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The Koch Brothers and the Government Shutdown

The Koch Brothers control their minions in Congress preventing many American from their livelihoods. Charles and David Koch are oil barons who have been accused of being behind efforts to shutdown government.  In a bid to keep America from transitioning away from fossil fuels the Koch brothers are leading a powerful cadre of conservatives in a coordinated strategy designed to subvert democracy. They have cultivated very close relationships with Republicans including GOP presidential candidates and they employ sophisticated methods of legislative control like ALEC. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to misinform the public and influence politicians. They have demonstrated considerable skill in the art of control and subterfuge.  One of their greatest accomplishments is their role in the creation of the “grassroots” movement known as the Tea Party.

Current levels of obstructionism in Congress are unprecedented and the Koch brothers are a major force behind it. As reported by multiple media sources, their political operatives have already pressured 169 members of Congress into signing a shameful promise that they will never support action on climate change.

The Koch’s fund a number of organizations and pseudo-scientific think tanks including groups like Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners, Heritage Action and its sister group, the Heritage Foundation. Some of these groups advocate using their minions in Congress to deprive the government of funding while others work on misinformation.

As reported in Desmog blog, the Heartland Institute is at the forefront of the Kochs’ climate denial. This front group recently published a fictitious report by the so called International Climate Science Coalition, in which lead author Fred Singer, (an apologist for the tobacco industry before he got into the business of denying the basic science of climate change) makes a number of ridiculous claims including, CO2 is “the gas of life..the more CO2, the more life.”  This group of deniers named themselves the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), mirroring the official science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The idea of using Republican control of the House of Representatives to shutdown the federal government has been in the works for a while. According to an October 5 New York Times article, defunding efforts began just after President Obama was reelected in 2012. Conservative groups hatched a plan to use the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and Tea Party supporters in particular, to shutdown the federal government. The Washington Tea Party even created a defunding tool kit to help divest Obamacare of financing.

The government shutdown has far ranging impacts on the economy and the environment. It adversely impacts energy and climate research as well as threatens America’s natural resources. This is not the first time that Republicans have used their legislative control to shutdown government. In 2011, the GOP’s obstructionism resulted in a U.S. credit downgrade. They have also unsuccessfully attempted to use a similar strategy to defund the EPA.

The government shutdown prevents the EPA  from doing its work. This includes carbon emissions standards for new power plants and carbon standards for existing power plants. The EPA’s proposals for 2014 biofuel targets could also be delayed by the shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) are among a number of law makers who have blamed the Koch brothers for the shutdown.

On Wednesday October 9, Koch industries sent a letter to Capitol Hill that denied allegations that they are responsible for the government shutdown. Although Koch Industries, the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity openly oppose Obamacare, they have not taken a formal public position on the shutdown.

Koch Industries president for government and public affairs Philip Ellender claims he wants Congress to focus on “balancing the budget” and “cutting government spending.” It may well be that Koch Industries fear the economic ramifications of a government default if a deal can’t be reached on the debt ceiling, however, the Koch brothers support a number of groups that advocated for the shutdown.

According to Shiela Krumholtz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, while Ellender was technically correct in his effort to distinguish the company from the brothers, “it’s a distinction without a difference.” Although the company has not endorsed the shutdown, she said the Kochs had endorsed policies, candidates and other organizations that were involved with the shutdown.

One Senator forcefully and factually assigned the blame for the shutdown to the Republicans. This view is echoed not only by Democrats but by a number of fellow Republicans as well.  A growing number of Americans disapprove of the shutdown as evidenced by a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll which found that 57 percent disapprove of cutting off funding as a way to stop Obamacare.

A Washington Post/ABC poll released Monday October 7 found that the American public’s disapproval of Republicans has grown in the past week with 70 percent of Americans showing disapproval (up from 63 percent the previous week). Another poll from Pew Research released on the same day found that Americans blame Republicans for the shutdown. Finally a CNN/ORC poll found that more Americans are angry at Republicans than they are at Democrats or President Obama.

As reviewed in a Huffington Post article, environmentalists are now concerned that the Keystone XL pipeline could become a bargaining chip in the funding debate on the debt ceiling. One thing is certain, this fight between dirty energy and the federal government is far from over.

“We view this as a long-term effort,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. He said his group is expected to spend “tens of millions” of dollars on a “multifront effort.” While Philips was referring to Obamacare, the statement applies to their efforts more generally.

Regardless of what Koch Industries have said, the Koch brothers have a proven track record of instigating climate denial and fostering obstructionism. They have been a driving force behind the shutdown and they can be expected to continue to exert their influence to make it difficult to get a continuing resolution to fund the government. They are also likely to be a contentious force in the forthcoming fight over extending the debt ceiling later this month.

The American people have no reason to believe these peddlers of subterfuge and good reason to distrust them as purveyors of dirty energy.
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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Representative Keith Ellison, courtesy flickr

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