~ On Jan. 24, 2017, in the first days of the new administration, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and two long-time ALEC allies—EPA Transition Lead Myron Ebell & Alabama Congressman Gary Palmer—left a time-bomb on the EPA’s doorstep: H.R. 637, “Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017.”
H.R. 637 is a weapon that the Koch brothers & ExxonMobil have been helping to build & implement for the last decade, and it’s designed to do one thing, to finally achieve their most-prized & long-sought goal: ending our nation’s efforts to battle climate change.
For more than 20 years, ALEC & its most influential corporate funders have been working, step-by-step, to orchestrate the dismantling of the EPA and its power to regulate greenhouse gases. Now, under the cover of the the new Trump administration—and with ALEC’s long-time puppet & Devon Energy mouthpiece, Scott Pruitt, heading the EPA—the Koch brothers & their oil industry partners are beginning the end-game in their meticulous plan to halt America’s battle against climate change.
The wolves are not just at the door, the wolves are in the house now—the entire pack of them, and they’re hungry. If we don’t expose & disrupt their plan, they’re going to tear apart the future, limb-by-limb.
To understand the Koch brothers’ & oil industry’s plan and how they’ve implemented it, you need to know a little about what ALEC actually is. And who better to introduce us than ALEC puppet Scott Pruitt—a man who first started working with ALEC as a State Senator in Oklahoma almost 20 years ago, serving as an ALEC Task Force Chair. In a 2003 interview with Governing magazine, Pruitt described ALEC like this:
“ALEC is unique in the sense that it puts legislators and companies together and they create policy collectively.” - Pruitt
In other words, ALEC is an organization that provides a forum in which corporations can work directly with legislators to develop corporate-friendly legislation. Although it might appear unseemly for legislation written in a corporate suite to be presented in state legislatures by representatives who are presumably speaking for the people, Pruitt did not see it that way.
Why did he encourage corporately-written legislation? “The actual stakeholders who are affected by policy aren't at the table as much as they should be," said Pruitt.
In Pruitt’s eyes, the "actual stakeholders” who should be "at the table" are not local constituents or individual citizens. Rather, the “actual stakeholders” that ALEC represents are the massive corporations that fund the group and shape its agenda, entities like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, and Pruitt’s personal muse, Devon Energy.
So, how does a little State Senator & ALEC Task Force Chair from O-K end up playing a central role in ALEC’s bid to seize control of the EPA & our nation’s climate policy? Now that you know something about ALEC, let’s learn about the key types of players in the ALEC network—players like Pruitt—and the roles they play in the Koch brothers’ & oil industry’s larger, insidious plan.
It's important to understand that the complete, interstate ALEC network is a mutant octopus—it has tentacles everywhere, and that’s part of what’s made it so effective over the years. Nonetheless, it’s a very organized & coordinated mutant octopus (which is also effective), and that makes it easier to divide the network’s key elements into four different categories based on their specific roles in the larger plan.
The corporate world is diverse, and once upon a time (ALEC has been around since the 1970s) ALEC’s corporate funders & legislative interests reflected that diversity.
But as ALEC’s anti-climate campaign has intensified, that diversity has fled en masse: in just the last 5 years 100+ corporations have left ALEC’s ranks—many (including Shell Oil) publicly condemning ALEC’s anti-climate agenda upon departure. (Yes, ALEC is even too extreme for Shell Oil—one of the last corporations to divest from South Africa during apartheid.) This has left ALEC dominated by the remaining Funders who have long been pushing their anti-climate agenda, Funders like the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil & Devon Energy.
The Funders define ALEC’s policy agenda and have final approval over model legislation—because that’s the whole reason ALEC exists: so corporations like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Devon Energy can use the ALEC network to spread corporate-friendly legislation & policy that those Funders have helped to write.
The full ALEC network actually revolves around two organizations: ALEC & the State Policy Network (SPN—often referred to as ALEC’s “sister” organization). As described, ALEC provides the forum for corporate representatives (The Funders) to work directly with state legislators from across the country.
SPN is a wide collection of myriad corporately-funded, state-based organizations—like the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) and the Alabama Policy Institute (API)—combined with Washington-based, corporately-funded “Think Tanks”—like the Koch Brothers’ own Cato Institute, and Myron Ebell’s long-time home, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).
