The oil and gas industry's assault on renewable energy

Jim Marston

Renewable energy enjoyed a record year in 2012 when the United States wind industry surpassed 50,000 megawatts  of electrical power generation capacity, and solar proved once again to be the country’s fastest-growing energy source.

That’s a milestone worth celebrating, since greater use of clean, homegrown energy resources creates jobs, cuts foreign oil imports, stabilizes prices, makes our system more resilient and reduces harmful pollution.

The list of benefits is vast. So who could possibly be upset?

Well, some utilities that own old and often dirty fossil fuel power plants are upset that renewables are making it harder for their older, polluting units to stay in business.

In 2013, fossil fuels received 75 times more subsidies than clean energy did. 

Then there are oil and gas industry association leaders, such as American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard, who often talk about wanting a “level playing field.” This implies that policies promoting renewable energy are unfair to fossil fuels. 

Don’t be fooled. Renewable investments pale in comparison to the amount of money poured into fossil fuel companies since 1918 to fatten their bottom lines and crowd out competition. In 2013, fossil fuels received 75 times more subsidies than clean energy did. 

Heavily subsidized fossil fuels may have made sense 100 years ago, when we were racing to build the energy infrastructure of the last century.

But today we’re racing to build the clean energy infrastructure of the new century. We need to support a new set of industries, and we’re making real progress.

So it is no surprise that we are seeing a well-funded, industry-backed effort to roll back the policies that have been so successful in developing and deploying renewables.

Front groups do dirty work

So far, 29 states have implemented Renewable Portfolio Standards, or RPS, which require increased production of energy from renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. They’ve been adopted in red states and blue – from California to Texas to Maine – through democratic processes and with popular support.

RPS programs have helped jumpstart an industry that is spurring economic development, creating American jobs, boosting energy independence and cutting our carbon footprint. 

But a Bloomberg article details how the oil and gas industry, through some self-described free market organizations that they fund, are trying to engineer a legislative massacre of these policies in more than a dozen states.

The groups may sound familiar: American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which is currently pushing legislation around the country that would mandate the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems.

There is also The Heartland Institute, which ran a billboard campaign last year comparing global warming “admitters” to Osama bin Laden and Charles Manson.

Both have long opposed sensible energy policies. Their funders will sound familiar, too: the oil, gas and coal industries and their owners such as the Koch brothers.

With this new campaign, though, they are not influencing legislation to fill young minds with false propaganda or attacking climate legislation. They’re attacking renewable energy.

Why? Apparently, an industry that the naysayers loved to call a loser is now threatening fossil fuel profits. 

The clean energy economy is growing fast

In Texas, a state deeply rooted in oil and gas, renewable energy is booming. This is the state where an ALEC-backed bill has been introduced to eliminate the state’s RPS entirely while leaving in a similar portfolio standard for natural gas.

Except, Texas blew past the RPS goal set for 2015, and now 1,300-plus companies employ more than 100,000 in industries directly and indirectly related to renewable energy.

One of the things I’ve learned over the last 30 years of watching, pushing and fighting various environmental laws is that nothing is ever final. When you lose, there’s always tomorrow.

Indeed, if the oil and gas bosses think they are going to waltz into states and roll back all of the positive progress we’ve been making, they are in for the fight of their lives.

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