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Kochworld

To see how the Koch brothers’ free-market utopia operates, look no further than Corpus Christi.
by and Published on
Hillcrest, a neighborhood in Corpus Christi

Written by Melissa del Bosque with photos and multimedia by Jen Reel

Until her son got sick, Latricia Jones never thought much about the air she breathes or who was polluting it. At 31, she’d spent nearly her entire life in Corpus Christi’s Hillcrest neighborhood, living next to two oil refineries, one owned by Citgo and the other by Flint Hills Resources, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, Inc. She didn’t know that Charles and David Koch—two of America’s richest men, with a combined personal fortune of $62 billion—owned the refinery two blocks from the small white house she rents in Hillcrest. The massive Flint Hills refinery, marked by smokestacks, jutting pipes and giant steel holding tanks, processes diesel, jet fuel, gasoline and industrial chemicals. The refineries release toxins into her neighborhood, including benzene, a known carcinogen; butadiene, which can cause birth defects; and sulfuric acid, which damages the lungs. For Latricia, the dirty air was like Corpus Christi’s formidable humidity—you get used to it.

But the birth of her first child, Dre’vyon, opened her eyes. One night, a month after he was born, Dre’vyon had to fight for breath. “He was coughing and vomiting. He’d try to cry but he couldn’t, his chest was so tight,” she says. Frantic, she dialed 911. After 20 minutes the ambulance still hadn’t arrived. In tears, she begged a neighbor for a ride to the emergency room. One of the first questions hospital staff asked her was whether she had health insurance. She didn’t. The second was whether she lived near the refineries. This isn’t an unusual question in Corpus Christi hospitals. The city has six oil refineries—the largest such cluster in Texas. That night the ER doctor reported that Dre’vyon had asthma. “The doctor said [refinery emissions] could be a trigger … that as long as I live near the refineries, he’ll always have the asthma attacks,” she says.

Dre’vyon is nearly 2 years old now, and Latricia is fixated on getting him out of Hillcrest, but the economics are against her. She has no car, no savings, and her job as a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home across town pays just $10.75 an hour. Dre’vyon’s chronic asthma requires close supervision. Because of the severity of Dre’vyon’s asthma attacks, his grandmother is afraid to babysit him. “She gets too panicked,” Latricia says. So Latricia cut back her hours at work to stay home. Sometimes her sister or boyfriend, Lewis, Dre’vyon’s father, will watch him so she can take the bus across town to work. For six months she lived on the south side of town, farther from the refineries and closer to her work, but the rent was double what she pays in Hillcrest. Here she can pay $400 a month for a two bedroom house with no deposit. Latricia makes just enough to pay the rent and her bills. “If I could afford it, I would move away,” she says.

Latricia isn’t the only one. Homeowners like Jean Salone, who lives near Flint Hills’ East Plant, and Jim and Bobi Miller, who live near the company’s West Plant, seven miles west of Hillcrest, want to move, but no one will buy their homes at a price that would allow them to relocate somewhere else.

In 2010, the most current data available, the Flint Hills and Citgo refineries next to Hillcrest collectively released 26 different pollutants into the atmosphere, including more than 19,000 pounds of benzene, 25,000 pounds of toluene, 11,000 pounds of sulfuric acid, and 25,000 pounds of hydrogen cyanide. Residents living near the refineries say they can’t definitively prove that refineries like Flint Hills are making them ill, but they believe the pollution is causing cancer, birth defects, chronic asthma and other lung diseases. Some public health studies bolster their argument, documenting elevated rates of asthma, birth defects and cancer near oil refineries.

In response to an Observer query, Flint Hills Resources spokesperson Katie Stavinoha sent an email with links to independent health studies she says show no link between refinery pollutants and chronic illnesses. Stavinoha wrote, “Flint Hills Resources is committed to operating in full compliance with all laws and regulations. We work cooperatively and constructively with regulators, including the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and TCEQ [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality].”