Together ALEC & SPN basically make up a hive-like Collective—containing different interests & purposes that all feed into the service of The Funders' ultimate goals. The full ALEC network involves the efforts of a wide range of players, and the interweaving connections provided by The Collective help to organize & coordinate all of those disparate efforts in order to achieve unified goals in legislatures & halls of government across the country.
Funders like the Koch brothers & ExxonMobil know exactly what they want: more freedom to do exactly what they want. But they don’t always know the best way to achieve what they want in the halls of government—and that’s where the Ideologues come in.
All those SPN Think Tanks and State Orgs are rife with individuals who have spent their lives in pursuit of particular ideological crusades, and those individuals are ideal sources of the kinds of political & legislative strategies that the corporations require to achieve what they want.
And if The Funders, for example, wanted to lay out an entire end-game for dismantling the EPA after they've actually, finally been given the opportunity to do so—an Ideologue is perfectly suited to take on that task in a role such as EPA Transition Lead for a new incoming Presidential administration.
Thus, ALEC’s Ideologues are individuals like CEI’s lifelong anti-climate crusader Myron Ebell, TPPF’s chief climate-change denier Kathleen Hartnett-White, and the Cato Institute’s own Koch-funded anti-climate golden boy, Richard Lindzen. If you care about the future of the earth, these are not fun people to be around.
All that deviously-devised policy & legislation and all those ill intentions are ultimately useless if the ALEC network doesn’t possess people who can actually carry The Funders’ water—individuals capable of delivering this legislation & policy into the halls of government.
This is how a little State Senator & ALEC Task Force Chair from O-K ends up playing a central role in ALEC’s bid to seize control of the EPA & our nation’s climate policy—because somebody had to do it. And after two decades of loyal anti-climate service for ALEC & Funders like Devon Energy, et. al., Scott Pruitt was perfectly set-up to be that somebody.
Of course, just to hedge their bets—in case Trump didn’t like Pruitt—the EPA Transition Lead, Ebell, offered Trump two ALEC-approved candidates as his main choices for EPA Administrator: Pruitt & TPPF’s Hartnett-White.
A key ALEC Infiltrator currently in Congress is none other than one of the original founders of SPN, Alabama’s Gary Palmer—who left his longtime role as an Ideologue at API and finally got into the business of implementation when he joined the House in 2014 (and soon after began introducing ALEC-drafted anti-climate legislation, like the original version of H.R. 637—H.R. 3880 of the 114th Congress).
If you want to know the power of legislation carrying the ALEC stamp of approval, compare Palmer’s time-bomb H.R. 637 to the recent & equally-destructive (but more publicized, yet less likely to be passed) H.R. 861—introduced by FL Rep Matt Gaetz and calling for the outright termination of the EPA (which is not a bill that originated in ALEC’s chambers). Despite having seemingly-similar goals, Gaetz’s bill has just 2 cosponsors, Palmer’s has 121.
And, lest we forget, battling climate change is an international effort, and pro-climate policies like the Paris Agreement don’t actually fall directly within EPA purview. Thus, it certainly bolsters ALEC’s anti-climate plan to have ExxonMobil’s own lifelong employee & 10-year CEO Rex Tillerson heading the ship in the State Department. An ALEC-approved Secretary of State is one serious Infiltrator.
To provide a more-streamlined look at how all those key players work together to produce ALEC-approved results in the halls of government, here’s a quick review of the ALEC process:
How, then, have the Koch brothers & their oil industry partners used their ALEC network to take advantage of the clueless new administration in this key moment in climate policy? How have they slipped through Trump’s open door and started their end-game in a 20-year plan to dismantle the EPA and halt America’s battle against climate change? What is H.R. 637, where did it come from, and what happens if the bomb goes off?
