ExxonMobil

Ohio Clean Energy still in Koch & ALEC crosshairs

  • Posted on: 30 October 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Crossposted from Greenpeace’s blog: The Witness.

UPDATE: After ALEC legislators failed to freeze or repeal RPS laws in North Carolina, Kansas, and many other states, ALEC legislators in Ohio froze its RPS law, effectively gutting the clean energy and energy efficiency incentives. Ohio state Senator and ALEC member Troy Balderson sponsored SB 310, which passed and was signed by early ALEC alumni Governor John Kasich. Troy Balderson, the third ALEC member senator in Ohio to introduce RPS attack legislation, is listed in ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force rosters from 2011 (see ALEC EEA agendas from Cincinnati and New Orleans, from Common Cause's whisteblower complaint to the IRS about ALEC's lobbying activities). Balderson's ALEC affiliation was unfortunately unreported by Ohio press and bloggers. Despite a nationally-coordinated State Policy Network and fossil fuel industry attack on state RPS laws, Ohio is the only state that has allowed ALEC and SPN to undermine its own clean energy incentives, after quietly passing the RPS law with support from ALEC legislators back in 2008.

Ohio is currently fighting this year's final battle in a nationally-coordinated attack on clean energy standard laws, implemented by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other groups belonging to the secretive corporate front group umbrella known as the State Policy Network (SPN).

ALEC and SPN members like the Heartland Institute and Beacon Hill Institute failed in almost all of their coordinated attempts to roll back renewable portfolio standards (RPS) in over a dozen states--laws that require utilities to use more clean energy over time. After high profile battles in North Carolina and Kansas, and more subtle efforts in states like Missouri and Connecticut, Ohio remains the last state in ALEC's sites in 2013.

ALEC Playbook Guides the Attack on Ohio Clean Energy

 After Ohio Senator Kris Jordan's attempt to repeal Ohio's RPS went nowhere, ALEC board member and Ohio State Senator William Seitz is now using ALEC's new anti-RPS bills to lead another attack on the Ohio law--see Union of Concerned Scientists.

ALEC's newly-forged Renewable Energy Credit Act allows for RPS targets to be met through out-of-state renewable energy credits (RECs) rather than developing new clean energy projects within Ohio's borders. RECs have varying definitions of renewable energy depending on the region they originate from, lowering demand for the best, cleanest sources of power and electricity.

Sen. Bill Seitz's SB 58 takes advantages of existing provisions of Ohio's RPS law and tweaks other sections to mirror the key aspects of ALEC's Renewable Energy Credit Act. His RPS sneak-attack is matched by House Bill 302, introduced by ALEC member Rep. Peter Stautberg.

Just five years ago, Senator Seitz voted for Ohio's RPS law. Now, Seitz calls clean energy incentives "Stalinist."

Attacks on Ohio's Clean Energy Economy: Fueled by Dirty Energy Profits

Most of ALEC's money comes from corporations and rich people like the Koch brothers, with a tiny sliver more from its negligible legislator membership dues ($50/year). This includes oil & gas giants like ExxonMobil ($344,000, 2007-2012) and Big Oil's top lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute ($88,000, 2008-2010). Exxon and API just two of dozens of dirty energy interests paying to be in the room during ALEC's exclusive Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force meetings.

Other polluting companies bankrolling ALEC's environmental rollbacks include Ohio operating utilities like Duke Energy and American Electric Power. AEP currently chairs ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force. Some of these companies (like Duke Energy and the American Petroleum Institute) pay into a slush fund run by ALEC that allows Ohio legislators and their families to fly to ALEC events using undisclosed corporate cash (see ALEC in Ohio, p. 6).

Ohio Senator Kris Jordan used corporate money funneled through ALEC to attend ALEC events with his wife (ALEC in Ohio, p. 7). With electric utilities as his top political donors, Sen. Jordan has dutifully introduced ALEC bills to repeal renewable energy incentives (SB 34), along with other ALEC priorities like redirecting public funds for private schools (SB 88, 2011), and blocking Ohio from contracting unionized companies (SB 89, 2011).

Koch-funded Spokes & Junk Data Bolsters the ALEC Attack

The behavior of Senator Bill Seitz indicates he's more beholden to ALEC and the dirty energy utilities dumping tens of thousands of dollars into his election campaigns* than his constituents. There is support from a majority of Ohioans for utilities to obtain at least 20% of their electricity from clean sources. Ohio veterans spoke up for the RPS for increasing the state's energy security and lowing wholesale energy costs.

Rather than listening to these voices from Ohio, Senator Seitz has sided with out-of-state Koch-funded mouthpieces invited to testify against the Ohio RPS. Back in March, Seitz heard anti-RPS testimony from The Heartland Institute's James Taylor, who repeated false claims that the RPS will make electricity unaffordable.

Taylor's assertions mimicked those made in a debunked series of reports written for ALEC's RPS attacks. The Ohio anti-RPS report was co-published by the Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute and the American Tradition Institute (ATI), sister group to the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. ATI, now known as the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, was largely funded by Montana petroleum millionaire Doug Lair.

Senator Seitz also heard testimony from Daniel Simmons of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), who recited long-debunked statistics from the so-called "Spanish study" and "Danish study." Koch-funded groups have used these two papers for years to stifle clean energy growth in the United States. Daniel Simmons previously worked for ALEC and the Mercatus Center, which was founded by the Kochs. Heartland and the Institute for Energy Research have financial or personnel ties to the Kansas billionaire Koch brothers.

