Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat, represents Rhode Island in the Senate. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, represents Massachusetts in the Senate.
The blandly named American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is one of the most powerful groups you may have never heard of. ALEC describes itself as the “largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.” In reality, it is an almost entirely corporate-funded front group looking to roll back environmental, consumer and workplace protections in state legislatures across the country. When ALEC talks, conservative state legislators listen and act.
Most state legislators serve part-time and don’t have large staffs to develop legislation. That’s where ALEC comes in. With its money and marching orders from corporate America, ALEC churns out bills and resolutions ready-made for state legislators to introduce in their home states. Want to kill off public unions in your state? ALEC has a bill for you. Looking to roll out the red carpet for for-profit education companies? Call ALEC. Voter ID laws? Anti-immigration laws? Privatizing government services? Check. Check. Check.
Now, with a White House occupant who has said climate change is a hoax, ALEC’s anti-climate campaign is in overdrive. And complicit in that push are corporate supporters — such as Pfizer and UPS — who have not woken up to how inconsistent ALEC is with their values.
ALEC receives a large share of its funding from the fossil fuel industry, notably the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil. The group has pushed a number of bills to undermine efforts to cut carbon emissions and combat the effects of climate change. Way back in 1998, ALEC drafted a model resolution that would have forbidden states from regulating greenhouse gases in any way. In 2004, ALEC again urged states to reject efforts to limit carbon pollution, arguing that global warming was a “myth” and that the carbon dioxide generated by burning fossil fuels was actually “beneficial.” During the Obama administration, ALEC repeatedly opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to limit carbon emissions.
With President Trump in office, the group is pushing a model resolution at its summit this week that would have states call upon EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to withdraw the agency’s 2009 finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. This finding underpins the EPA’s legal authority to regulate carbon emissions. If the fossil fuel industry succeeds, it will seriously undermine our country’s ability to fight climate change for decades to come.
While ALEC’s 20-year anti-climate crusade perfectly corresponds to the priorities of its fossil-fuel funders, it has driven off several of its corporate supporters. Google left ALEC in 2014 because of ALEC’s position on climate change. Shell left in 2015 for the same reason. They joined major American brands ranging from Coca-Cola to Ford to CVS that have left ALEC in recent years because of its extreme positions. Unfortunately, not all companies have recognized this reality.
Take Pfizer and UPS. Both sit on the ALEC Task Force that votes Wednesday about the endangerment finding. Pfizer says that it “has long recognized the risks posed by global climate change” and that it “believe[s] industry, government, and the public all have a responsibility to address this evolving challenge.” As a pharmaceutical company, Pfizer understands the health impacts of climate change, noting that more frequent heat waves and floods may contribute to an increase in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as infectious diseases spread by insects, such as malaria and dengue. It has taken steps toward reducing its own emissions by 60 to 80 percent by 2050 and supports “governmental policy frameworks that . . . reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions.”
UPS recognizes that carbon emissions “affect our climate and pose a serious challenge to the environment — and ultimately to the global economy” and “supports global and national efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change.” The company has committed to reducing carbon pollution from its ground operations by 12 percent and get 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
Yet Pfizer and UPS fund a group engaged in a decades-long anti-climate campaign.
Both companies’ investors may want to know why their money is being used in a manner that may reduce their companies’ profitability. UPS acknowledges that climate change poses a serious threat to the global economy — and by extension, to its own bottom line. And Pfizer recently saw how a warming world can upend its global supply chain when Hurricanes Maria and Irma, fueled by abnormally warm waters, damaged or idled its factories in Puerto Rico, costing the company $55 million in the third quarter alone.
With the Trump administration busily undoing environmental safeguards and the president announcing his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, business leadership on climate is more important than ever. Hundreds of American businesses have signed the “We Are Still In” declaration, affirming their ongoing support for climate action.
When corporate America backs an anti-climate agenda contrary to the express policies of the corporations, consumers and investors — and the world — will be watching.