We’ve written a great deal about how the powerful, entrenched fossil fuel industry leverages its incumbent advantage to game the U.S. political system. Among other things, all those profits from extracting and processing dirty energy help ensure that the government, which is theoretically supposed to look out for the public’s health and well-being, allows the fossil fuel companies to treat the air and water as a common sewer they can use for free. As if it’s not bad enough that the true health and environmental costs of fossil fuels are not “internalized” into the price of oil, coal and natural gas, these companies also have the chutzpah to continue accepting millions of dollars a year in taxpayer-funded corporate welfare. All the while, they fund a network of “think tanks” who spend their days denying climate science and falsely smearing clean energy. In short, it’s quite a racket they’ve got going.
Now, Rolling Stone has an amazing expose of perhaps the epitome of everything mentioned above – the Koch brothers and their “toxic empire.” We strongly recommend the entire article, even though it’s long. For now, here are a few “highlights”:
- This company is huge: Koch Industries brings in $115 billion in annual revenue, making it “America’s second-largest private company after agribusiness colossus Cargill.”
- It makes this money essentially by trashing the planet. As the Rolling Stone article puts it: “Koch Industries’ toxic output is staggering…only three companies rank among the top 30 polluters of America’s air, water and climate: ExxonMobil, American Electric Power and Koch Industries” and “13th in the nation for toxic air pollution.”
- The de facto “license to pollute” granted to the Koch brothers “amounts to a perverse, hidden subsidy” whose “cost is borne by communities.”
- Koch Industries “has woven itself into every nook of the vast industrial web that transforms raw fossil fuels into usable goods…controls at least four oil refineries, six ethanol plants, a natural-gas-fired power plant and 4,000 miles of pipeline.”
- The company is also “a key player in the fracking boom.” As part of that fracking boom, “Thanks to the Bush administration’s anti-regulatory agenda – which Koch Industries helped craft – [Koch subsidiary] Frac-Chem’s chemical cocktails, injected deep under the nation’s aquifers, are almost entirely exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
- “Koch is also long on the richest – but also the dirtiest and most carbon-polluting – oil deposits in North America: the tar sands of Alberta.”
- “According to sworn testimony from former Koch employees, the company operated its pipelines with almost complete disregard for maintenance.” It also covered up “small spills” and “falsif[ied] pipeline-maintenance records filed with federal authorities.”
- Koch Industries was slapped with multiple, major fines for violations of federal environmental laws — but they didn’t particularly care. Instead, the company’s attitude was that “regulatory fines ‘usually didn’t amount to much’ and, besides, the company had ‘a stable full of lawyers in Wichita that handled those situations.’”
- The Koch’s bottom-line business model is to “exploit breakdowns in the free market…profit[ing] precisely by dumping billions of pounds of pollutants into our waters and skies – essentially for free,” and “get[ting] richer as the costs of what Koch destroys are foisted on the rest of us – in the form of ill health, foul water and a climate crisis that threatens life as we know it on this planet. “
- And finally, the best line of the entire article: “Richard Fink, head of Koch Company’s Public Sector and the longtime mastermind of the Koch brothers’ political empire, confessed to The Wichita Eagle in 1994 that Koch could not compete if it actually had to pay for the damage it did to the environment.” That pretty much sums it all up.