Air quality isn’t the only concern. Residents also worry about accidents at the neighboring refineries. In July 2012, Flint Hills reported a leak at its West Plant containing hydrofluoric acid to the state environmental agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Hydrofluoric acid can cause internal hemorrhaging and death. Afterward, Stavinoha told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that only “trace levels” of the acid had been released, and had not traveled beyond the refinery’s fence line. In 2009, a near-disaster occurred when an explosion at the Citgo refinery, which neighbors Flint Hills near Hillcrest, released 4,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid into the atmosphere (see “The Fire This Time,” Texas Observer, August 18, 2009). “Living here is like living in a death trap,” Jean Salone says.

Residents say living next to the refineries is not only a health hazard but a poverty trap, due to medical bills, missed workdays, and wages lost to illness. To make their situation more bearable, Salone and others say they would like to see more governmental oversight and tougher environmental regulations to reduce the pollution.

Koch Industries has a different agenda. The Koch brothers bought their first oil refinery here in 1981. They bought their second, next to Hillcrest, in 1995. They also own pipelines, oil storage tanks, and a dock in neighboring Ingleside. Despite a history of federal indictments for dumping toxins into the air and waterways of Corpus Christi, the Koch brothers have made a fortune from their refineries over the last three decades. With a sophisticated public relations team and millions spent lobbying Congress, local politicians and state lawmakers, they’ve benefited from lax environmental regulation and tax incentives and exemptions, while their refineries’ neighbors are mired in illness and poverty.

CHARLES KOCH, 76, and David Koch, 72, were born into wealth. In 1967 they inherited their father’s oil company and turned it into a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate of more than 20 companies that manufacture dozens of products around the world, from Angel Soft toilet paper in Georgia to spandex in China. Over the decades, they turned Koch Industries, Inc., headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, into the second-largest privately held company in the United States, after agricultural behemoth Cargill, Inc. Flint Hills Resources, a Koch subsidiary, refines more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil daily at refineries in Alaska, Minnesota and Texas. Because Koch Industries is privately owned, it seldom releases financial data, but Forbes magazine has estimated that the family enterprise generates $115 billion in annual revenues.

What makes Koch Industries different from other corporations in the dirty yet lucrative business of refining oil is the brothers’ enormous personal fortunes—each owns 42 percent of the company’s stock—and their commitment to altering the political landscape in favor of their corporate interests. Lifelong libertarians (David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate in 1980), the brothers spend hundreds of millions funding think tanks, candidates and advocacy groups that push a free-market agenda of limited government regulation, corporate tax cuts and climate-change denial in a vast ideological network that critics call the “Kochtopus.” On climate change alone, Greenpeace reports that from 2005 to 2008 the Kochs funneled $24.9 million to groups denying global warming, surpassing ExxonMobil as the top funder of denial organizations.

Since abandoning the Libertarian Party for the GOP and the tea party movement, the brothers have given millions to conservative candidates who support their agenda. In 2004, they helped found Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group. That group and other Koch-affiliated organizations plan to spend up to $400 million, Politico reports, to defeat President Obama this election.

In the past, the billionaire brothers kept a relatively low public profile, but in the last decade, David Koch, who lives in an 18-room duplex on Park Avenue in Manhattan, has become a regular on the charity circuit. He gave $35 million to the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian, which named its dinosaur hall after him. And he donated $100 million to New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to renovate a theater that now bears his name. Charles keeps a lower profile at the corporation’s headquarters in Kansas, where he serves as CEO, but donates millions every year to free-enterprise think tanks and to his own Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Charles also promotes the brothers’ free-market ideology in The Wall Street Journal, penning editorials lambasting the corporate cronyism and government subsidies that, ironically, have favored the oil and gas industries for a century. “Only societies with a system of economic freedom create widespread prosperity,” Koch wrote in a September editorial. “Free societies also bring about greatly improved outcomes in life expectancy, literacy, health, the environment and other important dimensions.”

