Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli is working with coal companies and State Policy Network groups backed by Koch Industries to rollback VA's voluntary clean energy program.
In states across the country, the American Legislative Exchange Council--or ALEC--and other State Policy Network groups are lining up to roll back clean energy laws, an effort complimented by captured politicians like Mr. Cuccinelli.
Ken Cuccinelli is a former ALEC member, and he's working with ALEC member company Dominion Resources to end Virginia's clean energy program. The same Dominion that just gave him $10,000 for his run for governor, on top of almost $46,000 in previous years for other political positions.
While Virginia's voluntary renewable portfolio standard is far from perfect, it's neither helpful nor inspiring for Mr. Cuccinelli to scrap the program altogether on behalf of a few vested dirty energy interests.
Rather, as Chesapeake Climate Action Network suggests, Virginia's law needs to be strengthened in ways that increase clean energy production and the good jobs that come with it. Both Cuccinelli and CCAN agree the law has flaws and loopholes that don't properly incentivize new clean energy development within the state of Virginia. Some of the law's weaknesses:
- Dominion Virginia and Appalachian Power have each qualified for ratepayer subsidies without actually building any new clean energy facilities in Virginia.
- The law's loose definition of "renewable energy" ensures that filthy energy qualifies for government support, including burning gas collected from landfills and producing energy from trash incineration, which is dirtier than burning coal and are usually located in areas with disproportionately high populations of people living in poverty, often people of color.
- Unambitious targets for the proportion of renewable energy production by 2025.
- The program is voluntary in the first place.
So far, Mr. Cuccinelli has not seemed to notice legislation alternatives proposed by CCAN that would "tie any RPS bonuses to investment in Virginia-made wind and solar energy. This solution will ensure that Virginians are getting the benefits of a cleaner environment. It also creates a market that fosters growth in the renewable energy sector which will create thousands of jobs within our borders."
Ken Cuccinelli and Climate Science Intimidation:
The point of making clean energy competitive with dirty fossil fuels is to keep our air and water clean and avoid runaway climate change, an issue where Ken Cuccinelli has been aggressively counterproductive.
Mr. Cuccinelli is well known for his harassment of Michael Mann, a climate scientist vilified by industry apologists for creating the "Hockey Stick" graph illustrating the increase of average global temperature measurements over the last millennium.
Mirroring the scientifically unfounded attacks of State Policy Network outfits like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and American Tradition Institute, Cuccinelli was heavily criticized by a Virginia judge for not having an "objective basis" for accusations of fraudulent research at the University of Virginia. Cuccinelli's persecution of science has even put off other climate science deniers, according to a Greenpeace Freedom of Information Act request.
Demonstrating direct cooperation with Koch-funded State Policy Network groups, Ken Cuccinelli will attend an Americans for Prosperity event in Richmond, VA on February 7. Tea Party activists will be bussed in on the dime of Koch and other AFP donors to hear Cuccinelli speak along with David Koch's top PR captain--AFP president Tim Phillips--and other Virginia politicians like Lt. Governor Bill Bolling.
We'll see if the renewable energy rollback is a point of discussion at AFP's event. Americans for Prosperity has promoted a fossil fuel agenda since David Koch helped re-birth AFP from its predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was also run by the Kochs and Koch Industries executive Richard Fink.
Ken Cuccinelli's Dirty Money:
Mr. Cuccinelli's financial conflicts of interest have drawn extra attention to this discussion on Virginia's commitment to renewable energy. Huffington Post reported that Intrust Wealth Management, a company whose board of directors has included Charles Koch since 1982, gave Cuccinelli $50,000 for his failed gubernatorial election bid, on top of a previous $10,000 from Koch Industries. Also on the Cuccinelli payroll were coal interests like Dominion Energy, CONSOL Energy and Alpha Natural Resources (which purchased the mountain top removal menace, Massey Energy).
