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This Week in Clean Economy: ALEC May Target Renewable Energy Mandates

"I expect the issue to be discussed at one of our upcoming task force meetings," the conservative nonprofit tells InsideClimate News.

Apr 27, 2012
Anti-ALEC protester on March 29, 2012, at the University of Minnesota.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative policy group, has helped state lawmakers craft measures aimed at curtailing U.S. EPA air pollution rules, repealing cap and trade and teaching climate skepticism in schools, among many other things.

A future target could be renewable energy mandates, which are on the books in more than half of U.S. states. 

"I expect the issue to be discussed at one of our upcoming task force meetings," Todd Wynn of ALEC told InsideClimate News. "Discussions within the task force can, and do, lead to the development of ALEC model bills." Wynn directs the council's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force.

The Washington-based nonprofit is composed of nearly 2,000 state legislators—most of whom are Republicans—as well as some of the country's most powerful corporations. Among its members are ExxonMobil, the biggest privately controlled U.S. oil and gas company; energy conglomerate Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the United States; and Peabody Energy, the country's largest coal producer. Companies' annual dues of $7,000 to $25,000, plus their extra cash donations, accounted for most of ALEC's $7 million budget in 2010, according to media reports.

ALEC's main activity is to draft model bills and resolutions to reduce government regulation and bolster business interests.

While ALEC has been quietly working to promote a free-market agenda since the 1970s, it was thrust in the media spotlight last summer, when the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group, published an online archive of more than 800 ALEC measures. Today, ALEC is again under the microscope for pushing controversial "stand your ground" gun laws at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida.

On Monday, Bloomberg broke the news that ALEC may write model measures later this year to strike down state renewable portfolio standards (RPS). The report instantly sparked a flurry of outrage in environmental circles.

Already, ALEC has model legislation to help state legislators block a federal RPS. That resolution "urges the United States Congress not to ... mandate minimum market shares for such technologies in excess of the levels sustainable subject to real market forces."

In an interview with InsideClimate News this week, Wynn said that no decision has been made on drafting text to abolish state RPS measures. He anticipates that it will be discussed at meetings this year, and said that "policies related to renewable energy could be brought up in the next couple of years."

If that happens, Wynn said, it would be to satisfy a growing desire in some states to undo such mandates. "ALEC members are state legislators, and many state legislators are expressing concern about the cost of renewable energy," he said.

Since last fall, lawmakers in nine states have introduced bills to either repeal or weaken their RPS laws. At least three states—Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia—have proposed legislation to revoke their mandatory standards. The three bills are still in committee.

ALEC holds three conferences a year where state legislators discuss topics for draft legislation. The largest conference will be held in late July.

'Need to Take It Seriously'

Renewable energy mandates require electric utilities to get a certain percentage of their electricity from clean energy sources. Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C., have mandatory standards, while 12 have voluntary goals.

Such laws have been around since the late 1990s, though most states adopted them in the mid-2000s. The mounting opposition is due largely to Republican gains in mid-term elections in late 2010. In 20 states, the GOP now controls both the governorship and the legislature, more than double the number two years ago.

Clean energy advocates say the standards are critical for creating steady market demand for clean power and for building America's clean energy economy.

Environmental advocates in New Jersey, for instance, credit the state's 13-year-old RPS for helping to create more than 3,000 new jobs in its solar industry, the second-largest solar market in the country. And in Texas, a clean power mandate helped to get a local wind industry off the ground that now employs at least 6,000 people, according to figures from the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group.

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