 

One of Flint HIlls Resources' many billboards in Corpus Christi
One of Flint HIlls Resources’ many billboards in Corpus Christi.

TO GET AN IDEA how the Koch brothers’ free-market utopia operates, look no further than Corpus Christi. In a state that flaunts lax environmental regulation, Corpus Christi offers even more perks, including local tax incentives and an industry-friendly city government.

The city has catered to the petroleum industry since 1935, when the first oil refinery was built along Corpus Christi’s ship channel, which offers access to lucrative foreign and domestic crude markets via the Gulf of Mexico. Over the years, the refineries expanded, and now span seven miles along the city’s northern border. At night, lights on the towering stacks and seemingly endless maze of refinery pipes and tanks dominate the city’s skyline.

Hosting a multi-billion-dollar industry should make the city of 308,000 wealthy, but it’s poorer than most Texas cities. The median household income is $43,457—lower than the statewide median—and nearly 19 percent of residents live below the poverty level. The city is grappling with how to pay to maintain its aging infrastructure. Many of the city’s roads need to be repaved, and the rest are pockmarked with potholes. The City Council estimates it will cost residents nearly $1 billion in taxes and bonds to replace and repair the city’s roads.

Flint Hills’ company motto in Corpus Christi is “We work here. We live here. We give here. We invest here.™” But over the years, Koch Industries has taken advantage of tax breaks and regulatory loopholes, which its lobbyists and affiliated trade groups have pushed for, to fatten the company’s bottom line. Its two plants, like Corpus’ other refineries, are given a special industrial-district designation that allows them to pay a lump sum to the city, in lieu of taxes, ranging from 40 to 94 percent below the taxes paid by businesses outside of the specially zoned district. The company has also lobbied for additional tax breaks from the county. Forced by an EPA regulation in the early 1990s to make cleaner diesel fuel, Flint Hills lobbied county commissioners for a $3.5 million tax break to build the processing facility, which it was required to build anyway. The abatement was approved. After completing the expansion, Flint Hills then got additional county tax exemptions worth $104.5 million for installing federally required pollution controls. The ostensible justification for the exemptions is that reducing pollution is not necessary to running the business, says Neil Carman, clean air director for the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club. “It’s not fair to give them another tax break when they’re already making billions,” he says.

Flint Hills employs 1,000 people in the region, and paid $19.5 million in county taxes last year—a big deal for a cash-strapped Nueces County struggling with high poverty and crumbling infrastructure on a $142 million annual budget. County commissioners are eager to placate industry. “They are good corporate neighbors,” then-County Commissioner Richard Martinez Borchard told the local newspaper after voting for Flint Hills’ $3.5 million tax abatement in 1992. “They are adding value to the tax base. They are adding employees to the work force.”

Because Flint Hills is privately owned and doesn’t release financial data, it’s difficult to determine just how lucrative its two Corpus Christi refineries are, but to get an idea, look to its neighbor Citgo, which refines 163,000 barrels per day at its East Plant near Hillcrest—roughly half Flint Hills’ output. Citgo, owned by the Venezuelan government, was sued by the U.S. government for noxious emissions from two large uncovered holding tanks. Citgo’s fines will be calculated as a percentage of its Corpus Christi profits over the last decade, which prosecutors estimate at $1.2 billion.

Latricia Jones and her 2-year-old son Dre'vyon in their neighborhood
Latricia Jones and her 2-year-old son Dre’vyon in their neighborhood.


ON AN EARLY JULY MORNING
in Corpus Christi the humidity already feels like a damp blanket. Latricia Jones, in a black velour tracksuit, is determined to get some exercise before the heat and humidity become overbearing. “I try to take good care of myself so I won’t get sick,” she explains. Since the nursing home where she works charges $300 a month for coverage under its plan, health insurance is out of the question, she says, pushing Dre’vyon around the neighborhood in a stroller and mopping sweat from her face with a small white towel. They wheel along broken, uneven sidewalks past the Flint Hills refinery and vacant lots filled with weeds. Some of the lots still have slab foundations or concrete steps leading to nowhere. A few small, wooden houses still stand, their windows and doors boarded up and posted with no-trespassing signs. Latricia and her neighbors call this two-block-deep wasteland between the neighborhood and refinery row the “buffer zone.”

