Lobby Group Tied to Koch Brothers, Brexit Climate Deniers Pushes 'Strong Pro-Corporate Agenda'
By Mat Hope
A new lobby group has appeared in Europe claiming to represent "consumers." But a closer look reveals it is actually backed by some familiar groups known for their efforts to weaken climate and environmental regulations.
But an investigation by Brussels think tank Corporate Europe Observatory suggests the Consumer Choice Centre is actually working as a lobby group for a network pushing deregulation, while working closely with high-profile organizations including London-based think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) and U.S. oil billionaire Charles Koch.
The IEA's head of lifestyle economics, Christopher Snowdon, helped launch the group at an event just around the corner from the European Parliament in April 2017, Corporate Europe Observatory said. At the event, the Consumer Choice Centre said it collaborated with libertarian think tank EPICENTER, which the IEA was involved in creating.
As DeSmog UK previously revealed, the IEA has close ties to a UK network of climate science denial organizations that pushed for Brexit. Former IEA chairman, Neil Record, now sits on the board of climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Forum.
A spokesperson for the IEA told DeSmog UK that it "has no formal relationship with the CCC [Consumer Choice Centre]."
"Both organisations work on similar areas and staff have spoken at each other's events, but there is no official affiliation."
The Consumer Choice Centre has four full time lobbyists and spent up to €199,999 on lobbying between May 2015 and April 2016, according to lobbyfacts.eu.
Its original funding came from U.S. group Students for Liberty, its managing director told Corporate Europe Observatory.
Students for Liberty also receives money from the Atlas Network and the Cato Institute, which are also funded by the Koch Brothers and are at the center of a U.S. network that pushes for deregulation and helps spread climate science denial.
The Consumer Choice Centre is part of a "network of corporate-funded organisations aggressively pushing for deregulation in the EU," the Corporate Europe Observatory investigation said.
"In practice, CCC's [Consumer Choice Centre] activities apparently boil down to insisting that consumer choice always equates to less regulation, whenever any regulatory or lobbying-related discussion at EU level provides a hook."
Corporate Europe Observatory campaigner Margarida Silva told DeSmog UK it expected this agenda to extend to environmental regulation and energy policy.
"Considering that their biggest donor, Students For Liberty, is backed by U.S. hardliners Koch Industries, and Consumer Choice Centre themselves say they receive further funding from an undisclosed energy company, it is not unreasonable to expect this partisan funding base to translate into a targeting of energy regulation as well," Silva added.
It is also notable that both the IEA and Koch groups are based outside of Europe.
Likewise, the Consumer Choice Centre gives the Koch brothers an avenue to influence European policy, potentially exporting their highly influential lobbying model across the Atlantic. DeSmog UK previously revealed that Koch Industries spent between €200,000 and €299,999 ($223,634 – $335,449 or £142,464 – £213,695) on its European lobby efforts in a single year.
"It is interesting to note that Brexit and Trump may have conjured a climate conducive to deregulation, which has emboldened groups that are pushing a strong pro-corporate agenda," Silva said.
"IEA's activities have focused on the EU for a while now. They have, for example, published the Nanny State Index, and are a founding member of radical free-market think tank EPICENTER. And yet, IEA has still not joined the EU lobby register. The same is the case with Students For Liberty," she added.
Another U.S. free-market think tank, the Heritage Foundation, registered as an EU lobbyist for just one month earlier this year. The entry was removed due to "data inconsistencies."
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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