Cape Wind Delay a Big Win for Dirty Energy Interests
Why the latest Cape Wind setback is a big win for Bill Koch and his friends in the oil and coal industries.
Cape Wind, the hotly contested proposed offshore wind farm in Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound, suffered a major setback on Monday when the National Park Service (NPS) announced that the site should be eligible for protection as a historical place. While the decision is being touted as a victory for two Massachusetts Native American tribes, the big winners may well be the dirty energy interests that have been working for nearly a decade to block the project.
The determination that the Nantucket Sound is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, which Andy Kroll wrote about over on Blue Marble, is only the latest setback for the proposed 24-square-mile, 130-turbine wind farm that would be the first offshore project in the US.
The New York Times gave a good rundown on this latest roadblock, which was spurred by a request from two local tribes that claim the turbines would impede their religious practice by blocking the view of the sunrise and intrude on historic burial grounds. But what the Times fails to mention is that the bulk of the opposition to Cape Wind over the years has come from a multimillion-dollar campaign backed by oil and gas money—not Native Americans trying to protect territory they regard as sacred. At the forefront of the effort has been William Koch, who alone has spent more than a million to oppose the farm via a group called the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
Koch is the founder and president of the Oxbow Group, and has made his fortune off mining and marketing coal, natural gas, petroleum, and petroleum coke products. He's the son of Fred Koch, founder of oil and gas giant Koch Industries, and brother of David and Charles Koch—who have supported conservative groups like Citizens for a Sound Economy (which later merged with another group to form FreedomWorks) and Americans for Prosperity, which has campaigned against both climate legislation and health care reform. Bill Koch used to work for the family business, but split off in the early '80s, prompting a nasty feud with his brothers business that dragged on for nearly two decades. In that time, however, he built a dirty energy empire all his own, which has helped fund his Cape Wind crusade.
The Alliance was founded in 2001 with the sole purpose of defeating the wind farm. Koch, a billionaire fossil-fuel tycoon and yacht enthusiast, has given at least $1.5 million to the Alliance and related efforts to defeat the project (as of 2006, that is—how much he's given since then is unknown), which would be visible from his home in the Cape Cod town of Osterville. Doug Yearley, the former CEO of mining giant Phelps Dodge and a member of Marathon Oil's board of directors, was also highly involved in the Alliance up until his death in 2007.
Koch and his wealthy friends in the area are responsible for more than 90 percent of the contributions to the Alliance, and fundraising documents released in 2006 showed that those major donors gave between $20,000 and $1 million each. In just the last three years the Alliance has brought in $8.6 million, according to its IRS forms. It has spent $2 to $3 million a year to fight Cape Wind. In a 2008 fundraising letter to its wealthy supporters, the Alliance promised that it "will do what whatever it takes to win. We will never allow Cape Wind to become a reality." Despite all the income from well-heeled dirty energy interests like Koch and Yearley, the Alliance describes itself on its tax forms as a "nonprofit environmental organization."