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Tina Casey headshot

ALEC Attacks Biden on Climate Action, But Texas Could Bite Back

By Tina Casey

The powerful lobbying organization ALEC has been losing corporate members in recent years, partly due to its efforts on behalf of fossil energy stakeholders. ALEC’s latest initiative is all but certain to drive more members away as it gears up to fight the Biden administration on climate action. However, ALEC could still remain a force to be reckoned with, and a hint of its ongoing influence lies in Texas.

Texas vs. the Biden administration on climate action

At first glance, Texas seems to be a tailor-made bastion for ALEC’s anti-Biden lobbying efforts. It is the centerpiece of the nation’s oil and gas industry, and its current Republican governor, Greg Abbot, is firmly on the side of oil and gas stakeholders.

Just eight days after the inauguration of President Joe Biden, Abbot signed an executive order in support of the state’s energy industry. It requires “every state agency to use all lawful powers and tools to challenge any federal action” that could undermine the energy industry in Texas.

Though the order does not specify what kind of energy is to be protected, Abbot made his interpretation clear in a press conference on January 28.

"I am in Midland to make clear that Texas is going to protect the oil and gas industry from any type of hostile attack from Washington, D.C.," Abbot stated.

Abbot is also leading a multi-state charge against Biden’s climate action initiatives.

Earlier this week, reporter Naveena Sadsivam of Grist noted that Texas and Montana are spearheading multi-state legal action against the Biden administration over the cancellation of the notorious Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.

These could be just the opening salvos in a longer-running campaign against the Biden administration, assisted by ALEC. As reported by Sadsivam, the organization seems to have launched a new working group, called the Functional Federalism Working Group, aimed specifically at fighting the Biden administration on climate action.

Brand reputation as stake as corporations desert ALEC

ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) has become notorious for pushing state-based model legislation on a raft of issues associated with conservative Republican party leadership, including “stand your ground” gun rights laws that effectively codify violence against Black citizens. The racial aspect of stand your ground legislation came into stark relief in 2012, when the murderer of Trayvon Martin successfully enlisted  Florida’s stand your ground law to defend himself. The fallout motivated Amazon and more than a dozen other leading corporate supporters of ALEC to drop their membership, and many more have left since then.

More recently, ALEC has become associated with Republican voter suppression efforts. Beginning as early as February 2020, the organization reportedly promoted former President Trump’s “Big Lie” leading up to the failed insurrection of January 6, 2021, and a new wave of state-based legislation that makes it harder to vote.

Global energy stakeholders (finally) flee ALEC

If these reports bear out, the organization will all but certainly lose even more corporate support.

That remains to be seen. In the meantime, signs of a crack in ALEC’s fossil energy agenda have already appeared.

When ALEC’s role in organizing anti-science climate misinformation came to light during the Obama administration, several global energy stakeholders dropped their membership, including Shell, and BP. By 2018, even ExxonMobil had enough.

The possibility remains that these companies continue to influence ALEC policy indirectly. However, some of them have begun aggressively pursuing new business opportunities in the renewable energy field. Shell and BP are two good examples of former ALEC members that may have a solid bottom line motivation for pushing back against the organization’s anti-Biden efforts.

The many faces of the Texas “energy industry”

As for Texas itself, the state’s energy profile is rapidly diversifying into renewable energy and other clean tech, partly with the aid of fossil energy stakeholders.

Texas’s wind energy industry (as in the West Texas turbines pictured above) is a firmly entrenched national leader, and Shell has a stake in it through ownership of a 160-megawatt wind farm in Brazos.

The state’s utility scale solar sector is also beginning to grow rapidly, thanks in part to new projects under the umbrella of BP’s Lightsource branch. In addition, the U.S. firm Invenergy recently announced that it will build the nation’s largest solar array in Texas.

Wind and solar stakeholders also stand to benefit from new research demonstrating how smart grid technology can balance wind and solar assets in Texas, reducing the need for expensive new energy storage systems.

Energy services in Texas are also pivoting to renewables. For example, the upcoming May 2021 issue of Texas Monthly draws a rosy portrait of a Texas shipyard finding new business in the offshore wind industry.

Adding to the mix is Texas’s growing reputation as an epicenter of national and global clean tech innovation.

In recent months, the state has seen the beginning of plans for a regional green hydrogen hub, and the launch of a new clean tech venture fund anchored by Korea’s sprawling GS Group. Last fall, the U.K.’s Octopus startup also chose Texas as the launchpad for its move into the U.S. rooftop solar services market.

ALEC vs. the Texas “energy industry”

More broadly, ALEC faces an uphill battle as a younger generation of more environmentally aware workers, consumers, and voters takes shape.

In that regard, it is interesting to note that Abbot’s executive order of January 28 casts a wide net. Though the Governor insists in public that he is protecting the state’s oil and gas stakeholders, the order itself does not specifically direct the protection of oil or gas.

The order does reference several of the Biden administration’s measures that could have an impact the state’s oil and gas industry. However, the beginning clauses can apply equally to renewable energy stakeholders in Texas.

“The energy industry is vital to economic growth in the state of Texas, fueling prosperity for all Texans by creating jobs and expanding trade,” the order begins. It continues in that vein for three more clauses that celebrate the role of the “energy industry” as the economic backbone of Texas, and of the nation, without a word about oil or gas.

Clean tech stakeholders could use the opportunity to pressure Abbot into backing down on his anti-Biden maneuvers, but they had better act quickly.

As demonstrated by the failed insurrection and the torrent of voter suppression bills, ALEC and its allies are capable of swift, widespread action in state legislatures. They have already weaponized the “cancel culture” slur against voting rights, and they are poised to apply it to the energy field as well.

Corporate stakeholders that fail to stand up against state-based efforts to torpedo the clean power movement will be swept aside by the same forces.

Image credit: Sam LaRussa/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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