One thing Earth Day celebrations have been lacking is a recognition of fossil fuels — at least according to the Independence Institute, a self-described “action tank” based in Colorado that receives funding from a litany of prominent conservative dark money groups.
“Enviros celebrate by planting trees but they never celebrate the trucks that deliver the trees, or the gas that powers that truck, or the plastic handles of the shovels they use,” an email from the organization reads. “Shouldn’t Mother Earth be thanked for making Earth Day events possible?”
Budding artists are encouraged to send their original works in by April 21 with the main requirement that it “should showcase the awesomeness of fossil fuels.”
Extolling the virtues of coal, oil, and gas may seem like an odd way to mark the one day of the year dedicated to environmental awareness around the globe, particularly considering the Independence Institute purports to be “agnostic on energy resources.”
A tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, the anti-government group has an annual revenue of about $2 to 3 million. Though they are not required to disclose their donors, public records show much of their money comes from several of the most infamous donors to the nation’s right wing and climate science denial movements.
A ThinkProgress review of the Independence Institute’s funders (according to data provided by Conservative Transparency, Guidestar, and CitizenAudit) revealed that since 2001, its funders included at least:
- $146,000 combined from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, a pair of tax-exempt foundations controlled by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation and the Center to Protect Patient Rights, entities closely tied to the brothers.
- $2,565,766 combined from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, two affiliated donor-advised funds that funnel donations from supporters to non-governmental organizations that promote limited government and free enterprise. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the Koch brothers and “other ultra-wealthy industrial ideologues appear to be cloaking an untold amount of their donations to conservative political outlets” by using these funds as pass-throughs. A 2015 investigation by the Guardian revealed that the two secretive organizations had directed roughly $125 million over three years to spread disinformation about climate science and fight President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
- $3,540,412 combined from Adolph Coors Foundation, Castle Rock Foundation, and PEMA Foundation, three foundations tied to the beer-brewing Coors family. Environmentalists have long criticized the company’s record.
- $1,040,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The brothers made their fortune in electrical controls and Harry was active in the John Birch Society. The foundation gives tens of millions of dollars annually to conservative and anti-government causes.
- $437,500 from the National Rifle Association Foundation. Though best known for its pro-gun aims, the NRA has attacked science to oppose regulations on toxic bullets that might inconvenience gun owners.
- $1,158,500 from the Anschutz Foundation. Its founder, Philip Anschutz built his fortune in oil, real estate, entertainment, and other industries and is known for his conservative activism. He owns the conservative Weekly Standard.
- $394,463 from the State Policy Network (SPN), a national network dedicated to putting a right-wing think tank in every state. Its affiliates have pushed for a rollback of climate regulations. A 2013 investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy detailed SPN’s efforts to push an extreme right-wing agenda in states and its close ties with groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity, both of which receive Koch funding.
“The Independence Institute’s position on tackling climate change is about as independent as a fox’s view on protecting the hen-house,” Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy, told ThinkProgress via email. “It’s really a corporate-backed fake think tank with a track record of opposing renewable energy development in Colorado.”
For its part, the Independence Institute has both sponsored events and hosted rallies attacking the Clean Power Plan — an Obama-era proposal to cut carbon emissions from the power sector nationwide. The Trump administration is actively planning to dismantle the landmark policy. It applauded Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s (R) move to sue over the CPP (Coffman also received substantial funding from Koch-backed organizations during her campaign).
Amy Cooke, executive vice president and director of the Energy Policy Center at the Independence Institute, has been critical of Colorado’s renewable energy standard, arguing that clean energy sources should be expanded to include clean coal, natural gas, hydroelectric power, and nuclear. Late last year, Cooke was named to the Trump administration’s EPA “landing team,” and wrote of her excitement for the future of the EPA under Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt (both have been clear about their intent to cripple the agency, slashing its budget and immediately gutting policies to fight climate change).
Cooke told ThinkProgress that the organization’s fossil fuels art contest is rooted in inclusivity. “Fossil fuels seem to get left out of the Earth Day celebration,” she said via email. “As an energy feminist — pro-choice in energy sources — I feel it’s important to have hydrocarbons equally represented.”
In regard to Independence Institute’s donors — and their history of working against climate action — Cooke avoided specifics. “In general, people and organizations support us because of the work we do including being energy agnostic,” she said. “We encourage innovation instead of over regulation. It’s actually kind of liberating because we aren’t boxed in by an either-or cynical choice paradigm.”
Cooke did not immediately respond to a follow-up question regarding whether she or Independence Institute had advocated for wind and solar as viable energy choices.