Across the country, state and local lawmakers are battling over a solar energy policy called net metering. But while the reasons for disagreement vary from place to place, several share a common and oft-unreported thread: Many attacks on the solar policy are supported by fossil fuel interests.
Net metering allows customers who have installed rooftop solar panels to generate their own electricity and send what they don't use into the electric grid for others to use -- like during the day, when the sun is shining but a family is at work or school. In exchange for the electricity provided to the grid, the customer gets a credit applied to their utility bill. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council has explained that solar panels "predictably produce energy during peak hours of the day, supporting the grid when most needed," and that net metering makes solar energy a "viable financial investment for many consumers." The policy has widespread support from liberals and conservatives alike, and has even spurred an offshoot of the Tea Party, called the "Green Tea Coalition," which connects environmentalists with Tea Partiers in support of net metering.
The amount of credit solar energy users receive, however, is the subject of fierce debate in states across the country. Utilities have been pushing for legislation to roll back net metering credits by adding a cap or charging a flat fee for solar users. Net metering poses a distinct challenge for utilities because it disrupts their long-standing monopoly in the electricity market.
Moreover, net-metered solar energy cuts into utilities' profits; with more distributed solar energy in the electric grid, utilities have no reason to invest in and build new power plants. As the Energy & Policy Institute's Matthew Kasper told The Washington Post, distributed solar energy prevents "the need to build new, expensive power plants or transmission lines." He added, "Utilities make their money by building big, new infrastructure projects and then sending ratepayers the bill, which is exactly why utilities want to eliminate solar."
In coverage of net metering battles, the media has largely focused on opposition from utilities. But there are larger forces at play: Outside interests are influencing the battle through front groups and legislation. Here are just a few of the groups inserting themselves into net metering battles:
Americans for Prosperity, which was created by the Koch brothers and acts as their political arm, has fought against net metering in Georgia and Florida, and pushed misleading claims that net metering policies "have resulted in rate hikes and did not result in solar becoming more economically viable." In March, PolitiFact rated this claim "Pants on Fire" and called it "completely wrong."
Consumer Energy Alliance, which has received over $400,000 from the American Petroleum Institute and been affiliated with fossil fuel giants including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and others, produced a phony petition in 2014 that attacked Wisconsin's net metering policy.
The Institute for Energy Research, which has received funding from ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Koch brothers' political network, released a report earlier this year claiming that net metering only benefits higher-income households.
The National Black Chamber of Commerce, which has received $1 million in funding from the ExxonMobil Foundation, recently claimed (falsely) that Louisiana's net metering policies shift costs onto low-income families.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group that connects fossil fuel industry executives with legislators to push model bills serving industry interests, has released a resolution on net metering, calling it "antithetical to free markets."
Several other fossil fuel front groups have been fighting against net metering, as detailed in a report by the Energy & Policy Institute:
The involvement of these groups, who don't appear to have direct ties with local utilities, may seem strange. But not when you consider that net metering policies are causing an unprecedented increase in solar energy use and thereby helping wean Americans off fossil fuels.
From 2010 to 2014, the amount of annual solar photovoltaic (PV) installations roughly increased by a factor of seven, and the U.S. had a record quarter for solar photovoltaics installations in the second quarter of 2015, reaching a total installed capacity high enough to power over four million homes. Meanwhile, prices have dropped rapidly over the past 10 years: the cost of installing solar is now 73 percent lower than it was in 2006.
Nine of the 10 states with the most solar electricity installed per capita also have strong net metering policies. But policies to roll back net metering are already impacting solar companies. One company, Vivint, scrapped its plans to expand to Nevada after the state changed its policy to cap net metering at what solar advocates call an unreasonably low limit. Massachusetts' net metering cap poses a similar threat to the solar industry there.
Attack campaigns against net metering could halt the expansion of a clean energy industry that threatens the fossil fuel interests usually behind those attacks. Media coverage of net metering debates should make that fact loud and clear, so the public knows the real identity of who's against net metering, and why.
