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Nancy Smith

Looks Like Exxon Mobil Is Out to Crush Florida's Energy Bill, Corleone-Style

April 11, 2012 - 6:00pm

It's like that scene from "The Godfather," when Don Corleone tells the undertaker Bonasera, "Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me."

A bit of Hollywood being replayed right here, right now, in the state capital.

The undertaker Bonasera is the Heartland Institute, with Americans for Prosperity in tow.

Don Corleone is Exxon Mobil. Big Oil. Maybe even the billionaire Koch Brothers who back AFP and make much of their money from oil.

He's the folks who bring us $3.80-a-gallon gas.

For more than 10 years, Exxon Mobil -- our Corleone Family -- has been infusing the Heartland Institute with cash "donations." More than $500,000 between 1998 and 2006 alone. Finally, in 2012, the Florida Legislature passes an energy bill, a clear threat to the interests of Big Oil, and all of a sudden it's payback time -- Bonasera/Heartland gets the dreaded call:

"Now, you owe your Don a service. He has no doubt that you will repay him. In one hour he will be at your funeral parlor to ask for your help. Be there to greet him."

Bonasera/Heartland showed up at the funeral parlor.

Now Heartland is in Tallahassee with a mostly well-intentioned tea party group hoodwinked into believing that HB 7117, the energy bill now before Gov. Rick Scott, is somehow going to "increase the cost to businesses and consumers."

It is not.

The service Heartland and AFP have been asked to perform for their Don is to "bring all of their skills and all of their talents together" to pressure the governor into vetoing a bill with the potential to be a real job creator, by providing a one-penny-per-kilowatt-hour credit for those companies that produce and sell alternative energy within the state.

This is how Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, characterized the energy bill in a letter to the governor: "As an alternative to expensive and burdensome mandates enacted in other states, this approach is a thoughtful, reasonable, ratepayer-friendly way to encourage new energy production from the state's utility and non-utility energy producers."

Don Corleone knows it, too, but he ain't sayin'.

What Exxon Mobil isn't owning up to is its hypocrisy. While it's happy to have Heartland/AFP misinforming Floridians on the energy bill's tax credit program, it is desperately trying to stop Democrats in Congress from eliminating its own tax credits, worth $21 billion. And it should try to stop the Democratic plan. Fiscal conservatives almost unanimously have said eliminating the five tax credits, as the Dems propose -- one each for Exxon, Shell, ConocoPhilips, Chevron and BP -- will cost America tens of thousands of jobs.

So, why would Heartland/AFP, in a combined veto-seeking letter to the governor, write, "The vast taxpayer-funded subsidies that have been pursued at the state and federal level have done little to benefit the American economy ..." when its own Don knows firsthand that statement isn't true?

And why are opponents of the energy bill any different from House Speaker Harry Reid and the Democrats?

It's disappointing that Slade O'Brien, Florida director of Americans for Prosperity, would mislead so many good tea party folks.

It's disappointing, too, that nowhere along the way, when the Heartland Institute and Americans for Prosperity were trotting their dog and pony show through the state capital earlier in the week, did they bend over backward to disclose who their benefactors are and the obvious conflict of interest they pose.

That smell you detected in the air around the Capitol was eau de prole.

Ten little words wouldn't exactly constitute purification, but they would have earned the undertaker a little respect: It's true, Exxon Mobil gives us a lot of money.

Victoria Jackson, former "Saturday Night Live" comedian who calls herself "the tea party troubadour," proudly told me that nearly 3,000 people called the governor's office to demand he veto the energy bill. "That should do the trick," she said. I hope she isn't holding her breath. Some 8,000 calls flooded phone lines at the Capitol favoring the "parent trigger" bill and look what that accomplished.

(For a look at AFP comedian Victoria Jackson at Monday's "coalition" dog and pony show click here.)

There are few lawmakers in Florida, past or present, with more impressive conservative credentials than AIF's Feeney. Listen to what Feeney tells Scott in his letter of April 10: "Characterizations that this tax credit has any parallels with Solyndra or other failed initiatives of the federal government are completely false and misleading. This tax credit is only for energy delivered and is patterned after the federal production tax credit signed by several Republican administrations [emphasis mine]. We believe the bill will move Florida's economy forward and support your job creation agenda."

Signed by several Republican administrations, got that?

Now, I'm a big "Godfather" fan, and I'll bet you are, too. But it's a story best kept in books and movies. Modest as the energy bill is, it has been a long time coming. It involved the hard work of many people who genuinely want to help Florida take that first step to produce renewable energy. This re-enactment of the Mario Puzo classic in our state capital is unworthy of the original and unworthy of the Heartland Institute and the tea party faithful.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at (850) 727-0859.

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