Her family has lived in Hillcrest for three generations. When Latricia was growing up here, apartment buildings and modest homes filled the buffer zone with picket fences and yards dotted with swing sets and children’s toys. She points to a large vacant lot with a wilted pecan tree. “There used to be two or three houses there. That’s where my cousins lived,” she says. “My best friend lived on the next street where the parking lot is now for the refinery.” She points toward the Flint Hills refinery. A brown-tinged plume of smoke billows from a smokestack, forming a cloud overhead. As Flint Hills and the neighboring Citgo refinery expanded over the decades, Hillcrest was boxed in by the ship channel, Interstate 37, and the refineries. The neighborhood grew isolated and run-down. Those who could afford to left a long time ago. “A lot has changed since the neighborhood went down,” Latricia says, lifting the stroller over a crumbling curb to cross the street. “Now everybody just took to their own. You can’t get anybody to watch over your kids if they’re outside.”

After their walk, it’s time for Dre’vyon’s asthma medication. Latricia pulls out a large, clear plastic bag filled with medicine bottles, nebulizers and inhalers. She puts the nebulizer, which looks like an oxygen mask, over Dre’vyon’s face and clicks an inhaler pump into the bottom. Dre’vyon flinches and tries to squirm off her lap, but Latricia hugs him close to her chest. She pushes in the inhaler’s handle, releasing medicine into his mask. The boy’s dark eyes are wide and alert. She begins counting down from 10 and tries to calm Dre’vyon by persuading him to count along with her. Dre’vyon, his voice muffled by the mask, counts down: “5, 4, 3…” When they get to zero, Latricia beams him a wide smile. “Yay,” she says, hugging him, and the little boy smiles.

Latricia Jones' son Dre'vyon needs daily breathing treatments to relieve his chronic asthma
Latricia Jones’ son Dre’vyon needs daily breathing treatments to relieve his chronic asthma.

This is the daily routine, she tells me. At night, Dre’vyon is hooked up to a breathing machine for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. He takes an asthma pill every night. “The pill makes him sleepy and the asthma medication in the morning makes him wild,” she says. “If I take him out in public after I give him the medication, I can’t control him.” Even with all of this, he’s still in the ER every other month, she says. “They keep changing his medications and nothing seems to work.” She worries about her son’s health, and about money, every day. Her boyfriend Lewis works as a handyman, and contributes some money to help raise Dre’vyon, she says, but doesn’t live with them. She worries about losing Medicaid coverage for Dre’vyon if she takes on more hours at the nursing home. (In Texas, a family of two must have a monthly income of $1,261 or less to qualify). Before Dre’vyon went on Medicaid, Latricia paid $500 just for a month’s supply of asthma pills. “I can’t even tell you how much the rest of it costs,” she says. “One of my biggest worries is, how am I going to pay for it?”


“THIS IS A PLACE YOU GOT
to stay up on God,” says 71-year-old Jean Salone, a petite great-grandmother who lives a few blocks from Latricia. “You got to really pray hard.” Salone moved to Hillcrest in 1962. Back then the city’s racial zoning rules forced African-Americans to live near the refineries and the heavily industrialized ship channel. Mexican-Americans were zoned on the opposite end of town, near two oil waste dumps later repurposed as municipal landfills.

Tired of the neglect, Salone joined the grassroots organization Citizens for Environmental Justice, started by local environmental advocate Suzie Canales. The two women went door to door asking residents if they wanted the refineries to buy them out. Of the 151 Hillcrest households they surveyed, 67 percent of homeowners wanted a buyout, and 77 percent of renters wanted to relocate. “People call this ‘cancer neighborhood’ because most of the people out here have died from cancer,” Salone says.