RPS and Energy Efficiency Are Helping Build Ohio's Economy

Thanks in part to energy efficiency incentives and the RPS law, Ohio's clean energy economy is expanding rapidly, with 25,000 Ohioans employed by 400 companies in the sector. Wind energy is set to expand rapidly, with the American Wind Energy Association projecting $10 billion in investments over the next decade, thanks to the RPS targeted by ALEC and its dirty companies through loyal politicians like Senator Seitz.

Not content to just weaken incentives for clean energy growth, Bill Seitz's SB 58 would also undermine energy efficiency standards, another item on ALEC's agenda. This despite a projected $2.7 billion in savings for Ohio by 2012, as directed by the efficiency and RPS laws.

No wonder ALEC got dumped by its wind and solar trade members.

----

*Since 2007, Senator Seitz has received $46,450 from coal utilities that are ALEC member companies:

  • $21,500 from American Electric Power (AEP)
  • $15,300 from Duke Energy
    • $4,800 of this bundled from Duke Employees in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana during the 2008 election cycle
  • $4,000 from NiSource
  • $3,000 from Dominion
  • $2,650 from the Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, a member of the nation's top dirty energy lobbying heavyweight, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

If you add contributions from FirstEnergy, AES subsidiary Dayton Power & Light, and the Ohio Coal Association, Sen. Seitz's coal money since 2007 tops $66,000.

ALEC's December, 2012 meeting in Washington, DC was heavily sponsored by coal companies, including AEP, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and Edison Electric Institute, the utility trade group whose membership includes Duke Energy, AEP, NiSource, Dominion, AES and FirstEnergy.

Data aggregated by the National Institute for Money in State Politics - FollowTheMoney.org

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VIDEO: Climate Denier Willie Soon Dodges Questions of Koch & Exxon Payments...

  • Posted on: 23 September 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Dr. Willie Soon - Climate Change Denial Funded by Koch, Coal & Oil

Here's one climate change denier who really doesn't want you to think twice about his funding from Koch, coal and oil: Dr. Willie Soon, freshly profiled in today's Boston Globe. In the video above, we asked Dr. Soon about his fossil fuel funding at a climate denial event hosted by the Heritage Foundation last month--the event that wraps up Christopher Rowland's article in the Globe.

There is a bizarre sense of urgency in Dr. Soon's statements, both in our video encounter with him and in the Boston Globe article. He is a man whose profession has developed far outside of his actual expertise as an astrophysicist. After Greenpeace revealed that Willie Soon has taken over $1 million in payments from fossil fuel interests on "research" intended to undermine climate science, his credibility has evaporated. Professionals in the field of climate have been hugely critical of Dr. Soon's pre-determined "research."

Highlights from the Boston Globe:

The Boston Globe notes Willie Soon's contrarian stance against basic facts of climate change.

"Polar bears? Not threatened. Sea level? Exaggerated danger. Carbon dioxide? Great for trees. Warming planet? Caused by natural fluctuation in the sun’s energy."

Soon’s views are considered way outside the scientific mainstream, which makes him a prophet or a pariah, depending on which side you ask. Some say his work simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, that his data are cherry-picked to fit his thesis.

Dr. Soon's industry-funded interference is contextualized by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):

Outside the Beltway, the science is largely settled. Yet in the capital, government response to one of the major environmental and economic challenges facing the planet is mired in an endless cycle of conflicting claims and partisan finger-pointing.

The work of Soon, and a handful of like-minded scientists, is seen by a critics in Congress and elsewhere as a case study in how this deadlock has been engineered by energy companies and antiregulation conservatives.

“They are merchants of doubt, not factual information,’’ said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who delivers a Senate speech every week demanding stronger air-quality standards. “Their strategy isn’t to convince people that the scientists are wrong. Their strategy is simply to raise the specter that there is enough doubt that . . . you should just move onto the next issue until this gets sorted out,’’ he said. “It gives credibility to a crank point of view.’’

American Petroleum Institute falsely associates Dr. Soon with Harvard

While Dr. Soon's office is on Harvard's campus, Dr. Soon has no formal affiliation with the university and has been forced to acknowledge as much after misrepresenting the relationship as a credential for pro-coal pollution op-eds.

“You have a guy that is aligned and associated with Harvard University, one of the top universities in the United States, and the Smithsonian, also very reputable,’’ said institute spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel.

The Globe notes how Harvard requires Dr. Soon to disassociate his unqualified views from the institution's name:

Soon said he is required by the center to recite a disclaimer – saying his views are his own, and not that of Harvard-Smithsonian — each time he speaks or writes on anything outside his expertise in solar radiation. But the complexities of his relationship with Harvard-Smithsonian are often ignored by his sponsors and conference hosts eager to showcase his impressive credentials.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center’s former director, Harvard astronomy professor Irwin Shapiro, said there was never any attempt to censor Soon’s views. Nor, he said, was Soon the subject of complaints or concern among the 300 scientists at the center.

“As far as I can tell,’’ said Shapiro, “no one pays any attention to him.’’

Not Credible, but Not Done Denying Either

Willie Soon continues to attend industry-funded climate denier events and detests questions that highlight the dirty energy companies funding his work: watch Dr. Soon shout at a student asking critical questions last April, at events run by the campus arm of CFACT, a well known climate denial organization.

