Let me tell you a story. The story of how the Kochs became so committed to reform.
Once upon a time in Texas, in the year 2000, a federal grand jury in Corpus Christi was pretty much ruining all the Koch Brothers "yearning for the Dubya era" fun. This grand jury indicted Koch Industries/Koch Petroleum on some 97 counts of violating environmental protection laws. The Kochs had already been nursing a grudge against the EPA and environmental regulators, regulations, and laws for some time. They had previously agreed to pay out multimillion dollar civil fines for blatantly violating the Clean Water Act. On top of that? There were payouts for settled lawsuits accusing Koch Industries of spilling millions of gallons of oil from its pipelines into waters and wetlands in six states. That was a $35 million settlement that resolved suits regarding spills in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. Funny thing. When you become well-known for doing bad, people who seek indictments keep tabs on you.
A key part of the indictment contended that the Kochs had dishonestly won a waiver from the Clean Air Act limits on benzene back in 1995, allegedly either because they had never tried to comply, or never actually intended to comply. The company had approximately 91 metric tons of uncontrolled benzene in its waste streams. Which they were made aware of, and knew was far, far more than the limit of six metric tons that applied to the agreed-upon waiver agreement for the refinery in question. They neither reported it to the proper authorities, nor tried to solve the crisis for the public good. Besides the huge gap between what the waiver allowed for, and what was actually produced, and the actions taken in the wake of this, all making it hard to argue that this was just an explainable misunderstanding, there were other troubling issues that raised new questions not only about non-compliance but about the companies basic intentions to comply in the first place.
Nobody got jacked up here.
Well. Except the poor people who lived near that chemical plant.
The indictment alleges that in 1995, Koch Industries and Koch Petroleum were informed by an employee that the Corpus Christi refinery had at least 91 metric tons of uncontrolled benzene in its liquid waste streams, some 15 times greater than the facility's permitted six metric ton limit.In addition?
The indictment charges Koch Industries and Koch Petroleum with violating the Clean Air Act by, among other things, failing to install required emission control devices in 1995 on certain waste management units, such as its oil-water separators, wastewater sewers, and oil and wastewater tanks.
In addition, the indictment alleges that a device that Koch Petroleum installed in January 1995 to destroy benzene fumes from two oil-water separators, the Thermatrix Thermal Oxidizer, could not handle the high levels of benzene routed to it, and would often shut down for extended periods of time.With that, both Koch Industries, and the Brothers Koch, now faced down a maximum statutory penalty of $48.5 million, or, the corporate entity could actually be fined with a levy that was twice what it had gained in profits and benefits from the criminal offenses that had been committed... and, most important of all, people in high places could go to jail for some of the shit that went down. But that didn't end up happening. Because when you are rich and powerful, you can afford an army of lawyers and you can field a fiefdom of friends in high places. The powers that be eventually dropped all but one of the charges six years later. Ultimately, Koch Petroleum Group agreed to pay a $10 million settlement. Chump change when you are billionaires. But. The Brothers were so, so stressed out by the whole affair. By the notion that they, or their people, could actually have been jailed.
When the Thermatrix shut down, the West Plant continued to operate and Koch Industries and Koch Petroleum intentionally vented large amounts of untreated benzene fumes directly to the atmosphere through a bypass stack, the indictment charges. Koch Industries and Koch Petroleum did not report these releases to the National Response Center.
As a result, Koch Industries and Koch Petroleum were charged with violating the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act for failing to immediately report the discharge of a hazardous substance.
The government contends that Koch and its employees conspired to violate the federal Clean Air Act by making false statements about its benzene emissions to officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).
Koch Industries Indicted for Hazardous Waste Violations
-Brian Hansen, Environmental News Service 10.2.2000 Via CorpWatch
The lesson learned here? Not "be a good corporate citizen" or "do not illegally pollute the environment for fun and profit" or "put people before the bottom line" for public safety. Oh, no. The big lesson that the Koch Brothers learned was... that they had been jacked up by the Man.
“It was a really, really torturous experience,” said Mark Holden, Koch’s chief counsel. “We learned first-hand what happens when anyone gets into the criminal justice system.” Holden said Charles Koch wondered afterward “how the little guy who doesn’t have Koch’s resources deals with prosecutions like that.”No one at Koch wants to re-litigate the Corpus Christi case.... Yeah, I wonder why.
No one at Koch wants to re-litigate the Corpus Christi case, Holden said. But it prompted Charles Koch to study the justice system – both federal and state – wondering whether it has been over-criminalized with too many laws and too many prosecutions of nonviolent offenders, not only for him but for everybody.
His conclusion: Yes, it has.
Do you see a close kinship between this, and, say, a poor African-American being blatantly overcharged for some relatively minor crime? A teen with a baggie getting charged like a dealer?
That's the real reason why nobody wants to "re-litigate" what happened in Corpus Christi.
