In Washington last week, Alec, a group that links lobbyists with state lawmakers, approved measures to boost Donald Trump’s pro-fossil fuel agenda
— Inside a little-known bulwark of conservative state policy, in a hotel conference room in Washington DC, state lawmakers and corporate lobbyists last week voted for a slate of anti-environment measures.
They approved resolutions supporting stripping tax benefits from electric vehicles and endorsing Donald Trump’s pro-fossil fuel energy agenda. And they voted down a proposal to limit monopoly control of the power industry, which backers said would give consumers more choice and help grow renewable electricity faster and more cheaply.
The group, a taskforce of the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), did so behind closed doors. They barred press from the rooms where they called roll. When voice votes were close and a tally was required, the business representatives weighing in on what kinds of policies state legislatures should pursue voted in secret. They cast ballots on paper, in a change that four sources said organizers announced was meant to keep the process confidential from reporters.
An Alec spokeswoman, Anna Tarnawski, said task force meetings and votes are closed to the press because “legislators are testing ideas and debating, and often are taking contrary positions for the purpose of debate and informing the conversation. They don’t want to be held to a policy declaration in the meeting because it might not necessarily be what they believe or where they’re going.”
The deliberations of a private group such as Alec, where elected officials meet out of public view with big business, highlight the divides the Republican party is struggling with as it courts both right-wing social conservatives and free-market Republicans.
Alec has lost prominent members, including ExxonMobil and Verizon. Advocates who deny the science behind man-made climate change are regular attendees. Verizon ended its support after an anti-Muslim activist spoke at an annual Alec meeting.
But corporate influence over statehouses is strong and was on display in the lobbying fight over the future of the power industry. A trade group for investor-owned power companies opposed the idea of subjecting them to more competition.
Representatives of the group, the Edison Electric Institute, refused to answer questions from the Guardian following the Friday meeting. Kristine Telford and Jennifer Jura, both in external affairs, had a conference organizer escort them out of a back exit and wouldn’t acknowledge reporters when addressed by name.
Competition supporters said the fight shows how much power utilities have over state governments and the people who are forced to buy their product.
Michigan state representative Gary Glenn, the Alec resolution sponsor and head of the house energy committee who lost a primary race for the Michigan senate, said lawmakers are controlled by power companies “in fear of political retaliation”.
Glenn claimed the industry donated $1m against him in his primary election.
“I think it is because of the political power of the companies. It was the case in Lansing before this year’s election that a lot of legislators walked around afraid of their own shadows when it came to energy,” Glenn said.
A spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, the utility trade group, declined to comment on why representatives ignored reporters but argued the competition proposal wouldn’t help consumers.
But competition supporters say it is obvious that competition drives down costs and offered Texas, which has competition over power generation, as an example. Texas has low power costs and more wind energy than any other state.
“Competition leads to better-quality service, better-quality product at a lower price. Those simple free market principles apply to the provision of electricity just as they do every other commodity in service,” Glenn said. “This is one of those issues where inevitably 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, we are going to look at this as a quaint and amusing debate because technology means competition is eventually going to win out.”
by Emily Holden | The Guardian