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Pro-Fossil Koch Brothers Bankroll the Takeover of U.S. Energy Policy

A small policy shop with outsize backing from the hard right Koch brothers, David and Charles, has placed a network of alumni in key positions in the Trump administration, extending the long reach of the pro-fossil Kansas billionaires.

The brothers, whose privately-held Koch Industries posted revenues of US$115 billion in 2013, fund scores of right-wing causes, organizations, and think tanks. Among them are the Washington, DC-based Institute for Energy Research (IER) and its advocacy arm, the American Energy Alliance (AEA). The two small groups (the IER admits to fewer than 10 staff and scholars) received “more than US$5 million from Koch-tied funds between 2010 and 2014,” ThinkProgress writes in an exposé of their influence.

For that, the fiercely pro-fossil Koch siblings appear to be getting results. IER alumni “have been appointed to high-level positions at the Department of Energy, where they are playing major roles in implementing pro-fossil fuel, anti-renewable energy policies,” ThinkProgress reports.

The influence began even before Donald Trump took the oath of office in January. IER president Thomas Pyle, formerly a registered lobbyist for Koch Industries, provided a detailed briefing note of expectations to the new administration. It was led by the administration serving notice of America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement—as Trump duly did at the end of May.

That same month, ThinkProgress recalls, Trump appointed former IER vice president Daniel Simmons to oversee the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. While with IER, “Simmons advocated for the office to be eliminated.” Another former AEA employee, Alex Fitzsimmons, is now a senior adviser in the same office, E&E News [subs req’d] reported earlier this month.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry appointed yet another IER alumnus, Travis Fisher, to oversee a study to determine whether renewables were harming the stability of the U.S. electric grid by disadvantaging traditional base load generation sources like coal and nuclear. As recently as 2015, Fisher recommended eliminating “the federal production tax credit for wind energy; state renewable energy standards; and net metering incentives for rooftop solar.”

As head of Perry’s grid study group, he is in a position to edit and revise its final report. A draft of that report leaked last week showed the department’s professional staff had found no ground for concern about grid stability, but observers feared the finding might not survive into the final version of the document.

The “IER receives funding specifically to produce research papers that attack renewable energy and promote fossil fuels,” ThinkProgress writes. “Other right wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute have a wide array of financial backers; IER’s funding circle appears to be much smaller.”

With its financial support from the radical Koch brothers, IER “can get away with more extreme views, especially on renewable energy, than either Heritage or the American Enterprise Institute does,” Greenpeace USA researcher Jesse Coleman asserts. Those views are now being mainlined into Trump administration energy policies.