Denise Robbins

Author ››› Denise Robbins
  • Six Years After BP Oil Spill, Media Highlight Research On Spill’s Continuing Toll

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    Six years after BP’s offshore oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, media outlets are detailing new research that shows how the spill continues to harm wildlife and the local environment. These reports stand in stark contrast to the countless times conservative media defended BP and downplayed the disaster’s catastrophic impacts.

    The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history, which devastated the region’s ecosystem and economy. The magnitude of the spill was so great that new evidence of its long-lasting impacts continues to surface six years later in research and media coverage.

    US News & World Report: The BP Spill Is Responsible For A “Die-Off Of Baby Dolphins.” On April 12, U.S. News & World Report covered a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finding that “[m]ore than 170 stillborn and juvenile bottlenose dolphins found stranded in recent years along the Gulf Coast were likely killed by oil from the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.” The article further reported:

    Scientists observed a spike in stranded stillborn and juvenile dolphins along Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana's shores from 2010 to 2013. Researchers now believe the dolphins' mothers suffered chronic illnesses after being exposed to oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill off the coast of Louisiana.

    "Our new findings add to the mounting evidence from peer-reviewed studies that exposure to petroleum compounds following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill severely harmed the reproductive health of dolphin living in the oil spill footprint in the northern Gulf of Mexico," veterinarian and study co-author Teri Rowles, head of NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, said in a statement.

    The oil spill's long-term effects on dolphins' reproduction remain unclear.

    More than 1,400 dead dolphins and whales – collectively referred to as cetaceans – have washed up on the Gulf's shores since the disaster, far more than the average before the spill. Federal officials have declared an "unusual mortality event" for cetaceans in the region, which remains ongoing.

    The Tampa Tribune: Spill May Have Long-Term Effects On Fish Health. The Tampa Tribune reported on April 18 that researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) are just “beginning to chart the long-term effects of one of the biggest environmental disasters in history.” For one, the scientists are examining the long-term effects on both shallow and deepwater fish:

    No contaminated fish have made their way to the seafood market, said Steven Murawski, a professor of population dynamics and marine ecosystem analysis at USF, but researchers are still trying to figure out how many generations of fish may be affected by the spill.

    [...]

    Now, researchers are working to determine if the spill has had any long-term effect on fish DNA by attempting to grow second generations of affected fish at Mote Marine in Sarasota. The production of baby red snapper has fallen in the eastern gulf, for example, but researchers can’t yet say if that’s a result of the spill or natural cycling.

    The fish can metabolize some oil components and were only exposed to lower, sub-lethal concentrations of toxins because the oil that escaped the well was a light form of crude, but there are still questions surrounding the effects of long-term exposure, [USF scientist David] Hollander said.

    “It’s like if you stick your head in a paint can and smell the fumes you would get a headache, but what are the results if you painted a room and went to sleep in it so you’re breathing those fumes for a lot longer?” Hollander said.

    National Geographic: The Oil Spill Was Even Bigger Than Previously Thought. On April 20, National Geographic reported on a new study finding that the BP oil spill was even bigger than previously thought -- 19 percent bigger, to be exact. From National Geographic:

    Scientists from the federal government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several private research companies found oil along 1,313 miles (2,113 kilometers) out of 5,930 miles (9,545 kilometers) of surveyed shoreline after the spill, an increase of 19 percent from previously published estimates. That makes the disaster the largest marine oil spill in history by length of shoreline oiled, the team reported in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

    [...]

    The scientists found the majority of the oiling in Louisiana, with significant oiling in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and, to a lesser extent, Texas.

    National Geographic also reported that approximately “30 percent of the oil thought to have been spilled is still unaccounted for,” adding that some scientists think “it must have sunk to the ocean bottom, where it may be harming communities there.”

    h/t Americans United for Change

  • SCORECARD: National Federation Of Independent Business vs. Small Business

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) claims that it is speaking for the small business community in its opposition to Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination. In reality, NFIB is a front group that has received millions of dollars from the Koch brothers network and other large corporate interests, and its opposition to Garland is part of a campaign against environmental, labor and healthcare policies that most small businesses support.

    NFIB has released a scorecard criticizing Garland for allegedly having “ruled against private parties and especially private businesses with striking regularity.” But here is how NFIB rates on Media Matters' small business scorecard:

     

  • USA Today, Bloomberg Contributors Obscure Role Of Industry-Funded Think Tank In “Exxon Knew” Scandal

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View are echoing false attacks on attorneys general who are investigating whether oil companies deceived the public on climate change, and grossly misrepresenting why the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands has subpoenaed records from an oil industry-funded think tank as part of his investigation.

