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Has Koch Industries’ investment in Marco Rubio paid off?

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/08/MahurinLobbying_Thumb.jpgOn Friday, The American Independent reported that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) received more Koch Industries money than any other candidate for U.S. Senate in the 2010 election, and many of his other major contributors have personal and professional ties to the Koch brothers as well. So how have Rubio’s backers fared so far in terms of getting a return on their investment?

As far as introducing new legislation, Rubio has been fairly quiet. So far, he has been responsible for one piece of legislation, an amendment to an air traffic control bill that would prevent the expansion of flight itineraries in countries that sponsor terrorism. Since becoming a senator in January, Rubio has voted in opposition of the implementation of health care reform through a number of resolutions and amendments, and has voted for extending provisions of the PATRIOT Act and blocking Transportation Security Administration employees from collective bargaining (of course, the involvement of the Koch brothers in the national fight over collective bargaining is well documented). That’s the extent of his U.S. Senate voting record, but he’s been vocal about his support for other bills, and it’s there that his benefit to Koch Industries comes into focus.

Koch Industries has three major operations in Florida: Georgia-Pacific, Flint Hills Resources and Koch Chemical Technology Group. Of those, the paper company Georgia-Pacific has come into the most heated conflict with environmental regulations. Flint Hills is an oil refinery operation that has been fined by the Environmental Protection Agency for violations of the Clean Air Act in the past, though it was also commended by the EPA in 2005 for cutting emissions. Koch Chemical Technology primarily makes pollution control equipment that can be used to ensure compliance with EPA regulations.

Rubio has stated his opposition to cap-and-trade regulations that would reward companies for limiting emissions and tax those that don’t. Cap and trade could have a major impact on the Flint Hills operation in Rubio’s backyard, but it could have even larger repercussions for Koch Industries outfits in other states. Koch Industries has spent hundreds of millions in the past in fines for EPA violations and costs incurred in bringing factories up to emissions standards.

And as a pitched battle continues to heat up in Florida over Georgia-Pacific’s objections to EPA water standards, Rubio has made known his opposition to the same. The sugar conglomerate Flo-Sun, another major backer of Rubio’s campaign, has also had its own battles with the EPA over water pollution standards. Rubio has couched his opposition to regulations in terms of job creation, but opponents have argued that failing to enact environment regulations could ultimately cost jobs for Florida in some of its flagship industries (more on that later).

It’s unclear how Rubio’s constituents feel about his vigorous opposition to EPA regulation, as no polls have been conducted by an independent body to find out. The only poll available is one showing [68 percent of Floridians and climbing oppose EPA water regulations](http://fltrib.com/poll-shows-floridians-dont-want-pay-new-water-quality-standards?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+thefloridatribune+(The+Florida+Tribune)); however, the poll simply asked if Floridians would oppose water quality regulations if they resulted in a $700 increase in the average home water bill. That number was based on industry estimates of industrial wastewater regulation costs that the EPA has disputed.

In November, the Florida Independent obtained an internal email from Phil Coram, a deputy director of water resource management with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Coram stated that industry estimates were overblown because they were based on the wrong assumption that all wastewater sites would have to comply with regulations; that they left out the fact that many companies would have cheaper options than expensive conversions for managing their wastewater; and that “some of their math is wrong.” This is coming from within a state agency that has itself been accused of kowtowing to industry interests.

On Rubio’s own site, he uses a Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services figure stating that the wastewater regulations in question would cost over $1.1 billion annually. Such an annual cost, though a great deal higher than EPA estimates, would result in an annual water bill increase of around $157 if divided evenly among all households in Florida — far lower than $700, but even the lower figure doesn’t account for the fact that industrial facilities use a lot more water than individuals, nor does it account for the vast number of seasonal households in Florida whose owners live elsewhere for large parts of the year. Indeed, the EPA figures reported by the St. Johns Riverkeeper may not be far off: an increase more on the order of $40 to $71 a year for the average taxpayer.

Meanwhile, the Florida Independent today reports that failing to implement wastewater regulations would result in a proliferation of toxic algae that would have devastating effects. The brunt of these effects would be felt by individuals living near waterways and by small businesses in the food, hospitality and tourism industries that stake their livelihoods on the integrity of Florida’s environment.

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