Dr. Soon's oil- and coal-funded climate "research"

Dr. Soon's grants came from the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil, Southern Company, and the American Petroleum Institute, among others, according to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from Greenpeace to the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Soon's employer. A newer entity called Donors Trust is now helping funnel money from undisclosed donors to Dr. Soon. Donors Trust and affiliate Donors Capital Fund have sent $146 million to groups that deny climate science (since 2002).

Dr. Soon's reaction to Greepeace's request for clarity on the Donors Trust grants doesn't give us much confidence that they aren't simply obscuring more donations from fossil fuel interests, rich political ideologues, or both.

Recognition must be lent here to Dr. Soon's call for an end to FOIA probing of scientists--many legitimate researchers (and their employers) have had their time and reputations wasted by industry-funded attacks from climate denial groups that work closely with the Heartland Institute, like the Competitive Enterprise Institute. These abusive probes do nothing to advance a constructive dialog on solutions to runaway climate change.

The key difference is this: Dr. Soon's work is a platform for The Heartland Institute and other political entities to lie and confuse the public and policymakers alike about the seriousness of global warming, funded exclusively by dirty energy interests. Thanks to the obstruction led by Dr. Soon and other people who sold out the public interest to the highest bidder, it's too late to prevent climate change. The climate is changed, and we're feeling the impact.

The question is how radically we can cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal, oil and gas and rapidly shift to a clean economy that doesn't thrive off of the ruin of our planet. This is why it's crucial to leave the obstructionist opinions of Heartland and Dr. Soon out of true scientific conversations.

But with the IPCC 5th Assessment Report coming out the door and Heartland touring the country to undermine what real scientists are saying about climate change, it is time to stand up to the madness and show this country how bought and sold their positions are. When The Heartland Institute came to town with Willie Soon, we pressed president Joseph Bast to acknowledge their funding from Chicago billionaire Barre Seid for the climate denial work:

Look to Greenpeace and PolluterWatch in the coming weeks for ongoing accountability of those who are paid to undermine our future, and help spread the word!

Willie Soon

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GREENPEACE REPORT: Climate Change Denial Machine vs. Scientists

  • Posted on: 10 September 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Written by Cindy Baxter, crossposted from Greenpeace: Dealing in Doubt.

Who likes being lied to by people paid by the oil industry who pose as “experts” on climate change?

Did you know it’s been going on for 25 years?

In a couple of weeks, the UN’s official advisors on climate change science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will update its global assessment on the issue. Yet in the background, more attacks on the climate science are underway

For the last quarter century, the climate science denial machine, its cogs oiled by fossil fuel money, has been attacking climate science, climate scientists and every official US report on climate change, along with State and local efforts – with the aim of undermining action on climate change.

Our new report, Dealing in Doubt, sets out the history of these attacks going back to the early 90s. These are attacks based on anti-regulatory, so called “free market” ideology, not legitimate scientific debate, using a wide range of dirty tricks: from faked science, attacks on scientists, fake credentials, cherry-picking scientific conclusions: a campaign based on the old tobacco industry mantra: “doubt is our product”.

We give special attention to perhaps today’s poster child of the climate denial machine’s free market think tanks, the Heartland Institute, which is about to launch a new version of its “NIPCC” or “climate change reconsidered” report next week in Chicago.

Unlike the real IPCC, with thousands of scientists involved from around the world, the Heartland Institute’s handful of authors is paid. Several of them claim fake scientific credentials. They start with a premise of proving the overwhelming consensus on climate science wrong, whereas the real IPCC simply summarizes the best science to date on climate change.

This multi-million dollar campaign has been funded by anti-government ideologues like the Koch brothers, companies like ExxonMobil and trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute.Big Oil funding of climate denial declines. "Anonymous" funding through Donors skyrockets. Interesting.

More recently, less visible channels of funding have been revealed such as the Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, organization that that has been called the “ATM of the conservative movement”, distributing funds from those who don’t want to be publicly associated with the anti-environmental work product of organizations like the Heartland Institute.

In the last week we’ve seen new peer-reviewed science published, linking at least half of 2012’s extreme weather events to a human carbon footprint in the atmosphere and on the weather and climate.

As the scientific consensus strengthens by the day that climate change is happening now, that carbon pollution is causing it and must be regulated, the denial machine is getting increasingly shrill. But today, while they are being increasingly ignored by a majority of the public, their mouthpieces in the US House of Representatives, for instance, have increased in number.

They’re still fighting the science – and they’re still being funded, to the tune of millions of dollars each year, to do it.

Dealing in Doubt sets out a history of these attacks. We show how the tactics of the tobacco industry’s campaign for “sound science” led to the formation of front groups who, as they lost the battle to deny smoking’s health hazards and keep warning labels off of cigarettes, turned their argumentative skills to the denial of climate change science in order to slow government action.

koch brosWhat we don’t cover is the fact that these organizations and deniers are also working on another front, attacking solutions to climate change. They go after any form of government incentive to promote renewable energy, while cheering for coal, fracking and the Keystone pipeline.

They attack any piece of legislation the US EPA puts forward to curb pollution. Decrying President Obama’s “war on coal” is a common drumbeat of these anti-regulation groups. One key member of the denial machine, astrophysicist Willie Soon from the Smithsonian Institute for Astrophysics, has portrayed himself as an “expert” on mercury and public health in order to attack legislation curbing mercury emissions from coal plants.

This recent history, as well as the prior history of denial by the tobacco companies and chemical, asbestos and other manufacturing industries, is important to remember because the fossil fuel industry has never admitted that it was misguided or wrong in its early efforts to delay the policy reaction to the climate crisis. To this day, it continues to obstruct solutions.

