One of the ways to gauge how seriously Congress is talking about environmental issues is by watching how many industry front-groups pop up like weeds to try to choke off efforts to clean up the world around us. The weeds grow in various sizes and shapes, but they tend to share a common root system: funding from industry backers who would rather keep underground, away from the light of public discourse.
Americans for Prosperity – which is trying to persuade Americans that global warming is a hoax - is such a weed. The group isn’t just funded by an industry CEO, it was planted by one. David Koch, Executive Vice-President of family-founded multi-national conglomerate Koch Industries, is a founder of AFP and a financial supporter through the family-controlled and company-financed Claude R. Lambe Foundation. Koch Industries, Inc. and its sister company, Koch Holdings, LLC, own a group of companies invested in refineries, chemicals, minerals and so on.
The Koch companies have an atrocious record of sloppy operations. According to the EPA, Koch Industries is responsible for over 300 oil spills in the US and has leaked three million gallons of crude oil into fisheries and drinking waters. They were fined a record $35 million dollars and an additional $8 million in Minnesota for discharging into streams. In Texas – a state not usually known for rigid enforcement of environmental laws - the company was held liable for allowing large amounts of carcinogenic benzene to leak from a Texas refinery.
Koch’s slack attitude has led to tragic losses of life. In 1996, a rusty Koch pipeline leaked flammable butane near a Texas residential neighborhood. Warned by the smell of gas, two teenagers drove their truck toward the nearest payphone to call for help, but they never made it. Sparks from their truck ignited the gas cloud and the two burned alive. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that "the probable cause of this accident was the failure of Koch to adequately protect its pipeline from corrosion" and the ineffectiveness of Koch's program to educate local residents about how to respond during a pipeline leak.
It’s easy to see why the Koch family would plant and nurture sockpuppet groups like AFP. Koch can’t just come out and say we should ignore global warming, because their self-interest is too obvious. AFP is currently on a nation wide tour touting its new framing language regarding global warming, calling environmental proponents ‘alarmists’ and pro business anti-environmentalists ‘realists’. Ironically enough, their image of choice is a hot air balloon (Note to front-groups: avoid using props that unintentionally reinforce your BS.) But when over a million dollars of your funding in 2005 comes directly from donors like Koch Industries “charitable foundation”, maybe hot air is all you’ve got to work with.