Koch used Chris Christie to Undermine Climate Policy

The major SHOWTIME series Years of Living Dangerously has an inside look at how the billionaire Koch brothers used their advocacy group Americans for Prosperity to force New Jersey out of a regional climate change program:

This is ironic, since Koch itself profited from the cap-and-trade program called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. RGGI (“reggie”) has helped ten northeastern states reduce climate emissions and raise revenue. That revenue has helped drive investments in jobs in the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors, in addition to reducing electricity bills for families in need of such assistance.

Years of Living Dangerously adds depth and detail to the Koch brothers’ assault on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, as included in Greenpeace’s 2011 report on Koch Industries and climate change denial. Our case study on the Koch-fueled RGGI attack was written before hurricane Sandy devastated large portions of coastal New Jersey, and before Governor Chris Christie unlawfully pulled NJ out of RGGI. We documented attacks on RGGI from Koch-funded political groups like AFP, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the Heritage Foundation.

After Gov. Christie inappropriately repealed his state from RGGI, the Mother Jones and Brad Blog recordings revealed Christie’s attendance at one of the Koch brothers’ regular strategy & fundraising meetings in Vail, CO. Christie tried to hide his brief Koch keynote speech from his constituents, but recordings revealed that Christie and David Koch met privately in Mr. Koch’s Manhattan apartment just five months before Christie pulled NJ from RGGI. Both have denied discussing RGGI at that timely meeting.

Destroyed homes in Seaside in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on the New Jersey coast. © Greenpeace / Tim Aubry

Despite Chris Christie’s claim, “I will be New Jersey’s number-one clean energy advocate,” the Governor ultimately caved to David Koch and groups like AFP, of which David Koch is the founding chairman.

Note an angle we didn’t initially cover: an agenda-driven blog called “New Jersey Watchdog” was very active in promoting material used to attack RGGI’s public reputation. People reading NJ Watchdog may not realize that it is run by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a network of corporate-friendly blogs disguised as investigative reporting outlets. The Franklin Center is formally affiliated with fossil fuel front groups like AFP and ALEC through the State Policy Network.

Like many of those groups, the Franklin Center isn’t transparent about whose agenda it serves. Franklin Center is almost exclusively funded (80% to 95%) through the secretive Donors Trust & Donors Capital Fund network, which Koch and others use to obscure their giving to controversial causes.

These surrogate groups allowed the Koch bros to exert overlapping influence on Gov. Christie: ALEC provided the policy pressure, AFP provided the public pressure and attack advertising against RGGI, Franklin Center helped create favorable media to support Koch’s campaign, groups like Heritage Foundation amplified the noise to reach national audiences. This is how the State Policy Network helps out-of-state billionaires attack policies that threaten the long-term profits of businesses that refuse to proactively address 21st Century challenges like global warming.

Important to realize is that ALEC, AFP and the rest of the State Policy Network aren’t done attacking RGGI. The Beacon Hill Institute, a SPN affiliate at Suffolk University in Boston, was recently chastised by its host university for seeking funds for biased reports to advance political campaigns against RGGI. Beacon Hill sought that money last fall from the Searle Freedom Trust, indicating a renewed push by the State Policy Network to attack the east coast’s most significant climate policy.

Chris Christie, Hurricane Sandy, and Climate Science:

After pulling out of RGGI, Christie made it clear that he’s not a climate science denier:

“In the past I’ve always said that climate change is real and it’s impacting our state. There’s undeniable data that CO2 levels and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing. This decade, average temperatures have been rising. Temperature changes are affecting weather patterns and our climate.”

Fires burn in Lavallette in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on the New Jersey coast. © Greenpeace / Tim Aubry

This is not to say that RGGI participation would’ve stopped Sandy from slamming the east coast–it wouldn’t have. However, there is unsavory irony in Christie’s attempt to undermine a regional climate change mitigation program just before his state was hit by a disaster that credible scientists say climate change intensified–see Politico op-ed by Corell, Trenberth, & Masters.

Sandy killed over 30 people in New Jersey and over 72,000 homes and businesses were destroyed. The Star-Ledger reports NJ received about $1.8 billion in federal aid and billions more from the National Flood Insurance Program. Recent reporting has touched on how mismanaged these federal funds have been as outside contractors hired by Christie’s administration have neglected people that still need help. In typical pessimistic fashion, this neglect has disproportionately impacted people of color who weathered the monstrous storm.

David Koch: Normal People Can’t Fly on a Private Jet to their Other Mansion.

David Koch’s Southampton mansion was not apparently harmed in the storm, so Mr. Koch isn’t coming any closer to understanding how the policies he demands from his political friends are punishing those who weren’t born into fortune. Koch himself joked over this inheritance:

“You might ask: How does David Koch happen to have the wealth to be so generous? Well, let me tell you a story. It all started when I was a little boy. One day, my father gave me an apple. I soon sold it for five dollars and bought two apples and sold them for ten. Then I bought four apples and sold them for twenty. Well, this went on day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, until my father died and left me three hundred million dollars!”

At the present date, Charles and David Koch are each worth about 50 billion dollars when considering their personal fortunes and the value of the companies they privately own. The Kansas billionaires continue to invest millions of that fortune into organizations denying climate change science and attacking all viable policies to address the problem.

The tangible disconnect between those who are being hurt by our changing climate and those who have the resources to indefinitely protect themselves only partially explains how the Kochs’ wealth buffers them from reality. They also have a financial incentive to fund politically malicious activities: Koch Industries continues to generate profit from its carbon-intensive businesses, hastening the onset and severity of global warming.

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