Commentary, News
Koch brothers

Charles and David Koch – Image:

As multiple news outlets have reported of late, the controversial and conservative fossil fuel magnates Charles and David Koch have spurred a rising tide of controversy in recent years with dozens of gifts to universities around the nation. Moreover, as The Atlantic reported last month in “Spreading the Free-Market Gospel: What’s new and interesting about the Koch brothers’ approach to funding academics” there is clearly a method to their largess:

“Last year, a staffer for Charles and David Koch’s network of philanthropic institutions laid out the billionaire brothers’ strategy to spread their views on economic freedom.

Political success, Kevin Gentry told a crowd of elite supporters attending the annual Koch meeting in Dana Point, California, begins with reaching young minds in college lecture halls, thereby preparing bright, libertarian-leaning students to one day occupy the halls of political power.

‘The [Koch] network is fully integrated, so it’s not just work at the universities with the students, but it’s also building state-based capabilities and election capabilities and integrating this talent pipeline,’ he said.”

Click here to check out a database that demonstrates just how broadly their tentacles have already spread.

Edward Lopez

Prof. Edward Lopez

Now, comes word that the Kochs have offered to make a UNC system school — Western Carolina University in Cullowhee — one of their largest university gift recipients. Under a proposal currently under consideration by WCU administrators, the Charles Koch Foundation would give $2 million to the university to establish the WCU “Center for Study of Free Enterprise.” The faculty member driving the process appears to be Economics Department Professor Edward Lopez, who also boasts the title of “BB&T Distinguished Professor of Capitalism.” Lopez, who gave the “Friedman Legacy Lecture” this summer at the John Locke Foundation, is a graduate of the Kochs’ largest university grantee, George Mason University, and an energetic proponent of “free market” economic theories.

While accepting one of the Kochs’ largest gifts in the country to promote conservative economic theory is, for some, controversial in and of itself, what has added extra impetus to the debate at WCU in recent weeks is the fact that the grant is contingent upon the university kicking in another $1.4 million of its own. Read More

Commentary, News

Solar powerCharlotte-based Duke Energy, the nation’s utility company, does a lot (and spends a lot) to cozy up to powerful politicians of both parties and to promote an image of a responsible corporate citizen. Unfortunately, when it comes to the well-being of the planet, it’s clear that Duke is solidly aligned with the polluters and exploiters. A new report from the good people at Environment North Carolina explains:

“Duke Energy is front and center in a new report connecting the company to a national network of utility interest groups and fossil-fuel industry-funded think tanks providing funding, model legislation, and political support for anti-solar campaigns across the country.

‘North Carolina is a solar success story, providing a clean, renewable source of energy to power our homes and businesses,’ said Rachel Morales, clean energy organizer with Environment North Carolina. ‘Duke Energy, with help from fossil fuel interest groups, are fighting to take away that progress, preventing us from reaching our full solar potential.’

The report, Blocking the Sun, was released by Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center, and shows that while Duke Energy touts its support for solar energy, the company is simultaneously lobbing against policies that would help solar grow. In Florida, Duke Energy is actively giving campaign contributions to anti-solar politicians. While here in North Carolina, the company is an active opponent of the same policies that have helped North Carolina rank fourth nationally for solar capacity added two years running.

‘It’s tragic that Duke Energy was able to recklessly disrupt North Carolina’s once-growing renewable energy industry,’ said Jim Warren, director of NC WARN, an energy and climate justice group. ‘They are killing jobs and slowing the urgently needed national shift to clean, affordable energy. This excellent report exposes those shameful efforts.’

Duke Energy is not alone in its effort to scale back solar energy’s growth. In September, the American Energy Alliance, a Koch brothers front group, held a forum to voice concerns about the growing renewables market it North Carolina. Representative Mike Hager, R- Rutherford, former Duke Energy employee and outspoken opponent of North Carolina’s renewable energy standards and renewable energy tax incentives, organized the event.

