These Newspapers Are Helping The Oil Industry's Campaign Against Wind Energy

››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

Newspapers across the country have been publishing misleading op-eds attacking the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy without disclosing the authors' oil-industry funding. The op-eds, which attack the wind energy policy as "corporate welfare" and "government handouts," ignore the fact that the oil and gas industry currently receives far greater government subsidies and that the PTC brings great economic benefits.

Newspapers Hide Fossil-Fuel Money Behind Anti-Wind Op-Eds

Newspapers Across The Country Published Op-Eds From AEA And AFP Presidents Without Identifying Funding. Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal decrying the PTC -- which supports the wind-energy industry -- as a "wealth-redistribution scheme" and calling for Congress to let the PTC expire. The Wall Street Journal made no mention of Phillips' ties to the fossil-fuel industry, identifying him only as "president of Americans for Prosperity." Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance (AEA), wrote a similar op-ed dismissing the PTC as one of wind energy's expensive "government handouts" and calling for its expiration. Pyle's op-ed was published in at least nine newspapers across the country, eight of which identify him only as "president of the American Energy Alliance." [The Wall Street Journal, 11/30/14; Boston Herald, 11/29/14; The Tampa Tribune, 11/25/14; The Detroit News, 12/1/14; Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 11/29/14; Orange County Register, 11/25/14 via PE.com; The Palm Beach Post, 11/25/14; Deseret News, 11/26/14; Las Vegas Review-Journal, 11/21/14]

Earlier In 2014, AEA President's Anti-Wind Op-Ed Spread Throughout The Country Without Disclosure. A previous Media Matters study found that at least 20 newspapers published an op-ed by Pyle in January and February this year and that 75 percent of them did not disclose his organization's fossil-fuel funding (and several of them published Pyle's most recent op-ed again without disclosing his ties to the oil industry): 

op-eds

[Media Matters, 2/26/14]

Op-Ed Writers Have Deep Financial Ties To The Fossil-Fuel Industry

Koch Industries Was One Of The Top Five Lobbyists In The Oil And Gas Industry In 2010. The Center for Public Integrity reported that Koch Industries is one of the top lobbyists for the oil industry, the "core" of its "business empire":

Oil is the core of the Koch business empire, and the company's lobbyists and officials have successfully fought to preserve the industry's tax breaks and credits, and to defeat attempts by Congress to regulate greenhouse gases.

[...]

Koch's decision to pour millions into lobbying Washington has put them high on the list of corporations whose lobbyists work the corridors of the nation's capital. Last year, Koch Industries ranked in the top five -- roughly on a par with BP and Royal Dutch Shell -- in lobbying expenses among oil and gas companies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. [Center for Public Integrity, 4/6/11]

Politico: AEA And AFP Deeply Connected To The Koch Network. In reporting on the American Energy Alliance's 2012 ad campaign tying President Obama to high gas prices, Politico reported that Pyle is a former lobbyist for Koch Industries and that the AEA has "deep ties to the billionaire libertarian industrialists Charles and David Koch," as does AFP. The article also said AFP is the Kochs' "primary political group":  

The group launching a $3.6 million ad campaign hitting President Barack Obama on gasoline prices has deep ties to the billionaire libertarian industrialists Charles and David Koch.

The American Energy Alliance is the political arm of the Institute for Energy Research, and sources tell POLITICO that both groups are funded partly by the Koch brothers and their donor network.

The groups are run by Tom Pyle, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. Pyle regularly attends the mega-donor summits organized by the Koch brothers, including the 2012 winter summit in Indian Wells, Calif., where the Kochs raised more than $150 million to be directed to groups ahead of the general election.

[...]

The ads come after the Kochs' primary political group, Americans for Prosperity, earlier this year launched a $6 million ad campaign calling out Obama over the now-defunct, government-subsidized maker of solar power components, Solyndra.

Democrats have pounced on the Koch brothers as bogeymen representative of two favorite targets: Big Oil, which is one part of the brothers' vast commercial business enterprise, and secret money. Neither Americans for Prosperity nor the American Energy Alliance discloses its donors.