The individuals, organizations and corporate interests who comprise the ‘climate denial machine’ have caused harm and have slowed our response time. As a result, we will all ultimately pay a much higher cost as we deal with the impacts, both economic and ecological.

Eventually, these interests will be held accountable for their actions.

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Tar sands satire shut down after complaints from law firm tied to oil industry

  • Posted on: 21 August 2013
  • By: JesseColeman

Remember to Breathe - IndieGogo Pitch Video

Political satirists Andy Cobb and Mike Damanskis recently began a new video project to document the tar sands of Canada. But a law firm who represents Exxon and other tar sands interests has begun filing complaints, and had their video pulled off youtube.

Comedians and activists, the duo has become known for biting commentary on the oil industry, like their response to Exxon’s tar sands pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, which was featured on the Rachel Maddow Show.

Their new project sends the team up to Alberta, Canada, on a “vacation” to document tar sands mining operations and its effects on the ecosystems and public health. The project also wants to expose the hypocrisy of the claims of environmental stewardship made by oil corporations involved in tar sands mining, as well as the Albertan government, which touts Alberta’s ecotourism options while promoting tar sands mines.

"The original inspiration for our project is that industry PR around the tar sands seems like a cross between a travel ad and oil company ad, inviting us to 'come to Alberta' and see for ourselves," Mike Damanskis told DeSmogBlog.

The complaints against Andy and Mike were filed by the law firm Denton, on behalf of  “Travel Alberta,” the tourism bureau of Alberta, Canada. An investigation by DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn found that Denton has serious and substantial ties to the tar sands oil industry, and represents ExxonMobil’s tar sands project, as well as several other oil corporations tied to tar sands development.

To support Andy and Mike’s project, check out their pitch video and fundraising page.

 

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Exposed: ALEC's new anti-environmental agenda in Chicago this week

  • Posted on: 7 August 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

New internal documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reveal new methods that fossil fuel companies, agrochemical interests and corporate lobbying groups will influence certain state policies in the coming months through the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

ALEC's annual meeting is taking place in Chicago this week, just as Common Cause and CMD have filed a complaint to the IRS over ALEC's corporate-funded "Scholarships" for state legislators--ALEC is a tax exempt non-profit despite their mission of facilitating an exchange of company-crafted laws with state legislators in closed-door meetings.

ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force is drafting new model bills on behalf of its members like Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and Peabody. ALEC's anti-environmental agenda in Chicago is available for viewing (see E&E PM and Earthtechling). These are the new model bills ALEC and its energy, chemical and agricultural interests are finalizing this week.

The Market-Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act: ALEC and other Koch-funded State Policy Network groups like the Heartland Institute haven't had much success with their attempts to repeal state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) laws through the ALEC/Heartland Electricity Freedom Act. The Market-Power Renewables Act and Renewable Energy Credit Act are two newer, more subtle attempt to weaken RPS laws by phasing in a renewable power voluntary program, creating space for existing and out-of-state energy credits to displace new clean energy, and eventually repealing the RPS requirements entirely.

To slow the growth of clean energy competition, ALEC's fossil fuel members wrote these bills to allow increasing portions of a states clean energy generation requirements to be fulfilled by Renewable Energy Credits, or RECs. RECs are allowed to qualify in some states' RPS laws already, often in limited amounts, and they are not created equal. For instance, the benefits of burning gas leaking from landfills--something waste management companies would be selling anyway--are not on par with the societal benefits from building new sources of clean energy and displacing older, dirtier sources. You can see why ALEC member companies like American Electric Power or Duke Energy may take issue with this, given their reliance on coal and gas electricity generation.

Increasing the amount that RECs can qualify for state RPS targets means allowing more out-of-state energy. This could displace in-state jobs and economic benefits from clean energy development. The RECs may also come from sources that aren't defined as "renewable" in some states' RPS laws, or are only allowed in limited amounts, such as hydropower, biomass or biogas, creating a lowest common denominator effect. At the end of any given year, the ALEC bill would allow states to bank any extra energy generated from RECs beyond what the RPS law requires and use them to meet RPS targets for the following year. This could continually delay the growth of new, clean energy.

Resolution in Opposition to a Carbon Tax: Despite support for a carbon tax from ALEC members like ExxonMobil, ALEC is creating a model bill to weigh in on what will become the keystone policy battle for climate change science deniers, a battle that is already creating a rift among conservative groups, like the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation and the Heartland Institute against the R Street Institute. R Street formed when Heartland's Fire, Insurance and Real Estate program split away last year, after Heartland's insurance company funders were uncomfortable with the group comparing those who acknowledge climate change to the Unabomber.

Pre-Emption of Local Agriculture Laws Act: This bill would prevent governments under the state level (cities, towns, counties) from creating new laws or enforcing existing laws that have to do with the regulation of seeds and seed products--ie crops, flowers, and pretty much all food products grown in a state. This would allow companies like Monsanto (indirectly represented in ALEC through its membership in CropLife America, an agrochemical front group and ALEC energy task force member) to bottleneck regulations of their GMO seeds and products at the state government level and stop community resistance to their abusive patent laws and enforcement through lawsuits.

For examples of what ALEC has already been busy with this year, check out PR Watch's roundup of 77 anti-environmental ALEC bills that have popped up in state legislatures in 2013, supporting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project, rolling back renewable energy incentives and making it illegal to document animal abuse, among other issues.

More info on ALEC's broader corporate agenda can be found on ALEC Exposed.