Recounting all the tales from every anti-climate tentacle of ALEC’s mutant octopus would be a herculean task. But by answering those questions about H.R. 637—and laying out some of the highlights along the path to 637’s arrival & Pruitt’s ascension—we can see what The Funders meticulous anti-climate plan looks like in action, and the dangerous moment that Trump has helped lead us into…
1990s — SPN Ideologues (i.e., Myron Ebell) develop “climate change skepticism” strategy to undermine pro-climate policies/regulations; present this strategy to The Funders
As evidence of global warming and the dangerous impact of greenhouse gases began to mount in the 1990s, Funders like the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil & Devon Energy realized that new pro-climate policies posed a serious threat to future profits & unchecked corporate freedom. At the same time, anti-regulatory Ideologues like Ebell were developing their own strategies for battling pro-climate policies that they saw as a threat to their ideological crusades.
It was a match made in Hell. During a special meeting with oil industry executives in April of 1998, Ebell (who was working for SPN ally Frontiers for Freedom back then) presented his strategy for casting doubt on the prevailing climate science and using that doubt to undermine the pro-climate movement by building a countervailing “climate change skepticism” movement. A plan was born—and soon after the meeting, Ebell’s group Frontiers for Freedom began receiving funding from ExxonMobil.
2003 — OK State Senator (& ALEC Task Force Chair) Scott Pruitt defends ALEC in Governing magazine
As the old article in Governing points out, back in 2003 barely anybody had heard of ALEC—which is how they liked it. But as they began to be pulled out of the darkness, Pruitt quickly became one of the government puppets that ALEC pushed into the spotlight.
2008 — In prep for battle against new greenhouse gas regulations, ALEC creates model “EPA Overreach” legislation (Birth of H.R. 637)
This is where H.R. 637 starts in earnest. With Obama’s election, America was poised to enact more pro-climate policies, and the EPA was preparing to declare greenhouse gases a threat to public health, one that was subject to EPA regulation (which the EPA then did in 2009).
In response, ALEC & its Funders drafted model legislation titled: “Resolution in Opposition to EPA’s Plan to Regulate Greenhouse Gases Under the Clean Air Act.” The resolution essentially stated that greenhouse gases have been incorrectly categorized as a threat (their “faulty science” strategy) and that EPA has no legal authority to regulate greenhouse gases (their “regulatory overreach” strategy).
Basically, there are 3 avenues for The Funders to use those two strategies to dismantle pro-climate regulations & policies: 1- in the courts (lawsuits), 2- in the environmental agencies themselves (neutering policy, marginalizing scientists & cutting funding), and 3- in the legislature (state & federal legislation).
This original model “EPA Overreach” legislation helped cover that third avenue for The Funders. But long before it could ever become a reality in the U.S. Congress (where it can really deliver that final blow to pro-climate policy), it started out as a piece of model legislation built in an ALEC boardroom—with Funders like the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil & Devon Energy sitting at the table (which is exactly where Pruitt believes they belong).
2010 — Pruitt elected OK Attorney General, begins his years of legal battles against EPA regulations; coordinates strategy w/Devon Energy
When a deeply-loyal, entry-level Infiltrator like Pruitt moves up into an influential, high-profile government role like Attorney General, he becomes a major asset to ALEC. In Pruitt’s case, he was now perfectly positioned to spearhead their two strategies in that first avenue mentioned above: the courts.
Even though Pruitt didn't have to introduce any legislation, there were still lots of other letters to be written & motions to be drafted. And just like his days in the State Senate, Pruitt frequently took those letters & motions directly from the hands of Devon Energy—as evidenced by the countless e-mails that not only show Pruitt receiving these kinds of documents directly from Devon, but then passing them on to other government agencies verbatim, as if they came directly from him.
Pruitt & his office, in fact, possessed so little actual expertise in environmental matters that they often profusely thanked Devon for writing & providing the anti-climate documents—basically admitting that they couldn’t have done it without Devon's help. Of course, after you’ve already spent a decade turning in homework that you didn’t actually do yourself, it’s unlikely that you’re suddenly going to learn how to do that homework on your own.
2011 — ALEC “EPA Overreach” legislation introduced in 30 states
While Infiltrators like Pruitt worked the courts from their Attorney General posts, ALEC operatives in state legislatures began to introduce the now-polished "EPA Overreach" legislation across the country. Although the states could not actually mandate the EPA to stop regulating greenhouse gases, the state resolutions served to support other efforts like the court battles against the regulations, and they laid the strategic groundwork for later implementing the same legislation & policy at the federal level.
