Tag Archives: koch industries

Republicans vow to shred historic Paris climate accord

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the international climate change agreement reached in Paris as a major achievement that could help turn the tide on global warming.

But Republicans, who are heavily funded by fossil fuel interests that produce the pollutants causing climate change, tried to deflate the celebration, vowing to overturn the agreement signed by almost 200 nations if the party wins the White House in 2016. 

Obama said the climate agreement “can be a turning point for the world” and credited his administration for playing a key role. He and Kerry predicted the agreement would prompt widespread spending on clean energy and help stem carbon pollution.

“We’ve shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge,” Obama said from the White House. He said the climate agreement “offers the best chance we have to save the one planet we have.”

But the immediate reaction of leading Republicans was a reminder of the conflict that lies ahead.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Obama is “making promises he can’t keep” and should remember the agreement “is subject to being shredded in 13 months,” when the next president takes the oath of office.

Clean-power pushback

Even as Obama was working to hammer out a global climate agreement in Paris, Republican climate-change deniers in Congress were working to block his plan to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants.

The House passed two resolutions Dec. 8 against the power-plant rules. A measure blocking an Environmental Protection Agency rule for existing power plants was approved 242–180, while a measure blocking a rule on future power plants was approved 235–188.

The votes came after the Senate approved identical motions in November under a little-used law that allows Congress to block executive actions it considers onerous.

The measures, as WiG went to press, were at the White House, where they faced almost-certain vetoes.

Just four Democrats sided with Republicans to support the measures, which fell far short of the numbers needed to override a veto in both the House and Senate.

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said GOP lawmakers were forcing a vote on the climate rule “to send a message … there’s serious disagreement with the policies of this president.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the president’s pro-environment policies will kill jobs, increase electricity costs and decrease the reliability of the U.S. energy supply.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said he wished Obama took the threat posed by “radical jihadists” as seriously as he takes the “pseudoscientific threat” posed by climate change.

Republicans at the state level also are challenging the power plan, which requires states to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030, based on emissions in 2005. Each state has a customized target and is responsible for drawing up an effective plan to meet its goal.

The EPA says it has authority to enact the plan under the Clean Air Act. But 25 mostly Republican states, led by Texas and West Virginia, are contesting the plan in court, calling it an unlawful power grab that will kill jobs and drive up electricity costs. Wisconsin, which has perhaps the nation’s strongest rules discouraging “green” energy, is part of the suit.

Utilities, the National Mining Association and the nation’s largest privately owned coal company also are suing the EPA over the new rules.

Koch Industries, a major polluter that political insiders say pulls the strings of the Wisconsin GOP, is one of the world’s largest funders of climate-change propaganda.

The Associated Press was a source for this analysis.

Walker wants $250,000 to duplicate wind energy study because he didn’t like the findings

There’s a proposed item in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget that would waste $250,000 to have the Public Service Commission study the health effects of wind turbines. His transparent intention is to continue stalling on Wisconsin’s development of this renewable energy source, which is opposed by the real-estate sector and producers of dirty energy, including Koch Industries and Exon Mobil. Those industries have bestowed Walker with beaucoup bucks, and, as he’s proven time and again, he’s not about to let the state do anything counter to their interests on his watch — not even for the best interests of Wisconsinites.

If wind energy did indeed present a health hazard for humans, the world would be well aware of it by now. Wind energy is the second fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the world — behind only solar, Wind has contributed to increasing energy independence and job growth throughout Europe and Asia over the past decade. It’s also led to falling energy costs in nations such as Germany, where 31 percent of energy during the first half of last year came from wind, solar and hydro.

Neighboring Iowa generated 27.4 of its electricity from wind in 2013. The state continues to expand its wind energy program, with no reports of health problems that we could find.

But there’s even stronger evidence that wind energy is harmless, and Walker is well aware of it. Five years ago, 13 Wisconsinites from all sectors were appointed to the state’s Wind Siting Council. The council reviewed over 50 different scientific studies and found no evidence to support the contention of Walker and his shills that wind turbines are hazardous to human health. The only studies used by the council were those that had appeared in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The findings of the Wind Siting Council, presented to the Legislature in October 2014, should have marked the end of the story for wind energy deniers.

