From promoting acid rain to climate denial — over 20 years of David Kochs polluter front groups

This week we learned that Koch Industries outspends Exxon Mobil on climate and clean energy disinformation.  And we saw that a Smithsonian exhibit funded by David Koch whitewashes the danger of human-caused climate change.

Yet this is but the latest effort in a nearly quarter-century effort to misinform the public by the billionaire polluter, as Lee Fang reveals in this Wonk Room repost.

The corporate-backed front group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is again leading the charge for industry against environmental protections. Earlier this month, AFP kicked off its “Regulation Reality Tour” “” a roadshow through the states of pivotal senators pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency not to regulate carbon emissions, as outlined by the Clean Air Act .

The campaign is part carnival, part sophisticated K Street lobbying. Attendees are welcomed by an inflatable moonbounce for children, free food and drinks, and AFP staff dressed as “carbon cops” distributing freebies to the crowd. The rallies serve as a platform for AFP to scare voters with stories of bureaucrats regulating churches and “radio controlled thermostats.” Moreover, operatives from AFP collect names and train attendees on how to lobby Congress to defeat clean energy reform.

The founder and chairman of Americans for Prosperity is oil baron David Koch, who is one of the richest men in the world because of his oil, chemicals, and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries. Koch Industries is a major polluter with an atrocious record of sloppy operations. According to the EPA, Koch Industries is responsible for over 300 oil spills in the US and has leaked three million gallons of crude oil into fisheries and drinking waters. They were fined a record $35 million dollars and an additional $8 million in Minnesota for discharging into streams. But AFP’s recent crusade against the EPA is just the latest in Koch’s twenty-year campaign to have unrestricted power to pollute. Below is a timeline with snapshots of Koch’s long running campaign to distort science, orchestrate fake grassroots campaigns, and defeat environmental protections. Click MORE for the timeline:


– David’s brother Charles Koch founds the libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute.


– David Koch, along with political operative Richard Fink, founds Citizens for a Sound Economy to create grassroots support to for deregulation, corporate tax cuts, and other right-wing, corporate causes. Fink, who also serves as an executive at Koch Industries, goes on to direct Koch charitable foundations and the Koch-funded academic center (known first as the Center for Market Processes, later renamed as the Mercatus Center) at George Mason University. Mercatus provides thousands of scholarships to students around the country to study Koch’s free market beliefs, and trains hundreds of academics in those same ultralibertarian theories.


– A market-based cap and trade program to regulate sulfur dioxide is proposed as an amendment to the Clean Air Act to eradicate acid rain.

– Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy creates a spinoff front group called “Concerned Citizens for the Environment” to battle proposed regulations to deal with acid rain. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the group “has no citizen membership of its own,” but produced studies arguing that acid rain was a myth and that deregulation would benefit the environment.


– President Clinton calls for a BTU tax on fossil fuel-based energy.

– Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy, along with another Koch-funded group, American Energy Alliance, works closely with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the oil lobby to coordinate a campaign to kill the BTU tax. Citizens for a Sound economy commissions polls, takes full page newspaper advertisements, television advertisements, and sends operatives into Oklahoma and Louisiana to organize rallies against the tax.

– After months of ads, Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy organizes rowdy anti-tax protests to ensure the BTU tax is killed. NPR noted that one CSE-sponsored rally outside of the House of Representatives was “designed to strike fear into the hearts of wavering Democrats.” Angry protesters surrounded a man on a hunger strike in favor of the energy tax and shouted him down. Among the gimmicks of rallies were timed releases of balloons to represent dollars families would supposedly pay under the tax. After Sen. David Boren (D-OK) and Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) collapsed to the pressure, the tax died.


– A Koch pipeline spill at Corpus Christi, Texas, led to a $10.5 million class-action settlement for people in the fishing industry. Almost 100,000 gallons were spilled, causing a twelve-mile oil slick in Nueces Bay and Corpus Christi Bay.

– Court documents reveal that Phillip Morris and the tobacco industry rents Citizens for a Sound Economy for a campaign against proposed tobacco regulations. A memo outlines that the tobacco industry’s $2 million in contributions to CSE paid for a campaign to “educate and mobilize consumers, through town hall meetings, radio and print ads, direct mail, patch-through calls to the Capitol switchboard, editorial board visits, polling data, meetings with Members and staff and the release of studies and other educational pieces.”


