"Kochtopus" Hits New York and California

Comprehensive climate and energy legislation is dead in the U.S. Congress. Now the network of Koch Industries-funded groups that played a central role in its defeat have entered the political fray on the state and regional level, taking aim at a regional cap-and-trade system on the East Coast and the nation's most ambitious state clean energy program on the West Coast.

At the forefront of these campaigns stands Americans for Prosperity, which sponsored last year a national "Hot Air Tour" that went a long-way in painting federal cap-and-trade legislation as an "energy tax" that would stifle the economy and saddle consumers with higher energy bills.

Phil Kerpen, vice president for policy at AFP, told me: "We're meeting the threat where it is from our perspective. I think that to the extent that the state approach will now gain increased energy and attention from proponents of climate regulations we need to give more attention to it as well from our side."

According to a March report by Greenpeace "Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine," the Americans for Prosperity Foundation received more than $5 million from Koch foundations between 2005 and 2008. David Koch, co-owner of Koch Industries along with this brother Charles, is currently a board member of the group.

Less visible than AFP, but just as attentive to repealing or blocking state and regional clean energy programs, is a network of Koch-funded lobby groups, think tanks, and media relations firms, all poised to fight state government regulation of fossil fuels and the public support of clean energy technologies.

Lee Fang of the Center for American Progress told me: "The real strategy of the Koch brothers to dismantle state clean energy programs has been laid out for many years. And they have a very sophisticated network in place to make it happen."

In early September, several hundred Tea Party activists, many of them bused in by the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity, held a rally in downtown Manhattan to protest against the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade scheme involving ten Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, arguing that it is a "job-killing 'Cap & Trade' energy tax" that will subsidize a wind energy "boondoggle" off the coast of New Jersey.

Steven Lonegan, state director for the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity, told me: "While cap-and-trade was stopped nationally, it has taken root in a virtually identical program called the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative." He added: "The treat is now that cap and trade may have been stopped on the national level, [but] it is taking place state by state and many states are watching the RGGI program to see how successful it is. If they're successful in slipping it under the radar, getting this stealth tax in place, then they could move it state by state."

In addition to targeting RGGI, pronounced "reggie," through grassroots protest, Lonegan says that AFP is backing bills in both houses of the New Jersey legislature that would repeal the state's participation in the regional cap-and-trade scheme. Several of the sponsors of these bills spoke at AFP's Manhattan rally.

AFP's Kerpen says that AFP has identified New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie as vulnerable to pressure on RGGI. "We're concentrating on the sate in RGGI," he said, "that has the most conservative governor as the place with the best opportunity to effect a policy change."

In California, Koch Industries has donated directly to a state ballot initiative that would suspend AB32, the state's plan, championed by Republican governor Arnold Schwartzeneggar, for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the end of the decade. According to the California Secretary of State's office, Flint Hills Resources, a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, donated $1 million to Proposition 23.

Katie Stavinoha, of Koch Industries, told me: "Flint Hills has a concern that AB32 will set a bad precedent for regulation by other states and the federal government."

Koch Industries-funded groups, too, are active in the Proposition 23 campaign. AFP's California state director and state chair participated in Tea Party rallies in Ventura and Temecula over the weekend that, in addition to touching on the Tea Party's opposition to government regulation, support for lower taxes, and concerns about impingements on the Constitution, sought voter support for Proposition 23.

California's clean energy program is the most robust in the country -- and is vulnerable given economic anxieties across the state and the influx of fossil fuel industry campaign contributions. According to California Secretary of State data compiled by the No on Proposition 23 campaign, more than 98 % of contributions to the Proposition 23 campaign are from oil companies; 89% of contributions are from out of state.

Wade Crowfoot of the Environmental Defense Fund, which is part of the No on 23 campaign, told Solve Climate News: "If Proposition 23 passes it will have a huge chilling effect across the nation on the prospect of any new clean energy legislation. If you're a Senator from Arkansas or Ohio and you see California abandon its clean energy program, are you likely to fight for climate and energy legislation?"

Meredith Turney of AFP's California chapter concurred, saying: "As California goes, so goes the rest of the country. What happens here has an impact on the rest of the country, definitely."

Based in Wichita, Kansas, Koch Industries is the second largest privately held corporation in the nation; only Cargill is larger. It operates oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota and several thousand miles of pipelines. The company also owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, and Georgia-Pacific lumber, among other familiar household products. The combined wealth of the Koch brothers is topped only by that of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

In a nearly 10,000-word article in the New Yorker, politics reporter Jane Mayer detailed the Koch brothers' political attacks on the Obama Administration, particularly on health care reform and its economic stimulus efforts, and on environmental regulation more generally.

In its March report Greenpeace says: "[Koch Industries] is now playing a quiet but dominant role in a high-profile national debate on global warming. [It] has become a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition."

Greenpeace adds that Koch Industries has overtaken ExxonMobil as the dominant corporate voice against greater environmental regulation and action on climate change, providing funding to a vast network of lobby groups, think tanks, and scientists that cast doubt on the veracity of climate change research, the benefits of stricter environmental regulation, and the economic and social benefits of greater public sector support for clean energy generation and regulation.

The national network of Koch-funded lobby groups, think tanks, grassroots organizations, and public relations operatives -- similar to that deployed on the federal level to torpedo Congressional climate and energy legislation -- is poised to attack state and regional clean energy programs. This network includes several groups dedicated to state-level mobilization and advocacy.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, which, according to Greenpeace's March report, has received $408,000 in grants from Koch foundations between 1997 and 2008, provides "model legislation" to state elected officials on environment-related topics ranging from air and water quality to climate change and forestry policy, all of which, according to the group's website, are "aimed at protecting and expanding our free society."

The group also provides policy papers that cast doubt on the scientific merits of climate change, arguing that there is not scientific consensus about whether human-generated greenhouse gases are driving global warming. Mike Morgan, a former director of government affairs at Koch Industries, is a board member of ALEC.

The State Policy Network is a coalition of 58 think tanks (at least one in each state), including influential free-market and libertarian groups such as the Club for Growth, Freedom Works, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. Koch foundation grants have gone directly to SPN as well as to its affiliates. The aim of SPN's network of think thanks is to develop a state-based strategy for promoting free-market ideology.

Similar to SPN, The Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, which has received $360,000 in Koch foundation grants, according to Greenpeace, produces papers and offers public commentary that promote the benefits of the free-market. One of PRI's projects is calwatchdog.org, which has published articles and blog posts denying the existence of anthropogenic climate change and against AB32.

"The Koch brothers have been acting on the state level in disguise, operating through front groups, probably doing more than is even known," says Kert Davies of Greenpeace, "With the Flint Hills donation to Proposition 23 in California we now know they're watching that fight as a key bellwether fight in the long carbon war."