In a previous column, I related how Big Oil and the DuPont petrochemical corporation colluded with federal government stooges in 1937 to sabotage industrial hemp, making that rival product effectively illegal. A monopoly, or near monopoly, pays off like a mega-lottery if you can arrange it, but both the free market and the national interest suffer.
Now the oil barons are at it again, launching a $750,000 lobbying/media campaign to sabotage alternative energy, especially wind power. Funded mainly by the Koch brothers, the offensive features a "counter-intelligence branch," a PR campaign to create "subversion of message... so bad that no one wants to admit in public they are for it," and "dummy businesses" to buy 400 anti-wind billboards across the country.
If the Koch brothers were Siamese twins, they would be the wealthiest single individual in the world. The major part of their fortune has been made in global shipping, refining and distribution of crude oil, and on speculation in oil futures. They and other Wall Street speculators have leased supertankers as floating storage tanks to horde oil, driving the price sky high. From $25 to $50 of the price per barrel has been attributed not to supply and demand, but to the very profitable manipulations of speculators. Every time the price of oil rises, the rest of the economy suffers while the speculators make out like bandits.
The Koch brothers lobbied against provisions of the post-2008 financial reform bill that would have provided more transparency and regulation in the energy trading market. And they have successfully lobbied to keep the oil industry's tax breaks and depletion allowances.
So what do they have against wind power? They argue that the federal government has no business giving subsidies to the wind power industry. They don't mention, of course, that from 2002 to 2008 the oil industry received $72 billion in federal subsidies, while renewable fuel sources received only $29 billion. From 1918 to 2009, the oil barons have received average annual subsidies of $4.86 billion. The Koch brothers are quite content to ignore this exception to their free-market absolutism, because it feathers their luxurious nests, and this is what their hypocritical propaganda is really all about.
No, wind power is not yet competitive with oil and gas, but the cost is now one-fifth of what it was in the 1980s, and with the deployment of new mega-watt turbines, that cost will continue to decline. Wind has numerous advantages, and along with other renewable sources, is clearly the wave of the future.
After the infrastructure is in place, wind power produces virtually no pollution of air, water or soil. No Exxon Valdezes or toxic tailing piles to be cleaned up with taxpayer funds. The energy used to manufacture and install the turbines is recouped within a few months. And wind is virtually unlimited: According to the Department of Energy, offshore wind farms could eventually supply enough energy to power the entire nation. A 2009 Harvard study estimated that a network of turbines operating at only 20% of capacity could supply more than 40 times the global demand for electricity. And wind is not subject to disruption and embargoes by hostile foreign nations.
The 2008 Farm Bill made it more attractive for farmers and ranchers to support wind farms on their land, and many here in Colorado and across the nation have done just that, supplementing their revenue without disturbing agricultural or cattle operations.
Wind power is complementary to solar power; high pressure areas tend to produce clear skies and low surface winds, ideal for solar; low pressure areas tend to be cloudier and windier, ideal for wind turbines. Germany, which has heavily subsidized alternative energy sources, especially after the Fukushima disaster, set a record a few months ago with one-third of the nation's electricity supplied by solar systems on Friday, a workday, and one-half on a Saturday. In November 2009, Spain set a record with wind power generating 53% of the nation's total demand.
No wonder the Koch brothers are up in arms. I don't begrudge them their success (kickstarted by a huge inheritance), or trying to lobby for their industry - that's the way of the world. But launching a deceptive campaign to wreck a competing industry that can only help guarantee the nation's energy and environmental security is nothing but despicable piggery.
Some environmentalists decry the destruction of migratory birds wrought by wind farms. This is lamentable, but the birds are just going to have to adapt and evolve. There are too many damn birds in the world anyway, forming an inescapable nuisance - they sabotage jet engines on airliners, defecate on freshly washed cars, and a bluejay once pecked my mother on the noggin'. To hell with birds.
And to hell with the bloody Koch brothers.
Travis Kelly is a web/graphic designer, writer and cartoonist in Grand Junction. See his work or contact him at www.traviskelly.com.