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Can the Koch Brothers Purchase Americans Changing Their Minds About Environmental Protections?

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Don’t know, but we are about to find out.

The Kochs, whose use of their fortune to promote climate-change denial research has angered environmentalists, are quietly courting new allies in their quest for a fossil fuel resurgence: minorities.

Since its start in the spring of 2016, Fueling U.S. Forward has sent delegates to, or hosted, at least three events aimed at black voters, arguing that they benefit most from cheap and abundant fossil fuels and have the most to lose if energy costs rise.

Fueling U.S. Forward is “dedicated to educating the public about the value and potential of American energy, the vast majority of which comes from fossil fuels,” the group says on its website. “We’ll talk to people of diverse backgrounds — industry employees, small-business owners, community leaders and low-income families — and share their stories.”

The group has seen early results from its outreach.

“Policies that subsidize electric vehicles and solar panels for the wealthy raise energy prices and harm the black community,” read recommendations adopted by delegates at the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind., in August. The event brought together African-American political groups and counted Fueling U.S. Forward among its sponsors.

“We’re standing up for poor, underserved communities,” said Linda Haithcox, executive director of the National Policy Alliance, which organized the convention. She said her group’s funding from Fueling U.S. Forward and other energy groups had not affected its position on energy.

In a statement, Charles Drevna, president and chief executive of Fueling U.S. Forward and a former vice president at Sunoco, the company behind the Dakota Access oil pipeline, confirmed that the group was supported by Koch Industries, among other backers. “I am proud to help Fueling U.S. Forward promote the importance of domestic oil and natural gas to making people’s lives better,” he said.

You’d like to think these groups won’t take Koch money, but LOL at that.

Fueling U.S. Forward is a more emotional campaign. “How do we start winning hearts and minds?” Alex Fitzsimmons, the Fueling U.S. Forward spokesman, wondered in a Facebook Live broadcast he hosted with Mr. Drevna in August at the RedState Gathering in Denver.

Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, a nonprofit that works with low-income and minority neighborhoods on environmental issues, called the campaign “an exploitative, sad and borderline racist strategy.” He pointed to the falling costs associated with renewable energy, which he said made shifting away from reliance on fossil fuels a winning proposition for everyone.

In seeking to change hearts and minds, Fueling U.S. Forward addresses a greater conundrum for the Kochs, their private empire — which generates an estimated $100 billion in sales a year — and the wider fossil fuel industry.

I don’t know whether it will as successful as the hearts and minds campaign of the U.S. toward South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, but the catastrophe of climate change will certainly be comparable or worse to the death toll of that war. But hey, there was so much corporate profit to be made in both!

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  • Rob in CT

    “How do we start winning hearts and minds?”

    Run the usual FUD playbook, I’m sure.

    I imagine they’re going to have a tougher time with minorities than they’ve had with whites, but no group is immune to disinformation campaigns.

    • Aaron Morrow

      The Kochs don’t need to do as well with minorities as they’ve done with whites. All they need to do is turn 10% of minorities away from Democrats (or 5% from Democrats to Republicans) to end the possibility of demographics making conservatism a tougher sell.

  • Bloix

    A precursor to this sort of thing was the successful 1987 campaign against a bottle bill in Washington, DC. This was 30 years ago – but I clearly remember the blatantly racial appeals made in the radio commercials against it. Like obviously black voices saying that “the folks in Georgetown” (a little racial code there) who drove their fine cars to the store wouldn’t have to worry about the hassle of carrying empties back. It was pure race and class resentment. Here’s a description:

    “An industry coalition calling itself the Clean Capital City Committee hired minority consulting firms and dozens of black political operatives to take the anti-deposit message to black neighborhoods, with help from black ministers. The industry group then bombarded the city with negative direct mail, media advertisements and telephone calls, focusing its efforts throughout the campaign on black-oriented newspapers and radio stations… [the appeal was] cleverly and cynically racial–the idea was that the bottle bill somehow was a sign of The Plan, the long-feared white effort to take back control of the District.”

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/rawfisher/2007/06/random_friday_question.html

  • njorl

    “Policies that subsidize electric vehicles and solar panels for the wealthy raise energy prices and harm the black community,”

    That isn’t even good economics. Subsidizing solar panels drives down the cost of other electrical power because it decreases demand for it. I suppose if you’re going to be dishonest you might as well be illogical too.

    • leftwingfox

      And of course it also patiently ignores the sort efficiency codes for vehicles and housing which benefits the poor in the form of used cars and affordable, well-insulated housing and lower power bills in general.

    • delazeur

      Don’t a lot of proposals for subsidizing renewable involve some kind of surtax on fossil fuels? That could certainly raise energy prices for people who only have access to fossil energy.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      some of that depends on infrastructure costs I think. our rural electric cooperative which has a relatively low customers per mile of line ratio has been having trouble figuring out how to adjust to people who want to live off the grid except for when they need it or want to sell power back to the co-op. Other things that have reduced demand have been the changes in farming and increased efficiency in general. The power itself that the co-op buys is more expensive and of course upkeep costs continue to rise. So starting this month the cost of just having service is going up something like 2% as is the cost of what we actually use

    • Area Man

      They’re probably referring to roof-top solar supposedly causing utilities to raise prices on everyone else. With the utility model rapidly becoming obsolete, this is a real issue (though for the time being, a very minor one). Needless to say, the stupidest possible way to deal with it is to attack people who put solar panels on their roofs.