Mr. Cuccinelli is used to being bankrolled by dirty interests. According to the National Institute for Money in State Politics, from 2003-2011 the following interests were top supporters of his VA Senate and Attorney General election campaigns:
COAL MINING AND BURNING: $161,796
- $46,500 from Dominion Resources -- ALEC member
- $42,000 from Alpha Natural Resources
- $10,000 from Massey Energy -- merged with Alpha after a fatal mining disaster
- $33,000 from Consol Energy
- $16,750 American Electric Power -- ALEC member
- $6,996 from the Virginia Coal Association
- $6,550 from Norfolk Southern, a railroad company that transports and markets coal
TOBACCO INTERESTS: $58,000
- $24,500 from Altria (owns Phillip Morris) -- ALEC member, ALEC Private Enterprise Board member
- $10,000 from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco (owned by Altria)
- $12,500 from Bailey's Cigarettes
- $11,000 from S&M Brands (owned by Bailey's)
GUN LOBBY: $17,000
- $17,000 from the National Rifle Association (many of the illegal guns in this country are from Virginia gun shows) -- ALEC member
CORPORATE POLLUTER LOBBYING FIRMS: $19,562
- $11,250 from Hunton & Williams, a corporate lobbying firm that runs the coal front group Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG) to interfere with EPA pollution controls. Hunton was also caught up in a scandal to monitor and smear political opponents of Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
- $8,312 from Troutman Sanders, a corporate lobbying firm that has recently represented coal and tobacco interests like Duke Energy, the National Mining Association, Southern Company, Peabody Energy, and Altria.
Dirty energy interests like Dominion, AEP, Duke Energy, Peabody and others are using their political allies and groups like ALEC alike to attack renewable energy across the board, in coordination with a familiar public relations play that victimizes dirty coal operations and mocks all forms of clean energy.
Coal pollution from companies like these prematurely kill thousands of Americans each year. The Clean Air Task Force notes that government action to reduce coal pollution has a direct effect on reducing these needless deaths. A peer-reviewed report by the late Paul Epstein in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences estimated up to $500 billion--half a trillion dollars--in annual costs to society from the life cycle of coal.
Clean energy generation doesn't pose the same terrible threats to our economy, air, water, health, and the global climate that life on this planet is adapted to, but good luck telling that to Ken Cuccinelli, another politician captured by the pollution lobby.
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.
Similar to Rolling Stone's "The Climate Killers" article that was released at the beginning of the year, AlterNet has just profiled some of the most influential political, financial and popular enemies of the Earth's increasingly disrupted climate.
Snide comments aside, both reports nail some of the most influential staples: Koch Industries, an infamous engine of the climate denial machine; Warren Buffet, the filthy-rich investor who has placed his bets on coal; and Joe Barton, Big Fossil's purchased U.S. Representative (over 1.7 million dirty dollars over the last decade).
AlterNet's newer spotlight identifies Harold Lewis and Freeman Dyson, who are similar to the likes of S. Fred Singer and Patrick Michaels in their use of scientific credentials for corporate public relations rather than, say, active climate studies...or scientific study in general. Also like Singer and Michaels, they have ties to prominent denier think tanks such as Cato, the Heartland Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, all of which are currently or formerly funded by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil. Similarly, AlterNet mentions Anthony Watts, whose skeptic blog is the go-to hub for climate-solutions obstructionism, and whose credentials as a TV weatherman (not certified by the American Meteorological Society) fool people into thinking he's a climate expert. Like the other junk scientists mentioned in the article, Watts has ties to the Heartland Institute.
In a contrasting look at university integrity, AlterNet also profiles Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general who has used the "climategate" nonscandal as grounds to continue harassing Michael Mann, the influential University of Virginia climatologist whose university research was a primary target of the hacked East Anglia emails. While Mann was defended by his university and cleared of wrongdoing after investigations, the same can't be said for George Mason University's Edward Wegman. AlterNet points out that Wegman is currently under formal investigation his George Mason for pushing bogus climate material for none other than Texas Rep. Joe Barton.
It is worth noting that George Mason University (GMU) is a known breeding ground for climate deniers and heavily supported by the Koch brothers; both the Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) operate out of the University have received millions of dollars from the Kochs. There's also Koch Industries executive Richard Fink, who taught and filled various other positions at GMU, co-founded and directs GMU's Mercatus Center, directs the Institute for Humane Studies, is the president of two Koch family foundations that fund these groups, founded the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation (which became the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, of which Fink is a director)...Rich Fink pretty much lives up to his name.
Glenn Beck (who attended Charles Koch's secret election strategy meeting last June), Mitch McConnell, former BP CEO Tony Hayward, Peabody CEO Gregory Boyce, and others are also credited for their dirty work in the full article.