The Heritage Foundation recently published a faulty report on the economic effects of the EPA's forthcoming carbon pollution regulations, and its findings have been repeated uncritically in conservative media despite the foundation's fossil fuel funding and the report's "deeply problematic" analysis.
The Heritage Foundation released their new report, titled "EPA's Climate Regulations Will Harm American Manufacturing," just as House Republicans have been ramping up their latest effort to overturn the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) carbon pollution regulations. On March 6, the House passed a bill that would heavily weaken the Clean Air Act and would "seriously cripple the Obama Administration's ongoing drive to curb dangerous carbon pollution," according to Dan Lashof of the NRDC (the bill is not expected to pass the Senate). This is part of the GOP's effort to curb what they call President Obama's "war on coal," a slogan the Heritage Foundation repeats in their report.
Many of the criticisms of the EPA's carbon pollution rules are misleading, but perhaps none are more so than those from the Heritage Foundation, an organization whose studies have previously been criticized by even the conservative American Enterprise Institute and libertarian Cato Institute. This time the organization released a report on the EPA with findings even more dire than its prematurely released data: that carbon regulations will reduce income, kill nearly 600,000 jobs including 336,000 manufacturing jobs in 2023 alone, cut a family of four's income by $1,200 a year, and cost the U.S. economy a total of $2.23 trillion. Their claims were repeated uncritically in the Daily Caller, FoxNews.com, and Politico's Morning Energy. But the entire report is "radically problematic" and has a "tenuous connection with reality," according to policy expert Michael Livermore in a phone call with Media Matters -- and here's why:
The benefits of clean air standards have been shown time and time again to significantly outweigh the costs. In fact, the Clean Air Act has already saved $22 trillion in healthcare costs, according to a cost-benefit analysis from the EPA.
And health experts agree. According to a press release from the American Lung Association (ALA), the carbon regulations would help prevent "more than 16,000 premature deaths by 2030," due to lower levels of the particulate-forming pollution that comes from burning coal:
"Roughly half of the population in the United States currently lives in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution that is linked to serious illnesses, including asthma attacks, lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes and even death. Children are particularly susceptible to the health effects of air pollution because their lungs are still developing. Carbon pollution that fuels climate change will make it harder to achieve healthy air for all.
"Researchers have estimated that safeguards enacted now to reduce greenhouse gases - including carbon pollution from all sources in the U.S. - would prevent more than 16,000 premature deaths by 2030. The lives would be saved as a result of reductions in the ozone, and particulate-forming pollution that is also reduced as carbon is reduced. Cleaning up carbon pollution from power plants is essential to saving those lives.
It seems the Heritage Foundation does not believe there will be any benefits to clean air, as they do not include any benefits in their analysis of the carbon pollution regulations.
Michael Livermore, Senior Advisor at New York University's Institute for Policy Integrity, explained in a phone call that "even as a cost prediction, [the report is] very inaccurate because it doesn't paint a complete picture about how the economy is going to respond." He expanded (edited lightly for clarity):
One reason it overstates the cost is because it doesn't account for productivity gains that are associated with clean air benefits [...] They're only looking at ways in which productivity might be reduced because of energy prices but they're not looking at ways in which productivity can be increased because people are healthier and live longer.
In addition to that, they're not accounting for -- as far as I can tell -- the various ways that in a dynamic economy, labor markets and technology will adapt to the agency's greenhouse gas regulations.
They assume that any transitions that occur within the energy sector will propagate out to other sectors of the economy and basically act like a shock that's going to reduce employment everywhere. And again, that's not really accurate, that's not how labor markets work, they're holding things constant like macroeconomic policy and the business cycle, all of which are other compounds that are going to affect the employment rate. So their model has a very tenuous connection to reality in terms of anything that's going to happen that they're predicting, with any degree of accuracy in terms of employment.
And in fact, other models which are more empirically grounded find that when you impose regulatory requirements on firms they're just as likely to hire more workers as they are to lay workers off -- and these are in the most highly regulated industries -- because you have to hire workers to comply with environmental statutes. So for example, yes, it might be the case that some coal miners might need to be laid off and need to transition to other forms of employment, but there's also going to be work building new gas fired power plants and energy efficiency retrofits.