‘By wide margins, North Carolina supports pro-solar policies,’ said Morales. ‘Duke Energy, the Koch brothers, and their friends in the legislature are working to dismantle commonsense energy policy that is working for North Carolina. We need our leaders in the General Assembly to stand up to Duke, and support solar energy initiatives that make it easier for every farm, family, and business to go solar.'”

Click here to download and read the entire report.

© Greenpeace, David Sorcher, 2012

© Greenpeace, David Sorcher, 2012

There’s a fabulous op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by a fellow named David Jenkins of the Virginia-based group, Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. In it, Jenkins exposes the outrageous and dishonest war on renewable/sustainable energy being waged by fossil fuel front groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and their allies in the Pope empire here in North Carolina:

“We have all heard about President Obama’s ‘war on coal,’ but the challenges facing the coal industry are much more complex than the ‘war’ label would imply.

There is a war on energy, but the target is not coal, it is wind and solar energy.

The attack dogs in this war are funded by Koch Industries and include Americans for Prosperity, American Energy Alliance and the American Legislative Exchange Council. They frame their attacks as a defense of the free market and fiscal conservatism. Yet even a cursory examination of their positions reveals they’re not defending the free market but attempting to protect the fossil fuel industry from competition.”

Jenkins goes on to explain that all energy sources are subsidized by government and that the subsidies provided to fossil fuels greatly surpass those provided to renewables. (Indeed, as was explained in this post the other day, the subsidies provided to fossil fuels once one factors in the environmental costs are truly staggering — as much as 6.5% of GDP!)

Here’s Jenkins:

“These groups seek to bolster certain federal subsidies by attacking others, rig the market in the name of preserving it, pick winners and losers under the pretense of opposing such things, stifle freedom while pretending to promote it and encourage waste and inefficiency. All of this while pretending to support free market principles.

This special interest hijacking of the conservative label comes at the expense of real conservative values – and our nation’s long-term energy security. Only courageous and principled conservatives can effectively defend conservatism from such abuse.”

The bottom line: Call it what you want — conservative or liberal — but the simple truth that fair and true competition can help save the planet when it comes to energy is undeniable.


Yesterday, the Charlotte Observer labeled the Senate’s latest plan to amend the state constitution to impose tax and spending cuts “a stink bomb” and  “a gimmick” and urged lawmakers to “let it die.”

This morning, Raleigh’s News & Observer is equally complimentary:

“The notion of constitutional amendments to cap the state income tax rate at 5 percent and to cap spending in the state budget by connecting any budget hikes to population growth and inflation is just zany. So is the idea of creating an emergency fund that couldn’t be tapped without two-thirds approval by members of the General Assembly….

State Treasurer Janet Cowell, whose management of the state retirement fund and other investments has been exemplary, is rightly alarmed by the idea. That’s why she sent all 170 lawmakers a strong cautionary warning against it….

For the state to adopt these amendments in the name of cutting government would be akin to putting on handcuffs before going into a boxing ring. You can bob and weave for a while, but what happens when you get hit?”

Of course, none of this seems to be dissuading the Senate, which is likely to pass these ridiculous changes this afternoon. The future of North Carolina as we know it, therefore, is likely to soon rest on the the thin reed that is the North Carolina House of Representatives. Here’s hoping there’s a large supply of duct tape on Jones Street.


Climate change - droughtLooking for something at least a tiny bit hopeful to mull over during a period in which hopeful news seems to be at a minimum? Here’s something: Charles Koch — yes, that Charles Koch — admits that CO2 is warming the planet.

Koch grudgingly told the Washington Post’s Matea Gold in a recent interview that “…there has been warming. The CO2 goes up, the CO2 has probably contributed to that.”

Naturally, his admission was tempered and followed by lots of untruths — the folks at The Guardian have a nice analysis here in which they more fully explore the various stages of Koch’s denial — but, even so, it has to be seen as at least a small measure of progress that Koch, one of the wealthiest individuals in human history and the underwriter of a network of destructive propagandists who are doing much to hasten the demise of life as we know it, is at least seeing a small sliver of the light.

Let’s fervently hope that the relentless march of time and his own mortality continue to push the aging plutocrat further out into the light of day in the near future (and that the network of climate change deniers he funds get the memo).