On April 23—the day after Earth Day—Paul Driessen addressed a rapt audience of state legislators who had come from around the country to talk about climate change and energy policy. "Global warming is a huge moral issue," he proclaimed—just not in the way you may think. "Hydrocarbons are the lifeblood of our economy and society. The benefits are almost too numerous to count," he told the crowd, which filled the hotel ballroom in St. Louis with rousing applause. His message: the energy these fossil fuels produce is "fundamental to the pursuit of happiness and justice," and Congress, the EPA and UN-backed scientists are out to seize control of your state’s economy and rob the world’s poor of their life, liberty and any last hope for prosperity.
Driessen is a well-known conservative writer, PR flack and climate change denier, and he was speaking at the Spring Task Force meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which brings together state legislators and corporate lobbyists to trade ideas and draft model legislation. The country’s largest corporations—ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and Peabody Energy, to name a few—buy a seat at the table and pick up the check. "If you’ve got a special interest that needs a bill," says Mark Pocan, a Democratic state legislator who is co-chair of the Wisconsin Assembly’s Joint Finance Committee, "they’ve got a lobbyist that helps the process." ALEC even gives directly to state legislators—more than $47,000 in the 2007–08 election cycle, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Most of this money was given as reimbursements for travel to conferences, but ALEC did not report any of the money on its 2008 tax return, as it should have. What’s more, legislators deposited some of the checks into their campaign accounts without specifying what they were for, and tax-exempt nonprofits like ALEC are forbidden from contributing to campaigns. If any of this money was used for campaigning, it would be in violation of ALEC’s tax status. The money certainly brought legislators to St. Louis, where Driessen implored them to take his message home. "You can make a difference by educating yourselves, voters and other legislators," he said. And with ALEC’s help, they had already begun.
Legislators in at least nineteen states have announced resolutions opposing federal action on climate change. The bulk of them—ten of which have passed at least one legislative house—take aim at the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, asking Congress to delay or pre-empt the agency’s decision to crack down on global warming pollution beginning in 2012. Lurking behind this coordinated effort are ALEC and a web of fossil fuel industry–funded organizations gaming to undermine science, influence public opinion and remove the best tool the United States has to prevent catastrophic warming.
The bills match the goal of model legislation drafted in 2008 by ALEC’s Natural Resources Task Force (currently co-chaired by representatives from the American Gas Association and a major energy utility, along with a legislator from Indiana). Co-sponsors of resolutions in at least ten states either have signed an ALEC letter to Senator Harry Reid asking Congress to strip EPA authority or are members of the organization.
"I think we’re taking a snapshot view of climate change and trying to implement policy based on that snapshot," says Jeff Duncan, who sponsored legislation in the South Carolina Statehouse. Duncan says he learned about climate change from conferences and papers from ALEC, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. In 2007 ALEC wrote Duncan a $1,328 travel reimbursement check that was deposited in his campaign fund. He says his legislation did not come out of ALEC specifically.