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Tech Companies Breaking Up With ALEC Over Climate Change

A Paulding County wind farm. Ohio Republicans connected to ALEC sponsored a bill to roll back the state's renewable energy standards.
David Grant
Flickr/Creative Commons

Many big tech companies are breaking up with the national organization ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a group geared towards crafting free-market-based model legislation that’s introduced into state legislatures, usually by conservative Republicans—and Ohio is now caught in the middle of the dispute.

Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other major tech companies are beginning to sever ties with ALEC, a collection of state lawmakers, corporations and lobbyists that creates model legislation. While ALEC calls itself nonpartisan and says its 2,000 members are both Republicans and Democrats, ALEC has financial backing from the conservative Koch brothers, and nearly all lawmakers who identify themselves as members of ALEC are Republicans.

The tech companies say their departure from ALEC is due to the group’s alleged denial of climate change and its impact. Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt may have sent the harshest message to ALEC a few weeks ago. During an interview on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, Schmidt explains why Google decided to drop ALEC.

“The company has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on fact—what a shock—and the facts of climate change are not in question anymore,” Schmidt said. “Everyone understands that climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place and so we should not be aligned with such people. They’re just literally lying.”

“It’s simply false,” said Republican Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, an ALEC board member. He adamantly refutes accusations that ALEC doesn’t take climate change seriously. Seitz says it’s ALEC that’s been the target of several left-wing groups, and the claim that ALEC denies climate change is part of that attack. ALEC sent a letter to Google criticizing Schmidt’s comments on the radio and the company’s departure. It was signed by more than 200 ALEC members, including six Ohio legislators.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is one of the national groups sounding off against ALEC. Spokesperson Josh Mogerman insists that ALEC is denying climate change behind closed doors. He adds Ohio’s connection with ALEC will not bode well when it comes to attracting jobs.

“It certainly doesn’t imply that Ohio is open for business for tech companies if they’re signaling that they want to go in a clean energy direction—sending a letter that says that’s not what we’re going to do in Ohio isn’t a really good way to woo tech jobs to a state that I think is very interested in them,” he said.

Earlier this year the Ohio General Assembly passed a bill to freeze the state’s renewable and energy efficiency standards, an effort spearheaded by Seitz.

“ALEC is one of the chief architects of the effort in Ohio to roll back what have been very successful energy efficiency and renewable energy standard that have been saving Ohioans lots of money on their bill and had been diversifying the energy system for the state of Ohio,” said Mogerman.

Seitz counters that 21 states have never had renewable energy mandates—and 25 states don’t have any energy efficiency mandates.

“If they’re saying that they’re only going to invest in states that have such mandates it is they—i.e. Google etcetera—who are writing off roughly half of the United States,” said Seitz. “I don’t think they really want to do that.”

Seitz also disputes Mogerman’s assessment that the green energy standards were “very successful.” The two-year freeze allows a panel of legislators to perform a cost-benefit analysis on the benchmarks to find out if ratepayers are saving money with the standards.