The $250,000 Walker wants to spend to duplicate a conclusive study on a topic that has long since been settled elsewhere could be used in many other productive ways.  The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters suggests that the money could go to programs that contribute to conservation, clean energy, or monitoring the pollution and contamination that we know are caused by the forms of energy that Walker favors.

The absurdity of Walker throwing away taxpayer money to hold up the production of clean energy due to public health concerns is laughable. Walker has never met a polluter he didn’t like. His environmental policies are extremely hazardous to public safety, including the relaxation of regulations for polluters, construction of the nation’s largest tar sand crude pipeline, which flows under every major waterway in the state, and revamping the permitting process to make it easier for operators of open pit mines to get approval without public input — just for starters.

This is not a partisan issue. Renewable energy is essential to keeping Wisconsin in the game, and the hypocrisy Walker shows toward it should offend every citizen who expects our leaders to do what’s best for us over the interests of their benefactors or in the interests of their political aspirations.

Of course, the Public Service Commission, which is dominated by Walker appointees, might just come up with findings that conveniently differ from all the scholarly studies on the subject. If that should occur, we hope that Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the sham for what it is.

Kochs refuse Democrats’ request for funding info on climate change research

The industrial conglomerate run by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch is refusing to provide Democratic lawmakers with information on whether it has paid for climate change research.

Last month, three Democratic senators sent 100 letters to an assortment of fossil-fuel companies and organizations seeking information on whether they have backed research into global warming and other environmental topics.

Koch Industries Inc., which includes refining, chemical and pipeline companies, was among the recipients.

But in a March 5 letter obtained by The Associated Press, Mark V. Holden, Koch’s senior vice president and general counsel, wrote that such information treads on First Amendment rights.

“To the extent that your letter touches on matters that implicate the First Amendment, I am sure you recognize Koch’s right to participate in the debate of important public policy issues and its right of free association,” Holden writes.

The brothers have donated heavily to conservative causes and candidates while criticizing the Obama administration’s efforts to combat global warming.

In January, the political machine backed by the brothers told allies that spending across its conservative network would approach $1 billion ahead of 2016’s elections.

That sum from Freedom Partners would dwarf expected spending from official GOP committees and many of the hopefuls expected to seek the Republican party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts said in a statement emailed on March 10 to the AP that “companies that are supporting legitimate, scientific inquiry should have no concerns about responding.”

The investigation by Markey and Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island was triggered by documents obtained and released by Greenpeace that revealed Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, received $1.2 million from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade without disclosing any conflict of interest in his scientific papers. Soon attributes global warming to variations in the sun’s energy rather than burning of fossil fuels, which the majority of scientists say is the cause.

In a statement issued by the Heartland Institute, Soon said he would be happy to comply with any disclosures at scientific journals and called the effort a shameless attempt to silence his scientific research.

Dark political money imperils Earth’s future

Political contributions designed to weaken environmental regulations can be difficult to track. They’re moved through a network of right-wing campaigns, foundations, think tanks and political groups.

Americans for Prosperity is  one of many such groups.

The State Policy Network is another, a web of 60-plus think tanks — or “stink tanks,” as they were called in a recent exposé by the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy and Progress Now.

The American Legislative Exchange Council is yet another group. The organization of lawmakers, corporations and interest groups drafts and promotes “model” legislation on a range of issues. ALEC’s best-known laws are the anti-union, anti-voter and anti-immigration laws that were approved by legislatures around the country with the votes of lawmakers who receive huge donations from ALEC members. ALEC’s “stand your ground” model bill, a bonanza for the manufacturers of firearms and ammunition, is also well known.

But in 2014, ALEC is betting its seemingly unlimited supply of cash on a slew of measures aimed at weakening environmental protections, cutting renewable energy, increasing reliance on coal and dismantling energy efficiency standards.

ALEC’s “polluter agenda,” according to the Center for Media and Democracy, includes measures to:

• Oppose the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases from mobile sources.

• Give Congress the authority to block enforcement of federal protections on clean air and water and safeguards for mine workers.

• Create hurdles for state agencies attempting to regulate carbon gases.

• Oppose protections on carbon dioxide emissions.

• Prevent the EPA from overruling state permits for coal mining.