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How ALEC and Exxon Secretly Fracked North Carolina

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

Former EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt speaks at an ALEC event sponsored by ExxonMobil, among other dirty energy interests and Fortune 500 companies. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson through Bill Moyers.com)

Remember that controversial law last year, legalizing fracking in North Carolina after being vetoed by the state's governor? The law bears tell-tale signs of being written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group with ties to the fracking industry.

Like the Exxon-backed fracking loopholes in Ohio and numerous other states, the new North Carolina law contains the same "trade secrets" provisions that ensure the public will not have the right to know which chemicals gas frackers are pumping underground to retrieve shale oil and gas. The "trade secrets" provisions are key to ALEC's model bill in order to allow Exxon, Shell, Duke Energy and other ALEC member companies to more quickly extract, pipe and burn gas without having to bother with pesky transparency laws.

Here's a list of NC ALEC legislators who co-sponsored the bill legalizing fracking: S820 or HB1052 -- the so-called "Clean Energy and Economic Security Act"

  • Sen. Tom Apodaca
  • Sen. David Rouzer -- member of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, which created the frack fluid disclosure loophole bill with internal sponsorship by ExxonMobil.
  • Rep. Mike Hager
  • Rep. Tim Moffitt
  • Rep. Fred Steen -- ALEC's State Chairman in NC

Rep. Fred Steen co-sponsored the House version of the so-called "Clean Energy and Economic Security Act." Steen was ALEC's State Chair in North Carolina, and his job is to ensure ALEC models are introduced and, ideally for ALEC, passed. Rep. Steen was the only state legislator serving as State Chair in North Carolina (other states often have multiple legislators serving as co-chairs), and according to ALEC's tax forms, his position implies the following responsibilities (emphasis mine):

State Chairmen duties shall include recruiting new members, working to ensure introduction of model legislation, suggesting task force membership, establishing state steering committees, planning issue events, and working with the Private Enterprise State Chairman to raise and oversee expenditures of legislative 'scholarship' funds.

As ALEC's state chairman in NC at the time of this vote, Rep. Steen appointed a "Private Sector Co-Chairman" to help oversee ALEC activity in NC. In this case, Rep. Steen worked with North Dakota lobbyist Joel Gilbertson, who represents clients like AIG, PhRMA, and Crop Life America (a front group for pesticide and chemical fertilizer interests). Rep. Steen was listed on ALEC's website as its State Chairman since at least late 2008, suggesting that he has been re-appointed to that position at least once--a term lasts two years.

Ironically, co-sponsoring Rep. Mike Hager has been asked about his role in ALEC before, telling the Charlotte Business Journal that, "I'm not a big fan of model legislation." Apparently, keeping toxic chemicals secret from constituents is something Rep. Hager is a big fan of, in which case ALEC models are pretty useful. Rep. Hager has received $15,500 from oil, gas and electric utility interests in this election cycle, on top of $3,250 from his first successful election bid in 2010. One of the utilities donating to Rep. Hager is Duke Energy, his former employer, which operates natural gas pipelines that deliver to over 500,000 customers and is expanding gas generation at its power plants.

North Carolina's fracking loophole law has drawn attention from around the country, including a statement of support from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The new NC law barely overturned a veto by former Gov. Beverly Perdue, in a heartbreaking twist involving one Democratic legislator being bought out at the last minute and another accidentally voting in favor of the bill and refused the opportunity to correct her vote, something that is commonly acceptable when such a mistake is made. The Charlotte Observer explains:

Rep. Becky Carney, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County who opposes fracking, pushed the wrong button and accidentally voted with Republicans to override the veto. A maneuver by Wake County Republican Paul “Skip” Stam prevented her from changing her vote, giving the GOP a historic one-vote margin of victory. "It was a huge mistake,” Carney said afterward. “I take full responsibility.” Democrats denounced Stam’s quick parliamentary maneuver as a dirty trick that resulted in the passage of a landmark energy overhaul that could create a natural gas production industry in the state. [...] Carney said it was the first time in her 10-year legislative career that she pushed the wrong button on a vote. Mistaken votes are not uncommon and letting lawmakers change their votes is routine practice in the state legislature.

This local news clip posted by the Voter's Legislative Transparency Project, which tracks ALEC activity in North Carolina, includes more on Rep. Carney's error:

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US Gov't doesn't know exact Keystone XL pipeline route

  • Posted on: 8 July 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

The U.S. government doesn't know exactly where TransCanada wants to lay pipe for the northern section of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, according to the results of a 14-month Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. State DepartmentIn its final answer to a FOIA request by Thomas Bachand of the Keystone Mapping Project, the State Department admitted:

Neither Cardno ENTRIX nor TransCanada ever submitted GIS information to the Department of State, nor was either corporation required to do so. The information that you request, if it exists, is therefore neither physically nor constructively under the control of the Department of State and we are therefore unable to comply with your FOIA request.

Yes, you read that right. The U.S. State Department published its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)--supposedly an official account of the potential hazards of TransCanada's proposed pipeline on U.S. waterways, wildlife and other major considerations like global climate change--without knowing exactly where TransCanada wants to dig. Check out the full letter from State to Mr. Bachand at the Keystone Mapping Project.

