Harry Brown, the state senator who wants to ban new wind farms in eastern North Carolina, has received thousands of dollars in campaign money from Koch Industries and other fossil fuel interests.

Brown, who serves as the Republican Majority Leader in the North Carolina Senate, received a $4,000 contribution for his reelection campaign from the Koch Industries Political Action Committee (KochPAC) in August of 2018.

At the time, Brown was busy defending North Carolina’s controversial 18-month moratorium on new wind farms, which only became law after Brown snuck it into a bipartisan 2017 solar bill signed by Governor Roy Cooper. Brown’s moratorium was premised on overblown claims about the impacts of wind turbines on military operations.

The John Locke Foundation took credit for the role that its “reporting” on the national security threat supposedly posed by “massive turbines” played in laying the groundwork for the 2017 moratorium. It pulled in $85,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2017, according to IRS data compiled by Greenpeace. It was the largest recorded donation the John Locke Foundation has received from a Koch foundation.

The economic toll of Brown’s moratorium, which expired at the end of last year, included the cancellation of the $200 million Little Alligator wind power project, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in much needed revenue for Tyrrell County.

Brown easily won reelection while raking in over $560,000 in campaign contributions during the 2018 election cycle. Beyond the Koch money, Brown’s campaign received thousands of dollars from fossil fuel and utility interests like Duke Energy, Marathon Petroleum and the North Carolina Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives.

North Carolina isn’t the only state where Koch-backed politicians and special interest groups have used national security as an excuse for attacking wind power

Harry Brown is now spearheading a new bill that would ban new wind farms in much of eastern North Carolina. He’s pointing to anti-wind proposals floated in other states like New York and Texas, where Koch-backed wind power opponents have used similar national security arguments with mixed success.

In Texas, State Senator Donna Campbell sponsored a 2017 bill that made wind farms located within 25 miles of military airfields ineligible for state property tax exemptions. The bill passed and was signed into law by Governor Gregg Abbott.

Campbell received $5,000 in campaign cash from the KochPAC in 2017-18, and has appeared as a wind power critic on Fox News. Abbott received $50,000 from the KochPAC during that same time period.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation backed Campbell’s 2017 anti-wind bill, and raked in nearly $2 million from the Charles Koch Foundation that same year.

Another 2017 bill to eliminate state incentives for new wind farms located near Fort Drum failed in New York’s State Assembly.

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, a Republican from upstate New York, wrote a terse letter to the U.S. Army Chief of Staff about the issue that September.

“In recent months, I have grown increasingly concerned that the Department of the Army (DA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) are not appropriately considering the cumulative impact of industrial wind development projects on Fort Drum and other installations around the country,” Stepanik said.

Stefanik’s re-election campaign received $5,000 from the KochPAC that December.   

Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Koch-backed Manhattan Institute, also claimed in a September 2017 op-ed that efforts to “protect the base from the encroachment of Big Wind” were undermining New York’s requirement that utilities obtain 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

The Koch brothers have for many years backed a largely unsuccessful campaign to roll back renewable energy standards now in place in 29 states, including North Carolina.

A controversial voice vote drives Brown’s wind power moratorium forward

Harry Brown’s renewed push to ban new wind turbines in eastern North Carolina is being moved forward using the same controversial legislative process that drove earlier Koch-backed bills targeting renewable energy policies in the Tar Heel State.

Military experts have explained that the Department of Defense already has a Siting Clearinghouse process that has allowed new wind farms and existing military operations to co-exist, and that Brown’s bill is unnecessary.

“It has little to do with protecting military bases,” according to retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn. “Rather, the legislation really is just a ban on wind energy development along North Carolina’s coast.”

A wind turbine at the Massachusetts Military Reservation in Cape Cod. U.S. Air Force photo/Scott Dehainaut

In 2015, the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity called for the rollback of North Carolina’s modest 12.5 percent Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS). Republican and Democratic lawmakers objected when a questionable voice vote allowed a bill to freeze the REPS to clear committee that same year. The bill ultimately failed, though efforts to kill the REPS persist in the North Carolina House.  

A similarly shady voice vote was used to approve Brown’s wind power moratorium bill in committee last week, as the Charlotte Observer reported:

Senate Bill 377 cleared the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee on a close voice vote. The committee chairman did not ask for an exact tally, and one of the Republican members said later that he did not vote.

Climate change is the real threat to military bases

Earlier this year, the Department of Defense released a report that identified military facilities at risk from the impacts of climate-related flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires, and thawing permafrost. The report listed the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU) in North Carolina as facing current effects from “recurring flooding.” Fort Bragg was listed as facing current wildfire risks.

Over the course of his career, Senator Harry Brown has supported opening up North Carolina to offshore drilling for oil and gas, while ignoring on the threat that climate change and sea level rise pose to the state.

Posted by Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson is the policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute. Dave has been working at the nexus of clean energy and public policy since 2008. Prior to joining the Energy and Policy Institute, he was an outreach coordinator for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He is also an alumnus of the Sierra Club and the Alliance for Climate Protection (now the Climate Reality Project). Dave’s research has helped to spur public scrutiny of political attacks on clean energy and climate science by powerful special interests, such as ExxonMobil and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). His work has been cited by major media outlets, such as CBS News and the Wall Street Journal, and he has served as a speaker on panels at national solar industry conferences. Dave holds a MA in Political Science from the University of New Hampshire, where he also received a BA in Humanities.

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