A lawsuit filed in the early 1980s by refinery-row residents claimed air and groundwater contamination had devalued their properties by 70 percent compared to other parts of the city. In 1995, Flint Hills Resources reached an out-of-court settlement with landowners and started purchasing the contaminated properties closest to its Hillcrest refinery. (Flint Hills would not say how much it paid for the buyouts). The company demolished dozens of homes, leaving the L-shaped buffer zone that runs between the refineries and Hillcrest. “They didn’t go farther because we couldn’t at the time show groundwater contamination had gone beyond the two blocks,” says Steve Hastings, the Corpus Christi lawyer who represented landowners. (In 2010, an independent review commissioned by Citizens for Environmental Justice did find contaminated groundwater beyond the buffer zone in the Hillcrest neighborhood).

Salone has already survived breast cancer, and had a hysterectomy after being diagnosed with a tumor. Doctors have never told Salone the cancer was connected to the refineries, but she still wonders why so many people are sick in her neighborhood. Sometimes she uses an asthma inhaler to help her breathe. She’s afraid to have her granddaughters visit from Austin anymore, because she doesn’t think it’s safe. When the girls, who were 6 and 7 at the time, visited in 2009, the Citgo explosion released a cloud of hydrofluoric acid. “One of my friends called and said, ‘Wake up Jean. There’s a fire!’” she says. “I never received any kind of warning from the refinery people.” Salone made sure the windows were shut tight, then she and the girls got down on their knees and prayed. Two months earlier, a fire at the Flint Hills refinery had sent black smoke billowing into the sky. “They always say afterward on the news that the neighborhood was never in any danger,” Salone says. “It’s become a big joke among us. They [local emergency response officials] don’t even know where the handicapped people live, the people with oxygen tanks. They don’t know where a mother lives that has maybe five or six children. Some people they call, some they don’t. Never in any danger—I mean, come on.”


IN 2005, MELISSA JARRELL,
having just finished her Ph.D. coursework at the University of South Florida, moved to Corpus Christi to study environmental crime for her thesis. She later turned her research into a book: Environmental Crime and the Media. Now a tenured professor on the Criminal Justice Program faculty at Texas A&M at Corpus Christi, Jarrell says of her arrival, “I had no idea what I was getting into. I was very naïve.”

“The city is the refineries, if that makes sense,” she says. “Our city councilman is Larry Elizondo, a spokesperson for Citgo, and . . . Lillian Riojas, she works for Valero [refinery], she’s running for City Council. When I first came here I thought that just speaking about Koch Industries or Citgo based on the data was OK. I thought, well, the data says they’ve committed these crimes. But I quickly learned that no one wanted to talk about the dirty side of industry. When I would go to the local media, they’d say, ‘Sorry, we don’t want to hear it because we get a lot of advertising from industry.’”

For her book, Jarrell researched civil environmental violations for every refinery in the country from 2000 to 2001, and found Koch-owned refineries to have the highest number of violations. “They had the worst environmental record. They paid the highest amount in fines for civil environmental violations,” she says.

In the first decade of this century, “record-setting” became a common adjective in news coverage of Koch Industries. The phrase was used to describe a slew of civil fines and criminal penalties levied against the company. In 2000, the federal government lodged a 97-count indictment against Koch Industries for violating federal clean-air and hazardous-waste laws at its West Plant. Koch employee turned whistleblower Sally Barnes-Soliz told the state environmental agency that Koch had falsified its annual emissions report, and had released at least 91 metric tons of benzene in its wastewater—15 times the legal limit.

The 40-page indictment claimed Koch Industries lied to regulators about its ability to control emissions of benzene, which can cause leukemia and other cancers. The company lied, the government claimed, to avoid the expense of retrofitting its plant and complying with a new federal regulation to reduce benzene emissions.

