Koch Industries’ Clean Energy Assault Reaches Far And Wide

A recent flood of Koch-supported think tanks, junk scientists and astroturf groups from inside and outside of Kansas are awaiting the outcome of a bill that could stall progress on the growth of clean energy in Kansas.

States around the country, including Texas, Ohio, Missouri and North Carolina are poised to cut back on government support for clean energy jobs using model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC, which brings companies together with state lawmakers to forge a wish list of corporate state laws behind closed doors, is coordinating this year’s assault on state laws that require a gradual increase of electricity generated by clean energy sources.

ALEC and a hoard of other Koch-funded interests operating under the umbrella of the State Policy Network have hit Kansas legislators hard with junk economic studies, junk science and a junk vision of more polluting energy in Kansas’ future. Koch Industries lobbyist Jonathan Small has added direct pressure on Kansas lawmakers to rollback support for clean energy.

This fossil fuel-funded attack ignores the good that wind energy has done for Kansas, a state known for its bipartisan support for its growing wind industry (see key report by Polsinelli Shughart). The state now has 19 operating wind farms that have brought millions to farmers leasing their land and millions more to the state, county and local levels (NRDC). The American Wind Energy Association says that Kansas wind industry jobs have grown to 13,000 with the help of incentives like the renewable portfolio standard.

Wind Energy

image via Shutterstock

Unfortunately, clean energy is not palatable to the billionaire Koch brothers or the influence peddlers they finance. All of the following State Policy Network affiliates (except the Kansas Policy Institute) are directly funded by the Koch brothers, while most of the groups get secretive grants through the Koch-affiliated “Dark Money ATM,” Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which have distributed over $120,000,000 to 100 groups involved in climate denial since 2002.

Beacon Hill Institute

  • $53,500 grant from Donors Trust in 2007
  • Koch-funded (Washington Post)
  • State Policy Network member

Based out of Suffolk University’s economics department, the Beacon Hill Institute wrote the fundamentally flawed analysis that ALEC is using to scare legislators into thinking that renewable portfolio standards will destroy the economy. In reality, electricity prices do not correlate with state RPS laws (see also Kansas Corporation Commission).

An extensive debunk of the Beacon Hill report was done by Synapse Energy Economics, and similar critiques can be read in the Portland Press Herald and the Maine Morning Sentinel, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Washington Post.

The definitive Post article confirms that the Beacon Hill Institute is Koch-funded. This may be through $729,826 in recent grants (2008-2011) from the Charles G. Koch Foundation to Suffolk University. The Kochs tend to send grants to economics departments, causing controversy at Florida State University and other schools over professor hiring processes.

Beacon Hill’s Michael Head co-authored the reports that ALEC and the State Policy Network are using in several states. Mr. Headspecializes in STAMP modeling, a form of economic analysis that has been criticized for its limitations and poor assumptions in the case of energy analysis.

Michael Head testified before the Kansas legislature on Feb. 14 to promote the flawed findings of his report. Mr. Head testified alongside members of the Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute (see more on each, below), all of which are members of ALEC and SPN.

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC):

ALEC is leading the nationally-coordinated attack on state renewable portfolio standards as part of an ambitious dirty energy agenda for the members of its anti-environmental task force, like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, Duke Energy and other major oil, gas and coal interests.

ALEC’s “Electricity Freedom Act” is a full repeal of state laws requiring increasing electricity generation from clean sources, although in some states the model has morphed into a freeze of those targets rather than a full repeal. Kansas is one of those states.

The bills running through Kansas’ House and Senate are co-sponsored by legislators who are members of ALEC. The Senate Utilities committee sponsoring SB 82 has at least three ALEC members and the House Energy & Environment committee that introduced HB 2241 has at least three ALEC members:

  • Senators Forrest Knox, Ty Masterson and Mike Petersen.
  • Representatives Phil Hermanson, Scott Schwab and Larry Powell (member of ALEC’s anti-environmental task force that created the Electricity Freedom Act)

While it’s unclear if the lead House sponsor Rep. Dennis Hedke is directly affiliated with ALEC, he spoke directly with a Koch Industries lobbyist about the bill and has a close relationship with the Heartland Institute, which promoted one of his books.

The Heartland Institute:

Heartland is based in Chicago and perhaps best known for its billboard comparing those who recognize climate change with the Unabomber (for which they lost over $1.4 million in corporate sponsorship along with the “mutiny” of their entire Insurance department, now the R Street Institute).

The Washington Post reports that ALEC’s “Electricity Freedom Act” was created by the Heartland Institute. Heartland has long been a paying member of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force along with Koch, Exxon and others. Citing the flawed Beacon Hill reports, Heartland has encouraged a repeal of Kansas’ clean energy incentives on its website.

Heartland lawyer James Taylor testified before the Kansas legislature in February, opining that the growth of Kansas’ clean energy sector is “punishing the state’s economy and environment.” James Taylor was flown into Kansas City for an Americans for Prosperity Foundation event intended to undermine the Kansas RPS law. The AFP Foundation is chaired by David Koch.

Americans for Prosperity:

Americans for Prosperity was created by the Kochs with help from Koch Industries executive Richard Fink after the demise of their previous organization, Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), which split into AFP and FreedomWorks in 2004.

In addition to hosting an event against the Kansas RPS law featuring Heartland’s James Taylor, AFP’s Kansas director Derrick Sontag testified before the Kansas House committee on Energy and Environment. AFP’s Sontag urged a full repeal rather than a simple RPS target freeze:

“We believe that HB 2241 is a step in the right direction, but that it doesn’t go far enough. Instead, AFP supports a full repeal of the renewable energy mandate in Kansas.”

Derrick Sontag apparently only cited a range of debunked studies (the “Spanish” study and the flawed Beacon Hill report) and information from Koch-funded interests like the Institute for Energy Research and “State Budget Solutions,” a project of several State Policy Network groups including ALEC and the Mercatus Center, a think tank founded and heavily-funded by the Kochs.

Kansas Policy Institute:

The Kansas Policy Institute (KPI) has been the central coordinating think tank within Kansas as outside interests have backed ALEC’s attack on clean energy laws. KPI co-published the debunked Beacon Hill Institute report that ALEC has used for its clean energy standard repeal in Kansas (see sources in Beacon Hill section above for debunking).

Kansas Policy Institute Vice President & Policy Director James Franko testified in the Kansas legislature alongside representatives of Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity and Beacon Hill Institute Feb. 14 to weaken Kansas’s renewable portfolio standard.

Reasserting the false premise that clean energy standards substantially increase electricity prices, James Franko told the legislature’s Energy & Environment committee:

We have no objection to the production of renewable energy. […] Our objection is to government intervention that forces utility companies to purchase more expensive renewable energy and pass those costs on to consumers.

James Franko’s free market logic comes with the usual holes–no mention of the “costs” of coal and other polluting forms of energy that taint our air, water and bodies, nor any mention of how the government spends billions each year propping up the coal and oil industries.

After KPI’s Franko testified before Kansas legislators Feb. 14, KPI hosted a luncheon for legislators at noon on the same day. The luncheon, hosted at the Topeka Capital Plaza Hotel, featured Beacon Hill’s Michael Head. From KPI’s email invitation:

“Given the importance of this issue, we would like to invite you to join us for lunch on Thursday 14 February to hear from the author of a study we published last year exploring the costs and benefits of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Not only will we be discussing KPI’s study but offering a review of different studies that have been presented to the Legislature.”

KPI has served as the glue for other State Policy Network affiliates entering Kansas to amplify the opposition to clean energy.

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