The Koch Brothers' Tangled and Far-Reaching Web
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“Twenty-five years after publishing its first assessment of dioxin … the EPA has yet to establish a safe daily dose for human exposure” for “one of the most-studied of all chemical pollutants,” the EWG told the panel. “It is EPA’s responsibility to address this problem with resolve … without regard to pressure from special interests who stand to benefit financially from weak standards and regulations.”
It isn’t just dioxin that has drawn Koch’s interest. On Capitol Hill, and in regulatory proceedings, Koch lobbyists and officials have resisted tighter government regulation of a gallery of toxic and carcinogenic substances, like asbestos, formaldehyde and benzene.
“GP strongly disagrees with the [National Toxicology Program] panel’s conclusion to list formaldehyde, a natural component of every cell in the body, as a human carcinogen,” wrote Traylor Champion, the firm’s vice president for environmental affairs, in a February 2010 letter.
“Costly control requirements are being mandated on sources that have insignificant levels of HAP (hazardous air pollutants) emissions,” a Georgia-Pacific environmental health and safety manager, James Eckenrode, complained to the EPA in November 2008, when it sought to apply tougher air pollution standards on the firm’s manufacture of resins and formaldehyde.
Through its Flint Hills Resources subsidiary, Koch Industries operates a refinery near Fairbanks, Alaska. “Refineries in Alaska are geographically isolated from the rest of the U.S. market such that benzene extraction and sale into the petrochemical market would be infeasible,” the company argued in 2006, when the EPA proposed new clean air limits on benzene. “Benzene reductions to levels proposed in this rule would either require extensive and economically prohibitive capital upgrades at our facility or would result in a significant reduction in gasoline production.”
When Koch Industries purchased Georgia-Pacific, it inherited a titanic liability regarding asbestos. Georgia-Pacific had used asbestos to make gypsum-based drywall products, and starting in the 1980s the firm became a target for more than 340,000 claims by plaintiffs who said they suffered lung and other diseases, including mesothelioma, a deadly cancer. By 2005, the company was spending $200 million a year and had to build a $1.5 billion reserve fund for asbestos liabilities and defense costs.
In a 2008 Koch Industries publication, General Counsel Mark Holden griped that “many of those claims are an outright abuse of the legal system … that often involve people who are not sick … all because of over-zealous litigators and a legal system that gives them perverse incentives.”
The number of new claims has dropped with tougher federal safety standards. But in the 110 th Congress Koch lobbyists still sought to sway members on legislative proposals intending to restrict the use of asbestos and improve public knowledge, even Senate Resolution 462, which called for a “National Asbestos Awareness Week.”
Global Warming and Low Carbon Fuel Standards
It’s in the Kochs’ commercial interest to preserve America’s reliance on carbon-based energy sources. Despite recent diversification, Koch remains a major petrochemical company with refineries in North Pole, Alaska; Corpus Christi, Texas; Rosemount, Minn., and Rotterdam in the Netherlands; an array of chemical plants; a coal subsidiary (the C. Reiss Coal Co.) and 4,000 miles of pipelines.
So it is not surprising that, when the Obama administration and the Democrats on Capitol Hill proposed to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases in recent years, Koch Industries responded with a fervent counteroffensive.
“Oppose government mandates on carbon reduction provisions … [and] provisions related to climate change, and oppose entire bill,” Koch lobbyist Robert P. Hall wrote, listing his goals on the 2008 lobbying disclosure form.
The firm’s lobbying expenditures soared in 2008 as Koch Industries and its subsidiaries — Georgia-Pacific, Invista, Flint Hills Resources, Koch Carbon, Koch Nitrogen — peppered the EPA and members of Congress with objections. Several worked on measures that would strip the EPA of the power to regulate greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act.