“Koch could not compete if it actually had to pay for the damage it did to the environment”

September 27th, 2014

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.

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (9/26/14)

September 26th, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (9/26/14).

  1. Mother Jones explains “How Australia Became the Dirtiest Polluter in the Developed World.”
  2. According to Greentech Media, quoting David Brewster, the president of US Demand Response market leader EnerNOC, “challenges for the demand response industry…pale in comparison to the proven benefits of managing demand to meet grid needs — and the state-by-state regulatory changes that are pushing it to the masses.”
  3. Rolling Stone profiles the “Koch brothers’ toxic empire,” writing that “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.”
  4. The Energy Collective reports: “Penetration rates of no-carbon generation have increased from 50% to 56% in recent years in Europe, as European Union countries work toward renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions targets. Increasing levels of renewable generation, along with nuclear generation, mean that many European countries generate a large share of their electricity from no-carbon sources.”
  5. According to CleanTechnica: “Egypt is planning to auction 2 GW capacity each in wind and solar power capacity next month…Egypt’s New & Renewable Energy Authority (NREA) has set a target to generate 20% of the country’s power demand from renewable energy sources by 2020; this includes 12% from wind power and 8% from other technologies like solar power and hydro power.”

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (9/25/14)

September 25th, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (9/25/14).

  1. The New York Times reports: “Last year, two Swiss pilots became the first to fly across the United States in a featherweight plane using the power of the sun. Now they are back with a more ambitious plan, to be announced on Thursday, to fly an even more advanced solar airplane around the world early next year, beginning and ending in oil-rich Abu Dhabi.”
  2. According to Slate: “The solar fight is taking place in at least a dozen states, and its outcome won’t just shape the future of the rooftop solar industry—it will also play a major role in deciding how Americans pay to keep their lights on. If the utilities get their way, they’ll preserve the profit-producing status quo of the natural monopolies that are many Americans’ only option when it comes to buying electricity. If the solar side wins, it could conceivably open the door for a fundamental reshaping of the system, creating small but serious competition for power companies in a market currently devoid of challengers.”
  3. ABC News reports, “A proposal to export twice as much Wyoming wind power to Los Angeles as the amount of electricity generated by the Hoover Dam includes an engineering feat even more massive than that famous structure: Four chambers, each approaching the size of the Empire State Building, would be carved from an underground salt deposit to hold huge volumes of compressed air.”
  4. At the Daily Beast, Daniel Gross argues, “The Occupy-like protesters might not like it, but renewable energy, efficiency, and sustainability have become big businesses, with huge needs for capital.”
  5. Greentech Media reports: “Coda Energy, the once-bankrupt EV startup that’s turned to the batteries-for-buildings business, is quietly building up a portfolio of behind-the-meter energy storage projects in six states, expanding beyond its initial demand-charge reduction strategy to test out emergency backup and grid resiliency as well. It’s also targeting California as a market where solar PV plus batteries can compete with grid power — when the price of energy and demand charges are taken into account.”

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (9/24/14)

September 24th, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (9/24/14).

  1. According to Greentech Media, “Unveiled today, Southern California Edison’s demonstration project at the Monolith substation in the Tehachapi Mountains happens to be the largest battery project in North America and one of the largest battery storage projects in the world.”
  2. The BBC reports, “BHP Billiton and Mitsubishi plan to cut 700 jobs at a joint coal mining venture in Australia because of tough market conditions.”
  3. According to Media Matters, “Fox News contributor Steve Moore dismissed President Obama’s U.N. address on climate change arguing that terror threats are ‘a security reason for the United States to develop our own oil and gas,’ ignoring a decade of warnings from the U.S. military calling climate change a national security threat and a terrorism threat multiplier.”
  4. The Guardian reports: “Facebook is set to become the latest tech company to end its support for a controversial rightwing lobby group that works against climate change legislation. The social media company has been a funder of American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), which shapes legislation at state level across the US. But late on Tuesday the company confirmed to the Guardian it was quitting, following Google, which cut ties this week, and Microsoft, which left in August.”
  5. Greentech Media has “Lessons from Germany and Japan” on “Transforming the Power Grid.”

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (9/23/14)

September 23rd, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (9/23/14).

  1. Climate Progress reports, “In an interview on NPR’s Diane Rehm show, Schmidt said the free-market lobbying group [ALEC]’s anti-climate and anti-clean energy positions are harmful to future generations, and a bad investment idea for the company.”
  2. According to RenewEconomy: “Major new analysis – Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation – produced by Australia’s ClimateWorks, along with ANU, shows that 15 of the world’s biggest economies can move to “net carbon zero” by 2050, and it need impose no extra costs over business as usual. In fact, electricity bills will be lower than what they are now. Economic growth will remain more or less the same, and the benefits, in terms of health and the environment, will be enormous.”
  3. The Hill reports: “President Obama on Tuesday will unveil new executive actions that require all federal agencies consider climate change resilience when investing in international projects. According to a White House official, Obama will announce the new action during his speechTuesday at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York.”
  4. The Guardian has live coverage of the U.N.  climate change summit in New York.
  5. The PBS NewsHour asks, “What’s the financial case for divesting from fossil fuels?”