in fighting for the rights of the common person, but instead using the common person to fight for their own unfettered profits.

Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks have been successful in co-opting the Tea Party, directing millions in corporate and wealthy donor funding to steer the "grassroots" agenda of Tea Party activists.

Grassroots? Try astroturf.

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DeSmogBlog: Obama EPA Shut Down Weatherford, TX Shale Gas Water Contamination Study

  • Posted on: 17 January 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Originally posted by Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog.

The Associated Press has a breaking investigative story out today revealing that the Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) censored a smoking gun scientific report in March 2012 that it had contracted out to a scientist who conducted field data on 32 water samples in Weatherford, TX.

That report, according to the AP, would have explicitly linked methane migration to hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in Weatherford, a city with 25,000+ citizens located in the heart of the Barnett Shale geologic formation 30 minutes from Dallas.

It was authored by Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist formerly on the faculty of the Colorado School of Mines and University of Wyoming before departing from the latter for a job in the private sector working for Interralogic Inc. in Ft Collins, CO. 

This isn't the first time Thyne's scientific research has been shoved aside, either. Thyne wrote two landmark studies on groundwater contamination in Garfield County, CO, the first showing that it existed, the second confirming that the contamination was directly linked to fracking in the area.

It's the second study that got him in trouble.

"Thyne says he was told to cease his research by higher-ups. He didn’t," The Checks and Balances Project explained. "And when it came to renew his contract, Thyne was cut loose."

 

From Smoking Gun to Censorship: Range Resources Link

The Obama EPA's Weatherford, TX study was long-in-the-making, with its orgins actually dating back to a case of water contamination in 2010. The victim: Steve Lipsky. 

"At first, the Environmental Protection Agency believed the situation was so serious that it issued a rare emergency order in late 2010 that said at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane," the AP wrote

AP proceeded to explain that Lipsky had "reported his family's drinking water had begun 'bubbling' like champagne" and that his "well...contains so much methane that the...water [is] pouring out of a garden hose [that] can be ignited."

The driller in this case was a corporation notorious for intimidating local communities and governmental officials at all levels of governance: Range Resources. Range, in this case, set up shop for shale gas production in a "wooded area about a mile from Lipsky's home," according to the AP

As DeSmogBlog revealed in November 2011, Range Resources utilizes psychological warfare techniques as part of its overarching public relations strategy.

Due to the grave health concerns associated with the presence of methane and benzene in drinking water, the Obama EPA "ordered Range...to take steps to clean their water wells and provide affected homeowners with safe water," wrote the AP

Range's response? It "threatened not to cooperate" with the Obama EPA's study on fracking's link to water contamination. The non-cooperation lead to the Obama EPA suing Range Resources. 

It was during this phase of the struggle where things got interesting. As the AP explained,

Believing the case was headed for a lengthy legal battle, the Obama EPA asked an independent scientist named Geoffrey Thyne to analyze water samples taken from 32 water wells. In the report obtained by the AP, Thyne concluded from chemical testing that the gas in the drinking water could have originated from Range Resources' nearby drilling operation.

Despite this smoking gun, everything was soon shut down, with the Obama EPA reversing its emergency order, terminating the court battle and censoring Thyne's report. The AP explained that the Obama EPA has "refused to answer questions about the decision."

"I just can't believe that an agency that knows the truth about something like that, or has evidence like this, wouldn't use it," Lipsky, who now pays $1,000 a month to have water hauled to his family's house, told the AP.

"Duke Study" Co-Author Confirms Veracity of Thyne's Study 

Robert Jackson, a Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke University and co-author of the "Duke Study" linking fracking to groundwater contamination did an independent peer review of Thyne's censored findings. He found that it is probable that the methane in Lipsky's well water likely ended up there thanks to the fracking process. 

Range predictably dismissed Thyne and Jackson as "anti-industry."

Americans Against Fracking: An "Unconscionable" Decision

Americans Against Fracking summed up the situation best in a scathing press release:

It is unconscionable that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is tasked with safeguarding our nation’s vital natural resources, would fold under pressure to the oil and gas industry...It is again abundantly clear that the deep pocketed oil and gas industry will stop at nothing to protect its own interests, even when mounting scientific evidence shows that drilling and fracking pose a direct threat to vital drinking water supplies.

There's also a tragic human side to this tale. 

"This has been total hell," Lipsky told the AP. "It's been taking a huge toll on my family and on our life."

Photo CreditShutterStock | Aaron Amat

Coalition to Duke Energy: Dump ALEC!

  • Posted on: 29 August 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

SIGN GREENPEACE PETITION TELLING DUKE ENERGY TO DUMP ALEC!

Today Greenpeace joins a coalition of environmental, civil rights and democracy reform groups that are calling upon Duke Energy to join the 38 other companies that have left the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC -- see the letter the coalition sent to CEO Jim Rogers this morning.

Why, you ask? And WTF is ALEC??

ALEC is a corporate bill mill--it brings companies like Duke, Exxon, Koch Industries, Phillip Morris and other bad actors together with conservative state lawmakers in order to draft laws. You may have noticed how certain controversial state laws spread like wildfire across the country, including voter suppression, union-busting bills, attacks on clean energy programs, and other items you wouldn't expect the average person to ask their politicians to do. ALEC was behind all of these on behalf of its corporate members, who are eager to dodge lobbying laws and get relatively cheap access to our Statehouses.

Duke Energy in particular has deep ties to ALEC, sending it tens of thousands of dollars in support, helping ALEC oversee state operations in South Carolina and Indiana, and supporting the creation of ALEC's anti-environmental bills.

Duke Energy has distinguished itself from other polluters with rhetorical commitments to tackling global warming and implementing clean energy, but stops short of meaningful action. By dumping ALEC, Duke would take a step in the right direction toward the potential it has to become a cleaner energy company.

The full text and coalition signatories of the letter is posted in full here:

Dear Mr. Rogers,

We, the undersigned, a coalition of environmental, civil rights, and democracy reform groups are writing to express our concern for the extensive support provided by Duke Energy to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and request Duke Energy disassociate and stop funding ALEC immediately.

ALEC is not only responsible for drafting model state laws attacking renewable energy programs and climate policies, it is also intentionally crafting and supporting Voter ID bills and other legislation designed to suppress people from voting and participating in our democracy. We are concerned about this fundamental attack on our democracy and civil rights, and Duke Energy’s support for it.

Duke Energy has repeatedly stated concern over climate change, yet is participating in ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, which includes notorious climate skeptics like the Heartland Institute and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (which we understand Duke Energy disassociated from in 2009 due to its role in obstructing national climate policy). In direct opposition to Duke Energy’s position on climate, ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force continues to advance legislative efforts that attempt to deny the realities of climate change.

ALEC more broadly demonstrates an attack against state action on climate change and renewable energy, promoting laws and resolutions that undermine state’s abilities to address climate change and expand clean energy. While Jim Rogers has called for the US to “wean [itself] from the use of foreign oil,”[viii] Duke works alongside multinational oil companies like ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Chevron within ALEC, all of which are known for their heavy obstruction of U.S. climate and clean energy policies.

Perhaps most alarmingly, ALEC is spearheading attacks on our democracy and civil rights, promoting Voter ID legislation and other bills intended to make it more difficult for people to vote and participate in our democracy. These bills will most dramatically hit young people, people of color and poor people, suppressing them and their ability to vote.

We collectively call upon Duke Energy to drop all financial and staff support to ALEC due not only to their role in blocking clean energy implementation and solutions to global warming, but due to their direct attacks on democracy and our civil rights.
 
We look forward to a quick response and would be happy to provide any clarification or additional resources informing our questions, if needed.
 
Sincerely,
Energy Action Coalition
Greenpeace
Common Cause
Center for Media & Democracy
CREDO Action
Public Citizen
Friends of the Earth
Progressive Change Campaign Committee
Oil Change International
Southern Energy Network
Checks & Balances Project
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