But there are other benefactors that are worth a closer look, as nobody stands to benefit as much in the longer term (if the Keystone XL pipeline is ever built) as the companies that operate the refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Let’s step back and review what the refineries actually do. The diluted tar sands bitumen (or “DilBit”) that would flow through Keystone XL is an ultra-acidic, highly viscous mess, that doesn’t at all resemble the refined petroleum products like diesel or gasoline or even jet fuel that are sold on the commercial markets. DilBit is, in the words of Keith Schneider, ”thick as peanut butter and more acidic, highly corrosive, and abrasive” than typical crude.
This tar sands DilBit needs to be refined before it can be sold. But only certain refineries are capable of handling the corrosive DilBit.
Refiners along the Texas Gulf Coast, where the Keystone XL pipeline would ultimately deliver tar sands DilBit from Canada, are eager to accomodate. The company that appears positioned to receive and refine more of TransCanada’s crude than anyone else is the Valero Energy Corporation (NYSE: VLO).
From Koch Industries’ roots as “the biggest company you’ve never heard of”, David and Charles Koch have become household names for funding climate change denial and efforts to steer the United States away from a clean energy future. They suffered a little hiccup when California voters failed to buy the arguments of the dirty oil interests bankrolling Prop 23. Then, when David Koch was booed at the Nutcracker ballet just before Christmas, it started to look like the tides were shifting on public opinion around the billionaire brothers.
Despite the headway made in holding the Koch Brothers to account, they’ve creeped their way into Canada.
Well, let me be clear. It’s not as though Koch Industries is a totally foreign force in Canada. Koch and its subsidiaries currently operate in seven Canadian provinces, and according to a Greenpeace report, Koch has held multiple leases in Alberta’s tar sands, and since the 1990s the Koch Pipeline Company has operated the pipelines that carry tar sands crude from Canada into Minnesota and Wisconsin where Koch’s Flint Hill Resources owns oil refineries.
On the policy development front, they’ve busily bankrolled Canada’s Fraser Institute to the tune of $175,000 between 2005 and 2008 to ensure Canada remains in the Stone Ages when it comes to environmental policy.
This weekend the Koch brothers will host a gaggle of extreme right wing billionaires and millionaires at a posh summit in Rancho Mirage, California. This Palm Springs meeting is not open to the public, it’s a private invitation-only gathering of the wealthy elite who share the Koch’s democracy-destroying goals for America. But on Sunday, January 30th, the final day of the secret summit, a coalition of consumer and labor groups, environmentalists, civil liberties and faith groups will assemble in Rancho Mirage to protest the Kochtopus’s stranglehold on American progress.
The New York Times first reported on the gathering back in October, before these high-power industry leaders bought the midterm elections for the Republicans. As reported by Peter Dreier on The Huffington Post, those in attendance at the upcoming 3-day summit are responsible for the creation of the Tea Party, financially supporting climate change-denying organizations like the Cato Institute, and pouring millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of Republican lawmakers.
The Koch brothers have returned to a more high profile political life after remaining mostly in the shadows during the Bush administration. They resurfaced earlier this year when they dumped more than a million dollars into a failed effort to pass Proposition 23 in California, which would have scaled back the state’s progressive action on climate change in the name of “creating jobs.” In reality, there was no evidence to prove that California’s environmental laws had ever caused businesses to cut jobs, but there is ample evidence that these initiatives are on track to create lots of clean energy jobs. Charles Koch was even challenged to a debate by a former Marine named Joel Francis asking the billionaire to explain why he supported Prop 23, but he refused to participate.
Common Cause, who last week filed a complaint with the Department of Justice claiming that Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas should have recused themselves from the Citizens’ United case, will be organizing most of the protesters for the event. Bus loads of folks from all over California will be carrying passengers to the protest, and a full schedule can be found at Common Cause’s “Uncloaking the Kochs” page.
The Tyee has launched a new series exploring the efforts of Canadian tar sands interests to undermine low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) policies in the U.S. that could some day threaten to wipe out Alberta’s greenhouse gas-intensive oil sands industry.
Climate change policies being implemented in California and currently under consideration in 23 other U.S. states seek to favor lower-carbon transportation fuels. Since Canada’s tar sands are widely known to be among the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive sources of oil on the planet, the tar sands would of course fall out of favor rapidly if enough U.S. states passed the low-carbon standards into law. And since laws passed by large states like California are often used to pressure Washington to set federal policies, tar sands interests have a lot at stake in battling early adopter states.
As a result, The Tyee reports:
“A sophisticated lobbying effort led by Canadian officials, fossil fuel lobby groups and several of the world’s largest oil companies is targeting policymakers and consumers across the United States.”
The Alberta government’s multi-million dollar public relations campaign to spin dirty tar sands production in a positive light has received quite a bit of flack from those who see through efforts to tout the tar sands as green, or as a “national treasure”.
They haven’t just been investing in $56,000 advertisements and op-ed pieces. The governments of Canada and Alberta are also engaged in something much more insidious: a concerted effort to weaken climate policies in other countries, with the aim of ensuring that no impediments exist to Canada’s filthy tar sands.
The shocking report released by Climate Action Network Canada shows that the Alberta and Canadian governments have been complicit with industry in efforts to undermine climate legislation in the EU and U.S. The report highlights three devious efforts by industry and government to oppose or weaken energy policy abroad: California’s low-carbon fuel standard, which encourages cleaner fuels and discourages burning dirty fuels; Section 526 of the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, which stops departments from buying the dirtiest kinds of fuels and the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive, an effort to lower CO2 emissions and move toward cleaner-burning fuels.
