INFOGRAPHIC: The Koch Bros, Getting Richer While the World Burns

Authored by David Halperin of Republic Report & designed by Wake Coulter


The Real Cost of Coal Exports and Fossil Fuels

With major fossil fuel projects ramping up across the globe, fossil fuel interests are ignoring the catastrophic costs that carbon pollution causes (and will cause) around the world. Meanwhile, critics of clean energy technologies continue to spread disinformation to discredit the emerging sector and promote fossil fuels as the only viable source of energy.

Coal exports are on the rise. U.S. coal exports exceeded the Department of Energy’s projections by 30% in 2012 as reported by Nate Aden, a PhD student from the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. Coal demand is being driven in part by economic growth in China and other developing countries, but these developing countries are not alone. The World Resources Institute found that 1,100 coal-fired power plants are being proposed around the world. And, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, countries in Europe were the destination for 45% of U.S. coal exports in 2012.

Australia and Indonesia also have major coal export projects underway. According to the Guardian’s Graham Readfearn, Australia is already the world’s largest exporter of coal, sending twice as much CO2 abroad than it emits at home.

Readfearn writes that exports of carbon fuels will come back to bite Australia in the form of climate disruption. In the past two months, Australia has been ravaged by hundreds of wildfires caused by the “biggest and longest heat wave on record in January.” This type of extreme weather is exactly what 97% of climate scientists have been warning our leaders for over two decades. The New Scientist cited Jon Nott who researches extreme weather events at James Cook University (in Australia) saying, “The frequency of more intense events is going to increase” as a hotter world becomes the new reality.

The Washington Post reported, “If we want to avoid severe global warming, we’ll have to stay within a strict carbon budget in the decades ahead…” A new report by Greenpeace details the 14 biggest threats to the “climate stabilization budget” with the top three being China’s coal reserves in the western provinces, Arctic oil drilling and Australian coal exports. Coal exports account for three of the 14 fossil fuel projects under development that would “blow past [our strict carbon] budget.”

So, with these identifiable threats to stabilizing the earth’s climate, why aren’t we rapidly decommissioning fossil fuel projects around the world?

One answer lies in the powerful and fossil fuel-funded opposition to clean energy solutions to climate change.

Clean energy opponents argue that clean energy technology is “too expensive” while ignoring the much larger subsidies and externality costs of fossil fuels (for more on these advocacy groups see our report, “Fossil Fuel Front Groups on the Front Page”).

While the argument about clean energy may have been true a decade ago, rapidly falling prices of wind, solar and other clean technologies are rendering that argument obsolete. In January, the International Renewable Energy Agency released a report (PDF) showing that “the rapid growth in the deployment of solar and wind is driving a convergence in electricity generation costs for renewable power generation technologies at low levels.” The report goes on to say that the rapid cost reductions of installed renewable energy technology mean that data one or two years old can significantly overestimate the cost of electricity from renewable energy technology. In other words, cost reductions are making clean energy competitive with fossil fuels around the world.

Moreover, the costs for fossil fuels (including fuels coming from the 14 projects above) do not account for the potential damage their emissions will cause as we drift towards climate disaster. These fossil fuel pollution externalities should be factored into the cost of business. After factoring in the cost of pollution, maybe digging up coal and shipping it across the globe won’t look like such a great investment.

For future generations, let’s hope the real cost of fossil fuels is factored into our calculations soon.

Coal reality vs. rhetoric and the money behind the lies.

A utility report reveals that without coal the lights stay on

For years the rhetoric from coal country is that the United States doesn’t have enough energy to replace its coal plants, but recent events debunk these claims. In reality coal power plants are being shut down and utility insiders say there’s plenty of energy left for everyone.


PJM Interconnection, the nation’s largest transmission operator, has released a report saying system reliability is not threatened by coal-fired power plant retirements.

“Even with almost 7,000 MW less coal capacity clearing for the 2014/2015 Delivery Year, PJM estimates the RTO will carry a reserve margin of 19.6 percent for the Delivery Year, including the demand and capacity commitments of [Fixed Resource Requirement] FRR entities.”

The report comes in the wake of GenOn’s announcement that it would be shutting down the Potomac River Generating Station, a coal fired power plant in Alexandria, Virginia in 2012. Several other plants have been retired in recent years, in all cases the lights stayed on. In fact, PJM, which is also known as the utility provider that “kept the lights on” in the 2003 northeast blackouts said in its report that energy conservation and technological advancements in energy storage are playing a strong role in reducing the nation’s need for coal power.