Ongoing Conflicts of Interest in State Department Environmental Assessments

The State Department is already facing legitimate criticism for contracting companies with ties to TransCanada and other oil companies for its environmental impact estimates, which the Environmental Protection Agency has slammed for being "insufficient." State looked no further than oil industry contractors to run the draft SEIS--companies like Cardno ENTRIX, which calls TransCanada a "major client," and ERM Resources, a dues paying member of the American Petroleum Institute which is being investigated by the State Department's Inspector General for trying to hide its prior consulting for fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil, BP and Shell. In fact, TransCanada chose ERM Resources to do the Keystone XL SEIS review for the State Department, and one of ERM's people working on the review was formerly employed by TransCanada. 

TransCanada has stacked the deck, wagering American waterways and private property against the promise to profit from continued extraction of dirty tar sands petroleum.

Tar Sands Pipelines Spill

The potential is too high for Keystone XL to leak just like TransCanada's existing Keystone I pipeline has repeatedly done, or rupture like ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas earlier this year, or Enbridge's tar sands pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River. The southern leg of Keystone XL is already under construction, and the if the cracks, dents and other faults in the 'new' pipe are any indication, pollution from oil spills looks inevitable. Beyond being a disaster waiting to happen, KXL guarantees the continued disaster that is tar sands mining, a process that has already poisoned entire regions--and peoples' communities--in northern Alberta, Canada.

With President Obama's recently unveiled Climate Action Plan, it would be a limp gesture to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. You'd think with the State Department having its environmental analysis run by oil industry consultants, they'd listen to the oil industry's own guarantees that Keystone XL would increase demand for tar sands mining. That's bad news for our climate -- something the State Department cannot ignore if they do a reasonable review of the "unprecedented" amount of public comments on its draft SEIS on KXL.

What remains to be seen is if the State Department will be reasonable in the last leg of its review, or if it will continue letting TransCanada and Big Oil control the process to the bitter end.

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Four Oil Spills in One Week: Exxon's Arkansas Tar Sands spill one of many

  • Posted on: 9 April 2013
  • By: JesseColeman

As many people who watch the oil industry know, oil spills are not avoidable, preventable, or unlikely. From extraction to combustion, oil is a destructive and dirty business, based on sacrificing the health of environments and peoples for corporate profits.

Smoke pours from an Exxon Oil Refinery after an explosion in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1989

This fact was especially evident last week, when Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline spilled over 150,000 gallons of toxic tar sands crude oil into Lake Conway and adjoining neighborhoods in Mayflower, Arkansas.

Exxon's tar sands spill in Mayflower, Arkansas

However, Exxon’s Mayflower spill is not an isolated incident. In fact, there were three other significant oil spills that occurred last week.

The spills, which were the result of both train derailments and pipeline ruptures, spilled many hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic crude oil in and around neighborhoods, marshes, and rivers.

March 26 - Train Derailment in Minnesota - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled

Last week's cacophony of oil industry irresponsibility began with a train derailment in Minnesota, which spilled 30,000 gallons of crude oil. The oil was from Canada which has become a top exporter of crude to the United States because of their exploitation of the tar sands in Alberta.

aerial view of the Alberta Tar Sands

In a fit of ill-timed opportunism, supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump tar sands oil from Canada to the gulf coast, used this this spill as a justification for building the tar sands pipeline. A spokesman for North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, who has been one of the chief political proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, had this to say:

"It should be clear that we need to move more oil by pipeline rather than by rail or truck...This is why we need the Keystone XL. Pipelines are both safe and efficient."

March, 29 - Lake Conoway, Arkansas - 156,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil spilled

In an incident that should make anyone question the "safety and efficiency" of oil pipelines, Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline spilled 157,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Lake Conway and surrounding neighborhoods in Arkansas. Since the spill, Exxon has limited press access to the spill site, oiled animals, and even the skies above the spill area. Exxon has even claimed that Lake Conway has been unaffected by the oil spill, though Arkansas Attorney General Dustin Mcdaniel has set that particular record straight.

"Of course there's oil in Lake Conway"

Mcdaniels said.

Arkansas Pipeline Spill
Exxon's tar sands oil spills into a cove of Lake Conway, Arkansas

April, 3 - Houston, Texas - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled

Four days after Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured and seven days after Keystone XL pipeline proponents claimed "pipelines are both safe and efficient," a Shell pipeline running through a bayou outside of Houston spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the Texas marsh. The actual amount of oil spilled by Shell's West Columbia Pipeline is still unknown, as the cause of the leak has not been released by Shell.

 

April, 3 - White River, Ontario - 16,642 gallons of crude oil spilled

At the same time that Shell was spewing oil into the wetlands of Texas, a train derailment in White River, Ontario was leaking oil in Canada. Most people know White River as the original home of Winnie the Pooh, but it is also a major train depot for shipping crude oil. The company responsible claimed that 4 barrels of oil were spilled, though the actual number turned out to be 10 times larger, at 400 barrels. That's 16,642 gallons of toxic crude oil. Sorry Winnie.

As the oil industry proved this week, they are incapable of protecting people and the environment from their product. As Micheal Brune of Sierra Club said:

"In Ontario, the company said it spilled four barrels when it had actually spilled 400. In Arkansas, Exxon learned about the spill from a homeowner but kept pumping tar sands crude into the neighborhood for 45 minutes, and is bullying reporters who want to tell the public what's going on. In Texas, a major oil spill came to light that Shell had been denying for days. Transporting toxic crude oil -- and tar sands in particular -- is inherently dangerous, more so because oil companies care about profit, not public safety. This is why Keystone XL, at nine times the size of the Arkansas Pegasus pipeline, must never be built.”