So those two countervailing effects, for the most part, most serious economists will argue that our best estimate of the net effect is zero. That any of the employment effects are going to wash out. Because we don't know if there's going to be negative employment effects, but if there are, they're usually going to be associated with countervailing employment effects that are positive. And there's macroeconomic policy like interest rates, like government spending, like taxation, like trade, all of which are going to affect the employment rate far, far more than anything that's going to happen at the regulatory level.
In January 2014, Resources for the Future (RFF), a nonprofit that conducts independent research on environment and energy issues, published a report on the costs of carbon regulations under the EPA's Clean Air Act. They found, contrary to the Heritage Foundation, that the carbon standards will result in "very small changes in average electricity prices" as a likely outcome, and predicted "positive and large" net benefits in every scenario.
The Clean Air Task Force -- a public health and environment advocacy group comprised of engineers, scientists, and specialists -- similarly found in a February 2014 study conducted by The NorthBridge Group that a "highly cost-effective approach" to carbon regulations under the Clean Air Act is feasible:
Simply by setting performance standards that result in displacing electricity generated by high emission rate coal-fired power plants with generation from existing currently underutilized, efficient natural-gas power plants, the U.S. can realize significant, near- term reductions in carbon pollution at a minimal cost.
The analysis predicts that the CATF proposal will:
- Decrease by 2020 of 27%, or 636 million metric tons of CO2, from 2005 levels;
- Avoid 2,000 premature deaths and 15,000 asthma attacks annually as a result of the annual reductions of over 400,000 tons in sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions in 2020;
- Result in monetized health and climate benefits of $34 billion, which is over three times the cost of compliance;
- increase in average nationwide retail electric rates by only 2% in 2020 which, based on Energy Information Administration forecasts, should result in no net increase in monthly electric bills.
Finally, the Natural Resources Defense Council crafted a proposal to support the EPA's goal of reducing carbon emissions, resulting in net benefits that outweigh the costs "as much as 15 times."
MSNBC host Chris Hayes blasted the myth that expanding unconventional energy sources in the U.S. will weaken Russia, an "absurd" claim that has been perpetuated by conservative media to pin the security crisis in Ukraine on President Barack Obama.
Conservative media are manipulating the Ukraine crisis to push a "drill, baby, drill" agenda, claiming that approving the Keystone XL pipeline and expanding the use of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") will somehow weaken Russian President Vladimir Putin's influence in Ukraine. They are calling for expanding development of natural gas in the U.S. (including by the environmentally-contentious use of fracking) to ease the concern that Putin may cut off the natural gas supply to Ukraine and subsequently affect natural gas prices in Europe and around the globe.
Liquefying, exporting, and re-gassifying natural gas is more carbon intensive than domestically consuming it, and would likely drive up the price of natural gas in the U.S., so some oppose permitting further LNG export terminals -- at least until fugitive methane emissions are reigned in. Despite concerns, the Obama administration has permitted several LNG export terminals and is expected to permit more. Republicans and the oil and gas industry complain that it's still not fast enough. However, as LNG is very expensive, reports have suggested that even if they were approved, many LNG export terminals probably won't even be used, or at least not for years -- far too late to address the Ukraine crisis. MSNBC's Chris Hayes and his guest Dan Dicker, CEO of wealth management group MercBloc, explained on the March 5 edition of All In with Chris Hayes:
DICKER: The Russians do have a major control, major influence, on most of eastern Europe through natural gas. But we have to distinguish between natural gas -- which is a gas -- and crude oil which is a liquid. If you want to move a liquid from one place to another, you put in the a dixie cup and you can move it any way you like. Natural gas has two ways of being transported, one is through pipelines. Now, the United States can do nothing in terms of creating a pipeline to all of these eastern European nations.
The only other way you can get it across, and what they're talking about is permitting, is through what we call LNG, which is liquid natural gas. It needs to be cooled, natural gas, to be transported as LNG needs to be cooled to a minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit then put in very, very carefully into very select containers that you can now transport overseas. This costs a lot of money. This is why permitting -- you could permit all of the natural gas export plants you want, there are very few energy companies who are going to undertake building these things, they cost $2 billion to convert an import plant into an export plant.
Fox News is using the crisis in Ukraine to push for the Keystone XL pipeline, an argument that an energy expert called "patently absurd."
In response to Russia's occupation of Ukrainian territory in the Crimean peninsula, Fox News personalities have been pushing for the Keystone XL pipeline to be built on an accelerated timetable, claiming that it would "weaken" Russia. But their argument has no basis in reality, as the pipeline could not realistically be built in a timetable sufficient to respond to the imminent crisis, and the tar sands oil it would deliver would not dent the global market enough to impact Russia. Energy analyst Chris Nelder explained in an email to Media Matters:
Keystone XL proponents will seize on any shred of justification for the project, no matter how tenuous. The suggestion that a very long-term project like Keystone XL, which will take a year or more to construct on any timetable, and which will deliver refined products like gasoline and diesel to a global market -- not just markets around Russia -- would somehow address the immediate situation in Crimea, is patently absurd. Further, delivering 830,000 barrels per day once it reaches full capacity will not meaningfully undercut Russia specifically in a global market that consumes 92 million barrels per day.
Yet at least six Fox News hosts and contributors have used the crisis in Crimea to push a pro-tar sands agenda:
O'Reilly: Build Keystone Pipeline To Weaken Russia. Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said that "the Keystone pipeline must be approved. Why? Because Russia is blackmailing Europe over energy ... the more oil and natural gas the U.S.A. and Canada can produce and distribute, the weaker Russia becomes on the world stage. I fervently hope President Obama understands that."
KT McFarland: Obama Should Tell Putin: "I Will Allow Keystone Pipeline To Go Ahead": In an opinion piece for FoxNews.com, Fox News foreign policy contributor KT McFarland wrote a mock conversation on what she hopes Obama told Putin during their March 1 phone call:
I will allow the Keystone Pipeline to go ahead, again on an accelerated basis. That will not only give a boost to the American and Canadian economies, it will start driving down the price of oil.
McFarland made a similar argument on-air when she suggested "go[ing] after the economic weapon: Build the Keystone pipeline."
Conservative media are latching on to the climate change denial of Patrick Moore, who has masqueraded as a co-founder of Greenpeace. But Moore has been a spokesman for nuclear power and fossil fuel-intensive industries for more than 20 years, and his denial of climate change -- without any expertise in the matter -- is nothing new.
Numerous local newspapers failed to identify the fossil fuel funding behind Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, while allowing him to publish op-eds across the country misleadingly attacking a potential tax credit for wind power, while ignoring subsidies for the oil and gas industries.
Reuters' climate coverage has continued to drop significantly under the regime of its new "skeptic" editor, with less than half the amount of climate coverage compared to before the editor took over, according to a Media Matters study. This finding comes despite two major reports on climate science that occurred during this period, suggesting that the paper's "climate of fear" may have persisted.
Snowstorms and cold weather chills swept from the Midwest to the East Coast in January, closely followed by conservative media snow-trolls casting doubt on global warming. But what the conservative media didn't mention was that the world as a whole was experiencing warm temperatures, leading to January becoming the 347th consecutive warmer-than-average month and the fourth warmest on record.
On February 20, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), released the findings that January 2014 experienced global temperatures 1.17°F warmer than the 20th century average, making it the fourth warmest January on record. NOAA data shows that the last time the planet experienced a month colder than the 20th century average was February 1985 -- 29 years ago.
How could this be, when Fox News is telling you that the snowstorms in the United States are a reason to doubt global warming? The answer lies beyond the lower 48 states, which make up only 1.5% of the Earth's surface. While some regions in the contiguous U.S did experience a colder-than-average month (none a record cold month), most of the globe did not:
Further, while it may have felt like an unusually cold January, frigid winter temperatures used to be the norm in many parts of the country. NOAA's findings state that the cold air "blasts" through the Midwest and East Coast were "highly unusual compared to the 21st century, but not so unusual compared to the late 20th century." So the commotion in the conservative media over the recent cold weather spells may have been less about weather anomalies and more about weather amnesia. That phenomenon was demonstrated in this XKCD comic that cited Climate Central data showing increasingly fewer frigid nights in many cities:
USA TODAY has chosen to propagate the noxious Heartland Institute's climate misinformation once again, pointing to a larger failing in their "Our View"/"Their View" editorial format: whenever the board writes an editorial acknowledging global warming as fact, it attempts to "balance" the facts with denial.