– Koch’s Cato Institute develops a legal theory for environmental deregulation championed by lobbyists, GOP lawmakers to neuter the EPA. Jerry Taylor, Cato’s director of natural resources studies, argues that by granting the EPA authority to set specific rules about environmental standards, Congress was violating Article I of the Constitution, which vests “all legislative powers” in the Congress itself.

– Through a shell corporation called Triad Management and a nonprofit called Economic Education Trust, Koch secretly funnels $1.7 million dollars in attack ads to help Republicans on the eve of the 1996 elections in states where Koch owns refineries, pipelines, and offices.


– The EPA proposes strengthening rules governing air pollution, regulating particles from coal plants and industrial plants which cause tens of thousands of premature deaths a year.

– Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy springs into action, filing dozens of reports opposing the proposed EPA regulations on particle pollution and running ads across the country. One ad features a “pediatrician” who says increased rates of asthma are not caused by the toxic particles, but rather by “dust mites, stuff like that.” A second voice in the spot adds: “Sounds like the bureaucrats in Washington are scheming to keep their jobs.” Another ad from CSE claims the EPA regulations would ban fireworks and backyard grills. “Imagine that,” the ad states, “a new government regulation that takes away our freedom to, huh, celebrate our freedom.”

– Citizens for a Sound Economy’s anti-EPA hysteria reaches a boiling point, with the Michigan House passing a resolution asking the EPA not to regulate barbecues. The new CSE president, C. Boydon Gray, who also served as a lobbyist for a firm representing several polluters, makes the rounds on television fighting the regulations.

– Koch bankrolls the Cooler Heads Coalition, organized by Citizens for a Sound Economy and other Koch-funded groups, like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to produce studies and ads aimed at scuttling the Kyoto climate accords.


– Koch admits to environmental violations at its oil refinery in Rosemount, Minnesota, and was forced to pay up $8 million in penalties for discharging oil in streams. At the time, the fine was the largest federal environmental fine in Minnesota history.


– The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission slaps a $171,570 fine on Koch for environmental violations at crude oil storage facilities. The company allegedly violated air quality restrictions at facilities in 32 Texas counties.


– Koch pours $800,000 to Bush and Republicans for the 2000 election, funnels up to $20 million into various conservative think tanks and organizations.

– In the months preceding the presidential elections, the Koch faced a 97-count federal indictment charging it with concealing illegal releases of 91 metric tons of benzene, known to cause leukemia, from its refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas. After Bush took office in 2001, 88 counts were dropped. Two days before the trial, then-Attorney General Ashcroft agreed to a plea bargain. Koch pled guilty to falsifying documents, all major charges were dropped and the company settled the lawsuit for $20 million, a small part of the possible $350 million in fines. This was the fifth largest ever settlement for criminal environmental prosecutions.

– In North Carolina, Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy fights to stymie efforts to get 12,850 acres of forest in Avery County designated as wilderness. In organizing anti-tax and anti-regulation rallies, CSE experiments with the idea of reenacting a “Boston Tea Party.” Paul O’Connor, a columnist for the North Carolina Dispatch, pans the CSE-organized tea party rallies as a “flop.”

– The Bush administration appoints Koch Industries lobbyists and political operatives to key environmental positions throughout the federal government. For instance, Koch Industries lobbyist Elizabeth Stolpe is appointed associate director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.


– Bush appoints Jeffrey Holmstead to head the EPA’s clean air program. Holmstead had previously served as a scholar at Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy, writing papers to roll back EPA protections.


– Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy testifies to the right-wing Texas Board of Education, urging the panel to reject a book called “Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future.” CSE’s Texas director claimed the book “blames Christianity, Democracy and Industrialization “¦ as causing the so-called [environmental] ‘crisis'” and that this is “highly offensive to patriotic Americans and Christians.” The panel ultimately rejects the book.

– House Republican Majority Leader Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX) resigns from Congress, becomes Chairman of Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy. Armey, who simultaneously served as a lobbyist for megafirm DLA Piper, uses CSE to promote the interests of his corporate clients, which include several polluters.


– Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy launches a massive nationwide effort to help reelect President Bush, congressional Republicans. Koch operatives, hoping to splinter the left-wing vote, help to qualify Ralph Nader on the Oregon ballot.

– Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy splinters, with staff and resources joining with another right-wing from group, Empower America, to form FreedomWorks with Dick Armey as the chairman. Many staffers from CSE form a new organization called Americans for Prosperity, with David Koch as the chairman. Koch hires Tim Phillips “” a longtime Astroturf lobbyist who had previously orchestrated grassroots campaigns with Ralph Reed, Enron, and outsourcing interests “” to head his group.

– The Wall Street Journal publishes a blockbuster story on Koch’s think tank at George Mason University, the Mercatus Center. The story details how the think tank wields more power than any single K Street lobbying firm in terms of influencing environmental regulations in the Bush administration. Among 23 regulations axed by the Bush administration, 14 were prescribed by Mercatus. Mercatus fellows, like “anti-regulatory zealot” Susan Dudley, move in a revolving door in and out of Koch’s Mercatus Center. In addition, the Center publishes papers challenging the science of climate change.


– Koch Industries finalizes its purchase of Georgia Pacific, one of the world’s leading timber firms. Koch’s Americans for Prosperity increases its advocacy against public lands and designated public forests in Illinois, New Jersey, much of the West.


– Koch groups organize to viciously smear Al Gore and his movie An Inconvenient Truth. Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute produces ads mocking the movie. Koch funded political operatives follow Gore, smearing him as a “hypocrite” for traveling in a car, airplane.

– After the Mercatus Center attacks EPA regulation of tailpipe greenhouse gases by challenging the science of climate change, Bush appoints Mercatus director Susan Dudley to head the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which has the power to change all proposed federal rules.


– Koch launches his annual conservative “Defending the Dream Summit.” Republican nominees for President, like Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, appear at the first summit to showcase their right-wing credentials, meet with David Koch.


– The 1990 cap and trade Clean Air Act amendments to regulate sulfur dioxide, to deal with acid rain, is deemed a stunning success. Despite Koch’s fear-mongering that it would destroy the economy and kill jobs with an expensive new mandate, the program not only rapidly reduced sulfur dioxide, but did so billions of dollars under projected costs.

– Koch’s Americans for Prosperity launches its “Hot Air Tour,” a touring campaign to sow doubt about the science of climate change. The campaign, which still goes on today, gives away free items like food and t-shirts, and features an actual hot air balloon with a sign attacking “global warming alarmism.”

– Koch launches RightOnline, an effort to train right-wing operatives in using technology, to mimic the success of the left, particularly in blogging.


-Over 100 operatives from Koch’s Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks organize quietly shortly before President Obama’s inauguration to try again to spark “tea party” protests. With the help of Fox News, right-wing media and the Republican Party, the tea party “movement” catches on, with dozens of rallies against President Obama all over the country throughout the year. Americans for Prosperity hands out talking points and signs for the tea parties to protest the EPA, clean energy legislation, and mocking the science of climate change.

– Americans for Prosperity tries to crash the Copenhagen climate accords in December 2009. Guest speaker Christopher Monckton calls youth climate activists “Hitler Youth.” He told a Jewish youth climate activist whose grandparents escaped the Nazis that he was “Hitler Youth,” and that “you people don’t care” that “millions are dying in third world countries.” Americans for Prosperity again featured Christopher Monckton at a regional summit in March 2010.

– Koch funds millions in ads attacking clean energy and climate science throughout the year. Attempting to stir up populist class anger, one Koch ad portrays a wealthy “eco-hypocrite” who “own three homes and five cars, but always talk with my rich friends about saving the planet.”


– A report finds that Koch is the largest funder of climate science denying organizations in the world, outpacing even ExxonMobil. Nearly $25 million in Koch money has flowed to various anti-climate science think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, the Pacific Research Institute, and the Tax Foundation, among others.

27 Responses to From promoting acid rain to climate denial — over 20 years of David Kochs polluter front groups

  1. Ivy Bear says:

    How much did Koch give to George Mason University? Who is on the board of Directors at George Mason? Is Koch part of that group? What impact has this funding had on “scholarship” there? I suspect there is more to unearth.

  2. Leif says:

    What a cow pie.

    I am at an otherwise lose of printable words.

  3. catman306 says:

    The Axis of Evil runs directly through Charles and David Koch.

