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The American Legislative Exchange Council, a free-market organization made up of state legislators and major corporations, is pushing back against public criticism of its stance on global warming.

"ALEC recognizes that climate change is an important issue," 156 state legislators who belong to the organization wrote Wednesday in a letter to Google executives. "No ALEC model policy denies climate change."

The letter is a rebuke of Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, who accused ALEC of "just literally lying" about climate change in an interview earlier this week. Schmidt announced that the tech giant will sever ties with the group as a result.

But what does ALEC really think about climate science? Despite assertions that the organization does not deny climate change, ALEC supports policy that distorts the scientific consensus on man-made global warming.

Here's an excerpt from ALEC's model legislation on climate change:

The legislature finds and declares that: (A) Human activity has and will continue to alter the atmosphere of the planet. (B) Such activity may lead to demonstrable changes in climate, including a warming of the planetary mean temperature. (C) Such activity may lead to deleterious, neutral, or possibly beneficial climatic changes.

It's a far cry from outright denial that the climate is changing. But the legislation suggests uncertainty over whether human activity is the cause of global warming.

That, scientists say, is a misrepresentation of climate science. Peer-reviewed studies of academic literature show that 95 to 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the planet is heating up and that human activity is the primary cause. That's roughly the same degree of certainty that scientists ascribe to the conclusion that smoking can cause lung cancer.

ALEC's model policy also suggests that global warming could be a good thing. The legislation states that climate change's influence on the environment and the economy "may be beneficial or deleterious." It also calls for "research on the possible benefits of such changes."

From the perspective of climate scientists, the implication that global warming may have a bright side is out of step with mainstream scientific views.

A wide array of scientific studies published by organizations such as the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warn that climate change poses an immediate threat to public health and the environment.

In a report released in March, the IPCC cautioned that the effects of global warming are already being felt worldwide in the form of melting glaciers, eroding coastlines, and lowered agricultural yields. The report warns that climate change could lead to global conflict, an upswing in poverty, and the extinction of certain species.

ALEC has long courted environmental controversy. The organization opposes environmental regulations on the grounds that legislative mandates run contrary to free-market principles, a stance that does not sit well with environmentalists.

Earlier this month, green groups like the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters called on Google to quit ALEC.  

Facebook and Yahoo also announced this week that the companies plan to break ties with ALEC. Yelp said Wednesday that it is no longer a member of the organization.

ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson blamed Google's departure on "public pressure from left-leaning individuals and organizations who intentionally confuse free-market policy perspectives for climate-change denial."


Dustin Volz contributed to this article

This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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