In a letter to U.S. Senators last week signed by more than 90 state legislators, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) challenged the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. That was no surprise. ALEC is the same lobbying group behind legislative resolutions popping up in at least 15 states that also challenge the EPA, some of which include language asserting that climate science is a vast global conspiracy.
The money quote in ALEC’s letter (pdf) is this: “America’s economic recovery depends on affordable energy to sustain growth and reemploy workers.” Since ALEC is partly funded by Exxon, Amoco, Chevron, Shell, the American Petroleum Institute and Texaco among others, one might safely assume that what they really mean is: cheap fossil fuel will pull us out of this slump. Er…unless ALEC doesn’t care where the energy comes from, as long as it’s affordable…am I missing something?
ALEC, Fossil Fuels, and Affordable Energy
For many years, fossil fuels were so cheap, so abundant, and so subsidized, that solar power and other forms of renewable energy could not compete on a commercial scale. If that was a law of physics you could safely say that fossil fuels will always be more affordable than any other kind of energy. However, there is no law that says competing forms of energy will never be developed. In fact, this being the U.S. – a country that celebrates innovation – it’s a safe bet that sooner or later (sooner, at the rate we’re going) something newer and better will replace fossil fuels. Surely ALEC can’t mean that Congress should pass a law ensuring that fossil fuels will be safe from innovation and competition forever. On the other hand it’s not likely that ALEC meant to drop a hint that it’s time for fossil fuels to step aside. So – er…what do they mean?
That word “affordable” is awfully sticky when it comes to the factors that influence energy prices. In a deregulated market there is no guarantee of affordability. That is clearly illustrated by the market manipulations of the energy giant Enron (remember Enron?). A few years back, Enron was involved with ALEC, and ALEC pushed for the deregulated energy market that enabled Enron to run amok. One result: a crippling energy price spike. Perhaps ALEC has changed its mind and is now in favor of regulated energy markets.
Affordable Energy, Utility Companies, and Green Jobs
The utility industry is starting to abandon the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s anti-regulatory position on greenhouse gas emissions, and it may have similar reasons for looking at ALEC cross-eyed. The utility industry is developing a different idea of “affordable energy.” Utilities are starting to shift away from building new fossil fuel power plants. To meet future demand they are promoting conservation, reducing peak loads, and promoting investment in alternative energy. That includes stand-alone installations, and it also includes on site installations by utility customers. This helps take the pressure off demand on existing power plants, which in turn enables business to expand and create new green jobs, or, as ALEC says, “reemploy workers.”
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