On January 16, the Los Angeles Times revealed that anti-science bills have been popping up over the past several years in statehouses across the U.S., mandating the teaching of climate change denial or “skepticism” as a credible “theoretical alternative” to human-caused climate change.
“Texas and Louisiana have introduced education standards that require educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah passed resolutions denying climate change. Tennessee and Oklahoma also have introduced legislation to give climate change skeptics a place in the classroom.”
What the excellent Times coverage missed is that key language in these anti-science bills all eminated from a single source: the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
ALEC Exposed: No, Not Alec Baldwin*
In summer 2011, “ALEC Exposed,” a project of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD)**, taught those alarmed about the power that corporations wield in the American political sphere an important lesson: when bills with a similar DNA pop up in various statehouses nationwide, it's no coincidence.
Explaining the nature and origins of the project, CMD wrote, “[CMD] unveiled a trove of over 800 'model' bills and resolutions secretly voted on by corporations and politicians through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These bills reveal the corporate collaboration reshaping our democracy, state by state.”
CMD continued, “Before our publication of this trove of bills, it has been difficult to trace the numerous controversial and extreme provisions popping up in legislatures across the country directly to ALEC and its corporate underwriters.”
CMD explained that ALEC conducts its operations in the most shadowy of manners (emphases mine):
“Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have membership inALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve 'model' bills…Corporations fund almost all ofALEC's operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills.”
So, what is the name of the “model bill” this time around?
The Trojan Horse: The “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act”
The bill was adopted by ALEC's Natural Resources Task Force, today known as the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force, at ALEC's Spring Task Force Summit on May 5, 2000 — it was then approved by the full ALEC Board of Directors in June of 2000.
The bill's opening clause reads [PDF], “The purpose of this act is to enhance and improve the environmental literacy of students and citizens in the state by requiring that all environmental education programs and activities conducted by schools, universities, and agencies shall…”
Among other things, the bill stipulates that schools, universities and agencies should,
- “Provide a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner.”
- “Provide instruction in critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific and economic controversies.”
- “Be presented in language appropriate for education rather than for propagandizing.”
- “Encourage students to explore different perspectives and form their own opinions.”
- “Encourage an atmosphere of respect for different opinions and open-mindedness to new ideas.”
- “Not be designed to change student behavior, attitudes or values.”
- “Not include instruction in political action skills nor encourage political action activities.”
How does this language compare with legislation passed or proposed in various states? A review is in order.
ALEC Bills: From Model to Reality
The “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act,” or at minimum, the crucial language found within it, has been proposed in seven states, and passed in three states, Louisiana in 2008, Texas in 2009 and South Dakota in 2010.
In 2008, the Louisiana state legislature introduced and eventually passed S.B. 733, the Louisiana Science and Education Act. The bill was originally sponsored by four members of the Senate, three of whom are current dues paying members of ALEC: Sen. Ben Wayne Nevers, Sr. (D-12); Sen. Neil Riser (R-32); and Sen. Francis Thompson (D-34).
The three ALEC members received a total of $9,514 from the oil and gas industry in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles in campaign money combined, and the four of them together received $13,814 in campaign cash from the oil and gas industry, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics' FollowTheMoney.org.
ALEC Model vs. S.B. 733
The Louisiana bill calls for, “an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including…global warming…” The bill also calls for “instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.”
This bill mirrors the provisions of the ALEC bill which say that teachers should “provide instruction in critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific…controversies,” and mandates that “balanced and objective environmental education materials and programs will…be used.”
In 2010, the South Dakota Legislative Assembly passed House Concurrent Resolution 1009, a non-binding resolution introduced by 33 members of the House of Representatives and 6 members of the Senate, 39 in total, and 12 of whom are current members of ALEC. The bill calls for “balanced teaching of global warming in the public schools of South Dakota.”
The bill mirrors the provision of the ALEC bill that call for the providing of “a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner.”
In 2010, the Kentucky state legislature proposed H.B. 397, the Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act, a bill that eventually failed to pass.
The bill was co-sponsored by two members of the Kentucky House of Representatives who were not members of ALEC, but one of whom, Tim Moore (R-26), took $3,000 from the oil and gas industry in the 2008 and 2010 campaign cycles combined, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
ALEC Model vs. HB 397
Two key provisions of the H.B. 397 “encourage local district teachers and administrators to foster an environment promoting objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories” and “allow teachers to use, as permitted by the local board of education, materials in addition to state-approved texts and instructional materials for discussion of scientific theories including…global warming…”
This bill mirrors major provisions of the ALEC model bill that say teachers should “provide instruction in critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific…controversies,” and mandates that “balanced and objective environmental education materials and programs will…be used.”
In 2011, ALEC member, Rep. Thomas A. Anderson, introduced H.B. 302. In the 2008 and 2010 campaign cycles, he raised $2,650, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics' campaign finance database.
ALEC Model vs. H.B. 302
H.B. 302 says that schools shall “not prohibit any teacher, when a controversial scientific topic is being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula, from informing students about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses pertaining to that topic.” One “controversial scientific topic” listed is the “causes of climate change.”
