Google Cuts Ties With Climate-Denier Group

Aliya Haq is the climate change special projects director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). She contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Yesterday, Google's Chairman Eric Schmidt denounced the political non-profit American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its denial of climate change. His remarks are among my all-time favorite quotes about the secretive corporate-lawmaker cabal:

"They're just ... they're just literally lying."

ALEC's corporate members, many of which are heavily polluting industries, write model legislation for state lawmakers to introduce as their own bills. The organization has been behind activity in dozens of U.S. statehouses to oppose limits on carbon pollution and to obstruct U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power plant standards. During its Dallas conference this summer, ALEC member Peabody Coal urged attendees to incite a "political tsunami" against EPA's proposal.

Schmidt indicated during the Diane Rehm show on NPR that Google would cut its ties because of ALEC's climate-denial positions, and Google confirmed it will not renew its ALEC membership at the end of this year. 

A huge kudos and congratulations go out to Forecast the Facts, Common Cause, and the other organizations who have been working for months to get Google to dump ALEC. In part because of such efforts, in August Microsoft also announced it had left ALEC because of actions that "conflicted directly with Microsoft's values."

In ALEC's statement responding to Google's announcement, they carefully sidestep — well, actually, they blatantly sidestep — Eric Schmidt's reasons for leaving. Instead of addressing their climate-denial actions, ALEC's CEO Lisa Nelson spins Google's departure as a misunderstanding about renewable-energy policies. The implication is that Google just got confused, and actually they, like, totally agree about stuff like opposing renewable energy.

In reality, Google and ALEC are not aligned at all. Eric Schmidt's declaration that ALEC is "just literally lying" is right on the nose. At their Dallas conference this summer, ALEC brought in the president of the Heartland Institute to present their newest fake-science report that denies climate change is a problem. The slides from the ALEC conference don't mince words: The bullet points claim "Carbon dioxide has not accelerated polar ice melt or sea level rise — these were all false alarms," and "There is no need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and no point in attempting to do so." [Industry Attempting to Defeat Pollution Standards Before They Emerge (Op-Ed )]

The real danger is not just in ALEC's slide decks. Once introduced as legislation, groups like Americans for Prosperity, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other polluter-funded lobbyists pile on to pass ALEC bills. 

Since the beginning of this year, ALEC has been pushing models in state legislatures to obstruct EPA limits on carbon pollution. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 16 states have adopted resolutions and seven states have enacted legislation regarding EPA's carbon-pollution standards. Many of the resolutions are carbon copies of ALEC's model. The bills that passed in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri and West Virginia are also strikingly similar to one another. 

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Although most of that legislation was "defanged" with amendments, the bills were originally intended to obstruct the state from using flexible, cost-effective methods to reduce pollution — a misguided attempt to protect coal use. 

Nearly all this legislative activity occurred months before EPA's June 2nd release of its power-plant proposal, so one can only imagine what's in store when state legislatures convene next year. During the Dallas conference, the ALEC Environment Task Force discussed new model language to continue their obstruction of EPA's carbon pollution limits. If I were a betting woman, I'd say several workshops will be dedicated to this issue at ALEC's policy summit in December, as well. [Turning the Tide on Corporate Disinformation (Op-Ed )]

Google was smart to drop ALEC now, as the group's& climate-denial activity will probably mushroom out of control in January. Let's hope more companies with a conscience follow Google's example. 

Author's Note: Within a day of Google's announcement, Facebook notified the San Francisco Chronicle that they will also let their ALEC membership lapse.

Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.