Kochs Profit from Canadian Eco-Nightmare
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What do Tea Party rallies, Republican victories, climate-change deniers, Wisconsin's anti-union push, and attacks on a cap-and-trade market for carbon emissions have in common?
They're all fueled in part by profits derived from Alberta, Canada's oil sands.
Those profits, flowing to a single company, are helping bankroll a libertarian offensive many observers think is shifting America's political culture profoundly to the right. One of the central tenets of that campaign is a disbelief not only in the pressing risks of climate change, but that humans are even causing it.
That article of faith is now being embraced by the American public, with only 51 percent concerned about global warming, compared to 66 percent three years ago.
And it's no exaggeration to say the roots of this campaign can largely be traced back to two powerful businessmen: Charles and David Koch. Together, America's fifth-richest citizens -- each worth $21.5 billion -- own Koch Industries, a refining, pipeline, chemical and paper conglomerate that manufactures common household products such as Brawny paper towels and Stainmaster carpets. They're also one of the biggest refiners of Alberta oil sands crude, handling an estimated 25 percent of all imports entering the U.S.
Anytime a clean energy law threatens to impact those operations, the Kochs fight back hard. Not content anymore to wage war from the sidelines, the brothers and their allies have now installed themselves at the heart of Republican power in Washington, D.C.
Never before in the U.S. has the oil sands industry enjoyed such direct political influence.
Kochs pulled out of shadows
Despite being America's second-largest privately run company, Koch Industries was virtually unknown to the wider public until last spring.
That was when Greenpeace released a report detailing how the conglomerate had funneled tens of millions of dollars between 2005 and 2008 to groups skeptical that climate change exists.
Such activism is central to the Koch brothers' hard-line libertarian ideology, which espouses a general distrust of government control.
As more reports surfaced about Koch Industries -- notably a lengthy New Yorker expose in August -- the company's growing political influence gained national attention.
The brothers are now widely thought to be one of the driving forces behind the Tea Party movement, founding an advocacy group called Americans for Prosperity, which has provided critical funding and logistical support. Americans for Prosperity played a lead role in the Republican takeover of congress in last December's midterm elections. Budgeting $45 million for political advocacy, the group ran hard-hitting radio and TV ads throughout the year extremely critical of Democrat congressmen, especially those who'd endorsed national climate-change laws.
In one, average-looking Coloradans filmed in front of rancher's fields lambast Betsy Markey, their representative, because she "voted for cap and trade, the new energy taxes that would cost Colorado thousands of jobs."
Putting together a Tea Party
At the same time Americans for Prosperity helped coordinate and organize Tea Party rallies from coast to coast. Drawing upon an often confusing mix of grassroots idealism, government distrust and oil company mandates, the movement endorsed right-wing candidates across America, many of whome were elected to the House and Senate last year.
Though David Koch denies any links to the Tea Party movement, an unnamed Republican insider quoted by the New Yorker thought otherwise.
"The Koch brothers gave the money that founded [the Tea Party]," he said. "It's like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud -- and they're our candidates."