    • Just_Dropping_By

      (1) Assuming energy pricing works on a purely supply and demand basis, that depends on how the subsidy is paid for. It’s easy to imagine a solar panel subsidy supported by a tax on other energy sources that completely cancels out any potential savings due to reduced demand on the other energy sources.

      (2) I find it very funny, given all the sneering that goes on around here about “Economics 101,” etc., that you seem to think electrical utility prices of all things are quickly responsive to changes in demand such that utilities will automatically and proportionality reduce the price of residential electricity service based on customers getting “off the grid.” (In fact, in the utility context, there’s already evidence for the opposite effect — as people move off of landline phones, that doesn’t generally cause Local Exchange Carriers (“LECs”) to reduce rates to attract more customers, instead LECs have been raising rates on the remaining customers to cover the cost of servicing the existing infrastructure.)

      ETA: I should hit refresh before posting when I’ve had a window open for awhile.

  • David Hunt

    How do we start winning hearts and minds

    Well, I’m pretty sure that the Koch’s preferred endgame is a future where the have-not’s of society are kept in chattel slavery and at that point, various people will likely be raffled off in a manner similar to how TV’s are today. At that point, I’m sure they can win hearts and minds.

    • What they will need to make that happen is the creation of autonomous robots so that they can wall themselves in Elysium while the rest of humanity suffers heat death.

      • guthrie

        SF author Peter F Hamilton’s breakthrough Night’s Dawn trilogy* features in the third volume a very very rich man who lives in a dome all to himself, with a nice labrador retriever and the occaisional bit of hunting birds and other upper class outdoor pursuits.
        Meanwhile the rest of Earth’s population is crowded into many city domes, since there’s been a sort of runaway greenhoue effect partly sparked by lots of waste heat from fusion reactors.#

        * He’d done okay before, but that trilogy really made him famous and rich, IIRC.
        # I never said he was good at science.

  • Never underestimate the ability of people to sacrifice long term survival for short term gain. The certainty of a couple extra $ today will trump a probable life in a tent city as an environmental refugee tomorrow.

    • Area Man

      Something tells me the Koch brothers won’t be the ones living in tents.

  • Area Man

    Since its start in the spring of 2016, Fueling U.S. Forward has sent delegates to, or hosted, at least three events aimed at black voters, arguing that they benefit most from cheap and abundant fossil fuels and have the most to lose if energy costs rise.

    This is a massive lie. Fossil fuels aren’t cheap at all, they’re horrendously expensive. It’s just that most of the costs get foisted onto other people against their will, poor and minority folks taking the brunt of it.

    • guthrie

      Aren’t the most famous coal miners in the USA poor downtrodden white people in the east? The ways of fighting this sort of propaganda are many, and seem so obvious.
      For instance, clean air, I would imagine some of the older folk remember when minorities were exiled to the wrong side of the tracks with all the unpleasant air.

      • BigHank53

        Not too hard to interview the poor mostly minority folks that have to live downwind of the refineries in Louisiana.

  • Bitter Scribe

    The fossil fuel industries, and their customers like power companies, have consistently and relentlessly sited their operations close to minority communities, to ensure that those with the least political power would suffer most from pollution and other ecological damage.

    And now they’re posing as the champion of America’s minorities.

    Fuck. Them.

  • Hells Littlest Angel

    Meanwhile, the Chinese government is investing heavily in renewable energy. I’ve got a feeling the world’s superpower 50 years from now ain’t gonna be us. (And the Chinese will have Putin to thank!)

    • Redwood Rhiadra

      And yet the Chinese are ALSO investing heavily in more coal plants.

      MUCH more heavily. They’re currently planning to increase their already massive coal capacity by THIRTY PERCENT over the next couple of years. And while their renewables investment is greater in percentage terms, it’s starting from a much, much smaller number.

      Their investment in renewables is pure fucking propaganda.

      • Area Man

        Not so. China appears to have already hit peak coal, and many of its plants are operating well below capacity due to massive investments in cheap solar.

        • Seconded. Latest total solar mid 2016: US 32 GW (SEIA), China 63 GW (Reuters). Wind end 2015: US 74 GW, China 145 GW (both GWEC).

          The Chinese are opening new coal plants, but total coal burn by the fleet is falling, as it is in the USA. So much for central planning. But the Chinese leadership is not going to reverse itself on coal; air pollution in the cities is a threat to the CP’s hold on power. They have already announced job losses of 1.3 million in coal mining, more honestly at least than Trump.

  • In striking contrast to the Kochs’ efforts through ALEC to end net metering for residential solar, and in Ohio to stymie wind, this project against electric cars is an underfunded joke. Just look who they are up against. Sexy business superstar Musk and his booming Tesla brand. The legacy carmakers – they may be dithering like Ford about how fast to go electric, but they all realize it’s inevitable, and want to keep the tiny subsidies ($7.5 billion from 2012 to 2019, when they will all be gone: CBO estimate). The electric utilities, who see ev charging as a rare opportunity to boost sales, and with ideal off-peak and flexibly manageable load to boot. The mayors of big cities in the C40 group, shifting fast to electric transport on health grounds. Playing the “poor AAs” card is laughable. Trump cares nothing for their views.

  • pseudalicious

    The best pushback to this is going to come from the many activists of color in the environmental justice movement.

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