Why Electric Cars Are Getting the Koch Brothers Treatment

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

With plans for mass-market electric vehicles earmarked for assembly lines in 2016, the first palpable threat to gasoline cars is in motion. But that’s old news. Word that billionaires Charles and David Koch are mounting a multi-million dollar campaign against EVs offers a better snapshot of their significance in the transportation mix. According to the Huffington Post, the fossil fuel magnate Koch Brothers are preparing a messaging war against electric vehicles in 2016, with billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues at stake.

The story quotes a source from the oil refining industry insider who says the Kochs plan to spend upwards of $10 million per year in advocacy for oil and gas energy while attacking existing EV incentives at the state and federal level. According to the source, the brothers have already enlisted a Koch Industries board member and a leading petrochemical industry lobbyist in an effort set to begin this year, and they are reaching out to the largest players in the fossil fuel business for support in the campaign.

Government regulation is a favorite target of the Koch Brothers, and they have the opportunity to kill several birds with one stone by a campaign targeting green transportation. By advocating for the end of EV incentives, they see the potential to make it more difficult for early adopters of the technology to afford available vehicles. If they convince enough constituents of Republican-controlled districts in the House and states in the Senate, they could help weaken or stall legislative efforts to reduce toxic emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

It’s easy to see why fossil fuels need a refreshed image in the media with climate change statistics demoralizing the most steadfast deniers afoot. Cheap gas prices have dinged sales of hybrid vehicles, but even the promise of oil below $40 a barrel for the foreseeable future hasn’t cut down electric vehicle sales around the globe. Incentives, combined with benefits EVs offer for communities concerned about deteriorating air quality, have kept the segment growing.

With the era of long-range EVs under $35,000 about to begin, the Koch Brothers are afraid of what could happen next.

2016-chevrolet-bolt-electric-vehicle-charging-1480x551-01 (800x399)
Source: General Motors

By the end of 2016, Americans will have the first electric car capable of driving 200 miles on a full charge in the Chevy Bolt EV, priced at $37,500 before incentives. Tesla and other automakers plan to follow with their own versions of the formula that cuts range anxiety down to size at an affordable price point. The Kochs have a reason to strike before these models hit the market.

Anyone who has followed the activity of the billionaire brothers in the media (or read the reporting of Jane Mayer) can imagine the shape this pro-oil campaign could take. Expect the airwaves to be filled with ads extolling the virtues of fossil fuels, from the dependable, convenient power it delivers to the jobs it ensures Americans will keep. Meanwhile, the electric car industry is likely be portrayed as a subsidy-powered hoax propped up by liberals, including the one who resides in the White House.

We are guessing the trillions in subsidies going to fossil fuel energy companies won’t be a talking point in the paid media spots the Kochs’ advocacy group plans to send Americans’ way, and this could be a soft spot for the green energy industry to hit. One ConocoPhillips lobbyist told the Huffington Post that attacks on EV incentives could trigger a larger debate on massive amounts of taxpayer money going to the oil and gas industries. EV incentives are chickenfeed by contrast.

So electric cars are getting the Koch Brothers treatment in 2016. Most people would have guessed it was coming eventually, but it’s enough to disturb even the most optimistic of citizens. Heck, even Elon Musk let out a public sigh on Twitter.

Check out Autos Cheat Sheet on Facebook and Twitter
Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY