Trump's Koch-Funded Appointees Continue Ruthless Attack on Clean Energy Growth
By Elliott Negin
When The Washington Post reported earlier this month that President Trump appointed Daniel Simmons to run the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the paper called him a "conservative scholar."
Conservative scholar? "Fossil fuel industry propagandist" would have been more accurate.
A veteran of Charles and David Koch's climate science denier network, Simmons has spent much of his career disparaging clean energy. His most recent job was at the Institute for Energy Research (IER), where he served as the think tank's vice president for policy. Prior to joining IER, he was the Natural Resources Task Force director for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporation-funded lobby group that, like IER, has been trying to repeal state standards that require electric utilities to use more renewable energy. And before that, he was a research fellow at the libertarian Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
All three organizations have received substantial funding from the Koch brothers, owners of the coal, oil and gas conglomerate Koch Industries, who have spent more than $100 million over the last two decades on dozens of think tanks and advocacy groups to spread climate disinformation.
Follow the Money: Koch Brothers Back Pruitt to Head EPA https://t.co/NPeO06ujF7 @Public_Citizen @CREWcrew— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485831309.0
IER and its advocacy arm, the American Energy Alliance (AEA), are particularly indebted to the Kochs for both funding and staffing. Between 2010 and 2014, they received more than $5 million from Koch-controlled funds. And, like Simmons, top IER-AEA officials are well-entrenched members of the Koch network. IER founder and CEO Robert L. Bradley, Jr., for example, is an adjunct scholar at the Koch-founded and funded Cato Institute and the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. He also has been a featured speaker at the Koch-funded Heartland Institute's annual climate science-bashing conference. IER-AEA President Thomas Pyle, meanwhile, is a former lobbyist for Koch Industries and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. Pyle oversaw the Trump Energy Department transition team, which included Simmons and Travis Fisher, an IER economist who also is now on the DOE staff.
Given Simmons' resume, it's no surprise that he belittles efforts to address global warming, disingenuously asserting that the "economic damages" of curbing carbon emissions "would be greater than the damage caused by a warming world." Never mind that if we continue to burn carbon at the same rate, U.S. property losses by 2050 from sea level rise alone would be astronomical, ranging from $66 billion to $106 billion.
Predictably, Simmons also is a staunch opponent of federal support for wind and solar power. He argues that the "government should get out of the business of betting taxpayer dollars on energy projects," conveniently ignoring the fact that fossil fuels themselves are heavily subsidized. According to a new analysis by Management Information Services for the Nuclear Energy Institute, fossil fuels have received $666 billion (in 2015 dollars) in federal incentives since 1950, four times what renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, biofuels and biomass, have received. More than 80 percent of that fossil fuel support went to the oil and gas industry, which, according to a 2011 study by DBL Investors, has been receiving an average of $4.86 billion (in 2010 dollars) in federal subsidies every year since 1918.
Perry's Anti-Renewables Study
Simmons will serve as acting assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy until the Senate confirms someone for the post. He will then settle in as the office's principal deputy assistant secretary. While it's too early to find his fingerprints on anything, his former IER colleague, Travis Fisher, has already raised some concerns. Energy Sec. Rick Perry, who also has received generous contributions from the Kochs over the years, tapped Fisher to conduct a study to assess if federal support for renewable energy threatens baseload power generators—nuclear and coal plants—and undermines electricity grid reliability.
Seven members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee have questioned the rationale for the study. In a letter to Perry, they complained that the "study, as you have framed it, appears to be intended to blame wind and solar power for the financial difficulties facing coal and nuclear electric generators" and criticized the fact that Fisher, who is clearly biased against renewables, was tasked with leading the study. Historically low natural gas prices are largely responsible for recent nuclear and coal plant closures, the senators pointed out, and several recent studies have found that wind and solar power facilities strengthen grid reliability.