On January 31, USA TODAY published an editorial titled "Baby, it's cold outside, but globe is warming." The board correctly pointed out that the recent cold weather snap and rare southern snowstorm do not contradict long-term data showing the climate is warming, driven by human activities. But the paper also ran an opposing op-ed from the Heartland Institute's James Taylor, who claimed that "[t]his winter shows that global warming is not changing our climate severely."
The Heartland Institute is possibly the worst of the worst climate "skeptic" think tanks, yet USA TODAY chose it once again to "balance" its editorial. The fossil fuel-funded organization is infamous for its attacks on climate science, previously comparing those who accept climate change to a domestic terrorist in a billboard campaign. James Taylor, a lawyer with no scientific background, is one of the Institute's most prominent media figures and a primary instigator of spreading misinformation as a regular contributor to Forbes.com.
Taylor claimed that global warming will "benefit, rather than harm, human health and welfare." But economic studies show that the impacts of global warming driven by carbon emissions will result in net negatives -- even one from Bjorn Lomborg, an economist who opposes large-scale climate action. Lomborg's study estimating the economic damage caused by climate change found that "after year 2070, global warming will become a net cost to the world, justifying cost-effective climate action." Other studies have found that the costs of climate change will be much higher.
USA TODAY's editorial format, requiring two sides to every issue, is concerning -- particularly when one "side" is truth and the other is misinformation. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), which is composed of hundreds of scientists, stated in its most recent report that scientists are 95 percent certain that the majority of recent warming is manmade, or about as certain as they are that cigarettes kill. Interestingly, the Heartland Institute also denied that cigarettes kill, stating that "smoking in moderation has few, if any, adverse health effects." USA TODAY likely wouldn't run an op-ed from the Heartland Institute espousing this "view" -- so why did they do so with climate denial?
UPDATE (2/3/14): James Taylor bragged about his USA TODAY op-ed on the Heartland Institute's website in an article titled "USA Today Gets it Right, Nature Gets it Wrong," elated that "a mainstream media organ acknowledge[d] the existence of scientific debate on the climate change issue."
On January 28, President Obama gave his fifth State of the Union speech during which he addressed the urgent need to act on climate change. Conservative media pundits latched on to the cold winter weather in the area during his speech to laugh off global warming, despite the clear long-term warming trend.
Fox News thinks it's "heartbreaking" that a "one-sided" pro-fracking film was rejected from a film festival in Minnesota, questioning the right to "freedom of speech." But the screening was canceled simply because it did not live up to the festival's standards.
On January 23, Fox and Friends hosted Phelim McAleer, director of the pro-fracking film called FrackNation, to complain about the film's cancellation from the Frozen River Film Festival. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck lamented that the cancellation "has to just be heartbreaking," that Ireland-native McAleer came to America "to express [his] freedom of thought [and] expression." In McAleer's eyes, the festival organizers "don't want the people of Minnesota to be exposed to an alternative point of view." Co-host Steve Doocy ended the segment by asking, "Freedom of speech? You be the judge."
Doocy has previously answered his own question, acknowledging that "a private company can do anything they want" and it's "not [a] free speech [issue]."
A chyron during the segment stated that "MCALEER REJECTED INDUSTRY FINANCING FOR FILM." However, a review by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found that "scores of energy industry associates" donated to the film's Kickstarter campaign, which was promoted by several pro-industry lobbying groups. What's more, McAleer and his co-director Ann McElhinney previously produced two anti-environment films openly funded by the fossil fuel industry. They are both listed as "experts" on the Heartland Institute's website, an organization infamous for climate change denial. It's no wonder that the San Francisco Chronicle previously dubbed McAleer "climate denial's Michael Moore" for his misleading film portraying global warming as "junk science."
The festival organizers cited the film's industry ties as one reason that they decided to cancel it, following in the footsteps of the Sundance Film Festival and Telluride's Mountian Film Festival (Frozen River's partner festival).
While Fox News noted that the film was called "methodically researched" by the New York Times, other movie reviewers have panned it. A Los Angeles Times review called it a "one-sided attack piece" that "doesn't add much to the conversation." The New York Daily News gave it a whopping one-star review, and wrote, "the accuracy of this crowd-sourced documentary -- funded by small donations on Kickstarter -- seems as reliable as a Wikipedia entry."