Government and industry are behind “a concerted effort to weaken climate policies outside our borders, with the aim of ensuring that no doors are closed to Canada’s highly polluting tar sands,” the report’s authors write. This is the heart of corporate-government complicity, with the secret oilsands advocacy strategy being led by the Foreign Affairs Department, with officials working in both the U.S. and the European Union. The report’s authors fear that these examples appear to be just the tip of the iceberg.
Check out this documentary by filmmaker and University of British Columbia journalism professor Dan McKinney:
While U.S. voters head to the polls today - and everyone from Fox to Politico to your uncle on Facebook becomes a pundit trying to predict the results - the outcome is already crystal clear: polluters have won again, handily.
With the advent of now limitless corporate donations polluting the democratic process thanks to the Supreme Court’s insane ruling on Citizens United, dirty energy interests, Wall Street fat cats and lobbyists will run America for the foreseeable future.
Corporations have long enjoyed the advantage of spending a tiny amount (compared to their enormous profits) to influence the entire political system, buying future access and favors that pay off for years to come, simply by driving contributions to their favored candidates in every contest from local zoning board races to governors to U.S. Senators.
But thanks to Citizens United, corporate influence is now far more invasive and impactful. Polluters can freely run attack ads and vicious smear campaigns against climate hawks, deploy their front groups to mislead voters on everything from health care to global warming, sponsor ballot initiatives to kill clean energy progress, and generally play fast and dirty with zero accountability for their actions.
As Americans head to the polls today, many are aware of the Big Oil and special interest bankrolling of efforts like California’s Prop 23 which would help derail progress toward the clean energy future. Aside from Kochtopus and Tesoro funding, the biggest funder of Prop 23 is Valero, a Texas oil company keen to avoid the domino effect of clean energy legislation. They have already contributed more than $5 million to support it, and it’s no wonder: They fear that climate legislation will hurt profits at their two California refineries.
The Tyee reports that Valero has ties to the tar sands in Alberta where California laws may one day lead to limits on Valero’s prospects for future growth - which depend a great deal on Alberta’s tar sands.
Why would a Texas oil company care about California clean energy laws? The Texas oil company owns several Alberta area refineries. Bill Day, a Valero spokesperson, calls Canada “a tremendous potential supplier for us.”
They’re eyeing up the tar sands because over the coming decades, the proposed Alberta-Texas pipeline would ship massive amounts of Albertan fossil fuels to Gulf Coast refineries. The highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline stretched from Alberta could eventually ship up to 600,000 barrels of oil per day to Texas and Louisiana. As they noted in their most recent annual report, “This large new source of crude oil for the Gulf Coast market will further diversify our feedstock slate and increase our ability to optimize our profitability”.
Joel Francis, the Cal State-Los Angeles senior and Marine Corps veteran, today followed through on his promise to visit Koch Industries headquarters in Wichita, Kansas to formally deliver his letter challenging CEO Charles Koch to a public debate about his funding of Prop 23, an attack on California’s clean energy investments and job creation efforts.
After receiving no response from Koch following the video posting of his challenge last week, Joel traveled all the way from Los Angeles with a group of fellow college students and Gabe Elsner, campaign director of Powervote CA and the California Student Sustainability Coalition. The goal was simple and the approach polite – Joel simply hoped to meet with Charles Koch to invite him to a public debate “anytime, anywhere in the state of California” between now and election day about why Koch would attack the fastest growing sector in California’s struggling economy – clean energy jobs, which are growing 10 times faster than other sectors.
But as the students arrived, it was clear that Koch wasn’t rolling out the red carpet for Joel.
Pairs of security guards were stationed prominently outside each entrance to the Koch corporate campus. Marked and unmarked Koch security vehicles trailed several cars after they dropped the students off on the front lawn of Koch HQ. (The vehicle I arrived in along with PowerVote’s Gabe Elsner was also trailed as it left the scene.)
Larry Moorman, Koch’s Director of Corporate Security, immediately approached Elsner and wrongly claimed that we were on private property. Elsner responded that county records indicated the first 18 feet of lawn adjacent to the curb was public property, which sent Mr. Moorman on his way back to guard the front door from the apparent ‘threat’ of an articulate college senior challenging the company’s secretive CEO to talk to him.
With a week to go before the U.S. midterm elections, the Center for American Progress Action Fund has released a great interactive map that shows who’s been bankrolling efforts to halt clean energy efforts and back the anti-clean energy reform agenda. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision permitted corporations to spend unlimited money influencing elections, the election terrain has become a dizzying display of corporate muscle and dollars. Perhaps most dizzying is how easy it is for Big Oil and special interests to hide behind benevolent-sounding front groups, and how difficult it now is for us to know whose interests are shaping the elections.
In this midterm election, Democratic-aligned groups have been outspent by an astounding 7 to 1 margin, and Republican-aligned groups have flooded the nation’s airwaves with a flurry of ads. According to CorpWatch, they have spent over $300 million, five times as much as they did in 2006.
CAP’s stats come from a Repower America report that shows the companies and organizations spreading misinformation about clean energy and climate change. 13 organizations have injected $68.5 million in 2010 alone into fictitious TV ads designed to spin clean energy legislation. Since August alone, they’ve pumped over $17 million into their efforts.
CAP’s report offers a state-by-state breakdown of the top donors, and follows the money to the source. And it’s not pretty. The stakes for a clean energy future are high as oil and coal groups spend more and more helping climate-denying candidates run in tight races.