Photo at top from Flickr user Wayne National Forest with a Creative Commons license.
From the April 2 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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At least 16 U.S. newspapers have recently published op-eds by state officials of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch brothers' political advocacy group, urging state legislatures to oppose the EPA's plan to address climate change by limiting carbon pollution from power plants. These newspapers have consistently failed to disclose the authors' oil industry ties, and the op-eds themselves "misleadingly" cite statistics on electricity prices from an industry-funded study, as a media fact-checker has explained.
A new documentary shows how a "professional class of deceivers" has been paid by the fossil fuel industry to cast doubt on the science of climate change, in an effort akin to that from the tobacco industry, which for decades used deceitful tactics to deny the scientific evidence that cigarettes are harmful to human health. The film, Merchants of Doubt, explores how many of the same people that once lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry are now employed in the climate denial game.
An infamous 1969 memo from a tobacco executive read: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy." Using similar tactics, a very small set of people have had immense influence in sowing doubt on the scientific consensus of manmade climate change in recent years.
Merchants of Doubt features five prominent climate science deniers who have been particularly influential in deceiving the public and blocking climate action. Their financial connections to the fossil fuel industry are not hard to uncover. Yet major U.S. television networks* -- CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, ABC, CBS, and PBS -- have given most of these deniers prominent exposure over the past several years.
Merchant of Doubt
Number of TV Appearances, 2009-2014
Now that these Merchants of Doubt have been exposed, the major cable and network news programs need to keep them off the airwaves, a sentiment echoed by Forecast the Facts, which recently launched a petition demanding that news directors do just that.
Originalmente publicado en inglés por Eric Hananoki y traducido al español por el staff de Media Matters.
Fox News está presentando a Libre Initiative, el grupo patrocinado por los multimillonarios hermanos Koch, como una organización comunitaria fundada para "empoderar Hispanos" y avanzar "las libertades y la prosperidad". En realidad, el grupo insta a los Hispanos a que apoyen políticas públicas que según expertos, "van contra sus propios intereses" y "privan de derechos a los votantes Hispanos".
La Libre Initiative fue fundada en 2011 y supone ser una "organización comunitaria, no partidista, y sin fines de lucro, que promueve los principios y valores de la libertad económica para empoderar a la comunidad hispana de EE.UU." El grupo tiene "presencia en ocho estados" y "planea expandirse hacia Wisconsin y North Carolina este año, además de incrementar su equipo en un 30 por ciento antes de 2016."
Fox ha pintado al grupo como el producto de "una coalición de organizaciones de liderazgo hispano." Pero el equipo de Libre está conformado por veteranos del partido republicano, y han recibido más de $10 millones en fondos de parte de los multimillonarios petroleros Charles y David Koch. Libre ha admitido que su mensaje "se alinea mejor con los Republicanos" y "con los principios e ideas de Charles y David Koch."
El grupo promueve la agenda de gente como los Koch a costa de los hispanos. Libre se opone al Affordable Care Act (ACA por sus siglas en inglés, también conocido como Obamacare), que le ayuda a los hispanos a conseguir seguro de salud. Se oponen a un incremento federal del salario mínimo, que le ayudaría a más de 6.7 millones de hispanos. Apoyan leyes de identificación electoral que sirven para "privar a votantes hispanos de su derecho al voto." Han acompañado a Fox News a empujar desinformación sobre los "ilegales" y la inmigración. Libre también ha hecho campaña en contra de políticos que apoyan una reforma migratoria, debido al apoyo que estos políticos han manifestado a favor de Obamacare.
En este reporte sobre la Libre Initiative y los medios:
Fox News is passing off the Koch-funded Libre Initiative as a grassroots organization founded "to empower Hispanics" and advance "liberty, freedom and prosperity." In reality, the group urges Hispanics to support policies that experts say go "against their own interests" and "disenfranchise Hispanic voters."
The Libre Initiative was founded in 2011 and claims to be a "non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization that advances the principles and values of economic freedom to empower the U.S. Hispanic community." The group "has a presence in eight states" and "plans to expand to Wisconsin and North Carolina this year and increase its staff by about 30 percent ahead of 2016."
Fox has portrayed the group as the product of "a coalition of Hispanic leadership organizations." But Libre is staffed by veteran Republican operatives, and the group has received over $10 million in funding from oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. Libre has admitted its message "aligns more with Republicans" and "with the principles and ideas of Charles and David Koch."
The group promotes the agenda of people like the Kochs at the expense of Hispanics. Libre opposes the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which helps Hispanics get health insurance. They oppose a federal minimum wage increase, which would help more than 6.7 million Hispanics. They support voter ID laws that serve "to disenfranchise Hispanic voters." They've joined Fox News in pushing misinformation about "illegals" and immigration. Libre has also campaigned against politicians that support immigration reform due to those politicians' support of the Affordable Care Act.
In this report about the Libre Initiative and the media:
The Associated Press reported that national groups including the Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are heralding the repeal of West Virginia's alternative energy mandate as a lynchpin to repeal stronger renewable energy standards in other states. But the AP identified the Heartland Institute and ALEC only as "national small government groups," ignoring their significant ties to the fossil fuel industry.
West Virginia will likely soon become the first state to repeal an alternative energy standard, following a multi-year campaign by fossil fuel interests to target more environmentally-friendly renewable energy standards in statehouses across the country. In recent days, both chambers of the West Virginia state legislature easily passed a bill repealing the state's Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which requires 25 percent of the state's energy to come from alternative power sources (including non-renewable sources) by 2025.
The AP reported on January 31 that groups including the Heartland Institute and ALEC "argue renewable energy plans limit free market choices and could result in higher electricity costs," but did not reveal that these groups are tied to fossil fuel interests that would benefit from repealing clean energy standards:
After West Virginia legislators voted to delete a law that counts burning tires and some coal as alternative fuels, national small government groups are turning the uncontroversial repeal into a rally cry to remove more stringent energy standards in other states.
National small government lobbies, including The Heartland Institute, still heralded the repeal's passage in West Virginia in early January as a win and a call to action.
"One can only hope other states follow West Virginia's sensible lead," H. Sterling Burnett, Research Fellow, Environment & Energy Policy for The Heartland Institute, said in a news release after the state House passed the bill Jan. 22.
The groups argue renewable energy plans limit free market choices and could result in higher electricity costs. But for years, the American Legislative Exchange Council and others have failed to get any states to delete their standards.
As The Washington Post has noted, "In many cases, the groups involved [in efforts to undermine renewable energy standards and other environmental initiatives] accept money from oil, gas and coal companies that compete against renewable energy suppliers." The anti-renewables campaign by Heartland and ALEC is a case in point.
North Carolina newspapers have largely missed the connection between a Koch-funded education non-profit organization contracted to help shape new statewide history curriculum materials, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative model legislation mill that wrote the bill mandating the new course work.
In 2011, the North Carolina legislature passed a bill known as the "Founding Principles Act," which would require high school students to pass a course on "Founding Philosophy and the Founding Principles of government for a free people." The bill was generated as a piece of model legislation by ALEC, a conservative group that brings corporations and politicians together to vote on and construct bills to be used in multiple states. According to the Huffington Post, North Carolina's Department of Public Instruction, which has been tasked with drawing up the curriculum required by the Founding Principles Act, proposed on December 3 to "'highly recommend' social studies material from the Bill of Rights Institute," an organization which "receives funding from the billionaire Koch brothers."
