If you never bought the Walmart line about a commitment to sustainability, congratulations! You were right. But you may not have guessed that the Walton family isn’t just apathetic about sustainable energy: they are spending millions of dollars every year to obstruct America’s transition to a clean energy future.
A new study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) finds that the Waltons are funding nearly two dozen anti-solar groups — such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Americans for Prosperity, which are waging state and national fights to roll back clean energy policies — while a Walton-owned energy company is pushing for regulations that hinder the growth of rooftop solar power.
Rooftop solar has been cited as a tremendous opportunity to accelerate the transition to renewable power, save money for homeowners, and create tens of thousands of new jobs, but, as the report details, the Waltons’ interventions and spending are a very real threat to this future.
First Solar, which is majority owned by the Waltons, views rooftop solar as a threat to its profits and is actively engaged in campaigns in states like Arizona and Nevada to maintain a stronghold over solar electricity.
The report finds that the Waltons have provided $4.5 million in funds over the last four years to organizations campaigning against clean energy.
What’s particularly noteworthy here is the classic Walton family hypocrisy. “The Waltons claim to have a deep commitment to sustainability, but their support for anti-solar initiatives tells a different story. The Waltons are investing in efforts that both undercut clean energy and prevent average Americans from benefitting economically from solar power,” said Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at ILSR and author of the new report.
The Waltons – majority owners of Walmart and the richest family in America – are also the largest stockholders of First Solar, an Arizona-based company that builds solar arrays to supply power to utilities. But don’t be fooled: unlike the U.S. solar industry at large, First Solar views rooftop solar as a threat to its profits and is actively engaged in campaigns in states like Arizona and Nevada to maintain a stronghold over solar electricity, at the expense of local environmental and economic benefits.
“Arizona is one of the country’s leaders in solar, with more solar per person than any other state. Just as solar is poised to take off, the Waltons’ funding is restricting our ability to put solar on our homes, businesses, schools and churches, and the Waltons’ own solar company is actually fighting against the growth of the rooftop solar industry,” said Russell Lowes, founder and research director of SafeEnergyAnalyst.org, which provides technical assistance to Arizona homeowners and businesses moving to renewable energy sources. “It is time that the billionaire Waltons stop working against a sustainable, innovative solar future.”
“At a time when solar power is more affordable than ever before, the Walton family is spending millions to undermine our clean energy future.”
As the report notes, these practices are inhibiting homes and businesses across the country from installing rooftop solar and accessing the utility bill savings and environmental benefits of clean electricity generation. First Solar’s business practices are also jeopardizing thousands of solar jobs. The company supports a World Trade Organization complaint opposed by leading environmental organizations that could force several U.S. states to repeal local incentives for solar manufacturing job creation. First Solar manufactures the majority of its products in Malaysia.
“At a time when solar power is more accessible and affordable than ever before, the Walton family is spending millions of dollars to undermine our clean energy future,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth and an expert on tax and budget policies that spark a transition to clean energy. “Rooftop solar in the U.S. is growing exponentially and more and more Americans have access to affordable solar power that cuts their energy bills and builds a more sustainable energy future. Yet, the Waltons’ money is instead limiting average Americans’ ability to go solar and control their own energy future.”
Last year, ILSR found that since Walmart launched its environmental campaign in 2005, the company’s self-reported greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 14 percent. Instead of investing in efforts to reduce carbon pollution, Walmart continues to support lawmakers who deny global warming. ILSR’s 2013 report finds that both Walmart’s and the Walton family’s political donations heavily favor lawmakers who voted to keep subsidies for oil companies and prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.