I'm at my third American Exchange Legislative Council (ALEC) conference, this time in Dallas, and on my first day, there were some things I had come to expect:
- Photo ID to get in, name badges to attend all events, and sign in sheets at all meetings;
- Stephen Moore, founder of the Club for Growth and current Heritage Foundation economist, whining about paying $200,000 for his son's private college education and insisting that increasing the minimum wage hurts poor people; and
- The vilification of all things Obama, with a special excoriation for the EPA on the heels of the new regulations regarding coal fired power plants.
What I did not expect was for an Internet guy representing Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and eBay to deliver a presentation in which he urged cooperation around policies that support sustainable and renewable energies.
"Now this was going to be interesting," I thought.
The Internet guy explained that their many data centers around the country, each housing thousands of computer servers, require huge amounts of energy. These companies are looking to operate in places where there are "robust" renewable energy supplies because operating sustainably is very important to them and renewable energy is cost-effective. The Internet guy urged ALEC to work with them, recognizing that their interests have not always been aligned.
That was the understatement of the day. Despite sitting through hours of environmental subcommittees, task force meetings, and various environmental presentations, I have never, ever heard anybody at ALEC speak favorably about renewable energy. Not once.
Sitting in the room listening to this pitch for "more robust" policies encouraging renewables were lobbyists from Peabody Energy, Edison Electric, and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, among others.
Could they actually be open to a reasonable dialogue regarding the need to expand sustainable, renewable energies? After all, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and eBay combined employ more than 100,000 people. Each data center they operate contributes over $1 billion to the local economy.
At the end of the presentation, the energy giants thanked him, praised his attendance, and peed in the corners.
This was coal country, and no Internet guy was going to tell them otherwise.
So they started their anti-renewable litany of objections:
- Renewables aren't economical (Internet guy responded that they are economical);
- Renewables exist because of subsidies (Internet guy responded that all energy is subsidized);
- And net metering is terrible (Internet guy responded that though they don't use net metering, they have encouraged renewables).
So much for progress.
By the end of the day, any hope for a reasonable dialogue around renewable energy had totally evaporated.
The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a group originally formed to shut down PIRG chapters on college campuses and a corporate sponsor of the conference, likely paid thousands more dollars to lead an afternoon session entitled "How to Think and Talk about Climate and Energy issues."
One presenter blamed coal regulations, supported by radical environmentalists like the American Lung Association, for causing people to have heart attacks, commit suicide, and abuse drugs and alcohol.
Another presenter, proudly dubbed the "Muhammad Ali of Climate Deniers" and former Republican communications staffer for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, showed slide after slide of quotes from people, including Dan Aykroyd from the 1984 movie "Ghostbusters," to prove that climate change "alarmists" have existed throughout the centuries. There really is nothing to be alarmed about.
As I arrived at the Koch Industries-sponsored reception that evening, with a Texas-style barbecue buffet, free-flowing drinks, a live bull, and two racing armadillos, I realized that, indeed, some things never change.
State Representative Chris Taylor, a Democrat, represents the 76th District in the Wisconsin State Assembly.