Road block

Koch industries is a billion-dollar energy and industrial conglomerate with a powerful vested interest in maintaining and expanding the production and consumption of oil and natural gas. Run by the billionaire Koch brothers, the company has funded strongly conservative organisations for decades–including several well-known ‘think tanks’ which continue to disseminate disinformation about how climate science is ‘unsettled’ and uncertain. The Koch brothers have repeatedly voiced scepticism that fossil fuel use contributes to global warming.[1]

For the oil majors and the petrochemical companies, the increasing market penetration of electric vehicles is a clear threat to their business model—whose profitability rests on the assumption that the demand for oil and natural gas continues to grow strongly for the foreseeable future.

This is not the oil industry’s vision of the future

Not long after the Obama administration took office in the US, it set an overly ambitious goal of having 1 million plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2015. That hasn’t happened; but the sale of electric vehicles in the US and Canada is growing strongly—albeit from a very small base.  Moreover, it is clear to most business analysts that electric vehicles are going to make up a substantial fraction of the transport sector within a decade or so, since several surveys have shown that a majority of people would purchase an electric car if the cost was comparable with  a conventional vehicle.  As the cost of car batteries continues to decline and economies of scale start to have a greater impact, it is certain that the sticker price of electric vehicles will continue to fall.  Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that electric vehicles are less expensive to operate and maintain, and that their life-cycle costs, even in 2018, were less than comparable vehicles with gasoline or diesel engines.

Fossil fuels forever

The pro-fossil fuel advocacy group Fueling US Forward (FUSF) was formed in August 2016 and is widely believed to have strong links to the Koch brothers. The principal objective of FUSF was to promote the consumption of fossil fuels by rebranding them as ‘positive’ and ‘sustainable’, and to remove government subsidies for electric vehicles. In 2017, FUSF went on the attack with the production and posting of a video entitled “Dirty secrets of electric cars”.

The video is so full of errors that it would be normally be considered something of a joke, but like all disinformation campaigns that are generously funded by the fossil fuel industries, the original messaging was widely viewed and rebroadcast by other conservative and climate change-denying media platforms.[2]

The numerous factual errors in the video were quickly challenged and debunked by commentators posting on other websites, but once again, this propaganda serves the purpose of creating doubt in the minds of people who are not familiar with the technology, and who are not in a position to fact-check the erroneous claims that the ‘rare earth’ materials used to fabricate electric vehicle batteries are all produced by child slave labour in Africa. 

The Koch brothers have continued to try and impede the growth of electric vehicles in America. The electric vehicle tax credit, first established under the George W. Bush administration, offers $7,500 in tax benefits to consumers. It also has a cap on the number of vehicles sold by a manufacturer, and once that cap is reached the credit is gradually phased out. In late 2018, several US congressmen, both Republican and Democrat, were proposing to extend the credit through to 2028 and to eliminate the cap.     

In October 2018, a Koch lobbyist sent a letter to senators strongly urging them to oppose the proposal to continue the subsidy and remove the cap. The letter claimed that Koch Industries supported ending all energy subsidies, including the substantial subsidies the company itself benefits from. This claim is mere window dressing as the Koch brothers know full well that removing the generous subsidies to the oil and gas industry is never going to happen under the Trump administration.  Koch industries has spent a considerable amount of money to bolster its insistence that electric vehicles should not be promoted, and that conventional vehicles burning gasoline and diesel fuels are the better option.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Koch Industries has supported at least 18 anti-electric vehicle groups to the tune of $152.7 million over the period 2012 to 2016.  Needless to say, substantial financial contributions have also been made to the election campaigns of friendly Republican politicians.[3] 

Rolling back the standards

President Trump’s plan to roll back car efficiency standards in 2019 has also pleased the oil and gas industry, as less efficient internal combustion engines will burn greater quantities of fuel. They will also produce greater amounts of greenhouse gases—but the environmental impacts of these emissions is clearly not of great concern to the fossil fuel companies.        

EVgo fast charger at Walmart

According to a New York Times investigation published in 2018, Marathon Petroleum, the US’s largest oil refiner, worked with oil industry groups and a conservative policy network financed by the Koch brothers to run a ‘covert campaign’ to roll back vehicle emission standards. Marathon teamed up with the American Legislative Exchange Council (which has been funded by both ExxonMobil and Koch Industries) to draft legislation for states supporting the industry’s position. Its proposed resolution, dated 18 September 2018, describes fuel efficiency rules as “a relic of a disproven narrative of resource scarcity” and states that “unelected bureaucrats” shouldn’t dictate the cars that Americans drive. In other words, wasting energy is fine—especially when it adds to the bottom line of the oil industry.

A separate but related campaign on Facebook, run by an oil-industry lobby representing ExxonMobil, Chevron, Phillips 66 and several other oil companies, urged people to write to state regulators to support the rollback [4].


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[1] Huffington Post: The Kochs are plotting a multimillion-dollar assault on electric vehicles. Accessed at: //www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/koch-electric-vehicles_us_56c4d63ce4b0b40245c8cbf6?
[2] See Ecowatch: Koch brothers launch attack to kill electric cars. Accessed at //www.ecowatch.com/koch-brothers-electric-cars-2456866524.html
[3 See DeSmogBlog The Koch brothers’ last ditch attempt to kill the electric vehicle tax credit. Accessed at: //www.desmogblog.com/2018/12/14/koch-brothers-last-ditch-attemp-kill-electric-vehicle-tax-credit/
[4] New York Times. The oil industry’s covert campaign to rewrite American car emissions rules. Accessed at: //www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/climate/cafe-emissions-rollback-oil-industry.html