Denying responsibility, Koch friends such as former Oklahoma Republican Congressman J.C. Watts, who received more than $16,000 in campaign contributions from Koch Industries, and former Texas Republican Congressman Dick Armey—House majority leader at the time—insinuated in the press that the Department of Justice indictment, which was handed down in the last days of the Clinton administration, was political payback for the brothers’ support of George W. Bush. “He’s concerned the timing is so fishy, coming at a time when this administration is playing political football with anything doing with Texas,” Armey’s spokesperson told the Associated Press. The former congressman now heads a tea party organization called FreedomWorks, partially funded by the Koch brothers.

After the 2000 election, the Bush Department of Justice reduced the indictment from 97 counts to 9. Rather than face a jury in Corpus Christi, Koch Petroleum Group pleaded guilty to covering up environmental violations in a plea agreement the day the trial was scheduled to begin. The company was given five years probation and ordered to pay $10 million in criminal fines and another $10 million for environmental mitigation in Corpus Christi.

Already, earlier in 2000, Koch Industries had paid the largest civil environmental fine in American history to date: $35 million for oil spills in Texas and five other states. In one incident, a damaged pipeline spilled nearly 100,000 gallons of oil into Nueces and Corpus Christi bays, causing an oil slick 12 miles long. A year earlier, a jury had imposed a $296 million penalty on the corporation for the deaths of two teenagers in a pipeline blast in Lively, Texas. In 2002, Koch Industries changed the name on its Corpus Christi refineries from Koch Petroleum to Flint Hills Resources.

In seven years in Corpus, Jarrell says, she’s learned a lot that can’t be derived from books. For one, just having facts and studies to back your claims doesn’t mean anyone’s going to listen. “You have 1,000 homes that are in close proximity to the refineries. They’re victims of air pollution, soil contamination and water pollution. It’s all well documented, that’s what’s amazing to me. It’s not exactly a secret,” she says. “I always compare it to street crime. Homicide, right? They die instantly, everybody understands that. But environmental victimization isn’t immediate. In a community that’s poisoned, it might not manifest itself for decades.”

Bobi and Jim Miller in their yard. The Flint Hills Resources West Plant stands in the background
Bobi and Jim Miller in their yard. The Flint Hills Resources West Plant stands in the background.

A QUARTER-MILE from Flint Hills’ West Plant is a middle-class neighborhood of spacious ranch-style homes. It’s a far cry from the urban decay of Hillcrest, seven miles to the east. Many homes have boats parked in the driveways and swimming pools in the backyards. Jim and Bobi Miller have lived here for 30 years. “We bought it when we were young, and we knew we were buying close to the refinery, but I guess we didn’t know what we were getting into,” says Bobi, 56, sitting at her kitchen table. Jim, 71, sits in an easy chair in the living room. If he wants to get up he has to drag a 15-pound oxygen tank behind him. “I’ve been on oxygen now for three years,” he says, “and they can’t tell me why. I’ve never smoked and the doctor says my lungs are clear, but I’ve lost 40 percent of my lung capacity, and it looks like I’ll be on oxygen until the day I die.”

Sometimes Jim shares his oxygen tank with Bobi, who was diagnosed a decade ago with a rare lung disease called pulmonary sarcoidosis. For 27 years she taught at the Tuloso-Midway primary school across the street from their home, which had about 700 students in pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade. At a neighboring campus, Tuloso-Midway Intermediate, another 700 students attended grades three through five. At school, students practiced “shelter in place” drills in case of a leak or explosion at the refinery. “They gave us a kit in a five-gallon bucket. It was duct tape and a towel. We were supposed to put the towel under the door and duct tape the door and turn off the air conditioner and keep the kids inside,” she says. “Toward the end of my teaching years they got fairly graphic. If you saw someone outside … even if it was a child and they couldn’t breathe, you still couldn’t let them in because it would expose everyone.”

