April 4, 2015; Washington Post

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has threatened legal action against Common Cause and the League of Conservation Voters if they continue making false statements and has demanded that they “remove all false or misleading material” from their web sites.

But was the material really false and misleading? Or is this an effort to end criticism of ALEC?

ALEC, in its cease-and-desist letter to the two organizations, states that its “position is clear. ALEC does not deny climate change. […] ALEC has recognized the fact that ‘human activity has and will continue to alter the atmosphere of the planet’ and that ‘such activity may lead to demonstrable changes in climate, including a warming of the planetary mean temperature.’”

A closer look at ALEC’s position on climate change shows that the organization still sees the issue as unclear, putting it in conflict with the prevailing scientific opinion on the causes of global warming and climate change. There is a strong consensus that human activity is the cause of global warming. A 2013 review of over 1200 peer reviewed studies showed that 97% found that humans are responsible for global warming.

ALEC’s position remains that the issue is still in doubt.

In its “Energy Principles,” ALEC states that “Climate change is a historical phenomenon and the debate will continue on the significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions.” (Emphasis added.) And ALEC’s model legislation, the Interstate Research Commission on Climatic Change Act, states that human activity “may lead to deleterious, neutral, or possibly beneficial climatic changes [and that] a great deal of scientific uncertainty surrounds the nature of these prospective changes.”

The two organizations challenged by ALEC see the issue as mere power politics.

ALEC’s demands and legal threats are an effort to shut down debate about its policies and matters of national importance. They seek to chill our right to advocate for the public interest,” said Miles Rapoport, President of Common Cause. “It won’t work.” Attorneys at WilmerHale, representing Common Cause, responded that Common Cause’s statements are “legitimate assertions of opinion” that are “intended to foster greater national awareness and uninhibited, robust discussion around a critical public policy issue,” and that the organization stands by the fairness and accuracy of its statements.

David Willett, LCV’s senior vice president for communications, concurred, saying, “We don’t appreciate the attempt to silence LCV just because we disagree with ALEC’s positions. Usually, if someone wants to get serious about tackling climate change, they ask about working with us, they don’t threaten to sue us.”

The Washington Post reported, “the legal demands from ALEC follow an exodus of some of its best known corporate members, including Google, British Petroleum, Facebook, Yahoo and Northrop Grumman. Activist groups had pressured these corporate sponsors in recent years to abandon their support for organizations that they believe oppose action to stem climate change.”—Marty Levine