Troubled Bridges and Troubled Waters

West Virginia Oil Spill Koch Connection

The West Virginia chemical spill left the water for 300,000 people stained blue-green and smelling like licorice, with officials saying it was unclear when it might be safe again to even take showers and do laundry. (Photo: AP)

For those of us who took a while to realize that The Sopranos wasn’t a reality show, the soap opera playing out in Governor Chris Christie’s office seems to fit right in with how we picture New Jersey. We see the tough talking but still likeable Capo, politicians on the take, minions getting bumped off right and left—the whole list of Central Casting characters; great show.

Compared to that, the other story crowding the headlines, where some gunk spilled into a river in West Virginia, doesn’t seem too exciting. But wait, as they say on the TV ads: there’s more.

“More” in this case is the interesting connection between New Jersey’s bridge problems and West Virginia’s river problems: and the connection is — Dave and Charlie Koch. The multibillionaire brothers (tied at being the 5th richest person in America, and the 24th richest in the world) own nearly all of Koch Industries. Koch Industries, in turn, owns a bunch of other companies.

Both Dave and Charlie share social attitudes that seem to come straight from some Dark Ages playbook. Witness Charlie’s famous remark, after he’d pilfered a few hundred dollars’ worth of oil from a small group of Osage Indians, apparently just to show he could do it:  “I want my fair share — and that’s all of it.”

This “gimme, gimme, gimme” attitude, paired with their standard-issue “no prisoners” way of dealing with dissenting points of view has led the Brothers Koch to put somewhere north of $30 million into science denial groups over the last few years, to convince us all that their coal and petroleum processing doesn’t really hurt the environment.

Some of the money goes to their pet think tanks (Cato Institute, Mercatus Center, Heritage Foundation) for science-denial work. These folks crank out learned-sounding but scientifically-inaccurate articles and studies saying that processing and burning coal and oil is really good for us; Global Warming is all a hoax, the data got misinterpreted, and so on. Some more money goes to pay politicians to recite these fact-challenged talking points in Congress, on statehouse floors, or in campaigns.

And when the real world has intruded, and their refineries and pipelines leak, blow up, or hurt people, the Kochs have paid tens of millions of dollars in environmental fines and penalties.

So, aside from a sort of humorous connection between Koch money (Dave and Charlie) and coke money (the white powdered stuff–and more about that in a bit), let’s connect some dots and see if we can get from New Jersey to West Virginia.

The Koch money in New Jersey is straightforward, but for some reason, not much publicized. The Kochs appear to own Governor Christie. Case in point: after a two-hour, one-on-one meeting with Dave Koch in the company’s Manhattan office in early 2011, which didn’t seem to get much press coverage then or now, Governor Christie was invited to be the keynote speaker that June at one of the Koch Brothers highly exclusive fundraising retreat for their Million-Dollar Club members near Vail, Colorado.

The speech and the trip itself were kept secret from the press, and his constituents. On June 26, 2011, Governor Christie appeared on NBC’s Meet The Press. Immediately after that, he was whisked by private jet to Colorado, delivered his speech at the Ritz-Carlton, and was then flown back to New Jersey, with no word to his constituents or the press.

Interestingly, just like Mitt Romney’s now-famous “47%” speech, Governor Christie’s remarks were recorded. Check the Mother Jones link to hear him ridicule his state legislators and others as “stupid,” and tell how he plans to destroy teachers unions.

Now, quick: jump about 600 miles south and west from Fort Lee, New Jersey’s troubled bridge over its waters to Charleston, West Virginia and their troubled waters.

Most of us have seen the headlines: 7,500 gallons of a substance known as 4-methylcyclohexane methanol–MCHM, for short—flowed into the Elk River through a leak in a steel storage tank. MCHM is used to “wash” coal to remove impurities and pollutants before burning. The American Association of Poison Control Centers says it’s harmful if swallowed or inhaled.

The Elk River is a prime fresh water source for 300,000 West Virginians; the spill left them without water for drinking or bathing, and forced many businesses to close.

