Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the crown jewel of the Koch Brothers' conservative network, is well-known for its attacks on "Obamacare" in recent years. Now, the Koch front group is putting climate and clean energy in the crosshairs for 2016. AFP is gearing up its state-level ground game, and the Clean Power Plan is emerging as its favorite target.
Door hangers popped up in North Carolina this fall, accusing the Attorney General Roy Cooper of supporting a "22% hike in utility rates" - a false claim from a flawed report, debunked here.
AFP's state directors have been sending action alerts, publishing op-eds, and delivering testimonies around the country with similarly specious claims about electric rate increases, based on this same bad analysis of an old proposal. In Montana, AFP has sent action alerts and published op-eds to pressure Governor Bullock to "stop Obama from hiking your power bill." A former Montana utility commissioner penned a rebuttal pointing out that renewable energy is often cheaper than coal power, and clean energy standards can actually reduce electricity costs. The commissioner adds that it's not in Montana's interest to ignore climate change, as much of the economy relies on agriculture and outdoor recreation.
Beyond Montana, AFP's false assertions about climate and clean energy solutions have surfaced in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia. Here is our tracking document of AFP's recent climate denial activities in states, showing that the Koch group is ratcheting up its rhetoric against the Clean Power Plan. (Thanks to my colleagues Juanita Constible and Alex Krefetz for this compilation.)
It's no secret that the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch have dumped millions of dollars into Americans for Prosperity and many other organizations in the climate denial machine. David Koch actually founded AFP and serves as the Chair of the Board. This Koch influence is especially troubling in light of a new study out of Yale University last month. Yale sociology professor Justin Farrell shows that front groups funded by the Koch brothers or by ExxonMobil "have greater influence over flows of resources, communication, and the production of contrarian information." Another study released by the same author last month also shows that corporate funding influences the language and content of polarizing discourse on climate change.
We can watch these academic studies play out in real-time. AFP is gearing up activities around the country to oppose President Obama's signature climate effort, the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP sets the first-ever carbon pollution limits on power plants, our nation's largest source of carbon emissions.
When the final CPP was released in August, AFP began attacking the new pollution limits along with any politician it could vaguely associate with the new standard. AFP did not waste time waiting for an updated evaluation-- instead the group drew from a shoddy, outdated polluter-funded analysis of last year's proposed CPP. The old study, paid for by the coal mining association, grossly exaggerates costs while ignoring the economic, health and environmental benefits of these new pollution limits. Check out my colleague Starla Yeh's blog on the many tragic flaws in this polluter report, and her takedown of their new analysis just released a few weeks ago.
In a sense, AFP is returning to its climate denial roots. Back in 2008, AFP launched a "Hot Air Tour," which involved shipping a hot air balloon across the country to "expose the unaffordable costs of climate change policies." The difference today is that the Koch brothers have invested more in the AFP state infrastructure and "homegrown" appearance. Unfortunately, you just can't buy local authenticity. Take earlier this year, for example, when AFP claimed that "millions of Montanans" oppose the Affordable Care Act. Governor Bullock and many others couldn't help but mock AFP knowing well that Montana has barely one million residents.
At the current pace of AFP attacks, I won't be surprised if AFP begins to speak on behalf of "billions of Americans" that oppose climate solutions and clean energy. It would complement AFP's other false and hyperbolic claims on the Clean Power Plan so far.