The Other Koch Brother

In the shadow of his brothers' Tea Party fame, Bill Koch seems almost like a normal billionaire.

Goldstein, the spokesman for Bill Koch, denies that the settlement was arranged to get Angela to drop the charges. Throughout the divorce proceedings, Koch maintained that he never hit his wife. "An absolute fiction of her imagination. Never happened," Goldstein says. (Angela, who is remarried and lives in West Palm Beach, did not respond to requests for comment.)

As his romantic roller-coaster ride continued, Bill Koch lost most of his lawsuits against his brothers. "He was devastated," Angela Koch told the New York Post. "It was something he could not get over—it just ate him up." Meanwhile, his business goals began to shift.

Around 2000, Oxbow sold its geothermal power plants. Goldstein says the corporate execs sensed that the federal subsidies were going to disappear, and that the industry would no longer be stable. So the company that once prided itself on producing green energy switched its focus to fossil fuels—mining natural gas and coal, and becoming the world's largest marketer of petroleum coke, a by-product of oil refining that emits high levels of sulfur and carbon dioxide when burned.

PRNewsFoto/Palm Beach High School Foundation, Kim Sargent; © Sargent Photography
Bill Koch celebrates the America’s Cup victory in San Diego.
Portofsandiego.org
Bill Koch celebrates the America’s Cup victory in San Diego.

Oxbow bought the Elk Creek Mine in Gunnison County, Colorado, west of Aspen. It soon hired more than 300 people, most of whom climb under the earth every day, breathing in soot and methane gas, to retrieve black chunks of fuel.

Oxbow provides healthy paychecks in a rural mountain region where job options are limited. Goldstein says the company has donated money to the local hospitals, high school, Little League fields, and the library. In return, the residents tolerate the inherent perils of working for a coal company.

In the past 11 years, two of the three coal-mining deaths in Colorado occurred at Oxbow's mine. In one incident, a wire screen fell on a 26-year-old worker, pinning him to a machine. In another, a high-pressure hydraulic hose broke and went flying, hitting a 37-year-old in the head. In the past year, federal records indicate, the Elk Creek mine has been cited 66 times for "significant and substantial" safety violations—the kind that can reasonably result in serious injury or death.

Goldstein calls the deaths "a tragedy" but says the mine's safety record is "quite good" and contends that the accident rate is "lower than the national average."

This May, Oxbow announced it was expanding its coal exploration efforts in neighboring Delta County. "Coal is never gonna go away," Goldstein says. "It's not in fashion these days. [But] the majority of our energy in the states comes from coal."

In July, an Oxbow subsidiary received permission to build water pits to support its gas operations in Gunnison County, despite worries from environmentalists that the wells could leak and pollute the water supply.

Koch has also angered some nearby residents by trying to gain control of a large swath of federal land that provides access to a national forest. The 1,800 contested acres sit between Koch's two ranches, and he wants to connect them. He's tired of people trespassing, parking near his ranch, and poaching the elk that roam there, Goldstein says.

Last year, Koch tried to arrange a deal, through federal legislation, that would allow him to take over the land in exchange for giving the government roughly 1,000 acres near other federal parks. U.S. Representative John Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, sponsored the land-swap legislation in Congress. But after the press revealed that Oxbow was Salazar's biggest campaign donor, and the public protested the deal, the bill stalled and Salazar lost his seat in Congress. Goldstein says Koch is currently working to revise the plan, addressing concerns about access to the forestland.

But Ed Marston, a former newspaper publisher in the area who was a vocal opponent of the land swap, says the deal demonstrates how selfish Koch can be. "This is for the benefit of one man, and it locks out, at present, hundreds of users," says Marston.

Goldstein contends that Marston has been butting heads with Oxbow for 11 years and says the forest road he is trying to protect "gets very little use."

As his business in Colorado prospered, Koch took on a different energy battle in Massachusetts. In 2001, in Cape Cod, where Koch has a summer mansion, a private developer proposed building the nation's first offshore wind farm. One hundred and thirty wind turbines, 440 feet high, would rise in Nantucket Sound. The developer claimed this clean energy source would produce 75 percent of the energy needed to power the Cape and nearby islands.

But Koch, the award-winning sailor, was loath to let windmills sully his view. Plus, he didn't think the project was financially viable. Goldstein says higher energy costs would be passed on to consumers and calls the farm "a boondoggle." Koch joined other high-profile opponents such as Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney in a contentious battle that stretched on for nine years. He spent $1.5 million funding an opposition group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, for which he also served as chairman of the board.

Last year, Cape Wind finally got the federal approvals needed to move forward with the project. Mark Rodgers, the project spokesman, says Koch's vigorous opposition was tied to his pocketbook—namely, his business interests in coal and oil.

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