Bobi’s lung disease made it increasingly difficult for her to work. Her doctors couldn’t determine how she’d gotten sarcoidosis; she only knew that it was getting worse. Bobi had to keep a breathing machine in her classroom. “I would go teach when I was sick. I wouldn’t miss work, but I would ask the principal to take me off bus duty so I could go back to my classroom and use the breathing machine,” she says. “And then I’d finish teaching.”

In 2000, Koch bought the two school buildings and an associated 24 acres for $3 million. They now do company trainings there and hold community meetings in the cafeteria. The city passed a $20 million bond to rebuild the schools on a new site about four miles from Flint Hills. Stephen Waddell, Corpus Christi’s school superintendent at the time, was quick to emphasize that the move had nothing to do with the schools’ proximity to the refinery. “Getting farther from the refinery was not our objective. It was an outcome, but it was not the reason we passed the bond election,” he told the Caller-Times.

Like Latricia, the Millers want to move farther from refinery row. Bobi retired from teaching in 2010. Lately they’ve been looking at houses on the other side of town, but they don’t think anyone will buy their home. “We’d like to sell it, but nobody wants it because it’s too close to the refinery,” Jim says. He wishes Koch Industries would buy them out so they could move. It seems unlikely. Asked by the Observer, Katie Stavinoha, the spokesperson for Flint Hills Resources, said the company “has no plans to acquire additional property anywhere in Corpus Christi. Occasionally a homeowner/landowner has offered property for sale to FHR; each property is evaluated on its own merit.”

Jim is especially annoyed lately by a news report that plays repeatedly on his favorite cable channel. It’s a segment about William Koch (who sold his share of Koch Industries to Charles and David after a decades-long family feud) having just purchased the only known photograph of the outlaw Billy the Kid for $2.3 million. “If the Kochs can spend $2 million on a tintype of Billy the Kid, they can surely help the communities,” he says.

The Millers have neighbors who need oxygen tanks but can’t afford them. “I’m very fortunate I’m over 65 and Medicare handles me,” Jim says. “But I know some people who aren’t 65 yet, and they’re trying to get on with their day-to-day activity and having a hard time. I just can’t see a man or a group of men making all that money and there’s people out there who are having trouble breathing.”

Flint Hills recently announced that it will expand its West Plant near the Millers’ home to handle more oil from the booming Eagle Ford Shale formation in South Texas. The company says the expansion will minimize emissions using “state-of-the-art pollution controls,” but the Millers are skeptical.

The expansion will undoubtedly make the Koch brothers even richer. The last decade has been good to the billionaires. Since 2008 their combined net worth has nearly doubled, from $38 billion to $62 billion, according to Forbes. Whether their candidate wins the presidency this fall or not, the brothers say they’ll continue spending their fortune to reshape America.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” David Koch said in August, during an Americans for Prosperity reception at the GOP convention. “I try to do things in life that make the world a better place.”

Research support for this article was provided by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute

(Correction: The original version of this story reported that Citgo was sued by the U.S. government for a 2009 hydroflouric acid leak. Citgo was sued for emissions from two uncovered holding tanks not the hydroflouric acid leak. The Observer regrets the error).

  • orwellsworstnightmare

    Proto- fascist, neo-Nazi brats that inherited Daddy’s business and $200 million of his money.

  • Jolene Brooks Steuckrath

    I lived in Corpus Christi and worked for Chaplin Refinery back in the 80′s. I know first hand that the Koch’s ran the dirtiest refinery in the state of Texas. When the SOB’s would fly into town, if they saw any sign of a flair they’d promptly fire the supervisor on duty. A flair is off gasses that keep a refineries plant from blowing up but while you flair you make no money. The Tea Party movement is funded by the Koch’s and has made them $4billion dollars in 2013. They are the 5th in the billionaire lineup. One year folks and 4 BILLION dollars! I’ll hand it to them who other than billionaires could get common folks to work for free, destroying their own tax paid government programs? Are people stupid? If you belong to the Tea Party you got your answer.

  • connie gonzalez

    How much money is it going to take to make the Koch brothers happy? And
    at what cost to the people that they are hurting?