June 13, 2014

Revealed - the Fossil Fuel Lobbies Behind Attacks on Renewables

All over the USA, identikit bills and resolutions have been appearing in state legislatures - all designed to suppress the US's growing renewable energy sector. Farron Cousins discovers the shady groups behind it all, and why they are fighting quite so hard.

The emergence of affordable, clean electricity presents a serious threat to an industry that's operated largely in the same way since Thomas Edison turned on the first investor-owned power station in 1882.

Fossil fuel exploitation in the United States has reached a fevered pitch. Oil production is at a near-record high, and fracking activities have made the US the number one producer of natural gas. All of this comes at a cost.

In 2013, the oil industry averaged 20 oil spills per day, destroying countless swaths of the environment and leaving toxic chemicals for nearby residents to deal with. Meanwhile, oil and gas train derailments have totaled at least 11 in the last 11 months.

During this period of dirty energy dominance, investments in renewable energy continued to fall by 14% in 2013. The United States is averaging 20 oil spills per day, one dirty energy transport train derailment and explosion per month, and yet we're still doubling down on fossil fuels.

This all seems fairly shocking, until you peel back the curtain on who is behind the efforts to keep renewable energy solutions out of the picture, which is exactly what a new report has done.

Who has the political muscle?
The Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) has released a report detailing not only the fossil fuel front groups behind the attacks on clean energy, but also how they are able to use their money and political muscle to prevent a viable market for clean energy, limiting energy choices for consumers.

From the report, Attacks on Renewable Energy Standards and Net Metering Policies By Fossil Fuel Interests & Front Groups 2013-2014:

"The fossil fuel lobby aggressively uses lobbying and propaganda to achieve their goals. Self-identified 'free market think tanks' are among the most effective advocates for the fossil fuel industry to lobby for policy changes.

"Dozens of these so-called free market organizations, a majority of which are members of the State Policy Network (SPN), worked to influence state level energy policies and attack the clean energy industry ...

The climate disinformation machine
"Fossil fuel-funded front groups operate in multiple areas to influence the policy-making process in their attempts to eliminate clean energy policies. First, groups like the Beacon Hill Institute provide flawed reports or analysis claiming clean energy policies have negative impacts.

"Next, allied front groups or 'think tanks' use the flawed data in testimony, opinion columns, and in the media. Then, front groups, like Americans for Prosperity, spread disinformation through their grassroots networks, in postcards mailed to the public, and in television ads attacking the clean energy policy.

"Finally, lobbyists from front groups, utilities, and other fossil fuel companies use their influence from campaign contributions and meetings with decision makers to push for anti-clean energy efforts."

In addition to listing the individual groups that are fighting against clean energy, EPI also provides a chart showing which groups are most active in energy-producing states, and how their attacks on renewable energy have derailed (or inspired) legislation in each state.

Naming the names
Proposals have ranged from charging citizens an extra $50 - $100 a month if they install solar panels, to smear campaigns geared towards convincing the public that installing clean energy technology in their homes is an investment that will never pay off for consumers.

The report lists the usual suspects as the main culprits: Heartland Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the State Policy Network. The money behind these groups is from sources like the Koch brothers, Exxon, and many other dirty energy heavy hitters.

Studies have shown that increasing the availability of clean energy to consumers will have a negative effect on the dirty energy industry: Increased demand for renewables will open up the market, then demand for dirty energy will drop, forcing utility companies to lower their rates.

The EPI report shows that these utility companies and other dirty energy interests are not about to go down without a fight, and they are fighting back with everything they have in their arsenal.
See the state-by-state infographic on the lobby groups here
The threat of renewable energy
As the report states, "Renewable portfolio standards set requirements for utilities to slowly increase the use of clean, renewable energy sources - which is exactly why fossil fuel interests like Koch Industries, Peabody Energy, and others want to eliminate them."

It describes how RPS laws have driven billions of dollars of investment into cleantech projects and generated thousands of jobs. In response, the fossil fuel-funded Heartland Institute sponsored model legislation at ALEC's meeting in June 2012 to eliminate RPS laws.

And in the past year and a half, these rollback attempts have surfaced in at least 15 states around the country.

Renewable energy is also supported by 'net metering' policies which ensure that utilities pay consumers the full retail price for electricity generated by customers when they invest in distributed energy systems, such as a rooftop solar system.

So Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the utility industry's trade association, worked with ALEC on the model resolution calling for the weakening of solar net metering policies. Approved by ALEC in December 2013, the resolution and has now appeared in numerous states.

An existential threat to fossil fuel industries
The report continues: "Ultimately, clean energy's downward cost trends pose a serious threat to the fossil fuel and utility industries' business model. Until recently, the electricity grid relied on centralized, mostly fossil fuel power plants to meet electricity demand.

"The emergence of affordable, clean electricity presents a serious threat to an industry that's operated largely in the same way since Thomas Edison turned on the first investor-owned power station in 1882.
"Due to the realities of the electricity market, fossil fuel and utility interests are attacking RPS and net metering in order to protect their business interests."

But while ALEC is an important front group used by utilities to weaken or eliminate pro-clean energy policies, and a valuable tool for utilities and others to lobby state legislators across the country, numerous new and 'history-free' lobby groups have been formed to give the impression of a plurality of voices:

"The real genius of this attack by special interests is the widespread use of additional front groups to lobby, spread disinformation, and pressure decision makers to eliminate clean energy policies. 

And of course, while renewable energy is attacked in the name of 'free markets', much greater subsidies to fossil fuels go unchallenged:

"Despite positioning themselves as ideologically-focused on smaller government, dozens of these organizations aggressively denounce policy investments in clean energy as market-distorting and unnecessary, while remaining silent on the far-larger, decades-old stream of taxpayer dollars and policies supporting oil, gas, and coal interests."

State legislation goes 'under the radar'
One of the most important things to note about the report's findings is that most of these stealth attacks on renewable energy are coming at the state level rather than the federal level.

There's a good reason for that: State legislation rarely makes national news, making it far more likely for state citizens to have little to no idea what's happening at home.

The stealth attacks have been very successful so far, but EPI's new report could easily change that. Now that the lights have been turned on, we'll start seeing the dirty energy cockroaches running for cover.

1 comment:

  1. A very misleading article. In the USA, I think there were only two derailments last year, not 11. In the map shown of oil spills, the size of the circle represents the volume of oil spilled and all but three or four spills were less than 30 gallons. The vast majority of the rail spills were less than 10 gallons per incident.
    I believe in renewable energy and I sell equipment into the renewable energy market, so I have a vested interest in seeing it grow. But it is wrong when people (to be kind) misinterpret data to make their cause, what ever it might be, more sensational and mislead the masses. The end does not justify any and all means.
    The article does not mention the dramatic increase in the volume of oil and gas being shipped by rail in recent years. This oil and gas, from the US and Canada, is displacing oil and gas from outside of North America, so we are keeping a lot of dollars home that would otherwise have been shipped out.
    The big oil and gas companies may well be "fighting" alternative energy and probably are. If they are, that does not excuse going down to their level.