Utah State’s Ryan Yonk: Same Soup, Different Bowl

Koch-backed research fellow prepares to push misinformation in front of Ohio RPS study committee.

Utah State’s Ryan Yonk: Same Soup, Different Bowl

Ryan Yonk

Since being burned for a misleading op-ed that he wrote for Newsweek, Utah State University (USU) Prof. Randy Simmons is letting his colleague, Dr. Ryan Yonk, bat “cleanup.” But if Yonk’s work on behalf of Koch-funded organizations goes unchallenged, Ohio’s economy and environment will likely suffer the consequences.

Despite the renewable-energy and energy-efficiency standards passing with bipartisan support and that proved to be hugely beneficial for Ohio, there has been a concerted effort by the fossil fuel industry to weaken or repeal them. The latest example is a state legislative hearing set for next Monday (July 20th) where many of the invited speakers, like Professor Ryan Yonk, have a hidden agenda funded by out-of-state fossil fuel interests.

Background on Ohio’s RPS Freeze and Study Committee

Last year, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a law that froze the successful renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The RPS requires the increased production of energy from renewable sources. While ostensibly giving lawmakers time to study this anti-RPS law, the policy has led to a number of negative consequences for the state, according to a report published by the Center for American Progress (CAP). Business leaders interviewed by CAP have reported having to lay off or freeze the hiring of new employees, move operations to other more renewable-energy supportive states or cancel projects as a result.

As the Energy Mandates Study Committee, made up of state Ohio Senate and House members and the chair of the Public Utilities Commission, gathers information for its final recommendations due September 30th, the usual anti-clean energy suspects are rearing their heads, touting the same discredited research, funded by the same fossil fuel front organizations. The Strata Institute, founded by Ryan Yonk, Randy Simmons and Chris Fawson, is one of the most visible and disreputable. Strata has published similar misleading studies on RPS laws in North Carolina and also Kansas.

Uncloaking the Funding Sources of Fossil Fuel Pundits

As I mentioned earlier, Simmons, the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at USU, was recently involved in a scandal that stemmed from his failure to disclose his ties with the Koch brothers in his April 11th op-ed for Newsweek. During my interview with him shortly after, he made a number of inaccurate statements regarding his cozy relationship with the Kochs, but ultimately admits to his funding ties to them when pressed:

Utah State’s Ryan Yonk: Same Soup, Different Bowl Koch-backed research fellow prepares to push misinformation in front of Ohio RPS study committee.

Maybe this is why Strata is sending Ryan Yonk to promote Strata’s hidden agenda before the study committee next Monday.

Despite the dubious assertions in the Strata report, studies have shown the benefits of RPS far outweigh the costs. For example, wind energy significantly reduces energy prices for consumers and transmission lines benefit customers, among others.

The questionable rigor of Yonk’s USU report on Ohio’s RPS, coupled with his work for another Koch-funded group, the Mercatus Center, means that he has serious problems with the credibility of his research. For example, his report ignores the fact that the RPS was put in place to balance Ohio’s energy portfolio and hedge against fluctuations in coal and natural gas prices.

Study Committee Members: Beware of the Source

With this in mind, why would they send him before the Ohio study committee instead of Randy Simmons? Is it because Yonk has a lower profile right now, and his appearance would not draw as much scrutiny?

Before making their final recommendations about the future of the RPS, it is vital that the members of the RPS study committee and the public have complete transparency about the true agenda of the Koch brothers, Strata and, especially, Ryan York.

Ohio’s future deserves more than just smoke and mirrors. Learn more about the Energy Mandates Study Committee here.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.

Accuracy Happens: A Fossil Fuel Pundit’s Funding Is Exposed

Charles Koch?…. “His organization just sends me money.”

Something unusual and encouraging just happened, and few people likely noticed.

Accuracy Happens: A Fossil Fuel Pundit’s Funding Is ExposedIn 2013, Checks and Balances Project broke important ground by documenting the remarkable effectiveness of front groups funded by the fossil fuel lobby. In our True Ties report, we uncovered how these groups position themselves as “think tanks” and research organizations, and push fossil fuel lobbyist talking points in energy commentary and news reporting without getting their fossil fuel funding mentioned.

In fact, our True Ties report found that these groups had an astounding 94% success rate delivering on their value proposition to lobbyists – to echo talking points at a public distance. Over a five-year period, we found that the top 60 newspapers in the country cited, quoted, and ran bylines pieces or mentioned the 10 loudest anti-clean energy front groups on average of once every other day either promoting fossil fuels or bashing competing clean energy. They rarely described the front groups as anything more than “think tanks.” When the descriptors deviated from such bland terms, the front groups were given ideological monikers. In only 4% of the cases did news organizations bother to ask about fossil fuel funding.

Enter Professor Randy Simmons of Utah State University.

Simmons got traction recently after securing an opinion piece, “What’s the True Cost of Wind Power?” in Newsweek. The pieces were thoroughly discredited here and here, but Simmons’ piece was quickly posted around the web with a bland, intellectually neutral positioning in his original byline:

Accuracy Happens: A Fossil Fuel Pundit’s Funding Is Exposed

The original byline even asserted “Full disclosure” by disclosing Simmons’ U.S. Energy Department funding.

In stepped Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple with this badly needed piece pushing the question of why a fossil fuel-funded academic was allowed to bash wind energy without any mention of that funding.

Newsweek later updated the Professor’s byline to make it more accurate:

Accuracy Happens: A Fossil Fuel Pundit’s Funding Is Exposed

In the Wemple piece, Simmons asserts that he receives no funding from fossil fuel interests, such as Koch industries.

I Caught Up with the Professor on His Cell Phone

I was curious about the discrepancy, and I was able to catch up with the Professor by cell phone on his way to his classroom.

“Why did your bio at the end of your Newsweek piece not include that you are the Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy?” I asked him.

Simmons explained that the Koch Professorship was for a five-year term that ended in 2013. When I pointed out that his LinkedIn profile said otherwise, he responded, “My dean has been after me to get rid of that.”

I asked Simmons if he was still a senior fellow at the Property and Environmental Research Center, as the Newsweek bio stated. He admitted he is.

“Are you aware that the Center is has been funded by the Kochs and Exxon-Mobil?”

“No,” Simmons declared definitively. “It’s never received fossil-fuel funding.”

Hmm. That statement was not accurate.

“What is your relationship with Charles G. Koch?” I asked.

“I’ve never met the man,” Simmons asserted. “His organization just sends me money.”

So here is a professor who takes money from the Kochs, argues against wind energy, and denies that a fossil fuel-funded “center” where he is a senior fellow is, in fact, funded by fossil fuel lobby.

“Do you admit that the Koch’s are opposed to clean energy?”

“No, I wouldn’t say they are,” Simmons responded quickly. “They don’t lobby against it. They’re just against subsidies.”

That was also inaccurate, as the evidence clearly points otherwise.

I asked him why, when discussing subsidies, he didn’t mention the massive subsidies for fossil fuels?

“I’ve been told there are straight up subsidies and normal depreciation,” the professor said, and went on to say that he would soon be examining subsidies in depth.

I asked if he would include subsidies for coal, oil, and natural gas.

“Perhaps,” he said. “We’re considering it.”

Would that new study be funded by the Kochs?

“They will be one of the funders,” he replied. Simmons had reached the door of his classroom. His T.A. was waiting and he had to sign off.

The last time I checked, Professor Simmons still hadn’t bothered to change his LinkedIn profile. But, the good news is the Kochs seem to be committed to tracking dirty energy subsidies. That might make some fairly big news.

 

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a Virginia-based watchdog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.