[...]

There's no public information available about the American Energy Alliance's donors. But among the foundations that have reported donations to the Institute for Energy Research are the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, which is controlled by the Koch family and has donated $235,000 to the institute, and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, which gave $2,000.

Those tallies pale in comparison to the amounts funneled to both groups through the donations pooled by the Kochs at their donor summits, sources tell POLITICO. [Politico, 3/29/12]

AFP Is "Third Largest Recipient" Of Koch Foundations. A DeSmogBlog investigation of the funding behind AFP reported in 2009 that the group is the "third largest recipient of funding from the Koch Family Foundations," which is funded by the oil giant Koch Industries, and that its predecessor groups received at least $380,250 from ExxonMobil. [DeSmogBlog, 2/26/09]

AEA Has Also Received Funding From ExxonMobil. Pyle's AEA is listed as the "grassroots" arm of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), where Pyle is also president. Pyle and those organizations have many connections to fossil-fuel organizations: According to Greenpeace's ExxonSecrets, IER has received $307,000 in funding from ExxonMobil since 1998. [ExxonSecrets.org, accessed 12/2/14]

Op-Ed Writers Are Backed By Dark Money Groups To Overturn Wind Policy

AFP And AEA Are Behind Campaign Against Production Tax Credit, Which Is Up For Renewal. AFP, AEA, and others are campaigning for Congress not to renew the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), a key policy for wind industry development. Greenwire reported:

For the second time in less than a week, conservative activists are urging Congress not to extend a key renewable energy tax credit, saying that doing so would be tantamount to endorsing President Obama's climate agenda.

Americans for Prosperity today sent a letter to Capitol Hill outlining its objections to the production tax credit, which Senate Democrats hope to extend during the lame-duck session that begins later this week.

[...]

The letter echoes many of the arguments in a broader coalition letter sent last week from the American Energy Alliance, AFP and other conservative organizations. [Greenwire via Governors' Wind Energy Coalition, 11/12/14]

AFP Currently Spending $200,000 On Anti-PTC Ad Campaign. On November 13, Americans for Prosperity announced the launch of a "major new media effort to urge lawmakers to oppose renewing the Wind Production Tax Credit (PTC)." Politico reported that AFP planned to spend $200,000 on its anti-wind campaign, targeting 25 House Republicans on wind. [Americans For Prosperity, 11/13/14; Politico, 11/12/14]

Koch Brothers Spent Hundreds Of Millions In Midterm Campaigns Through Dark-Money Groups, Focusing On Energy. The Daily Beast reported that the Koch brothers sought to raise hundreds of millions for conservative Republicans in the 2014 midterm races, funneling their donations to Americans for Prosperity among other groups:

In the face of expanding energy regulations, stepped-up Democratic attacks and the ongoing fight over Obamacare, the billionaire Koch brothers and scores of wealthy allies have set an initial 2014 fundraising target of $290 million which should boost GOP candidates and support dozens of conservative groups -- including a new energy initiative with what looks like a deregulatory, pro-consumer spin, The Daily Beast has learned.

This weekend, at a posh California resort near Laguna Beach, energy is expected to be among the topics as Charles and David Koch and their extensive donor network hold a semiannual fundraising and policy seminar. Political allies including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and libertarian political scientist Charles Murray are slated to speak, according to conservatives familiar with the Koch network. [The Daily Beast, 6/13/14]

Charles Koch Defended Not Disclosing His Financial Donations Through Front Groups Such As AFP. When a Forbes reporter asked Charles Koch in 2012 why they work "to hide their political activities" by "funneling money" through front groups, Koch defended "anonymous giving as necessary" for protection. From the interview:

Given their strict adherence to the principals of transparent free markets, the Kochs' secrecy seems hypocritical. While Charles has never been shy about enunciating his goals, his annual retreats for rich conservatives look from the outside like conspiratorial cabals. While the ACLU joined Koch-affiliated groups like Cato in opposing limits to cash-fueled political speech, as decided in the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United case, conservatives have traditionally touted both unlimited speech and unlimited disclosure. The Kochs' large-scale efforts to hide their political activities by funneling millions through Americans for Prosperity and other putative charitable organizations -- something both sides of the spectrum do, and something widely acknowledged as a blatant end-run around disclosure requirements -- don't seem to jibe with their convictions.

Charles responds that he follows the law and defends anonymous giving as necessary." We get death threats, threats to blow up our facilities, kill our people, we get Anonymous and other groups trying to crash our IT systems," he says. "So long as we're in a society like that, where the President attacks us and we get threats from people in Congress, and this is pushed out and becomes part of the culture -- that we are evil, so we need to be destroyed, or killed -- then why force people to disclose?" [Forbes, 12/5/12]

Newspapers Published Fossil Fuel-Backed Distortion Of Wind Energy Costs

Fossil Fuels Received Over $21 Billion In Subsidies In 2013. Both Phillips and Pyle decried the PTC's monetary support to the wind-energy industry over the past seven years in their op-eds but made no mention of the huge subsidies still given to the fossil-fuel industry. A recent report from Oil Change International found that fossil-fuel subsidies have grown to more than $21 billion annually, despite Obama's attempts to end some of the subsidies. The Huffington Post reported:  

Over the past five years, the Obama administration has repeatedly called for cutting fossil fuel subsidies in the form of tax breaks and other incentives. But the amount of money the federal government forfeits through subsidies has increased steadily over that time period, reaching $18.5 billion last year, according to a new report from the environmental group Oil Change International.

[...]

The Oil Change report includes a variety of subsidies in its accounting, including tax breaks, incentives for production on federal lands (such as royalty fees that haven't been adjusted in 25 years) and tax deductions for clean-up costs. And if state subsidies for oil, gas and coal production are also included, the total value climbs to $21.6 billion for 2013. Here's how that breaks down:

Oil Change International

[Huffington Post, 7/9/14]

Campaign Overinflates Wind-Energy Costs. Despite the op-eds' warnings that wind energy is too expensive, wind power is competitive with coal and natural gas in some markets, and even cheaper in others. The New York Times reported:

The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.

Utility executives say the trend has accelerated this year, with several companies signing contracts, known as power purchase agreements, for solar or wind at prices below that of natural gas, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest, where wind and sunlight are abundant.

[...]

According to a study by the investment banking firm Lazard, the cost of utility-scale solar energy is as low as 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, and wind is as low as 1.4 cents. In comparison, natural gas comes at 6.1 cents a kilowatt-hour on the low end and coal at 6.6 cents. Without subsidies, the firm's analysis shows, solar costs about 7.2 cents a kilowatt-hour at the low end, with wind at 3.7 cents. [The New York Times, 11/24/14]

Anti-Wind Energy Op-Eds Ignore Benefits Of PTC. The op-eds focused solely on the "costs" of the PTC and ignored its economic benefits. According to the American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA) annual U.S. Wind Industry Market Report, the wind industry supported over 50,000 American jobs at the end of 2013, and the PTC has attracted $105 billion in private investment so far. [AWEA, accessed 12/2/14; AWEA, 3/21/14]

AEA's Own Polling Shows That Majority Of Americans Support PTC. A poll commissioned by the American Energy Alliance, which concluded that Americans are "skeptical of federal energy dictates," found that 51 percent of respondents said it is a "good thing" that "[c]ompanies that generate electricity using wind power get a tax credit from the federal government which is paid for by taxpayers."

 AEA survey

[American Energy Alliance, 9/9/14; American Energy Alliance, 9/2014]

Other Polls Show Even Greater, Bipartisan Support. A poll commissioned by AWEA and carried out by consulting firm Gotham Research Group found that 73 percent of voters support the extension of the PTC, including 63 percent of Republican voters. A USA Today poll from December 2013 found similar results, with 73 percent of Americans agreeing that tax reductions should be continued for solar/wind/hydropower companies. 

USA Today survey

[North American Wind Power, 11/26/14; USA Today, 12/19/13]

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