ThinkProgress

This Koch-backed group invites you to celebrate fossil fuels on Earth Day

CREDIT: AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

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?”

CREDIT: Independence Institute

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:

“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.