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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 that the Elk Creek mine has been cited 66 times for "significant and substantial" safety violations — the kind that could result in serious injury or death.
Goldstein calls the deaths "a tragedy" but says the mine's safety record is "quite good. It's lower than the national average."
This May, Oxbow announced it was expanding its coal exploration efforts in Delta County, near Gunnison. "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. Rep. John Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, sponsored the land-swap legislation in Congress. But after the media 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 forest land.
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," Marston says, "and it locks out, at present, hundreds of users."
Goldstein counters that Marston has been butting heads with Oxbow for 11 years and that 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 he has a summer mansion, a private developer proposed building the nation's first offshore wind farm. One hundred and 30 wind turbines, 440 feet high, would rise in Nantucket Sound. The developer claimed this clean energy source would cover 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 Edward 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 was also 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.
"I think he has made a fortune in some of the dirtiest types of energy we use," Rodgers says. "I suppose it galls him that somebody makes money with clean-energy wind turbines that he might even see occasionally from his oceanfront mansion."
In 2001, Bill Koch finally won a victory against his brothers. Koch Industries paid $25 million to the federal government in a settlement deal; in return, the feds dismissed charges that the company stole oil from Native American and federal lands. Bill Koch and his co-plaintiff shared $7.4 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity.
That year, Bill, David, and Charles also signed an undisclosed settlement that ended the legal battles among them and helped repair their relationship. In 2005, when Bill married his third wife — Bridget Rooney, whose grandfather founded the Pittsburgh Steelers and who had a son with Kevin Costner — David was the best man at the wedding.
Bill Koch continued his legal antics, but they shifted to his hobbies. In 2006, he sued the wine broker who sold him bottles of wine that purportedly belonged to Thomas Jefferson. After hiring his own investigators and speaking to Jefferson's foundation at Monticello, Koch discovered that the wine was fake. "I've bought so much art, so many guns, so many other things that if somebody's out to cheat me, I want the son of a bitch to pay for it," Koch told the New Yorker.
The mystery of the expensive wine's origins sparked a nonfiction book, and Koch and Goldstein saw themselves as crusading heroes in a made-for-Hollywood story. "This is National Treasure," Goldstein told writer Benjamin Wallace, author of The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine.