Industry groups seek to frighten Floridians

Posted by Trish Riley, October 17, 2011

The moment I read the names of the organizations behind Free Market Florida in Ryan Houck’s Oct. 6 column, I knew the information would be misleading. Houck claims that regulations harm our economy and cites a study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. CEI is an ultra-conservative think tank with a long history of misleading the public about the health implications of pollution and tobacco.

CEI receives funding from billionaire oil tycoons the Koch Brothers and virtually every polluter-driven foundation conceivable. In addition to coal, oil and chemical corporations, CEI accepted funding from tobacco giant Phillip Morris and developed a campaign to misrepresent the connection between tobacco and cancer.

Free Market Florida is a creation of a PR firm, Cornerstone Solutions — founded by Bush campaign guru Karl Rove — designed to set up front groups to advance the agendas of large corporations.

Don’t be fooled by these facades for large, polluting industries. Free Market Florida is a tool for greedy corporations misleading the public for their own gain. It’s no wonder that thousands of frustrated people are “occupying” Wall Street and even GasLight Park in Tampa.

Houck claims that environmental protection kills jobs, but the truth is that pollution kills people. What’s more — the process of cleaning up pollution would actually create much-needed jobs for scientists and engineers who develop innovative new technologies to monitor and improve the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.

When Ryan Houck talks about prosperity, he’s talking about the continued prosperity of America’s top 1 percent, which means the continued demise of the struggling 99. Large, powerful corporations use slick marketing campaigns to frighten Americans into giving up protections for their health and well-being.

Houck claims that coal is America’s least expensive energy resource but fails to mention the true costs we pay when we subsidize polluters. Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment released a study that reveals the hidden costs of coal — around $345 billion per year. These expenses are not borne by the coal industry but by society, through our taxes and healthcare expenses. Accounting for all the ancillary costs associated with burning coal would add about 18 cents per kilowatt hour to the cost of electricity from coal-fired plants, shifting it from one of the cheapest sources of electricity to one of the most expensive.

Just because a charge doesn’t show up on your electric bill doesn’t mean you aren’t paying for it. We all pay the cost of asthma attacks, allergies, pulmonary diseases and other pollution-related health impacts. Average people — struggling to make ends meet — subsidize big corporations every single day. The EPA’s effort to make industries responsible for their pollution is one that we should all welcome. Let’s not forget these polluters are taking home record-breaking profits each quarter.

Planning for the inevitable transition away from finite fossil fuels is common sense. If America doesn’t get serious about clean technology development, we’ll trade our dependence on foreign oil from the Middle East for imported solar panels and wind turbines from China. Unfortunately, American politicians are too busy pandering to corporate political contributors to develop a realistic plan to end our dependence on oil.

History shows we can reduce pollution, create jobs and grow the economy. The Clean Air Act will save 4.2 million lives by 2020. Full implementation of the Clean Air Act will yield more than $2 trillion of economic benefits thanks to fewer sick days, increased productivity and decreased premature mortality rates.

If Ryan Houck is really a free-market watchdog, as he claims, he would be rallying against the monopolies enjoyed by Florida’s investor-owned utilities in favor of real competition. What other business model promises a guaranteed rate of return of well over 10 percent at the expense of ratepayers?

If Houck believed in free markets, he would be leading the charge to give businesses the freedom to buy and sell electricity from whomever they wish and decry the fact that Florida ratepayers are hostage to government-granted monopolies that cost us all dearly. Now that’s a government regulation that deserves Free Market Florida’s attention.

A special to The Tampa Tribune
By Melissa Baldwin

Melissa Baldwin is Florida organizer for the Florida Conservation Alliance, which is the state affiliate of the League of Conservation Voters. She lives in Riverview.