Charles and David Koch, The Koch Brothers (work via DonkeyHotey on Flickr)Enlarge Photo
It seems fairly clear to most observers that petroleum's days are numbered, and that cars of the future will run on electricity. There's plenty of debate about where that electricity will come from -- batteries? fuel cells? -- but when you have conservative performance and luxury marques throwing their hats in the electric car ring, you know that change is blowing in the wind.
Of course, the death of fossil fuels won't take place overnight. Heck, it won't even take place over a decade. It may well be another 40 or 50 years before electrics (or something even more efficient) dominate the world's roads.
But that's not stopping Charles and David Koch from attempting to slow the transition even further. They're partnering with fellow conservatives across the energy sector to launch a new lobbying group that aims to spend $10 million per year to kill the electric car -- or at least maim it.
The as-yet-unnamed group will do that by targeting one of the biggest weapons in the arsenal of electric car manufacturers: subsidies. Today, the federal government offers up to $7,500 in tax credits for consumers who buy zero-emission electric vehicles, and many states offer tax incentives of their own. That's been crucial to automakers, because as attractive as electric cars may be to enthusiasts and early adopters, they carry a hefty premium, just as hybrids once did.
At the moment, the lobbying group is still getting its ducks in a row, with those efforts being led by lobbyist Charlie Drevna and close Koch ally James Mahoney. When the group officially debuts -- probably by summer, in time to have an impact on fall elections -- it's likely to have quite a war chest, much of which is expected to come from Koch Industries.
An unnamed source describes the lobbying group's goal to be "mak[ing] the public aware of all the benefits of petroleum-based transportation fuels". That same source cites concern over "electric vehicles and the subsidies for them" as a major reason for the group's formation.
HOW WILL THIS PLAY OUT?
The Koch brothers are reviled in some circles, particularly those dominated by eco-friendly, green energy fans. Lobbying efforts like this will appeal to folks who already share the Kochs' worldview, but they probably won't do much to win the brothers any new friends. (Not that that's a concern for them.)
More importantly, the new group is unlikely to halt the slow, steady progress of the electric car.
Though 2015 saw a slight dip in the purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, analysts believe that numbers will rebound in 2016. A host of new hybrid, electric, and even fuel cell models are rolling out worldwide, keeping consumers interested. Billions of dollars in new investment to support those cars are making elected officials see dollar signs.
And, of course, the transition to electricity won't just affect cars. Governments are already looking to regulate airplane emissions. Hybrid airplanes could be just over the horizon (though the barriers are higher than they were for hybrid cars).
Bottom line: the transportation sector has begun the transition to electric power, and there's little chance that it will reverse course.
It's possible that the Koch team might be able to slash electric-car incentives at the state and federal level, but in the process, politicians might re-evaluate incentives for petroleum outfits, too. The Kochs and their allies could also work to keep oil prices low, which would make them even richer, but might annoy the extraction companies that will no doubt shoulder a portion of the lobbying arm's budget.
The only thing that the Koch brothers and their allies can really do is delay the inevitable, and that's never a great position to take.