    A coalition of attorneys general has committed to holding fossil fuel companies including Exxon accountable if they obfuscated climate change research in order to protect their financial interests. This follows reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times showing that Exxon’s own scientists confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterwards. One of the climate denial organizations that Exxon funded was the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker is now subpoenaing CEI for “records of the group's donors and activities involving climate policy,” as InsideClimate News reported. CEI said it “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena,” and called it "an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.”

    Now, contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View are defending CEI and Exxon by misrepresenting Exxon’s alleged wrongdoing. Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle authored a column on April 8 headlined, “Subpoenaed Into Silence on Global Warming,” in which she claimed the attorneys general are trying to “shut down dissenters” and criminalize “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.” Similarly, USA Today contributor Glenn Reynolds proclaimed in an April 11 column that the attorneys general investigations look like “a concerted scheme to restrict the First Amendment free speech rights of people they don’t agree with,” and that their goal is to “treat disagreement as something more or less criminal.”

    In casting the issue as a matter of “free speech,” both McArdle and Reynolds ignored the real reason the attorneys general have launched investigations into Exxon and subpoenaed records from CEI. As InsideClimate News explained, despite Exxon’s “emerging understanding of climate change science in the 1970s,” the oil giant subsequently worked to “undermine the scientific consensus, in part by financing research organizations including CEI.” InsideClimate News added:

    CEI is one of several organizations that have been repeatedly named over the years by those who have criticized Exxon and other fossil fuel companies for financing the climate denial work of third parties. After the Royal Society of the United Kingdom castigated Exxon in 2006 for giving money to groups misrepresenting climate science, Exxon said it had stopped financing the CEI.

    Additionally, the Climate Investigations Center (CIC) uncovered that the year after CEI received $270,000 from Exxon for “Global Climate Change,” “Global Climate Change Outreach,” and “General Operating Support,” CEI released a climate science-denying TV commercial with the tag line: “Carbon Dioxide: They Call it Pollution, We Call it Life.” CIC stated that the commercial “caused such an outcry, we believe it triggered ExxonMobil to cut funding to CEI altogether.” 

    Bloomberg View’s McArdle warned that the attorneys general investigations could set a bad “precedent” that would “eventually be used against” the “enemies of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and ExxonMobil.” But that has already happened: climate science denier and then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was found by the Virginia Supreme Court to have overstepped his authority by demanding that the University of Virginia provide emails and other documents from climate scientist Michael Mann. Identical documents were sought by the American Tradition Institute, whose senior director of litigation, Chris Horner, was also a senior fellow at CEI.

    McArdle did mention in her column that her husband Peter Suderman had “briefly worked for CEI as a junior employee.” While she was at it, she could have disclosed that Suderman currently works for Reason magazine, and that the Reason Foundation has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Exxon.

  • Sen. Whitehouse: WSJ's "Exxon Knew" Falsehoods Are Part Of Its "Long Tradition" Of Protecting Polluters

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    wsjpollution

    Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) called out The Wall Street Journal for its long history of wrongly defending fossil fuel companies, including the Journal's recent attempts to confuse its readers about the rationale for a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of Exxon Mobil and other oil companies. Writing in the Huffington Post, Whitehouse cited Journal editorials dating back to the 1970s and described the Journal's modus operandi as follows: "Deny the science, question the motives, exaggerate the costs, help the polluters."

    The Journal has repeatedly distorted Whitehouse's calls for a federal investigation into whether Exxon and other oil companies violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) by purposely misleading shareholders and the public about climate change. The Journal continued to misrepresent the basis for an investigation in an April 1 editorial that falsely claimed Whitehouse wants to "punish those who disagree with him on climate."

    Whitehouse directly responded to the Journal's distortions in the Huffington Post, pointing out that "[c]limate skeptics -- people who 'disagree' with me on the reality of climate change -- are not the targets of such an investigation, any more than smokers or people who 'disagreed' with the Surgeon General were targets" of an earlier Department of Justice lawsuit against tobacco companies, which the Journal also vocally opposed. He added: "Fraud investigations punish those who lie, knowing that they are lying, intending to fool others, and do it for money. No one should be too big to answer for that conduct."

    Whitehouse concluded of the Journal's behavior: "[A]ll this makes it look like they are out to protect the fraudsters, by misleading regular people about what such a lawsuit would do and continuing their long tradition of downplaying or denying scientists' warnings about the harms of industries' products."

    From Whitehouse's April 3 op-ed:

    The Wall Street Journal is quite irate that I rank them with industry front groups and cranks denying climate change. But they have a record whenever industrial pollutants are involved. Look at the Journal's commentary on acid rain, on the ozone layer, and on climate change. There is a pattern: Deny the science, question the motives, exaggerate the costs, help the polluters. When they are wrong this often, but keep at it, you have to wonder whether they care about whether they're right or wrong, or whether they are performing some other service.

    [...]

    [I]f there is indeed a core of deliberate fraud at the heart of the climate denial enterprise, no industry should be big enough to suppress investigation of that fraud. Most of the writers I mentioned note similarities between the tobacco fraud scheme and the climate denial operation, as has the lawyer who won the tobacco lawsuit for DOJ; as apparently have more than a dozen state Attorneys General.

    Climate skeptics -- people who "disagree" with me on the reality of climate change -- are not the targets of such an investigation, any more than smokers or people who "disagreed" with the Surgeon General were targets of the tobacco case. Those folks may very well be victims of the fraud, the dupes. Fraud investigations punish those who lie, knowing that they are lying, intending to fool others, and do it for money. No one should be too big to answer for that conduct.

    This is an important difference, and it's the difference I'm talking about when I say the Wall Street Journal editorial page is trying to saddle me with an argument I'm not making because they don't have a good response to the one I am. Frankly, all this makes it look like they are out to protect the fraudsters, by misleading regular people about what such a lawsuit would do and continuing their long tradition of downplaying or denying scientists' warnings about the harms of industries' products.

  • Nightly Newscasts Ignore Distressing New Study On Climate Change And Sea Level Rise

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    antarctica

    A new climate change study "jolts sea-rise predictions," according to The Washington Post, with sea levels projected to increase so much that The New York Times says they would "likely provoke a profound crisis within the lifetimes of children being born today." This disturbing news made the top-fold front pages of the Post and the Times, but it was completely ignored by the broadcast television networks' nightly news programs.

    The study, published on March 31 in the journal Naturefound that global warming could cause the Antarctic ice sheet to collapse, in part through a process previously "underappreciated" in sea level rise models. Combined with ice melting in other areas, the study projects that sea levels could rise about six feet by the end of the century, an estimate roughly double that of the most widely cited worst-case scenario. This amount of sea level rise would put hundreds of millions of people in cities and coastal areas around the world at risk of inundation, including New York City, Boston, Miami, New Orleans, and other major U.S. cities. (As Gizmodo bluntly put it, "Florida is screwed."). The study also projects that seas will rise nearly 50 feet by 2500, which as the Post's Capital Weather Gang noted, would result in even more catastrophic consequences:

    In the study's projection for 2500, almost the entire state of Delaware would disappear. Much of Manhattan and Brooklyn would be reduced to just slivers of their current selves. The southern coast of Florida would end north of Lake Okeechobee. California's Central Valley would flood from Modesto to Colusa, and the state capital of Sacramento would be entirely under water.

    The new study does come with a silver lining, according to the Times: "A far more stringent effort to limit emissions of greenhouse gases would stand a fairly good chance of saving West Antarctica from collapse, scientists found. That aspect of their paper contrasts with other recent studies postulating that a gradual disintegration of West Antarctica may have already become unstoppable."

    The nightly newscasts' failure to cover this study follows a paltry year of climate change coverage on the broadcast networks in 2015. A Media Matters study found that ABC, CBS, and NBC collectively devoted less time to covering climate change during their nightly news and Sunday show broadcasts than they did in the previous year, even though 2015 was a landmark year for climate-related news that included the EPA finalizing the Clean Power Plan, Pope Francis issuing a climate change encyclical, President Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, and 195 countries around the world reaching a historic climate agreement in Paris.

    Unlike the network news broadcasts, CNN and MSNBC both aired segments about the new study. On CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, Tapper introduced a segment about the study by stating that the West Antarctic ice sheet is "disintegrating so fast your kids and your grandkids, well, they might not be able to dream about living in New York City or Philadelphia or Washington or Miami because there might not be a New York City or Philadelphia or Washington or Miami at the turn of the century":

    Similarly, on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes, Hayes reported that "there's new evidence that ... the nightmare, worst case scenario" about global warming "will unfold in decades rather than centuries," and interviewed Columbia University climate scientist Radley Horton to discuss the sea level study's significance:

  • Meet The National Federation Of Independent Business, The Corporate Front Group Claiming It's The Voice Of Small Business

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Media outlets are adopting the National Federation of Independent Business' (NFIB) claim that it is speaking for the small business community in its opposition to Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination. In reality, NFIB is a front group that has received millions of dollars from the Koch brothers network and other large corporate interests, and its opposition to Garland is part of a campaign against environmental, labor and healthcare policies that most small businesses support.