But it prompted Charles Koch to study the justice system – both federal and state – wondering whether it has been over-criminalized with too many laws and too many prosecutions of nonviolent offenders, not only for him but for everybody.Yes. How does the little guy deal with the gross injustice of his being criminally indicted on 97 specific counts of knowingly polluting the environment and breaking environmental laws when he happens to misinform about his activities and then go on to dump untold volumes of toxic and cancer-causing benzene directly into the atmosphere from a secondary diversion pipe in his massive chemical processing plant? At this point? I'm shocked that Charles Koch hasn't made a point of being seen holding up a single black-gloved fist with his crisp black "I Can't Breathe" T-Shirt visible for the whole world to see. "Not only for him but for everybody." That was rich. Not as rich as a Koch Brother, but pretty rich. Ask someone who lives anywhere near a plant or facility processing benzene about the inherent non-violence of the alleged offense. Just Saying.
Still. The royal injustice of it all? It being an issue? Well, that shit just lingers like an angry scar.
“Over the next year, we are going to be pushing the issues key to this, which need a lot of work in this country,” Koch said. “And that would be freedom of speech, cronyism, and how that relates to opportunities for the disadvantaged.”And thus, with the great benzene caper growing smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror of the limo, the Koch Brothers as 21rst Century Fightin' Men For The Jammed Up Little Guy was born.
The nation’s criminal justice system needs reform, “especially for the disadvantaged,” Koch said, “making it fair and making (criminal) sentences more appropriate to the crime that has been committed.”
Charles Koch's Views On Crime May Surprise You! -The Wichitah Eagle 12/29/14
Like a damn tumor.
Holden said Charles Koch wondered afterward “how the little guy who doesn’t have Koch’s resources deals with prosecutions like that.”Seriously. Remember this the next time you get stopped by the cops and he finds a half roach on the floor, or, you randomly find yourself out dumping tons of benzene into the air. Either one.
Sometimes, people tell you what they really think of you, and their assessment of your intelligence, via the audacity and boldness of stunts that they try to pull off at your expense. This is an intelligence check about reputation laundering. Folks, while the Kochs talk about freedom, and about the poor, poor non-violent offenders who get jammed up just like they themselves might have been? Think about this the way a neighbor of the plant might think of that one Thermatrix thingamabobadoodle. This plant wasn't out in the middle of nowhere with nobody around. There were neighborhoods, communities of completely unaware people, children playing and elderly people walking out and about in the area. Trust me. You do not want to live anywhere near a source of large amounts of vented benzene. Neither dumped in a river, buried in barrels beneath your feet, or as fumes being pumped into the air you breathe.
I believe the government in this matter. Why? I'm sure a Movement Conservative would say that it is because I'm not a conservative, so, I'm out to get the Kochs. The real reason? The Kochs, and their family petrochemical empire, have a track record. A history. One that is not imagined. Nor or trumped up. Or the product of liberal bias or anyone's imagination. They have the ledger of massive fines and settlements to prove it. You lose the benefit of the doubt when you have set, and broken your own, records for paying out fines and settling lawsuits. The Kochs want to be kingmakers as well as meddlesome captains of industry without having to deal with the downsides of being wanna-be kings or meddlesome captains of industry. Joining hands with them requires you disregard who they are, and what they do, and have done, and will continue to do, willfully, to chase another bipartisanship fetish mirage.
If you wanted to engage in a massive and profoundly useful reputation laundering scheme, getting the very people you have spent your life trying to screw over the most, and in every way you can think of, to cheer at the sound of your name, in any context, is a total coup. I don't care how much they bring to the table. You partner up with that? Then you own a part in helping them re-write history and pull off one of the greatest acts of undeserved reputation laundering in the history of robber barons and grifters alike. Yes. They have a lot of money. It might be intoxicating to think of all the good things you can do. If you just overlook the stomach-churning notion they are pushing here. I can't. It seems to me to be very unwise to equate, or to help equate, what the Kochs did via their chemical plant and its unconscionable release of a cancerous toxin, and the American everyman-on-the-rocks getting screwed over.
Which is unabashedly their take on what it was that brought them to this very "reform" point.
The government contends that Koch and its employees conspired to violate the federal Clean Air Act by making false statements about its benzene emissions to officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).Yep. Because that's just like facing ten years for having a tiny bag of weed in the backseat.
“It was a really, really torturous experience,” said Mark Holden, Koch’s chief counsel. “We learned first-hand what happens when anyone gets into the criminal justice system.”Anyone? The gall of what is being equated here, in terms of parity, is simply staggering.
You can see the cynical implication that both the Koch Industries polluters, and the court-fee or fine nonpayer put in jail for basically being broke, or the grossly overcharged for basic possession with no resources to fight the charges, as both basically being the same creature. Both cut from the same fundamental cloth. Both being your run-of-the-mill screwed-over everyman non-violent offenders. It's just that one is rich, and the other is not.
Again, tell somebody who lived near that chemical plant about how non-violent they find the scot-free offenders who, back in the day, released benzene near their kids and their grand kids. Yes. They got off. That's what billions and billions of dollars will do for you as a shameless family of petrochemical barons in post-Reagan America. What they (allegedly) did (or did not do) is not, remotely, like the very real and very troubling reasons why our prisons and jails are overfilled with non-violent and grossly overcharged lost souls. You get in bed with that, telling yourself whatever 'for the greater good' delusional bullshit you have to bamboozle yourself with to successfully buy it, at your peril. There will be a price to be paid down the line you probably don't see either as possible or coming.