For once in its miserable life, is Koch Industries being unfairly attacked?
Photo: Fibonacci BlueHacker hivemind Anonymous took some potshots at the Koch-fueled Americans for Prosperity website yesterday, taking the site down intermittently and disrupting the late-night propaganda snacking of insomniac right-wingers. It’s always fun to see Anonymous spank people, at least the ones who deserve it, but this time they may have misfired. The grievances that Anonymous cites in its press release might just be fantasies.
Anonymous cracks down on Koch deals: The digital gadflies are pissed that Scott Walker is trying to help the Kochs sneak a power monopoly past the goalposts, allowing them to buy state power plants without competition. From Anonymous’s original press release justifying the attack:
Governor Walker’s union-busting budget plan contains a clause that went nearly un-noticed. This clause would allow the sale of publicly owned utility plants in Wisconsin to private parties (specifically, Koch Industries) at any price, no matter how low, without a public bidding process. The Koch’s have helped to fuel the unrest in Wisconsin and the drive behind the bill to eliminate the collective bargaining power of unions in a bid to gain a monopoly over the state’s power supplies.
Is Walker wagging the dog?: The labor rights outrages are just a decoy, says Daily Kos:
[The budget] will allow the Koch Brothers to buy or contract to operate state-owned heating, cooling, and power plants in Wisconsin without a solicitation of bids.
This is what it is about at the end of the day, and their puppet, Governor Walker, is ready to sell the Koch Brothers the state-owned utility system of Wisconsin for pennies on the dollar for his paymasters.
Or is misinformation dogging the wags?: The trouble is, that claim might be trumped up. And if it is, Anonymous may be the first ever to attack the Kochs for something they didn’t do. Frankly, this would probably be the first time they weren’t bedding down with some Tea Party hellspawn or other.
Its not that this reading of the bill is wrong — there really is a provision in the budget that would allow the state to sell its power plants without taking bids. But these handful of plants are mostly used to heat government and university buildings, and Talking Points Memo talked to some experts who mostly shrugged at the idea that the language under question was crafted to set up a Koch binge.
“When you actually zero in on this particular issue, I can see where people who don’t like Walker and don’t like his budget ideas would probably say that,” David Hoopman, who works on regulatory affairs for the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association, told TPM. “But to take it the next step and say that this is a bonanza waiting to happen for private business, I think is a bit of stretch.”
“If I were an independent power producer, I don’t know if I would come swooping in,” he added.
Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, which “fights for reliable and affordable electricity and telephone service on behalf of Wisconsin customers,” echoed Hoopman.
“There’s all sorts of people that are worried about this,” Higley said. “I’m less worried about it the more I look at it.”
And this isn’t the first time that Wisconsin Republicans have tried to sell state power plants for walking-around money. There was a similar provision in the budget for 2005-2007.
It’s probably a stupid idea: According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, this move isn’t likely to generate much profit, and might just be a way to fob necessary environmental updates off on someone else:
The budget bill itself doesn’t forecast any dollar amount of savings that the state government would see from the sale.
It’s unclear how much savings the state could generate from the sale, in part because any sale would be contingent on the private company providing the same services — power, heating or cooling to the facility, said [analyst Darrin] Renner.
… “The state knows darn well that it has got compliance issues with these aging coal plants, and so the violations are going to have to be corrected,” said Jennifer Feyerherm of the Sierra Club in Madison. “How the governor thinks he can put lipstick on that pig and sell huge financial and environmental liabilities to someone else, good luck. Bottom line, those plants need to be cleaned up.”
But it might not be evil: The no-bid thing looks bad, but the Journal-Sentinel reports that the company likely to take advantage of it is local utility Madison Gas & Electric.
The Madison utility Madison Gas & Electric Co. is a potential buyer of the plants, given it already operates energy facilities in downtown Madison and has jointly worked with the state on the natural gas-fired cogeneration facility built several years ago to serve the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Asked about the possible purchase of state-owned power plants in downtown Madison, MG&E spokesman Steve Kraus said, “The state is one of our largest customers and we’ve, of course, done a few projects with them. We’d like to keep that relationship working as they sort out how to best meet their energy needs.”
Meanwhile, a representative from Koch Industries denies that the company has an interest in buying the state-run plants. Of course, they would say that. But there’s no evidence that would contradict that statement, just suspicion and speculation.
None of this changes the fact that the Kochs are obvious douchewagons: In response to all this, a spokesperson for Koch Industries said (and I’m paraphrasing): “Waaaaaahhhhh, why is everyone oppressing us just for trying to bully the government into doing our bidding via corruption?”
“With the Left trying to intimidate the Koch brothers to back off of their support for freedom and signaling to others that this is what happens if you oppose the administration and its allies, we have no choice but to continue to fight,” says Richard Fink, the executive vice president of Koch Industries. “We will not step back at all.”
… [Koch lawyer Mark] Holden says such attacks on the company are nothing new. “This campaign against Koch Industries has been going on for over a year,” Holden says. “Charles and David Koch are not going to be silenced. They are principled men and we have a principled company.”
These principles, executives say, have now made the Koch brothers victims of what they describe as a left-wing conspiracy gearing up for the 2012 presidential election. “This is not just left-wing bloggers,” Fink says. “This is part of an orchestrated campaign that has been going on for many months. It involves the Obama administration, the Center for American Progress, aligned left-wing groups, and their friends in the media. This is just the latest salvo in their attacks on the Koch brothers and Koch Industries.”
Translation: “The Kochs enjoy being bullies and if you keep yelling at them about it they will tell on you!”
Even if this particular example of appropriation of the public sphere by corporate interests doesn’t have merit, rest assured that the Kochs will be happy to ream the environment: Ecopolitology sums it up:
The real story here is bigger than allegations of some backroom deal that would have directly benefited a Koch Industries company that supplies coal to Wisconsin power plants. The real story is that the fight in Wisconsin is just one frontline where a well-organized, systematic effort to pull the country further to the right is developing. That effort, all in the name of personal liberty but mostly to the advantage of corporate interests, would not only limit the power of organized labor, it would also shrink government and loosen (environmental) regulations across the country — and that would benefit the Kochs way more than a couple power plants in Wisconsin ever could.
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