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Al Gore’s Florida tea party front group could signal what’s next for Alabama

Former Vice President Al Gore (Photo: YouTube Screenshot)
Former Vice President Al Gore (Photo: YouTube Screenshot)

Former Vice President and climate change activist Al Gore has teamed up with a Tea Party leader in a move that could signal a change in tactics for the southeast’s burgeoning environmentalist movement.

According to Politico, Gore has enlisted the help of “Green Tea Coalition” founder Debbie Dooley for a solar ballot initiative in Florida, where Gore is currently wrapping up his three-day Climate Reality Project conference.

Environmental groups have in recent years sought to expand their influence outside of the west coast and New England regions, but they have struggled to gain traction in the deep south where the conservative electorate is skeptical of the climate change movement’s political agenda.

“The green movement is the new red movement,” former Republican state senator Scott Beason told Yellowhammer on Thursday. “I say that somewhat tongue in cheek, but the reality is that, as conservatives, the second we hear ‘green’ or ‘environmental,’ we know that usually means increased government control of our energy resources, more regulations and ultimately higher costs for you and me. It’s not surprising to see them try to mask their intentions by hijacking part of the tea party brand. If concealing a leftist political agenda behind a call for clean air and pure water is OK, pretending to be a conservative tea party group is no big deal at all.”

Beason, who is now senior policy director at the Alabama Free Market Alliance, a conservative group whose priorities include advocating for a “true all-of-the-above energy policy,” and other conservative leaders are now watching Gore’s unlikely alliance with a supposed tea party leader with wary eyes.

“It’s concerning,” said Beason. “Unlike our neighboring states, Alabama has managed to avoid many of the negative effects of the left’s environmental push because our state regulators are conservative, but the climate changers working in Florida and Georgia are the same ones working here. The problem is that they never quit. If they’re setting up partnerships with supposed conservative groups in those states, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll do it in Alabama.”

Alabama is no stranger to political front groups.

During the past two election cycles the liberal Alabama Education Association funneled millions of dollars into a myriad of organizations with conservative-sounding names in an effort to mask their involvement from voters.

FactCheck.org in 2009 detailed the AEA’s funding of “bogus attack ads” by front groups in the previous year’s Republican gubernatorial primary that many now credit with influencing the election’s outcome. A similar scheme was implemented in 2012, albeit with less success.

Left-leaning groups in Alabama have in recent years received millions of dollars earmarked for the purpose of shutting down the state’s coal-fired power plants.

Using data made publicly available by the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, here’s a quick snapshot of how much money environmental groups participating in the Alabama Public Service Commission’s (PSC) regulatory hearings received, and what the funds were earmarked for:

∙ Alabama Arise: $50,000 during the Alabama PSC hearings “to advance clean energy policies in Alabama.”
∙ Alabama Environmental Council (AEC): $107,000 “to increase capacity and stakeholder engagement on clean energy issues in Alabama,” including $62,000 during the Alabama PSC hearings.
∙ Alabama Rivers Alliance: $40,000 matching grant during the Alabama PSC hearings “to accelerate the retirement of coal-fired power plants in Alabama.”
∙ Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Air Pollution (GASP): $70,000, including a $20,000 matching grant “to accelerate the retirement of coal-fired power plants in Alabama” and $50,000 “to increase capacity and support for clean air policies in Alabama.”
∙ Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC): $1.8 Million, including $60,000 during the PSC hearings “to accelerate retirement of coal-fired power plants in the Southeast.”
∙ Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE): $810,000 for a wide variety of climate-related issues in the southeast, including $60,000 during the Alabama PSC hearings “to accelerate retirement of coal-fired power plants.”

SACE, the last group listed above, is credited by Politico as the group “behind” Gore’s latest solar push in Florida.

And there’s evidence that solar advocates will be coming more to the forefront in Alabama in the coming years as well.

Alabama Power, the state’s largest electricity provider, announced in July it is establishing a groundbreaking new renewable energy program, seeking to boost its power from renewables—including solar—to 500 megawatt hours over the next six years.

The PSC approved the program in large part due to the fact that it is not subsidized by taxpayers or Alabama Power customers who do not wish to pay the extra costs associated with renewable energy production.

“The Public Service Commission has been clear that they do not want renewables to be subsidized by all of our customers,” Alabama Power vice president of regulatory and corporate affairs Nick Sellers said at the time.

“The renewable generation program would provide broad options for us to work with customers willing to pay for renewable costs, while allowing us to protect other customers from bearing additional costs,” added Tony Smoke, Alabama Power vice president of marketing.”

But APCo’s solar efforts — and the $3 billion they have spent to comply with the EPA’s increasing demands — have thus far not been enough to satisfy Alabama’s green movement.

“Whatever a state does to satisfy the enviro-militants will never be enough,” concluded Beason. “They always move the goal post. It’s going to be important for Alabamians to stay vigilant. Today they’ve set their sites on Florida and Georgia, tomorrow they’ll be looking to do the same thing here.”

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