The federal electric vehicle (EV) tax credit has survived House and Senate negotiations and will not be repealed by Congress’s tax reform bill. The fate of the $7,500 tax credit had been uncertain after House Republicans voted to eliminate the financial incentive in their version of the tax bill.
The credit, which was adopted as part of the 2009 stimulus bill and which has strong bipartisan roots, has come under a renewed series of attacks in recent months, including from groups with close ties to the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel–funded think tanks and front groups.
The Institute for Energy Research (IER), which was founded in part by Charles Koch and is led by former Koch Industries Director of Federal Affairs Tom Pyle, has argued against the EV tax credit since such federal incentives were introduced. Though IER has been relatively quiet on the credit in the recent round of debates, a number of other groups have surfaced to lobby for its swift cancellation.
One group launched for the express purpose of fighting the EV tax credit is the Energy Equality Coalition (EEC), which features a slogan that bashes electric cars as being “Built by Billionaires, Bought by Millionaires … and subsidized by the rest of us.”
The EEC launched in late 2015, with the EV tax credit immediately in its crosshairs. Though the group has been relatively quiet in the press and on social media — with just two posts on its Facebook page in 2017, both after the House first introduced its tax reform plan — it is connected to a web of other Koch- and Big Oil–backed organizations, suggesting that there may be more coordination of campaign and lobbying efforts behind the scenes.
The Energy Equality Coalition was launched as an offshoot of Frontiers of Freedom, an Exxon and Koch-funded front group run by George Landrith, who also serves on the EEC Board of Directors. When EEC launched in late 2015, Landrith told the Weekly Standard:
“Working-class people are paying taxes to subsidize luxury goods for the richest among us. That's wrong and needs to stop. So we're launching the Energy Equality Coalition to raise awareness about this imbalance and end the subsidy behind it. We believe there should be energy equality, not special treatment for the wealthy.”
This language used by Landrith anticipates talking points that would be employed regularly by the Koch network over the following two years up to present. See, for instance:
- The full page advertorial in The Hill, paid for by Koch Industries, in April 2016, which stated: “Or the tax credits (up to $7,500) the government offers to consumers who purchase hybrid and electric vehicles. Such credits may seem enticing to the general public, but the reality is that 90 percent of the beneficiaries come from the top income bracket.”
- A “Hidden Costs of Electric Cars” video which the EEC published to YouTube in December 2016, which states that over half of all electric vehicles sold in the U.S. have been luxury models.
- The (coincidentally titled) “Hidden Costs of Electric Cars” video produced by Fueling U.S. Forward, a now-shuttered, Koch-funded campaign that launched with a promise to promote the positive aspects of fossil fuels, but pivoted to attack EVs in its final weeks before the campaign disappeared from the public eye. That video, since removed from YouTube, argued that the majority of electric vehicle subsidies (in the form of federal and state tax credits) go to “wealthier households.”
- This brief written by Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute, which argues for a repeal of the federal EV tax credit, claiming that “Despite the endless hype about electric cars, vehicles that plug into the grid remain a niche product that is sold almost exclusively to the affluent.” The Manhattan Institute received $2,660,062 from Koch foundations between 1999 and 2015.
Who's Behind the Energy Equality Coalition?
While running Frontiers of Freedom, Landrith launched and now serves as treasurer on EEC’s Board of Directors. According to Greenpeace researchers, Frontiers of Freedom received at least $335,000 from Koch foundations between 1997 and 2015.
The Energy Equality Coalition is also registered to an entity called North Rock Reports, LLC., which itself was set up by a Washington, D.C. law firm to create “untraceable pressure groups for conservative causes.”
The EEC’s director is David Williams, who also serves as president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, which has been described as “an advocacy front group that is part of the Koch political network, and is largely funded by money funneled through the Koch-connected Americans for Job Security, Center to Protect Patient Rights (now called American Encore), and Freedom Partners.”
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has launched repeated attacks on renewable energy over the past few years, including through its SolarSecrets.org website, launched in 2014. As the Energy and Policy Institute revealed, the TPA also published a report criticizing “solar energy’s subsidy-based business models” and signed an Americans for Prosperity letter urging North Carolina lawmakers to repeal the state’s renewable energy standard.
Horace Cooper is listed as president and secretary of the Energy Equality Coalition. Cooper is a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, and is also a director of the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), where he co-chairs Project 21's National Advisory Board.
In August 2016 Cooper spoke on energy policy at the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, appearing in the same program as Charles Drevna, president of the now-defunct Koch-funded Fueling U.S. Forward campaign. That was according to the New York Times, which added that “[t]he event brought together African-American political groups and counted Fueling U.S. Forward among its sponsors.”
Echoing now-familiar Koch network messaging, recommendations adopted by delegates at the convention included the following statement: “Policies that subsidize electric vehicles and solar panels for the wealthy raise energy prices and harm the black community.”
The Ratepayer Fairness Act
Writing on behalf of the Energy Equality Coalition in July 2016, Landrith promoted a bill that would, as he said in his op-ed in The Hill, “[require] public utilities to examine whether new policies benefit only a small number of wealthy electric consumers.”
Called the Ratepayer Fairness Act, identical bills were introduced into the House and Senate by Congressman Mike Pompeo of Kansas (now CIA director, and whose “biggest backer” was Koch Industries) and Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. The bill, which essentially aims to put a stop to state-level solar net metering programs, was promoted publicly by Landrith and on the EEC’s website, and was lobbied for continuously by Koch Industries.
In fact, according to mandatory disclosure forms, Koch Industries has lobbied on behalf of the original bill — or the identical ones that were introduced this year — in every quarter since the first Ratepayer Fairness Act was introduced in December 2015.
On top of the millions that the company spends on lobbying on multiple pieces of legislation and to agency rulemaking through its own affiliate Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC, Koch Industries has paid $80,000 from April through September of this year to Hunton & Williams, LLP to lobby specifically for this bill.
At the moment, it seems as if all of the EEC’s and other Koch-funded efforts to repeal the $7,500 credit have been for naught, as Congress’s compromise tax reform bill leaves the federal EV tax credit as is. However, the lobbying and messaging efforts around the Ratepayer Fairness Act could provide a blueprint for future legislative attacks on EVs.
In some form or another, the line of attacks on EV-friendly policies and incentives will doubtlessly continue, spreading from this growing constellation of Koch-connected front groups and think tanks.
Main image: EV.network, used with permission