The storage tank belongs to a company called Freedom Industries, which was founded back in the mid-80s, but has only been around in its present form since December of 2013 after some mergers. It was founded by Gary Southern (the guy swigging a bottle of Aquafina water on camera while trying hard to not answer reporters’ questions) and a local felon named Carl Kennedy (tax evasion and cocaine dealing—that’s the other half of the Koch money/coke money joke).

It gets better, though: Freedom Industries was selected by Georgia-Pacific to be its supplier for MCHM. Georgia-Pacific corporation is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries.

So, there is a strong tie between the Kochs and Governor Christie, and therefore the George Washington Bridge situation. And there is a tie of still-to-be-determined strength between the Kochs and Freedom Industries, and the Elk River situation.

But here’s where it gets really interesting: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is investigating Governor Christie’s use of Federal relief funds to air the “Stronger than the storm” TV ads, featuring the Governor and his family. Critics charge that the commercial was essentially an election ad for Governor Christie.

On another front, both houses of the state legislature are starting their own investigations, and the state Attorney General may be brought in.

But West Virginians aren’t waiting for their legislature, or the Feds. The Charleston, West Virginia, law firm of Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler has already opened 17 suits on behalf of businesses that suffered losses from the MCHM leak. Similar suits are being planned for Ohio residents and businesses, since the MCHM has now run downriver and shown up in that state. One aim of the suits is to “pierce the corporate veil;” setting aside the idea of limited liability and holding a corporation’s management and shareholders responsible for damages.

As a side note, the Hill, Peterson offices are located at 500 Tracy Way, Charleston, WV; zip is 25311. Looking at this building on Google Maps we see that it is a large, elegant suite of offices in an elegant and obviously expensive office park. The conclusion to be drawn from looking at their very high-dollar offices is that Hill, Peterson can afford such quarters because they are very good at what they do.

So, in New Jersey we will see one of the Koch Brothers’ pet governors having to defend himself against several government investigations, and possibly a number of civil actions resulting from the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.

And it may be that testimony will be required from other people connected to the closure; perhaps the Kochs themselves.

john macmurrayAnd in West Virginia we will see a Koch Brothers’ subsidiary company having to defend itself, along with its management and shareholders, against possible regulatory actions and over a dozen civil suits brought by highly accomplished lawyers.

And if these lawyers do manage to pierce the corporate veil, sources very close to the Koch Brothers themselves may have to testify. Perhaps the Koch Brothers themselves.

Looks like interesting times ahead. Stay tuned.

John MacMurray


  1. Ryder says

    Hi John,

    Hmmm… the Websters definition does not preclude ideology… so I can’t see a basis for your objection or discernment.

    In fact, working toward solving problems in “military, political, or social areas” seems to me to almost guarantee ideological foundations.

    Are you saying that socialist think tanks, engaged in finding ways to make socialism work better… are illegitimate as think tanks, because they are ideological?

    Who better to work on problems in socialism, than a think tank grounded in socialist ideology?

    Who better to form a think tank about a system founded on liberty, than those grounded in the ideology of liberty?

    This does not seem to run afoul of the definition of a think tank. If it was a requirement that a “real” think tank be devoid of leanings, then we should be seeing that in the definition.

    You say the “CED gets its funding from a variety of public and private sources”… (which honestly doesn’t say much), but decline to say where it’s seed money came from?

    Then you switch gears and tell us where the seed money came from for CATO, but decline to say how it is funded presently.

    That’s a pretty obvious switch… why do it? It made me curious… I see that CATO also gets its funding from a variety of sources… 80% by individuals… the the rest are foundations, corporations and book sales, etc.

    The seed for CED was the president of the Studebaker corporation, a co-founder of Benton & Bowles advertising firm, and the treasurer of Eastman Kodak.

    So you can fairly cast BOTH organizations as having been started by successful businessmen… and are both now funded by “various sources”.

    You’re being rather inventive to imply some fundamental difference, it seems to me.

