Degrading the American Dream: Inside Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Convention
Last weekend was a wild one for climate action in our nation’s Capitol, between the protest outside a conference run by Koch Industries front group Americans for Prosperity and Sunday’s large street protest against the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that encircled the White House with over 10,000 people.
The two issues came together when I and another Greenpeace activist found oil billionaire and Americans for Prosperity Chairman David Koch inside AFP’s “Defending the American Dream” conference, and questioned Koch about his company’s financial stake in the Keystone XL pipeline and their false statement to Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA). See for yourself:
Greenpeace presented Mr. Koch with a “Wanted for climate crimes” flyer featuring the faces of himself and brother Charles, and also asked about any changes in his view on climate change after a Koch-funded study appears to agree with what climate scientists have known for decades now—the globe is indeed increasing in average surface temperature. David Koch refused to answer questions, but clearly understood that accountability was expected for the $55 million he and brother Charles Koch have donated to organizations that work to confuse and deny the reality of climate science.
Mr. Koch’s day wasn’t all bad—shortly before the encounter he was lauded by Herman Cain, who declared, “I am the Koch Brothers’ brother from another mother!” The statement lifted David Koch out of his seat for a strange Nixon-style salute to the AFP audience. Chairman Koch also got to hear from Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and fellow climate denial financier and AFP director Art Pope. Among numerous other issues, the keynote speakers attacked environmental protections and peddled fossil fuel extraction. Herman Cain stated the need for the US Environmental Protection Agency to undergo an “attitude adjustment,” a popular sentiment among attendees who were also offered a panel dedicated to hating on the EPA.
Echoing Kochs’ efforts to dismantle the EPA
Opening the “Extreme Power Abuses” panel, Koch-backed Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) bragged about his efforts to prevent EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming, warning observers that EPA is “on the march, they will stop at nothing.”
Following Rep. Pompeo was Kathleen Hartnett White of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch and Exxon front, among other dirty donors. Hartnett White’s primary focus appears to be criticizing the EPA’s every move. She approved Texas’ first new coal-fired power plant in 20 years when she was chair of the Texas Council on Environmental Quality, and has grossly misrepresented the scientific conclusions of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. During the panel, Hartnett White pushed to continue allowing unchecked mercury emissions from coal plants, which the coal lobby has blocked from regulation since the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. She downplayed the concerns of communities suffering from coal plant pollution with claims like “People do not die of particulate matter levels,” while ignoring clear threats to our health, such as mercury from power plants winding up in the fish we eat. Most indicative of Hartnett White’s do-nothing attitude on pollution: “there is no environmental crisis—in fact, there’s almost no environmental problems.”
Next up was a career polluter apologist from the American Tradition Institute, Chris Horner. Horner is also an affiliate of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Horner’s current work involves harassing climatologist Michael Mann by seeking his emails from the University of Virginia, a favorite cause of climate denier and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who was also present at the AFP conference.
The EPA panel was concluded with the angry rants of Ann McElhinney, who has made a name for herself as an anti-environmental documentary filmmaker who circulates her films among various climate denier front groups. McElhinney accused environmentalists in general of being unequivocal liars while throwing some questionable claims* around herself. Claiming that “fracking is an absolute miracle,” McElhinney repeatedly attacked Gasland director Josh Fox for spreading a “message of hate” though his film. Similarly, McElhinney said that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline “is just wonderful,” and mocked the idea of an organized protest against Keystone XL two days later.
What McElhinney said that did seem on point was, "at the moment, the story of energy is being told by people that tell lies." That certainly sounds right – if she meant the influence peddlers of the fossil fuel industry. But McElhinney then continued to demonize people with environmental concerns, rather than pointing out how polluters spend millions to influence our government through direct donations, lobbyists, trade associations, and front groups, including Americans for Prosperity and the very panelists McElhinney stood next to.
Americans for Koch’s Prosperity
Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity have become synonymous to the people who pay attention to the billionaire oil baron brothers and their many front groups. AFP itself was spawned from predecessor group, the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation (CSE), which split from its sister group to form AFP and Freedomworks. While the Kochs left Freedomworks alone, they continue to fund and govern AFP—David Koch is the chairman of the AFP Foundation and the group has received over $5.6 million from the Koch Brothers’ foundations, according to the most recent five years of their tax filings. Co-sponsors and allies present at the conference have received large checks from the Kochs over the same time frame, such as the Heritage Foundation ($2.2 million), the Institute for Humane Studies ($4.4 million), and the American Legislative Exchange Council ($275,858).
Other known financiers of AFP and other corporate front groups, which often don’t have to report their donors, are the usual cadre of ideologically-driven conservative foundations backed by corporate interests who bankroll efforts to roll back environmental protections, attack health care reforms, increase corporate rights while decreasing corporate tax rates…check out the Lewis Powell memo for more history on how companies have seized our democracy.
Standing out most among Ann McElhinney’s misleading statements were two in particular. First, she claimed that the gas industry website FracFocus contains full disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing—it doesn’t. Second, she led the audience to believe that health concerns over tar sands water pollution [PDF] in Alberta, Canada were unsubstantiated. Specifically, McElhinney attacked Dr. John O'Connor, who discovered and was persecuted by industry (and industry-tainted government) for years for linking tar sands operations to unusually high cancer rates. This was formerly confirmed by the Alberta Cancer Board in May 2008, vindicating Dr. O'Connor. The cancer rates in the Fort Chipewyan area are 30% higher than expected rates. Most notably, McElhinney accused Dr. O’Connor of fabricating the death of a 33-year old in Fort Chipewyan, a community heavily polluted by chemical byproducts flowing up the Athabasca River. Read more about this specific industry/Alberta government attack on Dr. O'Connor in Andrew Nikiforuk's "Tar Sands," pp. 96-101.