The irony here, of course, is Texas—where Perry served as governor from 2000 until 2015—is the nation's leading state for wind energy. Lone Star wind turbines generate enough electricity to power seven million average U.S. households and provide more than 24,000 jobs. On top of that, 10,000 Texans work in the solar industry and another 70,000 work in the energy efficiency field. By comparison, the coal industry employs only 50,000 workers nationwide.
Regardless, Perry likely plans to use Fisher's grid reliability study as a pretext for rolling back incentives for wind and solar and boosting coal, one of President Trump's campaign promises. Likewise, the study could give the Trump administration ammunition to attack state standards requiring utilities to increase their use of renewables.
Clean Energy Progress at the State Level
States are where the action is—and likely will continue to be—given the Trump administration's aversion to renewable energy and years of gridlock on Capitol Hill.
"There's a lot of clean energy momentum across the country, including in states where you might not expect it," said John Rogers, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and lead author of a recent report rating state-by-state progress.
"The federal government has been playing an important role in encouraging renewable energy, efficiency and vehicle electrification—at least until recently—but we found that the states that have shown leadership are already reaping economic and environmental benefits, including new jobs, cleaner air and lower public health risks."
Indeed, the growth of clean energy across the country has been nothing short of stupendous. Wind power generation, for example, increased more than tenfold over the past decade, according to the UCS report, while its cost dropped by two-thirds over the last six years. Wind farms in 41 states now provide enough electricity to power more than 20 million average U.S. households. Solar power capacity, meanwhile, has jumped more than 900 percent since 2011, while the cost of residential solar electric power fell by more than 50 percent since 2009 and large-scale solar costs declined even more.
The public is, by and large, on board. A new Pew Research Center poll found that 83 percent of Americans say expanding the use of renewable energy is a "top" or "important" national priority. Further, 54 percent of the survey respondents agree that "government regulations are necessary to encourage businesses and consumers to rely more on renewable energy sources."
Renewable energy's remarkable track record has encouraged a number of states to up the ante. Just a few years ago, ambitious states set a goal of generating 25 percent to 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy. Today, six of the 29 states with renewable energy standards are aiming to generate 50 percent or more of their electricity from wind, solar and other clean sources.
That's the good news. The bad news is Koch surrogates have been targeting these state standards for years, and now two former IER staff members—not to mention their new boss—are in a position to do something about them. Certainly it would be the height of hypocrisy for an administration that extols states' rights to try to scuttle state renewable energy standards, but for the Trump administration, hypocrisy is the norm. With so much clean energy momentum in blue and red states alike, the open question is just how much damage Trump's DOE appointees will be able to do.
Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.
Despite a journey to this moment even more treacherous than expected, Americans now have a fresh opportunity to act, decisively, on climate change.
The authors of the many new books released in just the past few months (or scheduled to be published soon) seem to have anticipated this pivotal moment.
- 10 Best Books On Climate Change, According to Activists - EcoWatch ›
- New and Recent Books About Hope in a Time of Climate Change ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
Fifteen states are in for an unusually noisy spring.
- Millions of Cicadas Set to Emerge After 17 Years Underground ... ›
- Cicadas Show Up 4 Years Early - EcoWatch ›
Deep in the woods, a hairy, ape-like man is said to be living a quiet and secluded life. While some deny the creature's existence, others spend their lives trying to prove it.
- Why Hunting Isn't Conservation, and Why It Matters - Rewilding ›
- Decline In Hunters Threatens How U.S. Pays For Conservation : NPR ›
- Is Hunting Conservation? Let's examine it closely ›
- Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation | Oklahoma ... ›
- Oklahoma Bill Calls for Bigfoot Hunting Season | Is Bigfoot Real? ›
By Jon Queally
Noted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben was among the first to celebrate word that the president of the European Investment Bank on Wednesday openly declared, "To put it mildly, gas is over" — an admission that squares with what climate experts and economists have been saying for years if not decades.
- Fossil Fuel Industry Is Now 'in the Death Knell Phase': CNBC's Jim ... ›
- Mayors of 12 Major Global Cities Pledge Fossil Fuel Divestment ... ›
- World's Largest Public Bank Ditches Oil and Coal in Victory for the ... ›