Perspective

Rollingstone Cartoon of Koch Brothers

Koch Brothers: Killing the Electric Car Again?

Two powerful brothers from Wichita, Kansas have fought tooth and nail to preserve their fossil fuel empire, funding climate change deniers, stalling energy saving public transit, criticizing solar energy and now seeking to kill the electric car... again.


BYLINE: Bill Moore

What do you do when your family business is threatened by newer, better, cleaner technology? You have two choices, really. You adapt or your fight, and in the case of Charles and David Koch, you use every dirty trick in the book.

The brothers control Koch Industries, thought to be the second largest privately-held corporation in the United States, reported to have annual revenues of $115 billion, much of it based on the processing and distribution of fossil fuels, including Canadian tar sands. The Wichita-based conglomerate is said to employ some 60,000 workers in the United States and another estimated 40,000 overseas.

With that kind of economic clout, the Koch's haven't been shy in using it to advance their business and political interests, as recounted in numerous media, including a scathing indictment by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone magazine, accusatively entitled, "Inside the Koch Brother's Toxic Empire."

Writing in the 2014 article, Dickinson states, " The Kochs are our homegrown oligarchs; they've cornered the market on Republican politics and are nakedly attempting to buy Congress and the White House. Their political network helped finance the Tea Party and powers today's GOP. Koch-affiliated organizations raised some $400 million during the 2012 election, and aim to spend another $290 million to elect Republicans in this year's midterms…"

And it worked. They took back the US Senate. Now they've set their sights on the White House, reportedly vowing to spend a billion dollars to put a Republican back in the Oval Office in 2017.

Koch funded or allied groups have also been implicated in efforts to not only stall the installation of solar energy technologies, but they've also used their influence to kill public transit, including a proposed Bus Rapid Transit system in Nashville, Tennessee.

Now reports have surfaced that the brothers have set their sights on killing the electric car… again. Writing in Huffington Post, Peter Stone accuses the Kochs of organizing a $10 million-a-year lobbying effort with the specific goal of stopping the proliferation, such as it is, of battery-powered automobiles, the existence of which could eventually threaten their fossil fuel empire.

Stone quotes Varun Sivaram, an energy and environment fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, as saying, "Electric vehicle adoption started slowly, but it certainly is going to follow an exponential growth trajectory. Once electric vehicle adoption hits a critical mass, I think it will take refiners, petroleum producers and automakers by surprise.”

Stung by the success of a small group of anti-pipeline activists in Nebraska and their supporters who prevented the construction of the TransCanada XL pipeline, which would have moved tar sands from Canada to the Gulf and 25% of which the Kochs refine, it seems obvious the brothers and their allies don't want to wake up one morning and find their gasoline fuel market slipping away.

So, it seems the plan is to spend lots of money advocating pro-petroleum policies and funding research to uncut support for not only EVs but importantly, government incentives.

Given the well-known health and environmental damage being done by the world's over-reliance on fossil fuels to power its transportation and energy system, why would these two, well-born gentlemen, who fund their share of "worthy causes" such as "Nature" on PBS, be so set on continuing the degradation of the planet?

It may be overly charitable, considering their peers knew about climate change 40 years ago, but the answer surely has to be their personal belief that global warming isn't real and even if it is, it will take centuries or millennia to have any impact on the planet; and it's probably the result of natural causes, anyway. Besides look at all the good they've done for America's prosperity and power.

Charitably or hypocritically, the Kochs and their compatriots in the oil, gas and coal industries have funded, both overtly and covertly, a small but vocal cabal of climate change deniers, despite overwhelming evidence the problem is real and immediate. Case in point, the recent powerful El Nino has generated the strongest salvo of Pacific typhoons, one after another, in recorded history, undeniably fueled by abnormally warm ocean waters, waters which have absorbed much of the heat and carbon dioxide the brother's businesses have refined and we have burned in our ICE-age cars and trucks.

But the Kochs, their allied refiners, and policy pimps run the risk that their dirty tricks will backfire. Notes Don Duncan, a former top lobbyist for ConocoPhillips, "Producers and refiners need to be careful in going after clean energy subsidies and incentives -- unless they're being paid for by the petroleum industry," pointing out that attacks on clean energy subsidies potentially “could again refocus the debate on subsidies and incentives enjoyed by producers and refiners."

A 2013 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that their 34 member countries spend about $65 billion on subsidies and tax breaks for consumption, exploration and production of fossil fuels each year. A more recent report puts the real number at $5.3 trillion.

A 2012 Center for American Progress study found that in the US, oil tax breaks benefited Exxon Mobil by $600 million per year, Chevron by $700 million and Royal Dutch Shell by $200 million. In criticizing then-Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, CAP noted that his economic plan would have benefited the companies to the tune of $4 billion annually.

Targeting incentives to encourage the sale of electric vehicles, which can be powered by many different energy sources, while reducing local air pollution, could result in Congress being compelled to also slash those generous oil and gas subsidies.

It can be assumed that should fossil-fueled conservatives again prevail in recapturing the White House, as well as Congress, followed by the appointment of another conservative Supreme Court justice to replace the now-deceased Antonin Scalia, the Kochs and their conservative minions will achieve what they've been plotting for the last 30 years, drowning the New Deal legacy of Franklin Roosevelt in Grover Norquist's bath water, allowing the Kochs and their ilk to profit and pollute to their heart's content.

ADDENDUM: David Koch died of prostate cancer in 2019.

First Published: 2016-02-23

Pages Viewed: 11191

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