If built, the Keystone XL pipeline will spill. Stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Koch & Exxon-funded scientist challenged by students at climate denial event (VIDEO)

  • Posted on: 9 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Rarely do we meet those who have made careers selling us lies. Consider the oddball doctors who took tobacco money to deny a link between cigarette smoking and cancer, or the handful of scientists who take oil and coal money to discredit global warming science, or the people who have done both.

Last week, students in Wisconsin and Michigan stepped up to such an opportunity when CFACT Campus, the student arm of a well-known cabal of fossil fuel apologists, hosted climate change denier Willie Soon at several campus events around the country.

Dr. Willie Soon is a Smithsonian Institution astrophysicist paid by Charles Koch, ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and coal utility Southern Company to write papers dismissing climate change, publish op-eds saying coal pollution won't affect our health, refute the seriousness of ocean acidification, and apparently anything else he can be paid to deny. Dr. Soon has misrepresented himself by repeatedly claiming affiliation with Harvard University and using his credentials as an astrophysicist to make people believe he's a climate expert, and he shows no sign of stopping. Indeed, he told students in Madison, "I am as as qualified as anyone on the planet on this topic."

In both Madison, Wisconsin and East Lansing, Michigan, Dr. Soon was caught with his pants down. As the Michigan State News documented in its article and accompanying audio interview, Soon claims that all the scientists around the world who study and recognize the seriousness of climate change are motivated by money, yet somehow his funding from coal and oil companies for his extremely marginalized viewpoints doesn't matter.

Here is the dialog with Willie Soon at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with direct links to key clips below:

1) Willie Soon insinuates ExxonMobil will no longer fund him (emphasis added): 

"I have been receiving money from whoever that wants to give me money. I write my scientific proposal. I have received money from ExxonMobil, but ExxonMobil will no longer give me any money for a long time. American Petroleum Institute, anything you wish for, from Southern Company, from all these companies. I write proposal and let them judge whether they will fund me or not, always for a very small amount. If they choose to fund me, I'm happy to receive it." Click to watch (starts @ 1:52).

2) Dr. Soon stands behind his attempts to discredit the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with help from ExxonMobil lobbyists: 

"I was trying to bring down IPCC--is that what you imply?! [...] Let it be known that I do not like IPCC, because IPCC does not stand for science, it is corrupting science." Click to watch (starts @ 3:32).

After a question referencing emails with ExxonMobil lobbyists to undermine climate research at the United Nations before it even hit publication, Dr. Soon quickly loses his cool over his record of global warming denial, peppering the student with mild insults before owning up to his actions.

3) Dr. Soon thanks anyone who uses petroleum products or electricity from coal for supporting his work:

"I really want to thank her, because she's receiving the electricity used for her house, she's driving cars, she's doing all of these things because you are funding me. It's not an oil or coal company. They are a company that provides a service to humanity--to people who want to use electricity." Click to watch (starts @ 5:14)

Anyone looking at Southern Company's record of pollution and political interference would be skeptical about its commitment to serve humanity. Soon continues with an aggressive rant claiming that the student isn't qualified to question his fossil fuel payments until she stops driving, using electricity, and wearing nylon. 

4) Willie Soon states "I don't like to claim that I am an expert on anything," despite listing himself as an "expert in mercury and public health" for a discredited Wall Street Journal op-ed dismissing health concerns over mercury pollution from coal plants. Soon invented similar credentials for another opinion piece in the Washington Times, before he swapped back to being a 22-year veteran of "researching the relationship of solar radiation and the Earth's climate," research Dr. Soon did on the dime of oil and coal companies.

Basically, Willie Soon is an expert in whatever problems vested industries will pay him to deny. Michigan State students note how Willie Soon now refutes research indicating adverse impacts from ocean acidification, a global crisis that is married to climate change (both problems stem from humans burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).

That's effed up. This man makes a career lying to the public, not to mention our lawmakers, about some of the most serious issues of our time. Climate change is already contributing to the deaths of 400,000 people each year and costing global GDP about $1.2 trillion, according to a report commissioned by multiple nations. 98% of actual climate scientists (a distinction Dr. Willie Soon does not earn) agree that global warming is real and primarily drive by humans burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.

Not only has Dr. Soon lied to us and our lawmakers about the seriousness of global warming--he even lied directly to Congress in 2003 about his sources of funding at a time when he was promoting his study funded by the American Petroleum Institute, the $200 million/year oil and gas lobbying group. The Guardian wrote last year:

"In 2003 Soon said at a US senate hearing that he had "not knowingly been hired by, nor employed by, nor received grants from any organisation that had taken advocacy positions with respect to the Kyoto Protocol or the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change."

This is why it's crucial to demand accountability of people like Willie SoonHe is a public relations tool of oil and coal companies, and as a scientist attempting to publish in fields well outside of his expertise, that oil and coal money is crucial to recognize.

Here are some of the best examples of Soon's pseudo-science paid for by Big Oil and King Coal:

Dr. Soon's work is like a joke, but not the type you'd laugh at. While he cracks these fossil-funded zingers, reputable scientists warn that humanity is running out of time to stop climate change from self-reinforcing to the point that it spirals out of human control. As quoted by the Michigan State News, young conservatives on campus had trouble taking Dr. Willie Soon's presentation seriously:

“I’m not a science major, but I think (Soon’s presentation) has got valid points, but also other scientists who disagree with him have valid points,” Sobecki said. “I’m not crazy enough to think that six billion people don’t have an effect on climate in the world we live in.”

Science majors attending the MSU event didn't agree that Soon's points were particularly valid. See this account from a MSU Greenpeace student activist on PolluterWatch for more details.

