Oil Billionaire Koch Brothers’ Growing Influence In Renewable Energy Policy
The political reach of one predominant oil enterprise continues to influence the renewable energy and public transportation sectors on both a state and federal level.
Oil Billionaires, Koch Brothers Growing Influence in Energy Politics
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee spent Tuesday, June 26 questioning the presidential pick, Daniel Simmons, for the role of Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), where he would oversee wind and solar energy development – sectors of clean energy that he has decried in past years.
Simmons is a conservative scholar who has held a leading role at the Department of Energy (DOE) for the past year. His career preceding this included serving as the Vice President for policy at the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and its advocacy branch, American Energy Alliance, a group which suggested the complete dissolution of the EERE in 2015.
The IER and its think tanks are funded by Charles and David Koch, brothers and owners of American Koch industries – the second largest private company in the United States.
The Koch brothers own oil refineries in Texas, Alaska and Minnesota, and have invested millions into their political agenda via lobbying and research groups, such as the American Energy Alliance.
In 2016, following the election, Koch Industry and American Energy Alliance lobbyist, Thomas Pyle, was tapped to guide the transition of the Department of Energy into the new administration. The involvement of the Koch brothers in energy politics has only expanded since.
Koch Brothers Defeat Public Transport Bill in Nashville
Last month, the oil industry billionaires successfully defeated a public transport expansion bill in Nashville, TN through the work of their lobbying group, Americans for Prosperity.
This canvassing group has taken on more than two dozen state-level measures related to transit since 2015, according to the New York Times. The group objects to the individual taxation that funds public transportation in a community, and combats proposed tariffs on gas and fuel.
In Nashville, this tariff proposal was in the form of a referendum introduced by former mayor Megan Berry. If it had passed this May, the referendum would have funded 19 transit centers, eight additional bus lines, and a new light rail system. The proposal was for an increase in sales tax of one percentage point, up to 10.25 percent.
Americans for Prosperity honed in on this tax hike to dissuade voters from approving the referendum and funding the costliest transit project in Nashville’s history – $5.4 billion.
Campaigners supporting the bill, including Berry, preach a different message about public transit. The benefits of such a system are listed as economic and environmental assets to a community like Nashville.
According to the American Public Transit Association, the investment in public transit can result in a reduction of the nation’s carbon emissions by almost 40 million metric tons. The transportation sector is currently the largest producer of the nation’s carbon emissions. Over half of these earth-warming gases are a result of the burning of fossil fuels in passenger cars and utility vehicles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Americans for Prosperity staff and volunteers knocked on 6,000 doors and made 42,000 phone calls to encourage registered voters in the Nashville area to vote against the referendum. On May 1, almost 64 percent of voters rejected the referendum, and the bill failed.
In addition to public transit projects, Americans for Prosperity advocated against gas taxes on its website, where a user-friendly form can be sent to a local representative.
“Some are arguing that his tax needs to be hiked to pay for infrastructure, but that’s wrong,” the letter format reads. “Instead, lawmakers need to cut wasteful spending and fund infrastructure more responsibly.”
DOE Assistant Secretary Nominee Former Koch Brothers Energy Policy Man
About a month and a half following the successful defeat of the Nashville transit plan, President Trump announced his nomination that Daniel Simmons to take on the Assistant Secretary position at the DOE.
In his opening statement at the Senate hearing on Tuesday, Simmons set his priorities if appointed to the position, mentioning price reduction, grid integration and energy storage.
Sofie Miller, a staffer hired to work under Simmons on renewable energy advancement, also has a history with Koch Industries. Miller is a former policy analyst and research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute.
The Senate committee fired questions at Simmons relating to current and past Energy Efficiency legislation and his own work in the department. In response to many of the pointed questions, Simmons cited unfamiliarity and did not take a definitive stance.
The Senate has yet to make a definitive approval of the new DOE Assistant Secretary.