ALEC conference promises to shape legislative agendas in 2015

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The latest conservative legislative lollapalooza sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is taking place this week in Washington.

The three day free-market policy summit features loads of Republican stars like Ted Cruz and Marsha Blackburn, and will include already-drafted legislation for Republican lawmakers to bring back to their home states. And with Republicans now in control of the legislatures of 31 states, 24 of whom (like Florida) have Republican governors, you can expect that many of the bills being discussed in Washington may receive clear sailing in Tallahassee and other state capitals in 2015.

On the agenda this week from ALEC includes a bill that would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency; another would restrict state public utility commissions (like Florida’s Public Service Commission) ability to retire closed coal power plants.

But after the organization promoted legislation denying the reality of climate change this past summer, some of its Silicon Valley private sector members such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft cut their ties with ALEC. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt told NPR’s Diane Rehm in August that ALEC was “literally lying” on climate change, and its policies harmed “our children and our grandchildren.”

“I think it’s worth bearing in my mind that ALEC is probably pretty buoyed by the election results that took place a month ago,” said Nick Surgey with the Center for Media and Democracy on a conference call on Wednesday. “And that the conference that’s taking place this week is probably quite lively — it’s a very packed agenda — and we’re likely to see increased numbers of these ALEC bills popping up in 2015.”

Aliya Haq from the Natural Resources Defense Council said that much of ALEC’s agenda at this week’s meeting resembles “a wish list for dirty energy companies,” with the most extreme piece of model legislation being a bill to completely eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency. “Obviously, eliminating the EPA would also eliminate the enforcement of national pollution laws. She dubbed that proposal “fairly ludicrous,” but said it shed light on ALEC’s bent toward “more extreme environmental proposals.” But proposals to try to thwart the EPA’s new pollution standards has more chance of getting enacted on the state level, she said.

In June the EPA under Clean Air Act authority proposed their Clean Power Plan to limit carbon pollution from power plants, the largest source of carbon emissions. In reaction to that, lawmakers in Florida (and 11 other states) have introduced legislation that would authorize a state agency to develop regulations for carbon dioxide emissions from coal- and natural-gas fired electric generating units or explore the impact of such proposed regulations. Haq said this week in Washington ALEC will finalize two pieces of model legislation in order to block states from cooperating with the EPA.

Despite the recent negative publicity due to companies like Google killing their relationship with the organization, “ALEC has doubled down,” charged Kent Davies with the Climate Investigations Center. “This meeting shows a fossil, top-heavy agenda, promoting everything that’s good for the likes of Exxon, Peabody Energy, Dominion, Chevron, Shell, the Koch Industries, and nothing that is good for the environment.”

Other subjects on the agenda this week include pension reform, stopping welfare fraud and contending with the transferring of public lands. It lasts through Friday.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.