Who Is Behind The Trump War On Fuel Economy Standards? The New York Times Says It Knows

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The mad scramble to undo America’s fuel economy standards began the day Donald Trump and his enormous ego took up residence in the Oval Office. Many of us thought the automakers were behind the plan to dismantle the standards. Indeed, they were quick to add their voices to the chorus calling for a rollback of Obama era standards — even though they had their hands out for some of Uncle Sugar’s money when the last Republican led financial meltdown spread across the land.

fuel economy

Who Cares About Fuel Economy?

But when the EPA finally got around to revealing how deep the cuts it planned to make in the fuel economy rules would be, even the car companies were taken aback. The proposed rules are far more aggressive than even they had asked for. If the car makers aren’t driving the rollback process, who is?

The New York Times says it knows precisely who is behind the plot and it’s naming names. In a report dated December 13, it says, “In Congress, on Facebook and in statehouses nationwide, Marathon Petroleum, the country’s largest refiner, worked with powerful oil-industry groups and a conservative policy network financed by the billionaire industrialist Charles G. Koch to run a stealth campaign to roll back car emissions standards.”

The main thrust of the industry argument goes like this — we have so much oil and gasoline available now, there is no reason to conserve. Let the Hummers out of the barn! Fire up every SUV and pickup truck and let them burn gasoline to their heart’s content!

A draft of a letter circulated among members of Congress this summer and seen by The Times. It says, “With oil scarcity no longer a concern,” Americans should be given a “choice in vehicles that best fit their needs.” Not surprisingly, that precise language soon started popping up in official communications from those very same elected officials.

The Times probe reveals the draft of the letter was last edited by Marathon Oil lobbyist Michael Birsic. Marathon says it had nothing to do with the letter and has no idea how Birsic’s digital fingerprints got on the draft. Hmmm….curiouser and curiouser.

Subsequently, 19 legislators from Indiana, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania wrote to the US Department of Transportation supporting a rollback in fuel economy rules. All 19 letters contained the same language used in the Marathon letter. Not one of the 19 elected officials had the cajones to respond to a request for comment from the Times.

Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, criticized the campaign conducted by the oil industry. “It appears as though oil interests are cynically trying to gin up support in Congress for the weakest possible standards to ensure that cars and SUVs have to rely on even more oil. If this attempt is successful, the outcome will be a blow to the auto industry, consumers, and our environment.”

His words echo those of 350.org founder Bill McKibben, who tweeted last week that the US government is now little more than a wholly owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel companies. He is not wrong.

The Facebook Campaign

The oil industry put together a Facebook campaign earlier this year designed to get members of the public to file comments supporting the proposed fuel economy rollback. One featured a smiling Trump waving alongside this message: “SUPPORT OUR PRESIDENT’S CAR FREEDOM AGENDA!” Another read,“File an official comment to SUPPORT our President’s plan for safer, cheaper cars that WE get to choose,” and included a link to some stock language to use when filing an official comment.

The Times analysis found of the 12,000 comments received, 3,300 used that precise language, copied verbatim from that link. The Times also notes that nowhere do the ads inform viewers about who paid for the ads. In a standard maneuver taken straight from the Koch Brothers playbook, the oil companies involved created a fake cover group cleverly named Energy4US.

On its website, Energy4US fails to identify the main actors funding it, preferring to hide behind this deliberately misleading language: “ENERGY4US.ORG IS A COALITION OF CONSUMERS, BUSINESSES AND WORKERS UNITED IN THE BELIEF THAT ENERGY EMPOWERS US, ALLOWS US CHOICES AND IMPROVES OUR QUALITY OF LIFE.”

ALEC Works State Legislators

The American Legislative Exchange Council is part of the vast Koch Brothers disinformation empire. It lobbies at the state level for the kinds of ultra right wing policies favored by the Kochs. Emails obtained by the Times reveal that Marathon Oil has been working with ALEC to build support for the fuel efficiency rollback in state legislatures and to denounce California’s power to write its own rules for cars.

“Who should decide what cars and trucks consumers should buy, consumers themselves or unelected bureaucrats in Sacramento, California or Washington, D.C.?” one message read. Those emails were made public under Wisconsin’s open records law to Documented, a watchdog group that tracks corporate influence in public policy.

A few days after the email blast, Elaine Chao, head of the Transportation Department (and wife of the despicable Mitch McConnell) made a celebrity appearance at ALEC’s annual convention in New Orleans. The audience, composed of more than 1,500 state legislators and officials, roared its approval when she told them the proposed rollback “ranks as one of the most significant regulatory reforms that this administration is undertaking.” Chao is a former fellow at the Heritage Foundation, another Koch supported front group paid for in part by American taxpayers.

Koch Lies Exposed

A spokesman for Koch Industries, the energy conglomerate led by Charles and David Koch, told the Times the company has “a long, consistent track record of opposing all forms of corporate welfare, including all subsidies, mandates and other handouts that rig the system.”

What unadulterated, Grade A horse puckey. Charles and David have a long history of gorging themselves at the public trough and fighting like mad to keep anyone else from getting any crumbs. The entire oil industry is propped up by compliant government officials and generous subsidies that few other industries enjoy. To say they are proponents of a level playing field is pure sophistry. In other words, it’s a blatant lie.

A Government Of, By, And For The Fossil Fuel Industry

The US government is currently controlled by the fossil fuel industry, which has bought and paid for the presidency, a majority of the members of Congress, a large number of federal judges including 5 members of the Supreme Court, and hundreds of state officials.

What they have created with their unlimited financial resources is an America run like a criminal enterprise. They spend a few billion getting compliant candidates elected every election cycle and reap tens of billions in profits. They have adopted the tactics of organized crime and turned them into business as usual all across America.

They have no interest in governing. Their only interest is continuing to pillage the land until every last molecule of fossil fuel has been extracted and burned. The fact that doing so will make the Earth incapable of sustaining life matters not at all to these people. We are in a full fledged climate emergency that will turn the Earth into a cinder and many are cheering the arsonists.

Now that you know what these corporations and the people who run them are up to, what are you going to do about it?

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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