Of the four largest papers in North Carolina (by circulation), The Charlotte Observer, the News & Record, The News and Observer, and the Winston-Salem Journal, only the Raleigh-based News and Observer produced an original report on the connection between the Koch brothers and the new history curriculum. Its story was reprinted by The Charlotte Observer and the Winston Salem-Journal, the latter of which added quotes from local teachers. The News & Record only ran a short Associated Press story that referenced the original News & Observer article.
As the News and Observer reported, the Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) was contracted to help create course material. What all of the state papers missed, however, was the BRI's own connection with ALEC. According the Center for Media and Democracy, BRI was an ALEC member and part of ALEC's Education Task Force. Documents obtained by The Guardian show that BRI's ALEC membership lapsed in April 2013, though the institute was listed as providing research materials for the new curriculum in February of the same year.
Newspapers across the country have been publishing misleading op-eds attacking the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy without disclosing the authors' oil-industry funding. The op-eds, which attack the wind energy policy as "corporate welfare" and "government handouts," ignore the fact that the oil and gas industry currently receives far greater government subsidies and that the PTC brings great economic benefits.
An op-ed in Michigan's Midland Daily News praising the billionaire Koch brothers and defending their relentless spending intended to influence elections failed to disclose the author's significant connections to the Koch brothers.
In his October 26 op-ed in the Midland Daily News, Timothy Nash, identified as "vice president and economics professor at Northwood University," praised the economic success of Koch Industries and of the philanthropy of the company's leaders, Charles and David Koch. Nash rejected those who criticize the Kochs for their political action, attributing their political spending, which reached over $400 million in 2012 and is setting records in 2014, to "a belief in, passion for, and support of the traditional values that have made America great."
However, the Midland Daily News failed to reveal Nash's own significant and beneficial relationship to the Koch brothers. In February 2011, Nash was announced as the director of the Koch Scholars program at Northwood University, which is funded by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. In addition, Nash is listed as an adjunct professor with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Koch-funded think tank. According to the Center for Media and Democracy's Source Watch database:
The Mackinac Center has received significant funding from the Koch family foundations as well as other funding organizations with ties to the Koch brothers. The Charles G. Koch Foundation donated $79,151 between 2005 and 2009, and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation gave Mackinac a donation of $5,000 in 2001. Between 2010 and 2012, the Mackinac Center received $1,494,000 from the Koch conduits DonorTrust and Donors Capital Fund.
As "the largest conservative state-level policy think tank in the nation," the Mackinac Center is part of the State Policy Network (SPN). SPN members work to produce research to lend legitimacy for the right-wing agenda "that aims to privatize education, block healthcare reform, restrict workers' rights, roll back environmental protections." An evaluation of the Mackinac Center's publications by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice found:
Mackinac Center research is often of low quality and because of this it should be treated with considerable skepticism by the public, policy makers and political leaders. Indeed, much of the work of the Mackinac Center may have caused more confusion than clarity in the public discussion of the issues that it has addressed by systematically ignoring evidence that does not agree with its proposed solutions.
The Mackinac Center is also affiliated with the Franklin Center, which attempts to infiltrate state news coverage and seeks to fill a void in statehouse news reporting while promoting conservative misinformation. The Koch brothers fund the Franklin Center indirectly through Donors Trust, a foundation that has been dubbed "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement" due to the lack of transparency of its donors and the numerous conservative organizations the foundation funds.
Charles and David Koch, brothers and the oil barons who are already shaping the 2014 midterm elections according to recently leaked audio recordings, are often portrayed as environmentally responsible advocates of the free-market that are unfairly targeted by Democrats. However, their political influence, which benefits the fossil fuel industry and their own bottom line, is unparalleled.
Extensive reporting from the Associated Press on the Koch brothers' financial background and political influence glossed over the duo's ties to the fossil fuel industry and ignored their efforts to dismantle action on climate change.
