Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman, who made headlines in December for an unprovoked attack on Kwanzaa, has set his sights on another imagined enemy: renewable energy standards. Although Sen. Grothman's latest move is just as ridiculous as his past efforts, this one is part of a national effort backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heartland Institute.
For Years, Grothman Has Legislated from the Fringe
"Glenn Grothman doesn't just drink the crazy right-wing Kool-Aid," said Rep. Mark Pocan in 2011. "He is the one making it."
And he has been doing it for years.
In January, Grothman called Planned Parenthood "the most racist organization in the nation" because it places family planning clinics in neighborhoods of color. Last year, he introduced a bill declaring single parenthood "a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect." In 2011, he successfully promoted a repeal of Wisconsin's Equal Pay Enforcement Act, explaining that the well-documented pay gap between men and women is not the result of gender discrimination but instead, because "money is more important for men." He called the tens of thousands of people protesting Governor Scott Walker's controversial anti-union legislation -- which included schoolteachers, firefighters, and prison guards -- "a bunch of slobs." In 2010, he opposed a law prohibiting bias against gay and lesbian students because he claimed it would empower teachers who "would like it if more kids became homosexuals."
He also made headlines in December of 2012 for issuing an odd press release claiming the founder of Kwanzaa "was a racist and didn't like the idea that Christ died for all of our sins, so he felt blacks should have their own holiday," and calling for Kwanzaa to be "slapped down once and for all." He then made an embarrassing appearance on CNN to explain his position. (According to the latest census, just one percent of Grothman's 20th Senate District is African-American.)
The latest target of Grothman's ire is renewable energy. He is currently circulating a bill to repeal a Wisconsin law requiring utility companies provide a certain amount of their total energy from renewable sources like wind. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have similar laws on the books -- known as Renewable Portfolio Standards -- and these have been a key component driving renewable energy growth. Wisconsin's electric providers have been meeting the requirements under the law (which are scheduled to increase in 2015), and companies like Alliant Energy have boasted they have exceeded the standards and are selling credits on the renewable energy market.
Renewable standards are also creating "green" jobs. In Wisconsin, 75 companies work in the wind turbine supply chain.
Though the bill could be dismissed as the latest example of Grothman's lunacy, this one is backed by some powerful players.
Bill Backed by ALEC, Heartland Institute, Other Koch-Funded Groups
Grothman's proposal reflects the "Electricity Freedom Act," a bill developed by the Illinois-based Heartland Institute and brought to the May 2012 meeting of the ALEC Energy Environment and Agriculture Task Force, where it was adopted as a "model" to be duplicated in states across the country. (Like Grothman, Heartland made headlines in 2012 for wacky antics -- in Heartland's case, posting billboards likening those who acknowledge man-made climate change to terrorists and serial killers.)
States like Ohio, Kansas, Virginia, North Carolina -- and now Wisconsin -- have recently seen very similar proposals to repeal state renewable standards.
Even before the bill was adopted as a model, ALEC had been lobbying for a repeal of renewable standards, citing studies from the Beacon Hill Institute. Those studies have recently been discredited by an analysis from the Synapse Energy Institute, which claims Beacon Hill commits "numerous flaws, both in energy calculations and in economic analysis." ALEC, the Heartland Institute, and the Beacon Hill Institute all have received money from foundations associated with Charles and David Koch, and each are also part of the State Policy Network, an umbrella group of right-wing organizations that claim adherence to the free market. SPN has received at least $10 million in the past five years from the mysterious Donors Trust, which funnels money from the Kochs and other conservative funders. SPN was also a "Chairman" level sponsor of ALEC's 2011 Annual Conference and ALEC is an Associate Member of SPN.
ALEC is usually very secretive about its model legislation and its efforts in the states, but acknowledged to the Washington Post that it is working with Heartland to promote these bills. ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Director Todd Wynn told the Post that ALEC is "opposed to government intervention mandating certain energy sources over others." ALEC is also funded by an array of fossil fuel companies, utility companies, and energy trade groups, including Chevron, BP, Peabody Energy, Duke Energy, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, and the American Petroleum Institute.
If Wisconsin is like many of the other states that have proposed versions of the "Electricity Freedom Act," once the ALEC-inspired bill is introduced, the right-wing infrastructure will spring into action. Beacon Hill will publish a study claiming that Wisconsin's renewable standards lead to higher energy costs (perhaps commissioned by one of the State Policy Network affiliates in the state, such as the MacIver Institute or the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute), as it did in states like Maine and Ohio. The David Koch-founded and-led Americans for Prosperity will organize an event to "educate" its members about how renewables are "punishing" consumers, as they did in Nebraska, and perhaps invite a guest from the Heartland Institute to make similar claims, as they did in Kansas.
It would be easy to dismiss Sen. Grothman's proposal to repeal renewable energy standards as being in the same category as calling Planned Parenthood racist and claiming single parenthood is a form of child abuse. But this proposal is backed by a network of well-funded groups -- meaning that even if it cannot be taken seriously as a legitimate policy solution, it must be taken seriously given the current leadership of Wisconsin government.