• Give legal protection to corporations against victims of lead poisoning.

• Privatize public water and sewage services and prohibit local governments from requiring contractors to meet labor standards.

• Oppose waste-reduction and mandatory recycling laws.

• Authorize state governments to open federal public land for oil, gas and coal exploration.

• Require that state environmental protections be approved by a corporate-backed panel.

• Criminalize environmental and animal-welfare activism.

ALEC, AFP and SPN all have ties to conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, whose preferred front groups have invested far more in the effort to deny, skepticize and belittle the significance of global warming than ExxonMobil, according to an analysis of information from Greenpeace, the Center for Media and Democracy and other sources.

“Like a play on Broadway, the climate change countermovement has stars in the spotlight — often prominent contrarian scientists or conservative politicians — but behind the stars is an organizational structure of directors, script writers and producers in the form of conservative foundations,” said Robert Brulle, an environmental sociologist and the author of a report on climate change denials published in Climatic Change. “If you want to understand what’s driving this movement, you have to look at what’s going on behind the scenes.”

What’s going on behind the scenes is wealthy polluters are investing in climate change denial and opposing environmental policies to protect their wealth and industries.

Koch Industries, a multinational group of companies invested in petroleum, chemicals, energy, gas liquids, asphalt and other polluting products, is the 10th worst air polluter in the United States, according to the Political Economy Research Institute. KI releases about 200,000 tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide annually.

And Koch Industries has a long record of environmental crimes and violations. Greenpeace offered a review: 

• A $1.7 million fine by the EPA and a $500 million commitment to correct pollution violations in seven states.

• Millions of gallons of spilled oil from Koch pipelines.

• A $25 million settlement in 2001 for falsifying records for oil collected on federal and Native American lands.

• A $20 million settlement in 2000 for falsifying documents relating to a major release of the carcinogen benzene.

• A 1996 explosion, caused by a leaking gas pipeline, that killed two people.

Influencing local codes

Democratic state Rep. Brett Hulsey woke up one day after the spring election with a sunny outlook on the results in Iron County.

There, on April 1, Victor Ouimette, Brad Matson and Karl Krall defeated incumbent supervisors on the county board. The three were among seven candidates branded by Americans for Prosperity as opponents of Gogebic Taconite’s plans for an open-pit iron mine in the Penokee Hills in northern Wisconsin. AFP has strong ties to conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, who own Koch Industries.

AFP invested in two full-color campaign mailings seeking to elect candidates in favor of the mine and to defeat those seen as opponents, although Krall and Ouimette had told news media they support the mine.

After the election, Hulsey pitched a proposal to create a Penokee Hills Conservation Area, noting that three people opposed by the Koch brothers won on Election Day.

“The Penokee Hills should be conserved forever, not strip mined by a big campaign donor,” said Hulsey, a member of the jobs and tourism committees in the Assembly. 

He argued that a conservation area could promote sustainable jobs, conserve recreational areas, promote sustainable forestry, protect drinking water sources, fisheries and wildlife habitat and also protect sacred Native American sites from destruction.

“Northern Wisconsin needs jobs now, not more arguing and lawsuits,” Hulsey said.

Proponents of the mine, which would be about 4 miles long and hundreds of feet deep, say it could create 700 long-term jobs. 

Opponents of the mine say the project, located about 7 miles south of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation, would pollute pristine rivers and local groundwater.

Republican lawmakers, led by Gov. Scott Walker, cleared the way for the operation by stripping down the state’s mining regulations. Now, to some degree, the project’s future will be determined at the county level, where the county board and Gogebic are negotiating over zoning regulations.

County board races typically don’t catch the attention of national political groups, and Americans for Prosperity’s interest in Iron County has environmentalists across the United States concerned that the Koched-up organization — and other national right-wing groups with records of distorting the facts and manipulating the science on environmental issues — will plant more campaigns on local turfs.

“This is trouble, if these guys are moving into our towns and cities and wanting to influence local codes and zoning regulations and land use plans,” said environmental activist Tom Geske of Madison. 

The Koch brothers are significant supporters of Walker and his gubernatorial bids. Before the recall election, David Koch told the Palm Beach Post in Florida, “We’re helping him, as we should. We’ve spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We’re going to spend more.”