On August 25, the Associated Press published a "primer on the Koch brothers and their role in politics," headlined "Koch 101," along with a lengthy overview of the history of the Koch family. A primer on the influence of Charles and David Koch is sorely needed: Their political organizations are reportedly expected to spend nearly $300 million during this year's election cycle, yet most Americans still haven't heard of the highly influential brothers.
The AP reported in its backgrounder that the Koch brothers are "reshaping politics with an uncompromising agenda." But when describing the their financial background in "Koch 101," the AP merely hinted at the Kochs' ties to the fossil fuel industry, stating that their company, Koch Industries, "makes a wide range of products including Dixie cups, chemicals, jet fuel, fertilizer, electronics, toilet paper and much more."
The longer article that accompanied it similarly downplays the Kochs' oil industry ties. The AP reported that Koch Industries "got its start building oil refineries" and now owns a range of businesses including "refining, consumer products, chemicals and electric components." The article also mentioned -- and promptly dismissed -- Sen. Harry Reid's (D-NV) criticism of the Koch brothers as "oil baron bullies," but it didn't expand on their connections to oil industry.
Neither report mentioned that the Koch brothers themselves receive a great portion of their vast wealth (together, they have more money than Bill Gates) from fossil fuel-related industries. The Koch brothers own 84 percent of the sales from Koch Industries, which operates 10 large firms, five of which have a stated purpose involving the manufacture, transport, refining, or trading of crude oil, petroleum, or natural gas. From a 2010 Greenpeace report on Koch Industries:
Koch operates crude oil gathering systems and pipelines across North America. Its Flint Hills Resources subsidiary owns refineries in Alaska, Minnesota, and Texas that process more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil daily. The company owns a 3% stake in the Trans Alaska Pipeline System, 4,000 miles of oil and products pipelines in the US, and an 80,000 barrels-per day refinery in Rotterdam. In addition, Koch Industries has held multiple leases on the polluting tar sands of Alberta, Canada since the 1990s and the Koch Pipeline Company operates the pipelines that carry tar sands crude from Canada into Minnesota and Wisconsin where Koch's Flint Hill Resources owns oil refineries.
In addition, neither AP report mentioned that the Kochs are using their wealth to advocate for energy policies that would support the fossil fuel industry's bottom line, including that of Koch Industries.
The Koch brothers have been using their wealth to shape energy policy for years in the name of the free market and recently announced a new initiative focused on energy with "what looks like a deregulatory, pro-consumer spin," according to the Daily Beast. If their new energy initiative is anything like previous actions from their network, it will focus on defending tax breaks for fossil fuel industries while attacking renewable energy policies through bunk studies and media misinformation.
Also missing from both articles: The fact that the Koch brothers play a huge role in impeding action on climate change as major funders of anti-scientific global warming denial. The Kochs and their foundations have donated over $67 million to groups denying climate change, like the Heartland Institute, which recently held a climate denial conference featuring several speakers with financial ties to the Kochs.
The International Forum on Globalization (IFG), an alliance of scholars and activists, blamed the Koch brothers for creating "climate deadlock" in international negotiations on climate action, asserting "clear links between the Kochs' cash and today's US policy paralysis holding hostage any global deal" on climate change. The IFG detailed that the Kochs work to "kill US climate legislation" by funding climate denial and influencing elections and that they "polarize the climate policy debate in the US, making impossible any meaningful movement towards science-based emissions targets to enable an equitable global agreement."
For a potential "Koch 102," the AP should take note of the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity's description of Koch Industries and its political agenda:
Oil is the core of the Koch business empire, and the company's lobbyists and officials have successfully fought to preserve the industry's tax breaks and credits, and to defeat attempts by Congress to regulate greenhouse gases.
The author of Sons of Wichita, the new biography of the Koch brothers, never got the interviews he wanted with the archconservative billionaires. But he says the family nonetheless kept a close eye on his research, deploying the "very aggressive P.R. operation" they have used for years to silence media criticism.
