For a decade, since the re-introduction of mass market electric vehicles (EVs), the oil industry has been working to put the brakes on transportation electrification. Recently, these efforts have grown into a massive, sprawling multimillion dollar campaign that utilizes front groups, think tanks, experts-for-hire, and flashy PR efforts.
Who’s Behind the Attacks on Electric Vehicles?
Dozens of names appear atop op-eds and commentaries that spread disinformation about EVs, but the overarching campaign is coordinated by a smaller subset of oil industry insiders. They include:
- American Energy Alliance and Institute for Energy Research: The American Energy Alliance (AEA) is the “advocacy arm” of the Institute for Energy Research, an industry-funded, not-for-profit organization focused on “energy analysis and free-market energy and environmental policy.” The IER’s predecessor organization was founded by Charles Koch, and both groups continue to receive funding from the Koch foundation network. The AEA was also the leading grantee of the AFPM in 2017, according to the most recently available tax records, receiving more than three times as much from the fuel refiners trade group than any other recipient.
- American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM): The national trade association representing 98 percent of oil refining capacity in the United States. Formerly known as the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, before rebranding in 2012, the AFPM has recently been exposed coordinating efforts to roll back fuel efficiency standards and to introduce anti-EV policy in state legislatures through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The AFPM regularly advocates against the EV tax credit and other EV incentives.
- Energy Equality Coalition: An offshoot of the Exxon- and Koch-funded Frontiers of Freedom, EEC launched in 2015 with the express purpose of fighting the federal EV tax credit, and the organization has a number of ties to the Koch network.
- Koch Industries and the Koch donor network: Current and former employees and executives of the second largest privately held company in the United States have been consistently active in combatting pro-EV policies. Starting with a reported $10 million-per-year effort launched in 2016, funds from Koch family foundations and other affiliated dark money groups like DonorsTrust are distributed to dozens of organizations that produce anti-EV reports and spread disinformation about electric cars and the EV tax credit.
How Did We Get Here?
In 2015, a new generation of electric cars were announced—the Chevy Bolt, the updated Nissan Leaf, and the Tesla Model 3 all promised longer ranges and a price point under $35,000 after the federal tax incentives. Around the same time, the oil industry, led by Koch and refinery trade group insiders, ramped up PR and lobbying campaigns to attack EV-friendly policies.
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 oil industry 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, dozens of op-eds and commentaries have been published by known Koch network figures in platforms ranging from The Daily Caller to The Hill to Fox News to the Washington Post. The deceptive messaging eventually made its way onto the Senate floor, where Senator John Barrasso 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 Big Oil continues to push.