    Maybe Google needs to change their name to “Wichita” every now and then to bring a little attention to Wichita, KS, home of Koch Industries.

  4. jim says:

    The Koch’s are the real deal. They have the clear objective of creating a false controversy, they are well-organized, they have virtually unlimited funds at their disposal, and they have little or no hesitancy to lie and break laws in order to make more money.

    As Thomas Frank wrote in What’s the Matter With Kansas?, “Koch money subsidizes the mass production of bad ideas.”

  5. mike roddy says:

    Good one, Lee Fang, I hope someone turns this into a book.

    Koch is a habitual lawbreaker as well as an evil polluter. Aren’t there laws against bribery, impersonating citizen action groups, false product claims, pay-to-play at museums, and inciting violence?

    Bush was in bed with them, and Clinton was not the type to stand up to them. Hello, President Obama- if Holdren looks into these guys, you will find that a whole lot of people will support you. Maybe you can start by reopening some of the pollution violations and fines that they wiggled out of under Bush.

  6. Mark Shapiro says:

    One (of many) chilling lines: “Angry protesters surrounded a man . . . “. And this was from 1993!

    Historical notes: their dad founded the John Birch Society. David Koch was 1980 Libertarian Party VP nominee. The run taught him that being a true libertarian was a waste of money and he went for pure, unvarnished greed.

    The Koch brothers’ empire looks worse and worse with each revelation.

  7. Ian Forrester says:

    I wonder how much of the Koch money going to George Mason University ended up with Wegman.

  8. Rick Covert says:

    Didn’t know they funded CATO and Citizens for a Sound Economy. Interesting!

    [JR: David Koch’s brother founded Cato!]

  9. MapleLeaf says:

    Wow, that is quite the rap sheet. And they get away with it how? US citizens need to demand better, they should also demand legal action be taken against Koch Industries. Because they are so big, that would probably have to be the Feds (e.g., EPA).

    I just “love” the misleading names that these astroturf groups give themselves.

    Ian @7– You pose a very intriguing question about Wegman.

  10. Ivy Bear says:

    Is it just a coincidence that the survey of broadcast weathermen came out of George Mason?

  11. Will Koroluk says:

    George Mason U should be on everyone’s “think before you believe” list.

  12. PurpleOzone says:

    Koch family and Sara Scaife foundations donate substantially to the Institute for Humane studies, located at George Mason Univ. It hunts for and funds promising students who are interested in libertarian economics.

    Isn’t it unusual for a public university to be funded so directively? Does this corrupt its’ mission?

    This Koch story is huge. I saw James Hoggan on Maddow’s show. Although I was aware they were behind some of the climate disinformation, I had no idea they’ve founded/funded 40 ‘think tank’ and astroturf organizations.

    It goes far beyond global warming denial. They pushed against health care reform. Strategically the longer they delay health care the less able Congress is to enact useful climate legislation.

    I suspect Scaife foundations and Peabody coal have more involvement than commonly known.

    The press often uses ‘facts’ from the ‘think tanks’ uncritically. A few nights ago Diane Sawyer used the Cato institute finding that Medicare in 1965 had projected costs of $9 billion in the 1990’s but actually costs were $67 billion (hospital costs). She didn’t think to mention that you could buy a cup of coffee for a dime in 1965. There’s no mention of the cost being in constant dollars.

    This story is huge. Congress needs to crack down on the ‘charitable’ tax deductions. People need to be aware of the manipulation and distortion.

    Don’t the Kochs have grandchildren?

  13. John Mashey says:


    Your heart is in the right place, but there really is a lot more information to help you out.

    Please take a look at the first 4 pages of Crescendo to Climategate Cacophony,\ and then maybe:

    A.2.2 describes the key “top-10” family foundations for funding climate anti-science. Of the top-10, 7 are either Koch or Scaife related.

    A.2.1 does ExxonMobil, and shows year-by-year fundings by EM and family foundations for some think tanks, as well as showing how much funding is “unknown”.

    A.6.1 shows a matrix of funders (ExxonMobil foundation, and many family foundations, including the Top-10) versus 44 think tanks/fronts, showing funding totals.

    (A.3 describes each of those fundees.)

    A.6.2 shows a matrix of people versus 30+ specific climate anti-science efforts, and versus the think tanks described above.