  • Here's Your Chance To Submit A Science Debate Question For The Presidential Candidates

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    logos

    A coalition of prominent scientific organizations and experts is calling for a presidential debate that is focused on today's most pressing science-related topics, including climate change. To come up with potential questions for the candidates, they are turning to the American public. You can submit a question by clicking here.

    ScienceDebate.org, a non-profit backed by Nobel Laureates and hundreds of other leaders in science, academics, business, and government, is running a campaign calling for at least one presidential debate that is exclusively focused on science, health, tech, and environmental issues. Now, in partnership with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geosciences Institute, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and others, the group is crowdsourcing the best science-related questions.

    Questions posed by ScienceDebate.org have helped shape the past two presidential elections; in 2008 and 2012, the presidential nominees of both parties provided written responses to the group's top 14 science questions. For example, the group asked in the 2008 election:

    The Earth's climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on the following measures that have been proposed to address global climate change--a cap-and-trade system, a carbon tax, increased fuel-economy standards, or research? Are there other policies you would support?

    In response to the question, both then-Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain said that they favored a cap-and-trade system and other measures to reduce carbon pollution and help avoid what McCain called "disastrous changes in the climate."

    So far this election cycle, climate change has not been thoroughly addressed in the presidential primary debates, according to a recent Media Matters analysis. What's more, debate moderators have not posed a single climate question to Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, the two front-runners for the GOP nomination.

    Some of the best climate questions that have been posed during presidential debates were submitted to the moderators by people concerned about climate change. Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple observed that Arizona State University graduate student Anna Bettis provided CNN with "a simple and consequential question" that provoked an "extensive discussion" of climate change when she asked via video: "As a young person, I'm very concerned about climate change and how it will affect my future. As a presidential candidate, what will you do to address climate change?" Later, a bipartisan group of 21 Florida mayors urged the moderators of the Democratic and Republican debates in Miami to address climate change, and provided several suggested questions. Those two debates ultimately included seven questions about climate change, accounting for nearly one-third of the 22 climate questions asked over the course of all 20 primary debates. In the March 10 Republican debate hosted by CNN, co-moderator Jake Tapper noted that Republican Miami mayor Tomas Regalado, who had endorsed Florida Senator Marco Rubio, had requested that Tapper ask Rubio: "Will you, as president acknowledge the reality of the scientific consensus about climate change and as president, will you pledge to do something about it?"

    But good questions on climate change and other scientific issues have been few and far between, which is why ScienceDebate.org says there should be an entire debate devoted to these issues. And the American people overwhelmingly agree; according to a Zogby Analytics poll, 86 percent of U.S. adults think the presidential candidates "should participate in a debate to discuss key science-based challenges facing the United States." As Shawn Otto, chair of Science Debate, has stated to Media Matters: "[I]t's the science issues--from climate change to the Internet, from the war on drugs to a sustainable economy--that are driving most of today's major policy challenges, and the American people deserve answers."

    But before the presidential candidates can provide detailed answers on climate change and other science topics, people need to come up with the questions. Submit yours here!

  • Wall Street Journal Continues To Falsely Attack Sen. Whitehouse's Call For "Exxon Knew" Investigation

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    white house

    After The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrongly accused Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) of trying to "silence climate dissidents," the Journal published a response from Whitehouse. But it ran the piece alongside two letters to the editor that echoed the Journal's false framing of calls by Whitehouse and others to investigate evidence that ExxonMobil and other oil companies intentionally misled their shareholders and the public on climate change.

    Reports by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times show that Exxon's own scientists confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was fueling climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that spread doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterwards. Based on this evidence, Whitehouse called for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether Exxon and other fossil fuel companies violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

    The Journal badly misrepresented Whitehouse's call for a federal investigation of Exxon in a March 15 editorial, falsely alleging that the federal government could "slap the cuffs on people who don't believe in U.N. climate models" and "throw people in jail for scientific skepticism." Whitehouse objected to the Journal's false editorial on Twitter, explaining: "Simply denying climate change isn't what could violate federal law. ... The questions I posed to the Attorney General were to learn whether the Department of Justice is doing its due diligence to investigate whether fossil fuel specials interests are leading a coordinated, fraudulent effort to deceive the American people."

