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A Logan-based think tank hired by the Utah Legislature to promote the state's legal efforts to wrest control of 32 million acres of public land from the federal government has strong ties to the billionaire Koch brothers, the petrochemical giants who spend millions to fight green-based energy programs and to elect candidates who favor their causes.
Randy Simmons, who runs Strata Policy, which landed the public-relations contract, was the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State University from 2008 to 2013 and a senior fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center, which is funded by the Kochs and Exxon Mobil.
That's according to Newsweek, which updated Simmons' background after taking heavy criticism for an op-ed piece Simmons wrote for the magazine that contained factual errors.
Simmons also supervises a Koch-funded USU scholarship program.
Newsweek updated the piece online with corrections to the disputed claims Simmons made in the April 11 article that attacked wind power. The magazine also ran a counter column titled "The True Benefits of Wind Power" by Jim Marston, the founding director of the Texas office of Environmental Defense Fund.
The Koch Foundation gave USU nearly $700,000 to establish a program for undergraduates to enroll and learn about Charles Koch's "Science of Liberty" management theory, according to a 2011 story on Thinkprogress.org. It was one of several grants given to schools around the country to establish similar programs touting the Kochs' business and political theories.
The controversy surrounding Simmons' Newsweek op-ed has been widely covered by online publications, including Thinkprogress.org, Politico and Media Matters.
The Legislature has committed $2 million to fight the federal government in court over control of the public land within Utah. The largest chunk went to Davillier Law Group of New Orleans to develop a legal strategy. Davillier also will do some PR work along with Strata.
The contracts for both firms were approved earlier this month by the Legislature's Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands. Davillier and Strata were selected by a committee that included House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper; Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy; Reps. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, and Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville; along with Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville.
Speaking of advocacy • Members of the Utah Legislature's Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee were asked by co-chairman Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, to stick around after the June 17 committee meeting to watch an educational video pushed by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.
When the video, about five minutes long, was played, however, it became obvious that it was more propaganda than educational.
It was a pitch for cash by Chad Booth so he could produce and distribute a film called "Policy by Litigation," which argues that all the ills in the West are caused by environmentalists who sue the feds and then make money by settling those suits.