Rubber Dodo

Last fall, the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group, took notice of the Koch brothers’ work and gave them an award: the 2013 Rubber Dodo.

“When it comes to pulling levers behind the scenes for those who wreck our climate, destroy wild places and attempt to kill our last remaining wildlife, the Koch brothers are in a class by themselves,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the CBD. “These guys are the poster children for despicable corporate greed. The Koch brothers get the 2013 Rubber Dodo for a terrible global legacy that could take hundreds of years to undo.”

The award gets its name for the dodo, perhaps the most famous extinct species on Earth after the dinosaurs. The bird evolved over millions of years with no natural predators and eventually lost the ability to fly. Having never known predators, it showed no fear of the humans who found it on Mauritius, or the animals that accompanied them to the island in the Indian Ocean in 1598. The bird’s trusting nature led to its rapid extinction — by 1681, the dodo had disappeared. 

Lesson learned?

Ron Johnson gets perfect score from Koch brothers

Sen. Ron Johnson is one of five senators who received a perfect, 100-percent score from Americans for Prosperity, the ultra-right political action committee financed by the billionaire Koch brothers. The Kochs, who’ve given Johnson $27,900, were the top contributors to his successful campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold in 2010.

It is unknown how much the Koch brothers contributed to Johnson’s effort to defeat Feingold through third-party advertising. The Kochs have spent heavily on anonymous third-party advertising for other Wisconsin GOP candidates, including in last summers’ recall races.

In some of those races, they used the anti-gay group Wisconsin Family Action to front a mail campaign that sent fraudulent ballot applications to voters. The ballots listed a return date after the election had ended.

“It’s a disgusting charade of money,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Graeme Zeilinski.

“Ron Johnson would be the big story in Wisconsin right now, if it wasn’t for Scott Walker,” Zielinski added. “He was willing to let America’s credit rating be downgraded just so that he could get deep cuts to Medicare. It’s been a long time, dating back to Joe McCarthy, since we had a senator this extreme. He’s doing McCarthy proud.”

McCarthy was censured by the U.S. Senate after using trumped-up charges of communism during the “red scare” to ruin the careers of politicians and people in the entertainment industry.

In addition to the five senators, 39 members of the U.S. House received perfect scores from the Kochs for their performance in the first half of the 112th Congress. Scores were based on votes that benefitted Koch Industries’ petrochemical empire, reported ThinkProgress Green. Specifically, those votes included approving measures to repeal health care reform, end Medicare, eliminate the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, and overturn regulations.

Other senators with perfect scores were Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and Mark Rubio, R-Fla

Total recall | Efforts target all eligible senators

Wisconsin progressives have moved from Capitol Square in Madison to call centers, makeshift offices and the streets of their hometowns, where they’re organizing one of the most ambitious recall drives in the nation’s history.

Democrats are targeting all eight GOP senators who can be recalled under state law, hoping to pick up  at least three seats and regain control of the Senate.

In a separate effort by Republicans, eight Democratic senators have also been targeted for recall. The targeted Democrats all have pro-equality voting records, while the targeted Republicans oppose equality along with policies supporting women’s health, environmental protections and justice for workers and consumers.

The targeted GOP senators have all earned high ratings from groups promoting the corporate-right agenda, including Americans for Prosperity, which is funded largely by Charles and David Koch. The billionaire brothers poured over $1 million into Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign last fall and opened an office of their energy company, Koch Industries, in Madison shortly after his election. Walker’s budget bill positioned Koch Industries to receive lucrative no-bid contracts from the state.

Although the recall efforts target both sides of the political aisle, political observers agree the energy and enthusiasm is disproportionately on the left as a result of the massive mobilization against Walker’s budget bill. That bill stripped public unions of nearly all their rights and decimated funding for public health, education and transportation while reducing the tax liability of corporations and the state’s wealthiest individuals. It also set the stage for Koch Industries and other GOP allies to receive favored treatment from the state.

National pundits say Walker has done more to galvanize Democrats than any Republican since George W. Bush.

Unlike the homegrown campaigns against Republicans, the effort against Democrats is organized by the American Patriot Recall Coalition, according to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Office. APR is a right-wing group based in Utah. Its promotional materials often imply members are grassroots organizations, but they are not.

The breakdown

At least one of the Democratic recall targets – Sen. Jim Holperin of Conover – is considered highly vulnerable for recall, although he’s already survived one recall attempt. Obama won his district in 2008 by 7 percentage points.

Green Bay Democrat Dave Hansen and Kenosha Democrat Bob Wirch also are said by Republicans to be somewhat vulnerable, although Obama won both their districts in 2008 by double digits.

At the same time, at least three Republicans are considered highly vulnerable, and another three are somewhat vulnerable, said out state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, who has emerged as a leader in the fight against Walker’s budget bill.

“The situation now is the opposite of what we had last November, where it pretty much didn’t matter who your candidate was if they had a ‘D’ after their name,” Pocan said. “This time, if you’ve got an ‘R’ after your name, it’s not going to be good at the polls.”

Pocan said it’s critical for LGBT people to continue standing in solidarity with the unions as the political action moves from the streets to the ballot boxes. “Labor was there with us when we had our constitutional amendment fight. This is another right that’s being attacked and we have to stick together when someone attacks rights,” he said.

Wisconsin law makes recalls difficult. Organizers have 60 days to collect signatures numbering at least 25 percent of all the people who voted in the last gubernatorial election in their respective districts. That means recall groups must collect 12,000-21,000 signatures in each of the targeted senate districts in order to qualify for the ballot.

Only lawmakers who have served for at least a year can be subjected to a recall election, which is why Walker’s detractors must wait for the opportunity to remove him from office.

Despite the challenge, progressive leaders said their efforts are exceeding expectations. State Democratic officials reported on March 14 that 45 percent of the total signatures needed in all eight Republican districts had been gathered. Only one-quarter of the time required to obtain signatures had passed at that point in time.

“It’s going fantastically,” said Tammy Bockhorst of Grassroots Shorewood. “We’re just amazed at all of the people who have offered their support.”

Grassroots Shorewood is going after one of the most vulnerable Republicans, state Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills, a largely suburban district north of Milwaukee that includes some of the state’s most affluent citizens as well as working-class areas such as Menomonee Falls.

Darling, who won her last election by 1,000 votes, has enraged many voters by voting in lockstep with fringe Christian groups and the corporate agenda. But Bockhorst said it was Darling’s support for Walker’s union-busting bill and the GOP’s vilification of teachers that has been the last straw for many in her district.

“People are telling us that they are very upset with the fact that she’s not giving any reasons as to why she’s siding with Walker,” Bockhorst said. “They’re especially upset that she’s cancelled all her town hall meetings and has become totally unavailable.”

Anti-Darling protesters, many of them wearing hot-pink T-shirts – “the color just seems to go with the name ‘Darling, – Bockhorst said – lined Lake Drive north of Edgewood Avenue on March 16 to draw attention to the recall effort. Darling, however, missed the proceedings. She was in Washington, D.C., attending a $1,000-$5,000 a plate fundraiser for Wisconsin Republicans sponsored by the BGR Group, one of the corporate right’s most powerful lobbying organizations.

Another Republican vulnerable to recall gave his political opponents an unintended gift several weeks ago. When pro-union protesters surrounded the Fond du Lac home of right-wing state Sen. Randy Hopper, his wife emerged to tell them he no longer lived there, because he’d moved in with his much-younger mistress in Madison. She told reporters both she and her maid are supporting his recall.

His wife’s revelation prompted a complaint to be filed against Hopper for living outside his district. The complaint is currently under investigation by the Wisconsin Justice Department.

Hopper was elected to the Senate in 2008 by a margin of only 200 votes. A recent Washington Post poll showed him losing 54-43 in a hypothetical recall match.

Dan Kapanke of La Crosse is another vulnerable Republican. He won his last race with under 3,000 votes out of 87,000 cast. The Post poll showed him losing a recall by a whopping 57-41.

Republicans Robert Cowles of Green Bay, Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls and Luther Olsen of Ripon are considered somewhat vulnerable.

Fair Wisconsin has joined with gay civic leaders and elected officials in backing the recall efforts targeting Republicans. Elections could begin as early as June.