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Billionaire Koch brothers back suspension of California climate law

September 2, 2010 | 11:16 pm

Tea party

A company owned by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch has contributed $1 million to Proposition 23, a November ballot initiative to suspend California’s groundbreaking 2006 global-warming law.

The contribution came from Flint Hills Resources LP, based in Wichita, Kan., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, the nation's second-largest private company, with estimated annual revenue of $100 billion. It was posted online Thursday by the California secretary of state.

Prop. 23 was launched by two Texas-based refiners, Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp. which have been its primary funders. The involvement of the Koch brothers signals that the California initiative is likely to become the focus of a national campaign, now that climate change legislation has stalled in Congress.

The Koch brothers (pronounced “Coke”), who operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas and Minnesota, have sponsored a web of groups involved in campaigns to deny the significance of climate change and the need for renewable energy. Koch-funded groups have trained and organized "tea party" activists across the country.

"If you combined BP’s approach to safety with Enron’s greed, you would have Koch," said Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for the "No on 23" campaign. "With this contribution, the out-of-state oil companies trying to put their profits before California jobs just got a lot dirtier."

A spokeswoman for the "Yes on 23" campaign was unavailable for comment Thursday night.

The Koch contribution came as California tea party activists indicated that they will campaign for Prop. 23. They have scheduled a rally in Sacramento on Sept. 12.

In March, Greenpeace issued a report critical of the brothers' activities, titled "Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine." Last week, the New Yorker magazine published a 9,990-word article, "Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama" by Jane Mayer.

AB 32, California's 2006 climate change law, would slash the state's emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases down to 1990 levels by 2020 -- a cut amounting to about 15% below today's levels. The law, which would curb emissions from industry and transportation, is strongly backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Scientists say that global warming is already affecting the state, melting the snowpacks that provide water for its large agricultural industry and its fast-growing cities.

Prop. 23 would suspend the law until unemployment in the state, now above 12%, drops to 5.5% for four consecutive quarters, a level only seen three times in the last three decades.

So far, the Prop. 23 campaign has raised $8.2 million. Opponents of the measure, who have raised about $6.6 million, got a boost last month with a $2.5-million donation from San Francisco hedge fund mogul Thomas Steyer, the first installment of a $5-million pledge. Steyer, founder of the $20-billion Farallon Capital Management, assumed the co-chairmanship of the "No on 23" campaign, with former Secretary of State George Shultz..

UPDATE: Sept. 4 story in the Los Angeles Times on the Koch brothers contributions.

-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Billionaire David Koch funds groups that have helped tea party organizations across the U.S. At the Orange County Tax Day Tea Party in Irvine on April 15, Rich Donaghy said he was "tired of what I'm seeing in America and afraid for my grandchildren." Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times

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