They process about one in four barrels of US-bound Alberta bitumen, and pump millions of dollars into highly conservative, anti-green causes. Latest in a series.
March 22, 2011- What do Tea Party rallies, Republican victories, climate change deniers, Wisconsin's anti-union push and attacks on a cap and trade market for carbon emissions have in common?
They're all fueled in part by profits derived from Alberta's oil sands.
Those profits, flowing to a single company, are helping bankroll a libertarian offensive that many observers think is shifting America's political culture profoundly to the right.
One of the central tenets of that campaign is a disbelief not only in the pressing risks of climate change, but that humans are even causing it.
That article of faith is now being embraced by the American public, with only 51 per cent concerned about global warming, compared to 66 per cent three years ago.
And it's no exaggeration to say that the roots of this campaign can largely be traced back to two powerful businessmen: Charles and David Koch. Together, America's fifth-richest citizens — each worth $21.5 billion — own Koch Industries, a refining, pipeline, chemical and paper conglomerate.
They manufacture common household products such as Brawny paper towels and Stainmaster carpets. They're also one of the biggest refiners of Alberta oil sands crude, handling an estimated 25 per cent of all imports entering the U.S.
Any time a clean energy law threatens to impact those operations, the Kochs fight back hard. Not content anymore to wage war from the sidelines, the brothers and their allies have now installed themselves at the heart of Republican power in Washington, D.C.
Never before in the U.S. has the oil sands industry enjoyed such direct political influence.
Kochs pulled out of shadows
Despite being America's second-largest privately run company, Koch Industries was virtually unknown to the wider public until last spring.
That was when Greenpeace released a report detailing how the conglomerate had funneled tens of millions of dollars between 2005 and 2008 to groups skeptical that climate change exists.
Such activism is central to the Koch brothers' hard-line libertarian ideology, which espouses a general distrust of government control.
As more reports surfaced about Koch Industries — notably a lengthy New Yorker expose in August — the company's growing political influence gained national attention.
The brothers are now widely thought to have been one of the driving forces behind the Tea Party movement, founding an advocacy group called Americans for Prosperity which has provided critical funding and logistical support.
Americans for Prosperity played a lead role in the Republican takeover of congress in last December's midterm elections.
Budgeting $45 million for political advocacy, the group ran hard-hitting radio and TV ads throughout the year extremely critical of Democrat congressmen, especially those who'd endorsed national climate change laws.
In one, average-looking Coloradans filmed in front of rancher's fields lambast Betsy Markey, their representative, because she "voted for cap and trade, the new energy taxes that would cost Colorado thousands of jobs."