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Michigan State: students highlight Willie Soon's oil and coal-funded climate denial career

  • Posted on: 8 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Image from a USA Today article detailing Willie Soon's at events to confuse the public over climate science.

Written by Rachna Pannu. This event was covered in the Michigan State News by Simon Schuster, whose interview with Dr. Willie Soon confirms CFACT paid for Soon to attend these events.

Dr. Willie Soon, a well-known climate change denier, was invited by the MSU Campus Conservatives at Michigan State University to talk about climate change.  The event was sanctioned by CFACT, an obscure but vocal group among climate science deniers. We at MSU Greenpeace saw this as a great opportunity to have some of our members attend and question the reasons and methods with which he chooses to deny what 98% of climate scientists have agreed to be true
 
The bulk of Dr. Soon’s talk involved aggressively targeting published or well-known supporters of climate change prevention, including professors, Al Gore, and federal, national and international organizations. He went through the data, attempting to discredit it with conflicting data from other studies and experiments. However, this aspect of his talk left me with more questions than answers, especially since he is a known recipient of oil and coal money.
 

Willie Soon’s fossil fuel-funded career

 
Willie Soon spent a good amount of the talk repeatedly defending himself as an independent scientist simply seeking to learn the truth before anyone had even questioned his motives and his expertise. He ranted that people question his funding and his intentions, but he is just an objective man trying to get to the truth of climate change. He also used this opportunity to criticize the current scientific model of publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals, claiming that it was a buddy-buddy system and peer-reviewing did not affect the validity of the article.
 
Essentially, Dr. Soon was warding off the holes in his credentials before anyone had questioned them because his doctorate is in astrophysics, which is not even related to the Earth’s climate, and has only been able to publish one article on climate science in a peer-reviewed journal. Even that article was hotly debated by the editors, who wrote a negative response and resigned from their positions in outrage. And Willie Soon's funding? It comes from fossil fuel companie--like ExxonMobil and Southern Company--totaling over $1 million in the last decade.
 

Questionable Climate ‘Science’ 

 
Willie Soon pulled up a graph showing the temperature range over a series of years in the 2000’s and asked rhetorically whether anyone could see an increase in the temperatures over time. Yes, I could, but I would rather like to question the validity of using a period of less than 10 years to examine the change in the Earth’s temperature over time. In another example, he showed a graph that analyzed both the variance in amplitude and shift in time for the predictions of temperatures by many different model used by scientists. The models were dispersed around the central point of zero difference in amplitude and zero shift in time, but he simply stated that the image showed errors in all of the models and stated that none of them were in the lower left corner. Why they should be in a region of less amplitude and a negative shift in time in relation to the actual temperature patterns baffles me.  
 
Members of MSU Greenpeace questioned Soon about his articles on climate science, and he became aggressive and very defensive, stating that peer-review did not signify greater accuracy (peer-review is crucial to ensuring the highest conduct in scientific research). When a member of The State News, the MSU student newspaper, asked why with about 13,900 published articles on the verity of climate change and only twenty-something that argue the reverse he felt that climate change did not exist, Dr. Soon again became frustrated. Soon referred to a quote from Albert Einstein, saying that it only takes one person to disprove what everyone agrees upon. Read coverage of this event from the State News here.
 
There was no way to have an effective discourse about climate change with Dr. Willie Soon because he refused to accept the very basic premises of our current scientific standards that peer-review ensures accuracy of the published articles and that a large consensus by educated individuals who have done their own research into a matter indicates the verity of the hypothesis. In addition, some of the data and sources he provided seemed either not applicable or reputable as we are taught is critical to reliable scientific research. 
 

Dr. Soon adds Ocean Acidification Denial to his Growing list of Specialties

 
Separate from Willie Soon’s questionable assertions about global temperature trends were his assertions used to dismiss ocean acidification, a serious problem that is linked with increasing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (caused by companies funding Dr. Soon, like ExxonMobil and Southern Company). Soon's sources were shaky--data cited from a BlogSpot website, for instance, not exactly a credentialed scientific institution. He disputed a report by a marine biologist that claims increasing CO2 content of the ocean results in weakening of the shells of marine organisms by interfering with their ability to use calcium carbonate in their shells. 
 
Scientists who are serious about scientific standards tell us that ocean acidification is having a profound impact on coral reefs (they are dying rapidly), and scientists are working to determine if more acidic oceans are impacting crustaceans, ocean animals that have shells. Dr. Soon apparently already has the answers, stating that crabs and lobster shells were not composed of significant amounts of calcium carbonate, and then he provided data that showed lobsters and crabs increasing in size after carbon dioxide was bubbled through their water. If indeed the shells of crustaceans are not mainly composed of calcium carbonate, how does an experiment showing the effect of carbon dioxide presence in the water of lobster and crabs conflict with the statement that it affects the availability of calcium carbonate? 
 

Soon’s Limited Audience

 
The only thing I can say is that I felt some relief in that he was only able to attempt to influence a half-filled classroom composed of 1/3 individuals who did not attend the university and already believed in Soon’s paranoid vision of the world and 1/3 supporters of the movement to protect our planet. There are always a few doubters, a few critics and a few conspiracy theorists that refuse to acknowledge global warming no matter how much evidence is presented to them. If we can get the majority of rational individuals to understand the changes occurring to the environment, we can create change to save our planet and make it a healthier place to live. 
 
Rachna Pannu
Senior, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology B.S. 
Lyman Briggs College
Michigan State University
 

 

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