The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Newsweek adds disclosure about Koch ties of professor who wrote anti-wind power piece

Placeholder while article actions load

On April 11, Newsweek ran an opinion piece by Randy Simmons titled, “What’s the True Cost of Wind Power?” Citing a bundle of figures, Simmons concludes, “The high costs of federal subsidies and state mandates for wind power have not paid off for the American public.”

The story’s italicized tagline identified Simmons this way: “Randy Simmons is professor of political economy at Utah State University.”

The Erik Wemple Blog yesterday asked Simmons whether his Newsweek blast at wind power should have contained more information about his ties to some key players in the U.S. energy sector. For instance, between 2008 and 2013, Simmons served as the Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy from 2008 to 2013, in what he terms a “fixed-term professorship.” And Simmons currently supervises a program known at Utah State University as the “Koch Scholars” program, which runs on an annual grant from the Charles Koch Foundation. It’s a “reading group” that meets on Tuesday evenings. “The Koch Foundation grant buys the books, and food and provides a scholarship for each of the 15 students chosen that semester,” writes Simmons in an e-mail to the Erik Wemple Blog. “The faculty come because it is a great intellectual experience, the kind you only get in small discussion groups with highly motivated students. We often have as many as five faculty members in attendance.” Faculty do not receive any payment for their involvement in the reading group, says Simmons.

Charles G. and David H. Koch are the billionaire industrialists of Koch Industries, a conglomerate of fossil-fuel concerns. As various outlets have documented, the Kochs have used their lobbying might over the years to fight government subsidies for wind power.

When asked whether a disclaimer about his Koch history was warranted in a piece bashing wind power, Simmons responded:

I’m not sure it would be warranted, I am a professor continuing to do the same kinds of work that I have done for 35 years. See this article for example. Another example is the first or second edition of my book Beyond Politics. Chapters 3 and 4 lay out the logic and pathologies of rent seeking.
We don’t discussed energy issue in Koch Scholars, but rather read and discuss classical business and political books that open discussions about all points of view and academic disciplines. To be very clear, we have never been told or directed on our reading list from anyone for the Koch Scholars program, it is a pure academic endeavor.

Newsweek appears to differ. It has just attached this disclosure to the piece:

Editor’s note: The author of this piece, Randy Simmons, is the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State University. He’s also a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center. These ties to the oil industry weren’t originally disclosed in this piece.

Note: Simmons told the Erik Wemple Blog that he’s no longer the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy.

Furthermore, Newsweek just today published a counterpoint: “The True Benefits of Wind Power,” by James D. Marston, who’s identified as “the founding director of the Texas office of Environmental Defense Fund.”