"I had a senior person at [Koch Industries] basically tell me, 'Yeah, that is our strategy, we hit back and over time because of doing this the mainstream press has sort of learned a lesson to be careful about what they say about us,'" said Daniel Schulman, the book's author and a senior editor at the progressive Mother Jones magazine. "I would describe it as pugilistic, [which] is often their style in general."
Despite the lack of support from its subjects, Schulman's book is a fascinating portrait of the often bitter relationships between the four brothers -- Charles, David, Bill, and Frederick -- whose sprawling political empire has become a dominant force in the right-wing movement.
Schulman said the company's efforts to find out about his research and stop some from cooperating is not unusual, noting the Koch brothers and Koch Industries, the company at the root of their vast wealth, have a history of both intimidating reporters and seeking to counter negative coverage.
"People in the media certainly have what they would call their war stories dealing with Koch Industries," Schulman said in a lengthy interview with Media Matters. "There is a range of experiences. They have a very aggressive P.R. operation." He added, "I should also say that I like a lot of people I was in communication over there, they were nice people. But they were aggressive."
Schulman, whose book was published last week, said he began his research by writing a formal inquiry letter to each of the four brothers. He said only Frederick, the least involved in the company, would meet with him -- and then said he would only discuss his family if he received veto power over any third-party source material. Schulman declined.
At Koch Industries, which is headed by David and Charles, initial reaction was curious and somewhat cooperative, Schulman said. But it never amounted to any access to the two top executives.
"At one point they flew out to even talk to the publisher," Schulman recalled about a Koch executive. "They wanted to make sure this was going to be a fair book, they saw Mother Jones and immediately thought the worst. I was speaking to people there throughout the process, but they would never give me access to David or Charles, which I think was unfortunate because I do think that they had not much to lose and a lot to gain. I think these guy are all very interesting and should have their stories told."
But Koch Industries' interest did not end there, Schulman said
"I certainly got the sense that there were ... certain people [to whom] they were probably saying, 'don't talk to him.' I definitely got that impression," Schulman said. "I definitely talked to people who said, 'yeah, I spoke to Charles and he said he would prefer that I don't speak to you.'"
The Koch concerns about the book went even further, Schulman said.
Right-wing media have been rushing to distance themselves from the Nevada rancher they've spent weeks championing after Cliven Bundy revealed his racist worldview, but two of Bundy's biggest cheerleaders -- Sean Hannity and Fox News -- have vested corporate, financial, and political interests in the promotion of Cliven Bundy's anti-government land ownership agenda.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy became Fox News' favorite folk hero after he refused to comply with court orders directing him to remove his trespassing cattle from public land. Hannity and many other right-wing media rallied around Bundy and his armed supporters as they threatened violence against federal law enforcement officials attempting to impound Bundy's cattle and collect the $1 million he owes in fines and fees after decades of noncompliance with the law.
Hannity has promoted Bundy's anti-government rhetoric, arguing that the federal government owns far too much land and pushing Bundy's claim that not only does the federal government not have land-ownership authority but that they don't need or use the land they claim to own. On the April 23 edition of his show, Hannity attacked the government for owning too much land, agreeing with Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano that they do not have the constitutional authority to own any of the land. Throughout the land battle, Hannity continuously argued that the government is irresponsibly fighting for land they have no intended use for -- such as building hospitals, schools, or roads -- and should focus their efforts elsewhere to rapists, murderers, criminals, and pedophiles.
Bundy and Hannity's promotion of state ownership of federal lands gives airtime to an issue that conservatives have long been campaigning for but have had difficulty getting voters excited about -- an issue in line with the land interests of the Koch brothers. Slate reported on April 23 that the Fox News corporate, financial, and political interests being served by Hannity's promotion of Bundy lie in the network's connection to the Koch brothers:
Bundy's anti-federal agenda is closely aligned with that of Charles and David Koch, major Republican donors who have been pushing for states to gain control over federal lands - so they can be sold or leased to people like the Koch brothers in deals.