    As one other note, while it is not generally illegal to mislead the US public, it can be illegal to purposefully mislead Congress, and you can read about a set of actions that might well be subject to 18USC1001 (felony, up to 5 years), 18USC371 (conspiracy), etc. You will also find a few mentions of Peabody here and there.

  14. David Koch is often called one of the most dangerous men in America. Based on this article it would seem he has not only made hundreds of millions from polluting the environment, but routinely spends his money in an effort to ensure that such pollution can be carried out by others from sea to shining sea.

  15. Ross Hunter says:

    I’ve been wondering how to pronounce that name when talking to people about this story. Gunmakers Heckler & Koch offer their preferred pronunciation as “coke.”

    Secondary version in common usage, more genteel, is “cook.”

    This is a story I’d like to become commonplace in American culture (fat chance I know), so I thought I’d pass that along.

  16. DreamQuestor says:

    I observe that this blog primarily lists Koch’s activities in America. Is there a similar list of the evils committed by Koch Industries in other nations?

  17. I don’t suppose this story will make the pages of The New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal any time soon.

    Or, for that matter, will it show up on the net on MSNBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, etc.?

    Can we at least hope for a cover story in Newsweek?

    And what about the national security angle?

    Every day wasted in delaying adaptation, mitigation, emissions reductions, means in increase in the risk to national security.

    These guys should go to jail for life for their crimes.

  18. Further to comment #16:

    What about Koch’s acivities in Canada?

    How much are they behind the looming environmental disaster of coal sands extraction in Utah?

  19. Wit's End says:

    Evil personified.

  20. Wit's End says:

    Koch is #10 on the newly released “Toxic 100 Corporate Air Polluters List” from UMass Amherst:

  21. Ian Forrester says:

    Tenney, to answer your question about Koch’s interest in the Alberta tar sands:

    Koch, through their subsidiary True North Energy, planned to develop the Fort Hills Site north of Fort McMurray and build an upgrader close to Edmonton. That deal fell through and was transferred to UTS Energy which brought in Petrocanada as a major partner. Petrocanada was taken over by Suncor, a major oil sands player. Plans to build the upgrader have been postponed, probably indefinitely.

    Thus Koch has no direct presence in the Alberta oil sands but they are involved indirectly since their refinery in Minnesota upgrades Alberta bitumen which is pipe lined using Koch (?) pipelines. Alberta light crude is used as a diluent to allow flow of the viscous bitumen.

  22. Leland Palmer says:

    I’d like to recommend a source: the Media Matters Conservative Transparency database.

    This is the new home of the old mediatransparency website.

    Before that, the Washington Post had a database of the “charitable” contributions of the Scaife foundations, which they constructed to track the Scaife funding for various conservative causes, including the Clinton impeachment effort and Ted Olson’s Scaife funded attacks on the Clintons, as documented in Joe Conason’s excellent book The Hunting of the President. The Washington Post’s database got closed down, though, after a couple of years.

    Anyway, doing funding searches on the Media Matters Conservative Transparency database is very educational.

    It’s easy to discover, for example, that Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News and a huge number of other climate change biased media outlets, was once on the board of directors of the Cato Institute, founded and supported by the Koch financial interests.

    Also listed on the Cato Institute board of directors is John Malone, who controls Liberty Media and who is one of Rupert Murdoch’s close corporate allies. Liberty Media controls many, many cable TV channels.

    Anyway, time spent doing searches on this database is time well spent, IMO, and starts to reveal connections among our financial elites, some of whom are funding the paid astroturf AGW denial effort.

  23. re: #21

    Thank you, Ian, for that information.

  24. From Peru says:

    It is amazing how “libertarian” means “right wing” in the USA.

    In other places, like Spain, “libertarian” means far-left anarchist!
    (actually even at the left of communism)

  25. Richard Brenne says:

    I have a name for Koch that I’m sure he’s never been called: A mensch.

    [JR: ????]

  26. Richard Brenne says:

    You’re right to ???? Joe, somehow late at night that wording didn’t come out right. I think it’s safe to say he’s not a mensch, which is what I meant.

  27. LS says:

    From Peru,

    “Libertarian” in the United Stats means “market liberal,” primarily because positive liberalism took a more social democratic turn here in the 20th century and appropriated the term entirely.