U.S.-Canada Trade: Billionaire Oil Baron Brothers Block New Border Crossing To U.S.

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Two billionaire brothers who have become heroes to America's libertarian movement and bogeymen to America's left are backing an effort to prevent a new border crossing between Canada and the U.S.

Charles and David Koch (pronounced "coke"), owners of Koch Industries, the U.S.'s second-largest privately held company, have thrown their backing behind a sometimes-dirty campaign to prevent the construction of a new bridge crossing between Windsor and Detroit, Bloomberg News reports.

That places the energy industry magnates seemingly in opposition to the government in Ottawa, which has been lobbying hard to get Michigan to build a new bridge in Detroit. Canada has even offered cash-strapped Michigan $550 million to move forward with the long-stalled project.

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But the new border crossing has been delayed by the efforts of Manuel Moroun, a Michigan billionaire who owns the principal Windsor-Detroit crossing, the Ambassador Bridge. Moroun fears a new, six-lane bridge would take traffic away from his 82-year-old, four-lane crossing. He has been lobbying the state government in Lansing to stop the project.

“We would have a hard time, if not an impossible time, paying our bills” if a new, public bridge were to be built, Moroun told Bloomberg News.

Now, as Bloomberg reports, the Koch brothers have gotten involved in Moroun's efforts, presumably because of their opposition to publicly-funded infrastructure projects. Americans for Prosperity, a political pressure group founded by the Kochs, has been running a publicity campaign to stop the bridge. According to news reports, the campaign included sending out phony "eviction notices" to Detroit homes.

The Detroit Free Press reports residents of Detroit's Delray neighbourhood found fake eviction notices on their doors this past June. The notices told residents they would have their homes appropriated by the state in order to build the bridge.

That angered many residents who were panicked by the letters, initially believing they were being wrongly evicted.

But the more relevant battle over the bridge is taking place in Lansing, where a state Senate committee this week takes up the issue, and where, according to Bloomberg, Moroun's efforts to stop a public bridge from competing with a private one resonate with legislators.

“Republicans and Democrats have a philosophical problem with putting a private business out of business by building a publicly owned bridge,” state Rep. Paul Opsommer told Bloomberg.

That could be unwelcome news to Canada's federal government. Canada's consul general in Detroit has said a new bridge to Detroit is the country's "number one national infrastructure priority."

Efforts to stop the bridge also appear to run counter to the U.S. federal government's priorities. David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, said Tuesday that trade with Canada is the most important international business issue in Washington.

"Particularly in my country people understand that if we're going to move the needle on exports and on trade, and on jobs that are dependent on export and trade, we're going to have a lot more bang for our buck by focusing on Canada," Jacobson said.

In recent years, progressive activists in the U.S. have identified the Koch brothers as being among the most influential movers and shakers in the country's libertarian-conservative movement. They have been linked to efforts to restrict access to abortion; have reportedly told employees that climate change is a hoax; have funded efforts to reduce the influence of unions; and have even been suspected of plotting strategy with U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Charles Koch, generally considered the more prominent of the two siblings, has a fortune estimated at $22 billion. With some $100 billion in annual revenue, Koch Industries is one of the largest private companies in the U.S., and would rank in the top 20 on the Forbes 500 list if it were publicly traded. The company employs some 70,000 people worldwide.