This bill mirrors the provisions of the ALEC model bill which call for teaching “a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner,” teaching “different perspectives” to allow for students to “form their own opinions,” and creating an “atmosphere of respect for different opinions and open-mindedness to new ideas.”
Tennessee's House bill, H.B. 368, essentially a replica of the ALEC model bill, overwhelmly passed the House in April 2011, but its Senate-version cousin, S.B. 893, failed to pass. As the Los Angeles Times article makes clear, efforts to push the bill through are far from over.
Key clauses of that bill read,
- “[T]eachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.“
- “[P]ublic elementary and secondary schools…[should]…respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.”
These excerpts match, almost to a “T,” bullet points one, three and four of the ALEC model bill.
In addition, these nine ALEC member co-sponsors received $8,695 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry combined in the 2008 and 2010 campaign cycles, according to FollowTheMoney.org. The other 15 sponsors of the bill, while not members of ALEC, received $10,400 in their campaign cofffers in the 2008 and 2010 campaign cycles combined.
Translation: between the 25 of them, on top of a model bill handed to them by corporate oil and gas industry lobbyists, they were also furnished with $20,895 in campaign cash by these industries with the expectation to do their legislative bidding.
Titled, the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act,” H.B. 1551 is also essentially a copycat of Tennessee's version of the ALEC model bill — it failed to pass. A Senate version of that bill, S.B. 320, was also proposed in 2009, but failed to pass through committee.
Key clauses of that bill read (emphases mine),
- “[T]eachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.”
- “[N]o student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories.”
Notice how the first bullet is exactly the same in both the Tennessee and Oklahoma bills — also notice how similar bullet number two is in both language and substance in both states' bills.
Rep. Sally Kern (R-84), sponsor of H.B. 1551, is a member of ALEC, according to CMD. She received $12,335 from the oil and gas industry in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, in total, according to FollowTheMoney.org. Sen. Randy Brogdon (R-34), sponsor of S.B. 320, while not a member of ALEC, received $22,967 from the oil and gas industry while running and losing for Governor of Oklahoma in 2010, according to FollowTheMoney.org.
On the whole, sponsors and co-sponsors from the six states in which the ALEC bill was proposed were recipients of $44,409 in campaign money from the oil and gas industry, a miniscule down payment for some of the most lucrative corporations known in the history of mankind.
Texas, in this case, is a bit of a wild card. Rather than a bill proposed by a state legislature, in 2009, the Texas School Board passed an amendent calling for the “balanced” teaching of climate change, meaning both science and “skepticism.”
The Austin Statesman explained,
“The State Board of Education…adopted standards on the teaching of global warming that appear to both question its existence and prod students to explore its implications.
Standards are used to guide textbook makers and teachers.
Language…instructed students to 'analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming,'”…
This provision mirrors and is likely inspired by the ALEC model bill provision on global warming, which suggested science teachers should “Provide a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner.”
A Bill In the Corporate Polluter's Interest
The money paper trail for this ALEC model bill runs deep, to put it bluntly.
When the ALEC model bill was adopted in 2000 by ALEC's Natural Resources Task Force, the head of that committee was Sandy Liddy Bourne, who after that stint, became Director of Legislation and Policy for ALEC. She is now with the Heartland Institute as vice-president for policy strategy. In Sandy Liddy Bourne's bio on the Heartland website, she boasts that “Under her leadership, 20 percent of ALEC model bills were enacted by one state or more, up from 11 percent.”
SourceWatch states that Liddy Bourne “…is the daughter of former Nixon aide and convicted Watergate criminal G. Gordon Liddy, who spent more than 52 months in prison for his part in the Watergate burglary…[and her] speech at the Heartland Institute's 2008 International Conference on Climate Change was titled, 'The Kyoto Legacy; The Progeny of a Carbon Cartel in the States.”
The Heartland Institute was formerly heavily funded by ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, just like ALEC was at the time that Liddy Bourne's committee devised the “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act.” These two corporations are infamous for their funding of climate change “skeptic” think tanks and front groups.
Today, the corporate polluter members of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force include representatives from American Electric Power, the Fraser Institute, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Institute for Energy Research, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Heartland Institute, and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, to name several.
Getting Them While They're Young: A Cynical Maneuver
In the United States, the politics of big-money backed disinformation campaigns have trumped climate science, and serves as the raison d'être for DeSmogBlog. Polluters with a financial interest in continuing to conduct business without any accountability for their global warming pollution have purposely sowed the seeds of confusion on an issue seen as completely uncontroversial among scientists.
Maneuvering to dupe schoolchildren is about as cynical as it gets. Neuroscience explains that young brains are like sponges, ready to soak in knowledge (and disinformation, for that matter), and thus, youth are an ideal target for the “merchants of doubt.”
The corporations behind the writing and dissemination of this ALEC model bill, who are among the largest polluters in the world, would benefit handsomly from a legislative mandate to sow the seeds of confusion on climate science among schoolchildren.
Alas, at the very least, the identity of the Trojan Horse has been revealed: it's name is ALEC.
**Full Disclosure: At the time of the ALEC Exposed project's public release in mid-2011, Steve Horn was an employee of Center for Media and Democracy.