Public backlash builds as green rhetoric becomes reality in complete streets, politically correct natural gas pricing, wind turbines and power lines
ST. PAUL, MN—A Freedom Foundation of Minnesota (FFM) investigation has revealed an orchestrated $48 million campaign by the national RE-AMP Energy Network to target Minnesota policymakers, news media and the public with an aggressive global warming agenda. RE-AMP, which is comprised of well-endowed national foundations, directs its money to Minnesota groups that lobby on environmental issues. FFM’s tally excludes millions of dollars doled out by the same foundations to many of the same nonprofits for other environmental objectives not directly related to the comprehensive climate campaign.
At the same time, tens of millions of dollars in grants from the so-called “engaged philanthropies” to carry out RE-AMP’s agenda have filled the coffers of nonprofits and allies in eight target Midwest states, including Minnesota.
“If we’re pursuing authorization for cap-and-trade in different states, we can learn from each other and from our campaigns about what’s working and not working,” Keith Reopelle, a RE-AMP strategist with the nonprofit Clean Wisconsin said in a Monitor Institute report.
FFM did not calculate total RE-AMP funding to the scores of nonprofit recipients outside of Minnesota in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, North and South Dakota. An overview of RE-AMP grants, however, indicates a familiar pattern with millions of dollars of foundation money flooding nonprofits in all seven states.
“It’s a choice we make as a democratic society, getting engaged and trying to make it a better future for yourself and kids and your community. We’re in it for that,” said Rick Reed, a RE-AMP founder with the Massachusetts-based Garfield Foundation.
The 2008 Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) annual report provides a typical roadmap of how green allies in neighboring states have also benefited from RE-AMP foundations’ enormous financial resources. In 2008, the New York City based foundation’s special RE-AMP Fund earmarked 23 grants for allied nonprofits in five targeted Midwestern states, including Minnesota. Wisconsin recipients got four grants worth $629,834, Illinois recipients got five grants totaling $532,750, Minnesota recipients got four grants worth $332,000, Michigan recipients got four grants worth $179,250 and Iowa recipients were awarded a $50,000 grant. The remaining five grants worth $560,000 went to recipients in three additional states to support RE-AMP projects in the Midwest.
The exorbitant foundation funding has enabled RE-AMP to duplicate Minnesota’s legislative and regulatory successes in the other states. A partial RE-AMP scorecard:
Renewable energy standards mandated in five states (IL, MI, MN, OH, WI)
Stopped the building of 30 new coal plants in four years
Enacted politically correct utility pricing pilot programs that penalize ratepayers for using more than the government’s suggested allotment of energy in four states (IL, MI, MN, WI)
Adoption of “Complete Streets” laws that give bikes and pedestrians priority status on roads while driving up construction and assessment costs in four states (IL, MI, MN, WI)
Advocated policies to reduce the need for car travel and increase taxpayer spending on rail transit
Laid the organizational groundwork to fight for building hundreds of miles of controversial wind energy power lines
Established expensive energy efficiency resource standards established in five states (IA, IL, MI, MN, OH)
The Global Warming Strategic Action Fund (GWSAF), a multi-million dollar endowment founded in 2007, illustrates how RE-AMP coordinates funding across the Midwest. The Kresge, McKnight and Garfield Foundations along with the Kendeda Fund have contributed $650,000 to $1 million apiece for a total of $3-4 million of seed money annually, according to the Monitor Institute report. Since its inception, 144 groups in all eight RE-AMP member states, including Minnesota, have received $10.8 million in GWSAF grants focused on global warming related projects just through 2010.
In a 2007 report titled “Increasing Payout,” the Garfield Foundation’s executive director acknowledged RE-AMP was targeting the governors of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Their stated objective was to “help set state-level global warming policies that meet or even exceed California’s ambitious legislation. Garfield realized that if RE-AMP does not act immediately, this opportunity might be lost.”
Indeed, such quick action led to what’s widely viewed as the nation’s most stringent cap-and-trade agreement adopted in 2007 passed by the Midwest Governors Association (MGA). Affiliated RE-AMP foundations wrote checks for $2.8 million to the Council of State Governments to help bankroll and promote passage of the far-reaching Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord (MGGRA).
Yet the climate compact once celebrated as RE-AMP’s signature achievement has now come to symbolize the potential vulnerabilities of trust fund environmentalism. As the governors who supported the regional cap-and-trade program left office, so did much of the support for their controversial agreement. Despite years of work and millions of RE-AMP dollars devoted to developing a Midwestern climate greenhouse gas market, the project was quietly shelved in 2011. The MGGRA website has gone dark, along with any momentum. The best spin RE-AMP's media arm Midwest Energy News could manage was to report ”obituaries for Midwest cap-and-trade are premature at best.”
The sustainability of other RE-AMP legislative milestones may also be in jeopardy due to another sort of climate change. A political climate change in most Midwestern states has fueled a backlash to some of RE-AMP’s agenda, starting in Minnesota.
