by Michael Conathan
It’s not even halfway through October, but Bill Koch has already put on his Halloween costume. This year, the black sheep of the billionaire band of brothers has decided to “trick or treat” as an environmentalist.
Yesterday, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound — a group established by Koch and his cronies to wage war on Cape Wind, the first offshore wind farm proposed in U.S. waters — dredged up an old lawsuit against the project. The frivolous nature of this latest tilt at the project’s offshore windmills is enough to make even Don Quixote blush.
This time, the plaintiffs allege the turbines would violate the Endangered Species Act, creating unacceptable risks to protected birds, sea turtles, and the north Atlantic right whale. What they fail to acknowledge is that any potential negative effects from the wind farm’s construction have already been looked at over and over again during the project’s 11 year trek through the regulatory process. The Environmental Impact Statement finalized by the Department of the Interior in 2009 carefully considered endangered species and determined that Cape Wind would not pose any population risks.
A handful of smaller green groups have joined the ersatz enviro Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound in this most recent filing, but the vast majority of big time regional and national environmental groups have expressed unequivocal support for the project. These include Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, the Conservation Law Foundation, and the Audubon Society (a group with a pretty good reputation for protecting endangered birds).
Perhaps most galling was the Alliance calling out the Sierra Club in its press release as an organization that has “sounded the alarm” about Cape Wind. The Sierra Club is, in fact, a vocal supporter of the project. In August, the Club released a report, “Clean Energy Under Siege,” detailing the carefully executed campaign launched by Koch and other oil and gas industry leaders against Cape Wind and the rest of the clean energy economy. The Sierra Club has also joined the Conservation Law Foundation in launching Cape Wind Now, an initiative with the goal of combatting the endless stall tactics from Koch and the Alliance.
Koch’s environmentalist costume comes with a lofty price tag. As a co-director of the Alliance, he has been one of its biggest donors since its inception in 2003. According to the Sierra Club’s report:
- as of 2006, he had contributed more than $1.5 million to the cause. If those contributions have held steady over the years, that would mean he’s approaching $5 million of personal money spent opposing the project.
- in 2009, his company Oxbow Energy, paid virtually the entire salary of the Alliance’s President, approximately $150,000.
- Oxbow also spent more than $600,000 to lobby the FAA against approving Cape Wind.
Why? In addition to protecting his investment in dirty energy, Koch also owns a massive, oceanfront mansion in a country club community on Cape Cod with ample views of the area of the Sound where the project will be constructed, Koch has openly opposed the project even though from his manse, the turbines would appear as tiny twigs on the horizon.
And then there’s also that other matter of preventing a commercially-proven, immediately available renewable source of energy from gaining a foothold in a region desperate for additional power capacity and establishing itself as a legitimate alternative to the Koch brothers’ precious oil, gas, and coal.
Just remember, Massachusetts, when the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound comes ringing your doorbell all dressed up as an environmental group, you better take a peek behind the mask. Otherwise, the trick will be on you.
Michael Conathan is the Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress.