The Koch Operatives Behind the Trump Energy Department's Renewables Research Censorship

The Koch Operatives Behind the Trump Energy Department's Renewables Research Censorship
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Two Trump Energy Department appointees with deep ties to Koch Industries and the Koch donor network have been burying reams of agency research that looks favorably on renewable energy, according to an in-depth investigation by Grist and InvestigateWest. Published October 26, the investigation reveals how the appointed high-ranking officials mandated political review of research, watered down reports, and slow-walked or shelved scientific findings and studies when they favored renewable deployment over continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Documents obtained by InvestigateWest reveal clear political interference in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), much of it coordinated by Dan Simmons, the office’s Assistant Secretary, and Alex Fitzsimmons, the former Chief of Staff to Simmons. While the article notes the lobbying histories of DOE’s top brass, Simmons and Fitzsimmons also have recent ties to the Koch network. 

Daniel Simmons and Alex Fitzsimmons: Career Koch Cadets Leading Trump’s Renewable Energy Office

Before being tapped by the Trump team to run lead on renewable energy policy, Simmons had a long career promoting fossil fuels, bashing renewables, and even calling for the elimination of the very office he was tapped to run.

From 2008 until he took over EERE in 2017, Simmons worked at the Institute for Energy Research (IER), a free-market think tank that receives the majority of its funding from dark money groups associated with the Koch network and from oil refinery trade groups. Simmons was vice president of policy at IER and had the same title at IER’s lobbying arm, the American Energy Alliance (AEA). In 2015, while Simmons was in charge of policy, AEA actually recommended that Congress eliminate EERE.


Excerpt from 2015 American Energy Alliance report calling for Congress to eliminate the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Simmons’ antagonism to renewable energy before he joined the DOE cannot be overstated.

As the utility industry watchdog Energy and Policy Institute has noted, he routinely traveled the country for IER and AEA to bash renewable portfolio standards, relying on inaccurate and cherry-picked data. Before joining IER, Simmons served as the director of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Natural Resources Task Force, where he “helped to write [ALEC’s] anti-clean energy playbook.” ALEC functions to connect state legislators with corporations and create mock legislation that serves as models for actual bills.

Simmons’ prior employers share extremely close ties to petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch and the extensive Koch donor network. 

The Institute for Energy Research was founded by Charles Koch himself and is currently run by the former top lobbyist for Koch Industries. The AEA and IER both receive funding from foundations in the Koch donor network, and the country’s leading oil refiners trade group, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), gives three times more to AEA than it does to any other group. 

The ties between ALEC and the Koch network are well documented, with the pro-business group receiving at least $3.3 million from Koch-controlled foundations and Koch Industries maintaining a longstanding and influential membership.  

Before his time at ALEC, Simmons was also a fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the prototype for Koch influence in academia, a research center which has been funded and controlled by Charles Koch and his associates since the 1980s. 

Simmons tapped Alex Fitzsimmons to serve as his chief of staff when he took over EERE. The two had worked together at IER and AEA, where Fitzsimmons worked as the Manager of Policy and Public Affairs. In addition to managing “research, communications, and outreach” at IER and AEA, Fitzsimmons was also a “spokesman” and Communications Director for Fueling U.S. Forward, a pro-fossil fuels campaign exposed by DeSmog as being funded by Koch Industries. According to its website, Fueling U.S. Forward was ”dedicated to educating the public about the value and potential of American energy, the vast majority of which comes from fossil fuels,” before it shuttered in 2017. 

Serving Koch’s Interests by Stifling Clean Energy Research

According to the Grist/InvestigateWest investigation, written by journalist Peter Fairley, Simmons and Fitzsimmons created systems and workflow that deliberately buried any of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy‘s research that could be perceived as supportive of a transition to renewable energy resources. 

In all, the department has blocked reports for more than 40 clean energy studies,” Fairley reported. “The department has replaced them with mere presentations, buried them in scientific journals that are not accessible to the public, or left them paralyzed within the agency, according to emails and documents obtained by InvestigateWest, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees at the Department of Energy, or DOE, and its national labs.” 


Documents obtained by InvestigateWest show how Trump appointees mandated a “tiered” system of review for release of studies, with “EE-1” referring to Dan Simmons, while “PDAS” refers to Alex Fitzsimmons, then the office’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary. Credit: Peter Fairley/InvestigateWest on DocumentCloud. 

One document obtained by InvestigateWest shows how Fitzsimmons established a system that enabled politically appointed officials to intervene and, if necessary, consult their superiors before politically sensitive reports went out. Researchers and scientists were ordered to designate certain studies — including those that compared renewables to fossil fuel resources and those that projected future penetration of renewable energy supplies — be flagged for review by Simmons and Fitzsimmons. The two could then block the findings or request that the scientists and researchers altered their results. 

There are dozens of reports languishing right now that can’t be published,” Stephen Capanna, a former director of strategic analysis for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, told Grist. “This is a systemic issue.”

Main image: Daniel Simmons, Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, in October 2017. Credit: Dept of Energy Solar Decathlon, public domain

The Koch Operatives Behind the Trump Energy Department's Renewables Research Censorship
Ben Jervey is a Senior Fellow for DeSmog and directs the KochvsClean.com project. He is a freelance writer, editor, and researcher, specializing in climate change and energy systems and policy. Ben is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor for GOOD Magazine, and wrote a longstanding weekly column titled “The New Ideal: Building the clean energy economy of the 21st Century and avoiding the worst fates of climate change.” He has also contributed regularly to National Geographic News, Grist, and OnEarth Magazine. He has published three books—on eco-friendly living in New York City, an Energy 101 primer, and, most recently, “The Electric Battery: Charging Forward to a Low Carbon Future.” He graduated with a BA in Environmental Studies from Middlebury College, and earned a Master’s in Energy Regulation and Law at Vermont Law School. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.

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