Koch Attacks on the Electric Vehicle Tax Credit, Explained

The Koch network and their oil industry allies have launched an all-out offensive on the electric vehicle tax credit. This effort applies the same tactics as the Koch network’s broader campaign to undermine public and political support for electric cars, directing them acutely at the tax credit.  By funding think tanks, front groups, trade associations, advocacy organizations, and even media outlets, the Kochs and Big Oil allies underwrite junk studies and reports, disseminate disinformation, and perpetuate myths about electric vehicles (EVs) and the EV tax credit. As Elliot Negin of the Union of Concerned Scientists recently wrote, the “oil and gas industry’s anti-EV tax credit campaign is a prime example of how fossil fuel interests construct a disinformation echo chamber to drown out government efforts to address the climate crisis.” This year, as Congress debates competing bills to either extend or kill the EV tax credit, the Koch-fueled campaign has accelerated.

Background on the Koch’s Attack on Electric Cars 

In 2015, a new generation of electric cars were announced—the Chevy Bolt, the updated Nissan Leaf, and the Tesla 3 all promised longer ranges and a price point under $35,000 after the federal tax incentives. Around the same time, anti-EV activity within the Koch network ramped up.   Late in 2015, a couple of key Koch agents met with oil-refining and marketing companies to pitch a new “multimillion-dollar assault on electric vehicles,” according to a HuffPost investigation. James Mahoney, a Koch Industries board member, and Charles Drevna, a former president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), were raising funds to defend the oil and gas industry from stronger fuel-efficiency standards and transportation electrification.  In August 2016, Drevna launched a new project named Fueling US Forward, which balanced oil and gas cheerleading with aggressive EV bashing.  Meanwhile, in December 2015, an organization called Frontiers of Freedom, a front group that has received millions from ExxonMobil and Koch Family Foundations, created the Energy Equality Coalition with the express purpose of fighting the EV tax credit. The group’s slogan for EVs is “Built by billionaires, bought by millionaires . . . and subsidized by the rest of us.” When the Energy Equality Coalition launched, one of the group’s board members, George Landrith, told The Weekly Standard, “Working-class people are paying taxes to subsidize luxury goods for the richest among us. . . . We believe there should be energy equality, not special treatment for the wealthy.” Landrith’s interview introduced rhetoric that would be employed by the Koch network for years. Also in 2015, the American Energy Alliance (AEA), the advocacy arm of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), both of which receive Koch funding, published results of a survey that claimed that “Americans don’t want to pay for their neighbor’s EV.” The study was conducted by MWR Strategies, run by Mike McKenna, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries and AFPM. Citing the study, Tom Pyle, the President of AEA/IER and another former federal lobbyist for Koch Industries, wrote a letter to the editor published in the Washington Post arguing against the EV tax credit.  Echoing the point, Fueling U.S. Forward produced a YouTube video, “The Hidden Costs of Electric Cars,” that described the EV tax credits as a “massive wealth transfer from poor to rich.” This “reverse Robin Hood” talking point has been hammered consistently. There was a two-page advertorial in The Hill, paid for by Koch Industries: “Such [hybrid and EV tax] credits may seem enticing to the general public, but the reality is that 90 percent of the beneficiaries come from the top income bracket.” A brief written by Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute (which received more than $2.6 million from Koch foundations between 1999 and 2015) argued for a repeal of the tax credit: “Despite the endless hype about electric cars, vehicles that plug into the grid remain a niche product that is sold almost exclusively to the affluent.” These well-honed talking points were hammered into subsequent op-eds, commentaries, and interviews over the next few years. From 2015 through the first half of 2019, KochvsClean has identified dozens of op-eds and commentaries published by known Koch network figures in platforms ranging from The Daily Caller to The Hill to FoxNews to the Washington Post.   The deceptive messaging eventually made its way onto the Senate floor, where Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, argued inaccurately that “Nearly 80 percent of the tax credits go to households earning at least $100,000 a year.”  Variations of this message have been echoed almost daily by vested oil industry interests, despite the fact that the EV tax credit benefits drivers of all income levels. This is just one of many myths about electric cars that the Koch network is currently pushing

Debunking the Koch-Funded Reports

When spreading these anti-EV talking points, commentators will often reference the same handful of reports and studies, most of which are linked connected to Koch and oil industry funding. Learn more about these reports, including who wrote and paid for them, and find links to the best rebuttals and debunkings below.  ‘Short Circuit: The High Cost of Electric Vehicle Subsidies’ by Jonathan Lesser for the Manhattan Institute: This report is often cited to support obviously misleading claims that widespread adoption of electric cars would increase air pollution and have a negligible impact on the global climate.  The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research is a conservative think tank that receives extensive funding from the oil and gas industry, including ExxonMobil, the Koch Family Foundations, and the Mercer Family Foundation.   ‘Costly Subsides For the Rich’ by Wayne Winegarden for the Pacific Research Institute: This report is often cited to support misleading claims that the EV tax credit only benefits the rich, but it relies on outdated data and entirely ignores the significant role that leased vehicles play in the EV market. The Pacific Research Institute (PRI) is a conservative think tank with close ties to the American Enterprise Institute. PRI receives extensive funding from the oil and gas industry, including the Koch Family Foundations, Koch Industries, the Scaife Foundations, ExxonMobil, and Donors Trust and Donors Capital Funds. AEA Poll on Electric Vehicle Subsidies by MWR Resources for the American Energy AllianceThis classic push poll purports to reveal voter sentiment about the environmental virtues and federal support of electric vehicles, and voter opinions on auto efficiency standards. However, it was commissioned by an oil industry-funded think tank run by a former Koch Industries lobbyist, and was conducted by a polling firm that includes Koch Industries and the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers among its clients.  ‘Economic Impacts of Eliminating the Manufacturers’ Cap on the Plug-In Electric Vehicle Tax Credit’ by NERA Economic Consulting for Flint Hills Resources: This study, commissioned by a subsidiary of Koch Industries and conducted by the firm that produced key reports defending the tobacco industry, is referenced to support macroeconomic arguments against lifting the cap of the EV tax credit. 

Best Coverage of Koch Attacks on the Electric Vehicle Tax Credit

Main image: The Koch Brothers Kill Electric Cars for Sierra Magazine by Stephen Brodner. Used with permission by Sierra Magazine and the artist.