For Maine lawyer and former state Sen. Phil Bartlett, the level of Charles and David Koch’s influence in his state can be discovered simply by following the money.
Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage came out swinging recently against the state’s burgeoning wind industry, claiming Maine residents deserve a more cost-efficient model of energy. His answer was investment in large-scale hydropower plants.
LePage’s push is a direct attack against the state’s Public Utilities Commission standards, which require 30 percent of the state’s energy to be derived from renewable sources, mainly wind and solar.
Bartlett claims LePage and other Republican state senators’ move to roll back clean energy standards has little to do with promoting the hydropower plant industry and a lot to do with rolling back the clean energy standards themselves.
“It (hydropower) is what they hang out there,” Bartlett said in an interview with Mint Press News, referring to the hydropower plant argument. “It’s a red herring.”
According to a report released by the Maine Conservation Alliance, a rollback of Maine’s utility commission standards would open the door for Koch Industries to move in.
“Their first preference is to repeal it,” Bartlett said.
The first chapter of the conservation group’s report represents the questions going through the minds of Bartlett and fellow Mainers: “Are we debating renewable energy for the Koch Brothers’ profits?”
Koch, ALEC and political persuasion
The Koch brothers are notorious promoters of the conservative cause.
As owners of Koch Industries, the second-largest company in the U.S., they largely speak through their money. Their four influential foundations are used to transfer funds to “free market” institutions responsible for producing studies promoting conservative-leaning public policy.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, the four foundations owned by the Koch brothers account for $310 million in assets.
In 2011, the Koch brothers donated $24 million through their foundations to fund think tanks and academic centers that, in turn, have published research that promotes their industries — including coal, oil, mining and chemical companies, according to Kochs’ tax filings.
As reported by the Center for Public Integrity, the American Legislative Exchange Council — an influential conservative advocacy organization that allows oil companies to write model legislation to their advantage — received $150,000 from the Koch Brothers in 2011 to fund meetings with corporate donors and legislators.
It’s this tangled partnership that has folks in Maine wondering if their governor’s move away from wind power — and toward a Koch-related industry — is really inspired by his passion for the people.
Kochs’ footprints in Maine
The state’s renewable energy standard, passed in 1997 as part of Maine’s electricity restructuring legislation, led to policies implemented in 1999 that require the state’s Public Utilities Commission to obtain at least 30 percent of its energy from specific energy-efficient sources, including solar and wind power, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The clean-energy policies came along with goals, including the creation of 2,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity by 2015, and 3,000 megawatts’ worth by 2020.
Maine’s green-energy initiative was seen as a success to many, including Bartlett.
Fifteen years after the law went into effect, the industry has grown to employ 2,500 state residents and has created a new industry that contributes $17 million in property taxes each year, according to a London Economics International Study. Investments in the state over the last decade totaled $2 billion.
The renewable industry also served as a way for Maine to diversity its energy profile while reducing its reliance on the fossil fuel industry.
“We felt we were at the mercy of the international marketplace,” Bartlett said. “We were creating investments in Maine.”
On top of that, proponents of the project claim it’s allowing the state to move away from resources like coal and oil, which won’t last forever.
For all these reasons, Bartlett was shocked by the move of LePage and Republican legislators who began to attack the program, claiming it was costing Maine too much.
According to Bartlett, the state’s creation of energy-efficient standards and goals received support from both sides of the aisle.
“Part of what‘s frustrating is that it was always a bipartisan issue,” he said.
According to a DeSmogBlog report, Maine isn’t the only state where conservatives are pushing to roll back renewable energy standards. ALEC is responsible for unleashing model bills intended to do just that throughout the U.S.
The model bill is called the “Electricity Freedom Act,” which ultimately strives to repeal states’ renewable energy mandates.
The bill states that “a renewable energy mandate is essentially a tax on consumers of electricity that forces the use of renewable energy sources beyond what would be called for by real market forces and under conditions of real competition in generation resources.”
Now, LePage is standing behind a bill that is modeled directly after the Electricity Freedom Act.
LePage’s pitch, ties to ALEC
“My fellow Mainers, I do not like being the bearer of disturbing news,” he said in a weekly March message. “But someone has to have the courage to tell the truth. Mainers are paying considerably more than you should for electricity.”
That may be LePage’s take on the issue, yet the governor did accept nearly $96,000 in campaign funds from ALEC.
LePage’s message was followed by a pitch for his answer to Maine’s problems: hydropower. In the same breath, LePage attacks the wind industry as Maine’s main problem, claiming it’s an expensive and inefficient industry.
LePage is touting a Beacon Hill Institute report as the evidence behind his decision. Yet that very report’s viability has been questioned, especially in light of the Koch brothers’ $1 million donation to the institute in 2011.
“The Kochs have no stake in the long-term viability of our state, aside from making sure that the policies in place bolster their bottom line,” the Democratic senator wrote in column published in his local newspaper, the Bangor Daily News.
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