“Add into the mix the potential for new entry from Demand Resources [demand response and storage], as has been the trend in recent years, and resource adequacy does not appear to be threatened,” read the report.


The reality of the coal plant shutdowns and the PJM report directly contradicts the messaging framed by those working, in with and for the coal industry.

  • In 2010 William O’Keefe, the former head of the American Petroleum Institute, wrote a Washington Post editorial where he claimed, “The bulk of our electrical power comes from fossil energy and nuclear. It is going to take decades for that mix to change significantly and efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions should be based on that reality.”
  • A columnist with the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote in 2011, “We will be burning coal for decades, because we must. No other energy source can replace coal any time soon.”
  • In 2009 Entergy Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Wayne Leonard told a Times-Picayune reporter, “The U.S. cannot afford to shut down its existing coal plants.

The dirty millionaires club

While this rhetoric is not based in reality, substantial funding from the coal industry backs it. In fact the most recent financing reports reveal that at least three major coal companies have contributed more than a million dollars to congressional candidates.

Still, no matter the price paid by the industry and the number of politicians purchased, the more the lights stay on the more the industry’s rhetoric fails to pass the truth test.

Silence of the Lamborn on Pledge to End Fossil Fuel Subsidies

**Update: Our friend Tom Kenworthy from the Center for American Progress breaks down the economic facts behind drilling over at The Wonk Room. The question remains: Will Lamborn, Hastings and their colleagues finally work to end government welfare for fossil fuels?**

On Monday, March 28, a group of 15 residents of the Colorado Springs area visited Representative Doug Lamborn’s district office and ask him to sign a pledge to no longer vote for billions of dollars taxpayer-funded subsidies to the oil and gas industry. The group made their request in the wake of Lamborn’s bill to de-fund National Public Radio (NPR), specifically remarks he made in support of this bill that, “It is time for American citizens to stop funding an organization that can stand on its own feet.”

The group of El Paso County residents asked Rep. Lamborn, Chairman of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, to sign, “Stand on Your Own Feet Pledge.” The pledge’s text states that signers will vote against renewing or creating any government subsidies to the oil, gas and nuclear energy industries. Lamborn received national attention in March when he sponsored a bill in the US House of Representatives to de-fund NPR.

Paul Carestia, the group’s spokesman, cited $97 billion in tax dollars that will be given to fossil fuel and nuclear companies. That number was taken from Taxpayers for Common Sense’s 2010 “Green Scissors” report and is “based on projected subsidies for the oil and gas, coal, and nuclear industries from 2011 through 2015.”

“Rep. Lamborn summed it up,” said Carestia. “The top five oil and gas companies reported profits of $77 billion last year. Meanwhile, $97 billion tax dollars*, our tax dollars, are wrapped up in a nice bow and given to the CEOs of oil, gas, coal and nuclear corporations. If Mr. Lamborn is so determined to cut wasteful, federal spending, he should pledge to end this billion dollar welfare to polluting industries that are making billions in profits.”

“We’re tired of hearing Rep. Lamborn and his colleagues talk about the need to cut federal spending from one side of their faces and then turn around and say that oil, gas and nuke CEO’s need tax breaks and subsidies from the other side,” said Kirby Hughes, a Colorado Springs area businessman. “They’re writing checks to their campaign donors and using our tax dollars to do it.”

According to, Lamborn has received $107,462 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry over the course of his congressional career.

The group has not received a reply from Lamborn’s office. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, Lamborn’s office released a statement saying simply, “Congressman Lamborn appreciates and considers the views of all his constituents. He respects the right of citizens to peaceably assemble and express those views.”

Maybe the Big Bird will set Big Oil Free

Re-posted from

There’s been much ado over Rep. Lamborn’s push to “set Big Bird” free by cutting federal tax dollars to NPR. Just yesterday, the Colorado

Springs Independent reported that a group of local citizens are asking him to pledge to set Big Oil free of the billions of subsidies they get which drive up our federal deficit and oil and gas speculation in the Rockies and elsewhere.

Congressman Doug Lamborn hates the idea of big government spending constituents’ hard-earned tax dollars on socialisms so much that he introduced a (probably unconstitutional) bill into the U.S. House that would shut off the geyser of dollar bills to the “left-leaning” National Public Radio. […]

So on Monday, a group of Lamborn’s tax-strapped constituents are gonna see if he’ll put an end to another wasteful, socialist giveaway of their hard-earned dollars: the huge subsidies to not-exactly-struggling oil companies.

Will he sign the pledge?