    On March 21, the Journal published a letter to the editor from Whitehouse, in which he noted that the Journal was "trying to saddle me with an argument I am not making":  

    My belief is that there are sufficient similarities between the tobacco industry's fraudulent denial of its products' health effects and the fossil fuel industry's denial of its products' climate and oceans effects, that a proper inquiry should be made about pursuing a civil action like the one the Justice Department brought and won against tobacco. ... Trying to saddle me with an argument I am not making is no way to convince anyone that the argument I am making is wrong.

    But the newspaper published Whitehouse's response alongside two other letters that echoed the Journal's false claim that Whitehouse wants the federal government to prosecute people just because they disagree with him on climate change.

    The first letter wrongly alleged that "people who don't believe mankind causes climate change could be prosecuted," and compared the calls to investigate Exxon to prosecuting people who do not believe in God and burning atheists at the stake:

    If people who don't believe mankind causes climate change could be prosecuted (and fined and jailed?), does that mean people who don't believe in God could be prosecuted (and perhaps burned at the stake)? Conversely, if atheists take over our government, could believers be prosecuted (and fined and shunned)?

    The second letter claimed that "RICO prosecutions aren't necessary" because Whitehouse is already instilling a "climate of fear" against those who "read the climate data differently from the prevailing administration position."

    But despite what the Journal and others would have you believe, a federal investigation would not target people -- scientists or otherwise -- who challenge the climate change consensus. It would investigate whether oil company officials chose to contradict the findings of their own scientists in order to protect their profits.

  • WSJ Parrots Misleading Claims From Discredited Group In Urging Senate To Block Merrick Garland

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    The Wall Street Journal editorial board is calling for the Senate to "refus[e] to hold hearings" on Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, warning that Garland's record "demonstrates a reliable vote for progressive causes."

    To make its case, The Journal repeatedly pointed to misleading claims that have been pushed by the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), the discredited right-wing legal group leading the opposition against Garland's nomination. Following the March 16 nomination announcement, JCN released a series of "topline points" purporting to reveal Garland's leftist ideology, and it appears The Journal may have been reading from the same flimsy playbook.

    Here's how the statements from JCN and The Wall Street Journal match up:

    • To illustrate Garland's supposed "hostility toward the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms," JCN cited SCOTUSBlog's Tom Goldstein saying: "Garland also notably voted in favor of en banc review of the D.C. Circuit's decision invalidating the D.C. handgun ban, which the Supreme Court subsequently affirmed."
    • To purport that Garland's tenure indicates a "progressive" view on the Second Amendment, The Journal wrote: "In 2007 Judge Garland voted for a rehearing en banc after a three-judge panel invalidated Washington D.C's handgun ban."

    In reality, Garland was joined by a well-known conservative judge, among others, in voting to rehear the case, and voting to rehear a case does not mean that a judge is committing to deciding it one way or the other nor does it reveal their constitutional thinking or ideology.

    • JCN also contended that Garland had sided "with the federal government in its plan to retain Americans' personal information from background checks for firearm purchases."
    • The Journal similarly wrote: "In 2000 Judge Garland was part of a three-judge panel that allowed the FBI to temporarily keep files with information from gun purchase background checks."

    In reality, this rule, which is not related to the Second Amendment, was considered in multiple courts and was always found to be in compliance with the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The Associated Press reported that the conservative-leaning Supreme Court "without comment, turned aside" a challenge to the law.

    • JCN claimed in its "topline points" that Garland "was the only dissenter in a 2002 case striking down an illegal, job-killing EPA regulation (the 'Haze Rule')."
    • The Journal wrote: "In an especially notable case, Judge Garland dissented when the D.C. Circuit struck down the EPA's egregious regional haze rules (American Corn Growers v. EPA, 2002)."

    In reality, the other two judges on the court agreed with Garland that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to work with states to reduce haze pollution under the Clean Air Act; they just ruled against the EPA's specific approach to achieving those reductions. And a revised version of the regional haze rule is now in place and has been repeatedly upheld in other courts.

    The Journal editorial concluded:

    Senate Republicans have staked out the principle that voters should have a say in the next Supreme Court nomination via their presidential choice. The Senate should spare Judge Garland from personal attack by refusing to hold hearings.

    But if GOP Senators up for re-election want to be more conciliatory, they could say they regard Judge Garland as a suitable choice for a Democratic President and would be happy to vote for him in a lame-duck session--if Mrs. Clinton wins the election. That would be standing on principle and calling Mr. Obama's bluff.