Leading the charge among the state legislators was ALEC member & Indiana State Rep. David Wolkins, who was the first to introduce ALEC's model "EPA Overreach" resolution that year. The 2011 campaign was, in fact, so successful (the model was introduced in at least 30 states and passed in about half) that Wolkins was named 2011 ALEC Member of the Year. In other words, H.R. 637 was now on its way...
2012 — ALEC expands push of "regulatory train wreck" anti-climate campaign
As ALEC rolled out the "EPA Overreach" legislation & lawsuits, they honed the language and the talking points that defined their 2-pronged "faulty science" & "regulatory overreach" strategies. One of the key ALEC phrases that emerged from their honing: "regulatory train wreck."
Anytime you see that phrase in any discussion of the EPA or climate, it's like ALEC leaving their fingerprints behind at the scene of a crime. Google "regulatory train wreck" and you'll see what we're talking about. Point being, as pro-climate policy began to gain momentum in Washington, ALEC's old behind-the-scenes approach was now being abandoned in favor of a more gloves-off approach to the anti-climate fight.
But ALEC's increasingly aggressive anti-climate efforts came at a cost...
2012 — 100+ corporation exodus from ALEC begins (many specifically cite ALEC’s anti-climate campaign)
As noted earlier, this is when ALEC's corporate diversity began fleeing its ranks en masse—many specifically condemning their anti-climate agenda upon departing (including, yes, Shell Oil).
2014 — AG Pruitt speaks out against EPA & denounces climate regs at ALEC conference
Like a revered & loyal warrior returning from the anti-climate battlefront to regale his benefactors with tales of glorious email-to-forwarded-email combat, Pruitt took the stage at the 2014 ALEC conference and spouted talking points from the group's now well-worn 2-prong anti-climate strategy.
His appearance assured the faithful that—even though he had to keep his collaboration with ALEC Funder Devon Energy a secret—they could be confident that he was still working solidly for the ALEC machine.
Nov 2015 — ALEC “EPA Overreach” legislation first appears in Congress as H.R. 3880
Although Obama would certainly veto the bill if it somehow passed later in 2016—making it DOA—ALEC's new congressional Infiltrator, Alabama Rep. Gary Palmer, introduced the first federal version of ALEC's "EPA Overreach" legislation for a trial run: H.R. 3880 of the 114th Congress.
As expected, the bill ultimately languished in committee and went nowhere. Nonetheless, for a bill that was obviously DOA when it was introduced, H.R. 3880 still stirred up a surprising amount of support (from ALEC Ideologues, which we'll get to in a moment).
Point here being, although H. R. 3880 was clearly just a show pony, it still helped ALEC to lay the strategic groundwork for a later try if anti-climate forces happened to a have a very good night that next November (spoiler alert: they did).
Jan 2016 — ALEC continues spreading “No more stringent” legislation to limit state environmental regs
Five years after he won ALEC Member of the Year for helping pioneer their "EPA Overreach" legislation in Indiana, State Rep. David Wolkins joined in another key ALEC campaign (one that had already been going on for years) by introducing & passing anti-climate "No more stringent" legislation.
"No more stringent" state environmental laws are basically designed to prevent states from adopting environmental regulations that are stricter than their parallel federal regulations. Thus, pushing these laws might've seemed like a curious move by ALEC during the Obama administration: while the federal government was planning to make regulations on greenhouse gases more strict, anti-climate operatives in state legislatures were essentially saying "that's okay, we'll let the feds determine how strict we can make our regs."
Why would ALEC and The Funders want this? Well, because in a perfect world they still hope to eventually pass their "EPA Overreach" legislation (like H.R. 637) on a federal level. If that happens, then there would be exactly zero federal regulations on greenhouse gases—which means those states would only be legally capable of adopting greenhouse gas regulations that are "no more stringent" than...nothing.
Thus, if H.R. 637 passed, those states would essentially be legally bound to do nothing about greenhouse gases. And that would be the truly final step in halting America's battle against climate change.
May 2016 — Pruitt op-ed in National Review defends Oil Industry against investigations of climate science fraud
Being an Attorney General ALEC Infiltrator isn't always about filing lawsuits and playing offense—sometimes you need to get out and defend those Funders who are having a hard time defending themselves. Pruitt found himself in this spot when some of his fellow (but non-ALEC) Attorneys General began going after parts the oil industry for knowingly perpetuating climate science fraud.
