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Charles Koch's Cut-and-Paste Attack on Clean Energy in North Carolina

04/16/2015 02:29 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2015
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You've heard it before: history repeats itself, and those who don't learn from it are doomed to repeat it. Via a bill introduced this week, North Carolina legislators are mimicking an attack on clean energy so similar to recent history that it could be mistaken for déjà vu.

There are some lessons learned for those who care about our climate, our economy and our need for a more transparent democracy.

Back in early 2013, a flood of corporate-funded organizations tried to put the brakes on North Carolina's explosive development of clean energy jobs. Their target: the state's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (RPS), a law requiring utility companies to increase clean energy generation over time.

The good news in 2013 was that this coordinated attack on North Carolina RPS failed, despite cooperation of lobbyists from inside and outside of North Carolina.

Today, the same groups are trying again. Almost every player has ties back to Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch, and despite previous failures, the formula is exactly the same:

1. Get a Koch-funded university department to fudge the numbers

In an ideal world, political initiatives are fueled by research - get the facts on an issue, then decide the best policy solutions. Corporate executives like Charles Koch have found ways to take advantage of this pattern.

In 2013, it was Suffolk University's Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute writing the attack on North Carolina's RPS law. BHI has since faced an avalanche of press exposing its errors and dishonest politics, rendering its services useless to Mr. Koch, who cannot wage campaigns as effectively when the public is paying attention.

So Koch found a different host, though apparently Koch-funded universities in NC weren't up to the effort. This year, the false framework comes from Utah State University's "Charles G Koch Professor" Randy Simmons, in a report published by his Koch-funded university shop and his private firm, Strata.

As with the debunked Beacon Hill reports, Randy Simmons' reports have been criticized for using outdated data and irrelevant math to inflate the cost of renewables, going so far as to blame the 2008 economic recession on clean energy.

At least Koch is recycling. Professor Simmons just did the same thing for Koch's home state of Kansas, using Utah State University's name to misrepresent the economics of Kansas' RPS law.

2. Koch-funded in-state groups tout the university study.

Mr. Koch knows that North Carolinians aren't going to take his opinion on clean energy too seriously, as an out-of-state billionaire whose fortune began in the fossil fuel industry. That's why he makes sure to finance groups to appear independent in states that are key to his broader strategy.

Take Americans for Prosperity. AFP was founded by the Kochs to generate the appearance of genuine grassroots support for Koch's political preferences. David Koch remains chairman of the AFP Foundation, which has received millions of dollars from the Kochs.

Americans for Prosperity's North Carolina chapter is promoting the debunked Utah State report, using its false conclusions to justify a repeal of the RPS law (not mentioned: climate change's impact on North Carolina). If 2013 was any indication, you can expect AFP's local lobbyists to show up in the NC statehouse and in the newspapers calling for an end to the RPS law.

Similar is the John Locke Foundation (JLF), supported by Mr. Koch and his local millionaire friend, Art Pope. JLF is promoting the debunked Utah State study, using its official-sounding Carolina Journal to compliment JLF's lobbying. The Journal did not disclose that Charles Koch supports both JLF and the Utah State study's authors.

3. Koch-funded out-of-state groups pile on

Here's one thing that must be great about being Charles Koch: You have lobbyists lined up in all 50 states, orchestrated through a group Mr. Koch funds called the State Policy Network. SPN members in any given state are ready to push Koch's agenda without anyone realizing it's an out-of-state billionaire calling the shots.

We've already examined two of these State Policy Network members. The John Locke Foundation is one of SPN's primary members in North Carolina. So is Americans for Prosperity, and all of its state-level affiliates.

Beyond North Carolina's borders, other SPN member groups are again working together to attack RPS (most of whom were involved in the 2013 RPS attack).

The Chicago-based Heartland Institute, itself a member of the SPN, has republished the Utah State University report that falsely exaggerates the cost of wind and solar power. Heartland's "expert" James Taylor (a lawyer with no science degree who denies climate change) has offered his soundbites to other SPN groups like the local John Locke Foundation to broadcast the illusion that clean energy will destroy our lives, one electricity bill at a time.

As all of these groups are grandstanding against clean energy, it is up to yet another national State Policy Network member to introduce actual legislation to undermine North Carolina's clean energy law: the American Legislative Exchange Council.

4. Enter ALEC -  state politicians push the legislation

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) connects corporations like Koch and Duke Energy with state politicians, who together create a wide array of fill-in-the-blank bills to introduce in to the states.

North Carolina legislators involved in ALEC have introduced HB 681, the latest attack on the state renewable portfolio standard. Sponsors of HB 681 include at least two ALEC member politicians: state Representatives Harry Warren and Mike Hager.

Hager led the clumsy attack on RPS in 2013, amid opposition from his own party. Hager was a longtime employee of Duke Energy, which is itself a corporate supporter of ALEC's distributed lobbying operations, and required to comply with RPS laws in states where it generates energy.

The other two sponsors of HB 681 voted in favor of the 2013 attempt to repeal RPS, though it's not clear if they are members of ALEC - transparency isn't ALEC's strong suit.

The ALEC legislators borrowed from ALEC's model bills to attack RPS laws, including a model repeal bill written by the climate science denial poster children at The Heartland Institute in Chicago.

Starting to see how small this world is? And the exact same thing is happening right now in Kansas - a renewed attack on RPS this year, after a failed attempt by Koch Industries and the State Policy Network in 2013.

No wonder Charles Koch's close associates describe him as "the emperor, and he's convinced he's wearing clothes."