You can’t always make assumptions about where people stand on any issue based on their political affiliation. You can tell a lot more by following the dollars that flow into their wallets.
This fact burst into raw display at last month’s Spring Policy Summit of the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Grand Rapids, Mich. Based on a report by Utility Drive, a protracted floor debate broke out over support for credits for electric cars.
The Council’s petroleum industry backers made a motion to oppose state efforts to allow utilities to charge customers lower rates for electric vehicle charging and to provide purchase subsidies to consumers who buy electric cars.
The resolution was backed by the Institute for Energy Research, as well as Americans for Prosperity, both organizations backed by Charles and David Koch, who made their fortune in the petrochemical industry. They benefit when drivers buy more gas.
Among the members and attendees at the ALEC meeting, however, were representatives of electric utility companies, including Duke Energy and the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for utilities, who support electric car purchase incentives and flexible rate plans. They benefit from selling more electricity to electric-car drivers.
"The Edison Electric Institute strongly opposed this resolution, and we are extremely disappointed in these efforts to limit our ability to serve our customers," EEI spokesman Brian Reil was reported as saying. "As the operators of the energy grid, electric companies play an important role in developing charging infrastructure and expanding access to electric transportation for our customers and the communities we serve."
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So far, the resolution has been tabled, awaiting further debate in the next meeting in New Orleans in November, where proponents say they will bring it up again. "What we need to do is figure a [way to] work around the corporate rent seekers," Myron Ebell, energy director at the CEI was reported as saying.
If this sounds like an insiders’ catfight, consider that the meetings are attended by conservative business leaders as well as politicians, and that the Brookings Institution, known as a liberal think tank, reported in 2013 that the adoption rate for legislation built on ALEC-like policies is “strikingly high” compared to other bills.
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The resolution was originally written specifically to target incentives for electric cars but was broadened to include any vehicle that runs on anything other than gasoline or diesel. Ebell, who headed Trump’s EPA transition team, said, “The resolution as it passed it would apply not only to all vehicle types, but it would also apply to subsidies and mandates of all fuel types, so that would include, for example, the renewable fuel standard.” The renewable fuel standard is what mandates a certain level of ethanol and biodiesel be produced and mixed into U.S. fuels.
With the resolution due to come up for debate again in November, we'll likely be hearing more about conservatives' desire to roll back incentives for electric and alternative-fuel car buyers. They may no longer speak in a unified voice against incentives, if utility companies have anything to say about it.