Paul Hodgson: ExxonMobil is now accused of ‘green preening’: what next?

The latest ALEC push harks back to a pre-scientific age

Conservative lobby group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) failed last week to pass a resolution targeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Endangerment Finding. This Finding allowed the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as dangerous pollutants under Obama’s Clean Air Act. The failure to pass the resolution appears to have occurred due to corporate interference from, among others, ExxonMobil, Pfizer and UPS, which were accused by sponsors of the resolution, the libertarian group Heartland Institute, extraordinarily, of being anti-energy.
“This result is disappointing, but not surprising,” said Heartland president Tim Huelskamp. “Big corporations like ExxonMobil and trade groups like EEI [Edison Electric Institute, that represents all US public electric utilities] have long been members of the discredited and anti-energy global warming movement. They’ve put their profits and ‘green’ virtue signaling above sound science and the interests of their customers.”
It’s a reaction that Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management described, with some restraint, as “zany”.
The resolution sought to strike down the EPA’s 2009 finding that greenhouse gases are endangering the planet. Members of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force discussed the resolution at a summit in Nashville on Wednesday. The resolution stated that Trump and his administration had “consistently argued regulation of carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act is unnecessary, ineffective, and economically destructive…. So long as the endangerment finding remains in place, efforts to roll back unnecessary environmental regulations adopted in the name of fighting global warming will likely fail.”
ALEC has pushed climate change denial to state legislators for years, and regularly writes ‘model’ bills designed to protect the interests of its fossil fuel members. But many corporate ALEC members felt that passage of the resolution “could have an unintended legal consequence: it would reopen the path to forcing climate action through federal common law claims, making utilities and fossil fuel companies vulnerable to legal action at both the state and federal level.”

So, the opposition was not entirely unselfish, then. A letter from a group of companies and industry associations, that also included Chevron and Honeywell, said: “Even if the Endangerment Findings are overturned, industry would be broadly exposed to tort and nuisance suits brought by citizens and states — as we were prior to EPA regulation of [greenhouse gases]. Attempting to rescind the Endangerment Findings would be a return to this untenable state of affairs.”
Smith said: “A number of companies clearly saw the contradiction between this attack on the Endangerment Finding and the position they were taking on climate change.”
More than 100 hundred companies and nonprofit organizations, including Microsoft, Google, General Motors, and Ford have left ALEC over the last couple of years because of the organisation’s support of an increasingly whacky agenda.“Companies know that they are much more in the public eye when ALEC holds a vote like this,” added Smith. “When ALEC puts forward a resolution opposing the Endangerment Finding, it creates significant reputational risk for public facing companies like AT&T, COMCAST, Chevron or Pfizer.”

But Huelskamp has not given up. According to a statement issued after the resolution was rejected, he said: “President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have rejected unscientific alarmism, embraced sound science, and are implementing pro-energy, pro-America policies. Rescinding the Endangerment Finding is the logical and necessary next step. We are optimistic that the self-serving regulatory capture and green preening of big corporations like ExxonMobil may delay but will not prevent that step.”
“The irony is,” said Smith, “that this situation is happening at ALEC, at the same time as you have 250 plus companies who recently came out and supported TCFD, and the Climate 100+ campaign has just been announced. You have investors being more proactive, you have companies willing to stand up and be counted, while at the same time you have ALEC and some of its members, such as coal company Peabody and many of the legislators attending, trying to move us back into a pre-scientific age.”
Many of the associations and companies that opposed the resolution had threatened to leave ALEC, which is funded by dues from such members. “ALEC is very much a free enterprise, libertarian leaning organisation,” said Smith, “which wants to let the free market work its will, that’s why it opposes subsidies for solar power, for example. But this resolution was not about the free market, it was a clear attack on climate science and on climate action. I understand that a good half of the legislators present were willing to vote in support of this resolution. With this level of support the proponents of the resolution were very angry when companies, who don’t vote, stood up and opposed it.”
Smith added: “In discussions with companies about ALEC, we’ve urged them to please look at the entirety of the legislative agenda that ALEC is putting forward.
“For example, they had people speaking about voting fraud as if it were a major issue, they have been supportive of having a constitutional convention to rewrite the Constitution.
“I think that companies like Verizon should be saying: is this really our agenda, do we want to be associated with it? But companies continue their membership in ALEC not because of a deep attachment to its politics, but because they want access to state legislators, who are members.”
I contacted a number of companies, including UPS, Pfizer and ExxonMobil, to see if they could provide comment, or even a boilerplate statement, about the resolution. None were willing to provide one, so, there’s standing up and being counted and there’s standing up and being counted…