Pruitt threw his body in front of his benefactors in a National Review op-ed that defended their bogus approach to climate science. His piece was part of a small anti-climate propaganda push that ALEC forces made across multiple channels in the middle of 2016.
May 2016 — Ebell lobbies Paul Ryan to push H.R. 3880 in Congress
Another part of that propaganda push: a letter written by ALEC Ideologue Ebell—on behalf of dozens of ALEC-approved co-signers—urging Paul Ryan to push H.R. 637's DOA predecessor, H.R. 3880, through the House.
June 2016 — Hartnett-White op-ed in The Hill lobbies for H.R. 3880’s passage in Congress
A month after Ebell's letter, another high-profile & long-time ALEC Ideologue, TPPF's Hartnett-White adds to the propaganda push with an op-ed in The Hill, also lobbying for the passage of 3880. (Sticking with the "regulatory overreach" theme, she titled her piece "Restraining the Imperial EPA.")
Aug 2016 — Hartnett-White added to Trump advisory team
After 8 years of trying to fight their anti-climate battle from outside the White House and the halls of the EPA, ALEC's network takes aim at a sudden new opportunity to finally work themselves all the way in. With the addition of staunch ALEC allies like Hartnett-White, the Trump camp quickly becomes a breeding ground for ALEC's anti-climate minions.
Nov 2016 — Ebell named Trump’s EPA Transition Lead, creates “Action Plan” to dismantle EPA
After Trump's election, a crowning achievement in ALEC's 20-year anti-climate campaign: one of The Funders' original anti-climate strategic architects, Ebell, is named EPA Transition Lead for the new Presidential administration.
ALEC's ideal candidate for the task of laying out an entire end-game for dismantling the EPA & halting America's battle against climate change is given full reign to do exactly that—including basically hand-picking the candidates for the new EPA Administrator...
Dec 2016 — Pruitt & Harnett-White named as finalists for Trump's EPA Administrator
Ebell and his fellow ALEC cohorts likely hidden on the EPA transition team (the full list of team members has been kept secret) must've felt like kids in a candy store. Which shiny ALEC-approved treat would they pick to enact The Funders' wildest dreams within the EPA?
In the end, Ebell pulled Pruitt & Harnett-White off the shelf and laid them both down in front of King Trump—pretending like he was actually offering the new leader a choice between two different things.
Jan. 23, 2017 — Ebell’s EPA “Action Plan” & ALEC attack on federal pro-climate policy begins
While much of the new administration stumbled or lurched out of the gate, the anti-climate efforts within the EPA & Congress rolled out quickly & smoothly—a clear sign that Ebell had been the right set-up man for the job.
During the week of Jan. 23, the EPA's website and other outward-facing communications were immediately silenced, censored or restricted in other ways (something that did not immediately happen, for example, at the Dept. of Energy). EPA grants were frozen until further notice, and it seemed that climate science in particular was being targeted within the agency.
In other words, this was one of ALEC's first chances to actually traverse that second avenue for dismantling pro-climate regulations & policies: in the environmental agencies themselves (by neutering policy, marginalizing scientists & cutting funding). And when this second avenue opportunity was finally presented, Ebell made sure that they hit the ground running (and were ready for Pruitt to pick up the reins & move it all forward once confirmed).
In addition, ALEC was still busy working that reliable third avenue: in the legislature. As soon as Ebell's "Action Plan" was set into motion, a flurry of legislation was unleashed in Congress—everything from resolutions that used the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to kill Obama's most-recent pro-climate rules to legislation like...yup, you guessed it...
Jan. 24, 2017 — ALEC “EPA Overreach” legislation reappears in Congress as H.R. 637
Alabama's Palmer managed to wait until the second day in the first week of the new administration to re-unveil that now nearly decade-old wonder of ALEC effort & ingenuity: their beloved "EPA Overreach" legislation, in its latest (and possibly last & most dangerous) guise—H.R. 637, featuring 121 fervently anti-climate (and heavily ALEC-bred) cosponsors.
