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White House has coal country on the defensive

This April 28, 2010 photo shows the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, Mont. Plants such as Colstrip, which produces more than 15 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, could face new regulations under President Barack Obama’s latest climate change proposal.

You’ve no doubt heard about Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.” Well, there’s a new pledge in town, and several Wisconsin conservatives have signed on.

This pledge is called the “No Climate Tax Pledge,” but it might as well be called the “Koch Brothers Protection Pledge,” since it was devised by a group co-founded and backed by the billionaire brothers whose companies, according to the EPA, emitted over 24 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2011.

Signers of the pledge, now numbering 411, promise to "oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue” — in other words, no legislation on climate change without an equivalent amount of tax cuts. They include one U.S. senator from Wisconsin, three House members, four members of the state Senate, and four members of the Assembly — as well as Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

It's no surprise that Wisconsin lawmakers are well-represented on the pledge list. The Koch brothers and their oil industry bretheren have been avid Walker backers and supporters of Wisconsin tea party candidates, both for ideological reasons and because of the state's wealth of frac sand

A quarter of U.S. senators and more than one-third of U.S. representatives have also singed on to the pledge, including the entire GOP House leadership.

The little-known pledge was highlighted Monday with the release of a two-year study by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, which documents Charles and David Koch's extensive influencing of politicians, news media, elections and academia through think tanks, lobbyists, non-profits, and oodles of cash.

(Here's a good story from The New Yorker on the report.)

The pledge was devised by Americans for Prosperity, a tea party group founded by the Koch brothers and Koch Industries board member Richard Fink.

"While the pledge began with a marginal following, an energized turnout of conservative voters in the 2010 election swept 85 freshman Republicans into the House," the authors of the report write. "Of those 85 Republicans, 76 signed the Koch pledge as candidates. And 57 of those 76 received campaign contributions from Koch Industries’ political action committee."

Those newly elected Republicans helped push through funding cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency and tried to roll back the agency's regulatory powers, as well as being obstacles to enactment of laws to address climate change, the report says.

In addition to Walker and Kleefisch, Wisconsin signers of the pledge, all Republicans, are U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, U.S. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, Sean Duffy and Reid Ribble, state Sens. Leah Vukmir, Alberta Darling, Glenn Grothman and Mary Lazich, and state Reps. Dale Kooyenga, Don Pridemore, Jim Ott and Bill Kramer.

Since we're all fond of comparing Wisconsin with Minnesota, a demographically similar state that outperforms Wisconsin on several economic fronts, it merits noting that the only politicians from that state to sign the pledge are retiring U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Minnesota state Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen.

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.