Koch industries web of influence

Koch spends tens of millions trying to shape federal policies that affect their global business empire.  The Center for Public Integrity digs deep into the Koch's influence and finds it extends beyond  the highest levels of U.S. government to Canada and Europe.

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Dioxin is released from incinerators, hazardous waste treatment, pesticide manufacturing, paper plants and other sources. With 165 manufacturing facilities across the United States, Georgia-Pacific “has a significant interest in and will be significantly impacted,” by the EPA’s decisions on dioxin, Koch officials told the agency in April 2010.

Hundreds of workers would have to be hired, and trucks and earth-moving equipment leased or purchased. And “of the limited number of hazardous waste landfills operating in the United States, very few are willing to accept dioxin-containing soil,” the company noted.

 “Treatment and disposal of dioxin-containing soil is already a challenging, expensive and capacity-limited problem that would only get worse if additional volumes were generated.”

Courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics

It’s been three decades since the environmental catastrophes at Love Canal, N.Y., and Times Beach, Mo., introduced the American public to the dangers of dioxin. But in the EPA hearing at the Washington Hilton last July, toxicologist John M. DeSesso, a consultant speaking on behalf of Georgia-Pacific, told the agency that the scientific studies on common levels of exposure are still inconclusive. He urged further study.

The Environmental Working Group and a number of public health organizations, meanwhile, chastised the EPA for dragging its feet, and reminded the agency panel that another arm of the federal government, the U.S. National Toxicology Program, and the World Health Organization have already classified dioxin as a known human carcinogen.

“Twenty-five years after publishing its first assessment of dioxin … the EPA has yet to establish a safe daily dose for human exposure” for “one of the most-studied of all chemical pollutants,” the EWG told the panel. “It is EPA’s responsibility to address this problem with resolve … without regard to pressure from special interests who stand to benefit financially from weak standards and regulations.”

It isn’t just dioxin that has drawn Koch’s interest. On Capitol Hill, and in regulatory proceedings, Koch lobbyists and officials have resisted tighter government regulation of a gallery of toxic and carcinogenic substances, like asbestos, formaldehyde and benzene.

“GP strongly disagrees with the [National Toxicology Program] panel’s conclusion to list formaldehyde, a natural component of every cell in the body, as a human carcinogen,” wrote Traylor Champion, the firm’s vice president for environmental affairs, in a February 2010 letter.

 “Costly control requirements are being mandated on sources that have insignificant levels of HAP (hazardous air pollutants) emissions,” a Georgia-Pacific environmental health and safety manager, James Eckenrode, complained to the EPA in November 2008, when it sought to apply tougher air pollution standards on the firm’s manufacture of resins and formaldehyde.

Through its Flint Hills Resources subsidiary, Koch Industries operates a refinery near Fairbanks, Alaska. “Refineries in Alaska are geographically isolated from the rest of the U.S. market such that benzene extraction and sale into the petrochemical market would be infeasible,” the company argued in 2006, when the EPA proposed new clean air limits on benzene. “Benzene reductions to levels proposed in this rule would either require extensive and economically prohibitive capital upgrades at our facility or would result in a significant reduction in gasoline production.”

When Koch Industries purchased Georgia-Pacific, it inherited a titanic liability regarding asbestos. Georgia-Pacific had used asbestos to make gypsum-based drywall products, and starting in the 1980s the firm became a target for more than 340,000 claims by plaintiffs who said they suffered lung and other diseases, including mesothelioma, a deadly cancer. By 2005, the company was spending $200 million a year and had to build a $1.5 billion reserve fund for asbestos liabilities and defense costs.

In a 2008 Koch Industries publication, General Counsel Mark Holden griped that “many of those claims are an outright abuse of the legal system … that often involve people who are not sick … all because of over-zealous litigators and a legal system that gives them perverse incentives.”

The number of new claims has dropped with tougher federal safety standards. But in the 110th Congress Koch lobbyists still sought to sway members on legislative proposals intending to restrict the use of asbestos and improve public knowledge, even Senate Resolution 462, which called for a “National Asbestos Awareness Week.”

Global warming and low carbon fuel standards

It’s in the Kochs’ commercial interest to preserve America’s reliance on carbon-based energy sources. Despite recent diversification, Koch remains a major petrochemical company with refineries in North Pole, Alaska; Corpus Christi, Texas; Rosemount, Minn., and Rotterdam in the Netherlands; an array of chemical plants; a coal subsidiary (the C. Reiss Coal Co.) and 4,000 miles of pipelines.

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