There is, indeed, lots of other ALEC-approved anti-climate policy & legislation flowing through the EPA & Congress right now, and essentially all of it collectively (but in a piecemeal fashion) is intended to achieve what H.R. 637 could do in a single lethal swipe: bring America's battle against climate change to a screeching halt.
H.R. 637 is ALEC's low-risk, high-difficulty (but massive-reward) Congressional play that hovers above all the other more surgical and more easily-mounted (but less sweeping and lethal) attacks that are moving forward in parallel. Even with Trump in office, there are still obstacles to 637's easy passage (like a filibuster), but ALEC's intent is clear, they've got multiple avenues for achieving their goals now, and the opportunity is right there.
And after the election we just witnessed—we can no longer risk assuming that worst case scenarios are impossible scenarios.
Feb. 1, 2017 — ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson confirmed as Sec. of State
A Funder's chosen son rises to legendary Infiltrator status. International climate efforts like the Paris Agreement are now subject to ALEC approval. Tillerson is the smoothest of the Infiltrators, someone who’s deeply practiced in the art of simultaneously doing one thing with his words and the opposite with his hands.
Although Tillerson sung a new tune in public when he took over ExxonMobil—claiming to support climate action and, specifically, a carbon tax—as CEO he directed the company to actually lobby against carbon taxes as recently as last year in Massachusetts, and he continued their heavy support of ALEC even after companies like Shell Oil had fled.
Tillerson says he’d be willing to support the Paris Agreement. Keep your eyes on his hands.
Feb. 17, 2017 — Pruitt confirmed as EPA Administrator
Pruitt's confirmation hearing was given that ALEC-approved flavor when one of his most vehement defenders on the floor spoke—another longtime ALEC ally, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming (who even obliged sartorially with some very well-worn anti-EPA/anti-climate ALEC talking points during his praise of Pruitt).
What can you say? Is there anyone in government less deserving of the office of EPA Administrator than Scott Pruitt?
A man who has no interest or experience in protecting the environment, and no training of any kind in any environmental field, a man who has worked ferociously in opposition to everything that the EPA has done to battle climate change during the last decade, and who has taken anti-climate policy directly from the hands of Devon Energy and put it into our government—that man is now the Administrator of the EPA.
It's terrifying and mind-boggling—except that when you see what ALEC and The Funders have really been orchestrating all these years, it actually makes perfect sense. Which is tragic.
Among those of us who possess a fundamental belief in the progress of society, it often feels like, in the end, our government wouldn't ultimately do something as insanely backward as halting our nation's battle against climate change.
But these are not reasonable times, and many of the mechanisms designed to defend our democracy against meddling & manipulation from insidious forces appear more dangerously impotent with every passing week.
Can the Koch brothers & their oil industry partners actually achieve their most-prized & long-sought goal: ending our nation’s efforts to battle climate change? Consider how far they've already gotten, how long they've been planning and aiming for this moment, how prepared they are, the resources at their disposal, and the federal power that they now possess. Why would they stop here, at this moment, when they are so close to their ultimate goal?
Why would Scott Pruitt & Rex Tillerson do anything but execute the final steps in a decades-long anti-climate plan that they've both been an integral, foundational part of developing and implementing? This has been their life's work—why would any long-time ally of the ALEC network and The Funders abandon the anti-climate movement or soften their stance now?
If we factor in the dubious status of that last line of pro-climate defense at this moment—a Senate filibuster—we realize how dangerous weapons like H.R. 637 actually are. Consider that if the Democrats take a hardline on the Gorsuch Supreme Court nomination, try to filibuster, and ultimately drive the Republicans to "go nuclear" and kill the entire Senate filibuster procedure: there would no longer be any genuine current roadblock to the passage of H.R. 637.
And if this happens, Gorsuch is confirmed, 637 passes & is challenged in the Supreme Court—leaving newly-minted Gorsuch as the swing vote—would he preserve the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases? There's no way to know that answer, but we do know one thing: when Gorsuch's mother was briefly EPA Administrator in 1980s, she tried to dismantle the EPA just like Pruitt intends to.
What does all that really mean? It means that exposing their 20-year plan, and somehow building a bipartisan pro-climate coalition in Congress—one that is capable of voting down anti-climate WMDs like H.R. 637—might be our only true last defense against watching the future be torn apart in front of us, limb-by-limb.