“We are witnessing a disturbing trend with the large number of bills introduced this session that threaten to undermine Minnesota’s clean energy future and undo our proud environmental policy foundation,” said Mike Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy at a 2011 State Capitol news conference.
The Next Generation Energy Act’s de facto ban on new coal power, not only in Minnesota but regionally, faces numerous legal and legislative challenges. North Dakota recently announced legal action against Minnesota’s law, citing violations of the U.S. Constitution’s interstate commerce clause, among other claims. While Governor Dayton is contesting the North Dakota case, he signed legislation in 2011 that included a waiver for North Dakota’s new Spiritwood power plant that would allow 100 megawatts of new coal power onto the grid. The 2011 Minnesota Legislature also passed a bill to eliminate the state’s coal power ban, though Dayton vetoed the measure.
Public opposition has cropped up as RE-AMP supported programs are implemented across Minnesota. For example, a politically correct Minnesota natural gas pricing program designed by RE-AMP nonprofits backfired last year, turning into a public relations nightmare. Hundreds of irate CenterPoint Energy ratepayers expressed their anger over their skyrocketing heating bills, which were a direct result of the green groups’ pilot program. Consumers that exceeded a pre-determined level of natural gas were penalized through paying higher rates. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) was deluged with complaints from the elderly, day care providers, large families, low-income individuals and even conservation-savvy customers. The pilot program was suspended and the 2011 Minnesota Legislature repealed the controversial provision that was enacted in 2007 under the “Next Generation Energy Act.”
In 2010, the Minnesota Legislature adopted a statewide “complete streets” policy championed by RE-AMP. This new legislation requires bikes, pedestrians, trucks and cars to share the same physical space on city streets. When the reality of increased costs and inconvenience of complete streets projects becomes evident, homeowners and motorists across the state have voiced their concerns. A heated controversy broke out last summer as North St. Paul residents learned what a $1.9 million complete streets plan would mean for their neighborhood. The blueprint called for narrowing the street by 10 feet, downsizing yards, a $60-70 per foot property assessment and sidewalks residents didn’t want to be responsible for shoveling. Media reports indicated at least two-thirds of homeowners opposed the plan and the North St. Paul City Council reversed itself and rejected the project.
A mad dash to install wind farms—the cornerstone of RE-AMP’s renewable energy plan—also increasingly stirs up public resentment and resistance. RE-AMP went all out to advocate for a renewable energy standard that requires 25 percent of Minnesota’s electricity by 2025 to come from wind for all practical purposes. To date, the most controversial plan is a 78 megawatt wind farm slated for Goodhue County. The project, backed by Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, has been the subject of hearings at the State Capitol, raised concerns about endangered species, and drawn the opposition of their local Congressman John Kline. The resulting controversy has inspired legislative proposals to alter the renewable energy mandate in Minnesota and the elimination of a wind tax credit in Washington.
A RE-AMP member that specializes in energy efficiency upgrades was also recently the subject of media reports focusing on the compensation levels for the non-profit’s top employees. TheMinneapolis-based Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) receives millions of dollars in funding from local, state and federal government agencies and utility ratepayers. CEE has also received a $350,000 grant from the McKnight Foundation and a $48,000 grant from the Rockefeller Family Fund for RE-AMP related activity.
RE-AMP strategists and nonprofits acknowledge the network faces increasingly stiffer headwinds in Minnesota as well as in other Midwestern states. A potential change in strategy was noted in a document titled “On the Leading Edge” which was posted on the RE-AMP website. “Resources shifted to defending past policy victories, and reacting to initiatives to roll back existing climate and energy laws, curtail progress on high speed rail, increase regulatory barriers for wind energy, and cut transit budgets,” according to the document.
Yet as long as millions of dollars of special interest contributions continue to flow into Minnesota, RE-AMP will remain a potent political force with dozens of lobbyists to defend its agenda in St. Paul.
“While some might call RE-AMP a coalition, this is a misnomer: coalitions often have short-term, very tactical focus,” the Monitor Report states. “RE-AMP is in it for the next 40 years, and is attempting to design a network that is flexible, adaptive, and resilient enough to remain vital for that long.”
Clearly the millions of dollars injected into the political arena through “engaged philanthropy” can be as pervasive and influential as unions and corporations. The enormous amount of special interest foundation funding involved in influencing Minnesota policy makers--$48 million since 2003 for climate change alone—raises proportionately significant questions about public disclosure and transparency. RE-AMP members insist, however, that IRS regulations for nonprofits require more disclosure on their part than for energy and other companies.
“The required federal tax forms are openly available to the public,” Tom Elko, RE-AMP media director, said in a statement. “There are no such transparency measures or limitations placed on for-profit companies that oppose transition away from polluting coal to a clean, safe, modern affordable energy system based on Minnesota’s homegrown renewable sources of energy.”
For now, however, a little-known network connecting non-profit environmental activists with well-endowed mostly out-of-state foundations will continue to set the agenda for one of the most critical issues facing our state—energy and the environment.
Posted on Thu, February 23, 2012