    Science Denial is a meme that has gained traction in leftist circles, and is not without some merit… however, as it is not used by the people you attach it to, it is less of an accurate label, and more like a smear.

    There are always those skeptical of the various current science orthodoxies… but that doesn’t lead one to the denial of science.

    For example, those that are skeptical of the UN reports on “climate change” (as if it were ever stable), are very specifically critical because science is shut down. UN politicians write the report that we all hear about, and they use whatever science they wish, and ignore whatever science they wish, and spin the science they use. They’ve been caught doing this many times.

    Skeptics have uncovered “scientists” that refuse to share their methodologies so that their published work can be reconstructed… reproduciblity… which is a cornerstone in science. Michael Mann’s famous “hockey stick” graph was uncovered as useless due to methodology which he refused to publish or provide.

    Is that science?

    Al Gore has famously declared there is no more room for debate as the science is settled… clearly a political injection which distorts how science works. His position contradicts basic science, which is all about observation.

    Is that science?

    But in the years since he said that… the average global temperature has not risen… 12- 17 years, depending on the dataset… the world has simply failed to warm… yet all computer models predicted that it would. The models were not even close to what actually happened.

    Science, when it works, provides the basis for prediction in the natural world… when the next eclipse will happen, for example… and yet the temperature models produced decades ago failed in their projections.

    This is called “using science”. You predict, then check the prediction.

    Those that do not find fault with the models that failed to predict where we are today… would seem to be far closer to a denial of science, than those skeptical of the orthodoxy that simply point out the failure of climate models to.. well… model the climate.

    Do you dare pretend that all scientists agree all of the time?

    If not, then you can’t point to the ones you favor less, and legitimately call them “deniers”.

    All the best,


  2. Ryder says

    Just picking one sentence at random…

    “Some of the money goes to their pet think tanks (Cato Institute, Mercatus Center, Heritage Foundation) for science-denial work”

    “Some”? A dollar? a thousand dollars? Not defined?

    What is a “pet” think tank? Again… can’t be defined.

    “Science denial work”. Again… a term with no definition.

    Why is it that authors think that they can sound credible by hurling undefined implications that have no usable meaning? Poetry is supposed to tug at our emotions…. that’s fine, but to talk about all of this nebulous word salad with heaps of unverifiable or subjective suggestion… it’s rather useless.

    If you were to ask CATO, or Heritage if they are in the business of “science denial work”, would they say “yes, that is what we do”? If not, then isn’t it up to the author to actually make a case for it? It’s not like this is kindergarten, where mud slinging has any meaning or carries any weight.

    Shouldn’t you be actually making a case that burning oil and coal is NOT good for us, instead of implying that people that say otherwise are stupid or wrong?

    It seems to me that any population that burns coal and oil does pretty well for itself. Are not all of the leading nations of the world built on such activity?

    And you make comparisons in a vacuum… burning coal and oil COMPARED TO WHAT? Do you want to go back to whale oil? Burning wood for all of our energy needs? Is your expectation that we had not invented that car… and kept pulling loads with horses? Do you know how much urine and feces filled the streets of the large cities back before the internal combustion engine was invented? Not to mention dead horses left rotting along the sides of the roads… Horses were becoming a health nightmare.

    Burning oil has CLEANED things up considerably. 300 million Americans bringing millions of horses into cities and towns is a nightmare scenario.

    By saying that burning coal and oil is a bad idea, that pretty much sets us back a couple hundred years.

    Talk about turning back the clock.

    But that is what you get when you don’t COMPARE what you are criticizing, against what it replaced.

    Or maybe you meant we should go full nuclear?
    Or maybe you meant to get behind a bunch of large water projects… erecting giant dams all up and down our mountain ranges?

    Seems to me that people like you, Mr. MacMurray, have been against all of that too.

    So I guess back to horses and whale oil it is. Well done, sir.

    It’s so ironic that “progressives” are against the progress that mankind has made thus far.

    Eventually, coal and oil will go the way of horse power and whale oil. It’s what we call TRUE progress, and Americans are quite good at it. You should consider doing something else with your time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *