Fox is accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of a "power grab" for proposing a rule to clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. In fact, the new classification is based on sound science and intended to address years' worth of confusion surrounding the proper protection of the nation's waterways.
Newly-proposed guidelines would allow "greater consistency, certainty, and predictability nationwide by providing clarity in determining where the Clean Water Act (CWA) applies," per the EPA, specifically by incorporating recent research on the extent to which small streams and wetlands connect to larger bodies of water downstream. That research, which is under review by the EPA's Science Advisory Board, found that small streams, even those that only flow at certain times, "are connected to and have important effects on downstream waters," and that wetlands are similarly integrated, making them subject to CWA protection.
That is, unless you ask Fox News and Fox Business. This week, the networks have adopted the complaints of GOP lawmakers to claim that the EPA is only using the study to justify a "power grab." Lou Dobbs claimed on his show that the clarified jurisdiction represented "unprecedented control over private property" -- "maybe" extending to "mud puddles." And Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano baselessly asserted on Fox & Friends that the study is "bogus" -- merely a rationalization to "regulate all bodies of water" and "control more behavior."
Despite these claims, the new EPA study did not provide the basis for regulating "all bodies of water" (or "mud puddles"). It found that the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could evaluate small streams on a case-by-case basis to determine their impact downstream. The rule is necessary because the parameters of the CWA are currently quite muddled, as even conservative critics and industry lawyers have noted in the past. This process is in keeping with the March 2013 decision in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, which re-affirmed nearly unanimously that federal agencies are granted a wide berth in interpretations of their own rules.
A study of coverage of the recent United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report finds that many mainstream media outlets amplified the marginal viewpoints of those who doubt the role of human activity in warming the planet, even though the report itself reflects that the climate science community is more certain than ever that humans are the major driver of climate change. The media also covered how recent temperature trends have not warmed at as fast a rate as before in nearly half of their IPCC coverage, but this trend does not undermine long-term climate change.
An independent report has all but destroyed one of the right's most cherished Obama administration "scandals," a fever dream that featured former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson intentionally shirking transparency laws with the help of a secret email account under the name "Richard Windsor." Fox News mentioned the saga in at least 40 different segments in the last year -- yet despite the network's fascination with the story, it has not covered the recent development, which undermines most of its previous coverage.
The EPA's Inspector General (IG) recently found "no evidence" that the department has "used, promoted, or encouraged the use of private email accounts to circumvent records management responsibilities." The IG was similarly unable to turn up proof of any senior agency officials trying to dodge federal recordkeeping, and the report noted that the EPA has taken various actions to improve its electronic content management in the last four years.
That inquiry came in response to claims that Jackson and others were using such accounts to elude Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Congressional Republicans who pushed for the review had cited a Daily Caller article that reported Jackson used the name "Richard Windsor" for her "secret" secondary account. The Daily Caller got its information from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a partly industry-funded free-market think tank obsessed with the idea that some elusive, unguarded conversation would expose the Obama administration's (effectively imaginary) "War on Coal." (Later, when CEI actually got to read some FOIAed emails, it declared the lack of suspicious content somewhat suspicious).
But Jackson has explained that she regularly told people to "make sure" they searched for the Richard Windsor account when they made FOIA requests. Furthermore, EPA officials (and the IG) have noted that the use of a primary, staff-managed public account as well as a secondary account is common in both the public and private sectors in order to stem the flow of emails and get work done. Two former EPA administrators under George W. Bush reportedly used secondary (sub. required) email addresses as well.
However, the ordinariness of the practice didn't stop conservatives from feeding the "scandal" oxygen. Right-wing media couldn't get enough of Richard Windsor. They speculated that unseen emails contained information on an "expected" carbon tax (even though the administration has repeatedly stated that it is not pursuing a carbon tax). They bizarrely insinuated that the digital nom de plume was related to a "fetishistic" website (it was actually in honor of Jackson's family dog and hometown). They claimed the administrator was fleeing from the issue when she stepped down after a little over four years at the helm (neglecting to mention that she'd held the post longer than all but one past EPA chief). And in order to keep the "scandal" relevant once she resigned, they connected the allegations to Jackson's nominated replacement, Gina McCarthy (even though McCarthy told a Senate committee that she did not conduct business with a secondary account).
Fox News played a leading role in making Richard Windsor a story. A search of Nexis and internal video archives indicates that the network has mentioned the ordeal in more than 40 different segments in the last year, hosting the putative architect of the "scandal," CEI's Christopher Horner, ten times to promote it. In all, about 86 percent of guests discussing the issue voiced anti-EPA sentiment (7 percent defended the EPA and 7 percent were neutral). Over 90 percent of segments did not mention the mitigating factor that previous administrations had also used secondary email accounts:
Fox News misleadingly suggested that Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz declared bankrupt solar company Solyndra a "success" in recent remarks. In fact, he was praising the broader clean energy loan program that supported it, noting that its loan recipients, such as Tesla Motors, are mostly still in business.
The new attack came after Moniz defended the Department of Energy's (DOE) green loan initiative in an interview with C-SPAN. He explained that despite the hype surrounding Solyndra, the portfolio has been a "terrific success," as evidenced by the fact that losses represent only a little over 2 percent of the $34.4 billion in loan guarantees, and under 10 percent of the reserve fund that Congress set aside to cover any defaults, knowing that not every company would succeed. Indeed, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis, the amount set aside by Congress for defaults will be more than enough even if every high-risk project fails. This is indicative of the caution that undergirded the program, which mostly apportioned funds to inherently low-risk power generation projects.
But Wednesday's edition of Fox & Friends suggested that Moniz was championing one of the program's rare failures, running a clip from Moniz's interview with a chyron reading "CELEBRATING SOLYNDRA. Energy Official: Failed Solar Co. A 'Success.'"
Watch what Moniz said and how Fox News reported it:
Fox has repeatedly seized on individual companies' troubles to declare the entire solar industry either on the "brink of collapse" or "tanking our economy." Media at-large have not been much better, relentlessly promoting Solyndra as the face of the green loan program and, at times, of clean energy itself, even as they ignored other, more promising developments. However, contrary to this narrative, clean energy sources including solar, are on the rise:
The same week a major report found that global warming is both unequivocal and "extremely likely" to be manmade, Fox News announced that it has hired longtime Washington Post columnist George Will, who has helped cultivate a "climate of doubt" about the issue, as a commentator and analyst.
Will is expected to be a featured analyst on programs including Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday after more than 30 years as a regular panelist on ABC's This Week. This provides another prominent platform for a man whose opinions already appear in The Washington Post and hundreds of other newspapers.
Will has often used these platforms to regurgitate common misleading claims from those who deny climate change and grossly distort climate data. In a 2009 column, Will claimed that global sea ice levels were unchanged from 1979, citing the Arctic Climate Research Center. That center responded that this was a "disturbing" misstatement, as its data showed a decline in sea ice "roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined." The Post's ombudsman eventually criticized the fact-checking process that had led to the error.
Recently, Will cherry-picked a year with record wildfires in an attempt to deny the trend toward larger and longer-duration U.S. wildfires. That claim found its way to Fox News within days despite the extensive research showing that, as the U.S. Global Change Research Program has explained, "Wildfires in the United States are already increasing due to warming."
Will's repeated promotion of climate misinformation has led the late Los Angeles Times editorial writer Dan Turner to pronounce the columnist's misunderstanding of some elements of climate change "mystifying," and a Discover Magazine columnist to write that Will is "helping to muddle our collective scientific literacy."
This climate misinformation will likely find a welcome home at Fox News, which has frequently come under fire for sowing doubt about the veracity of climate change and focusing on purported "scandals" rather than the scientific consensus. One study found that Fox News viewers were "significantly more likely" to be misinformed about the scientific consensus on climate change due to such coverage, which often creates confusion under the guise of "balance." Similarly, a 2012 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that coverage of climate science by Fox News, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, has been "overwhelmingly misleading," despite Murdoch's 2007 pledge that his media outlets would treat manmade climate change as "a fact."
In the weeks leading up to the release of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report summarizing climate science on Monday, conservative media have spread a variety of myths about the process, credibility and findings of the group. Contrary to misinformation, the report reflects that scientists are more convinced than ever that manmade climate change is real and dangerous.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed by a photographer and blogger attacked the credibility of a major report on the state of climate change by distorting the caution and breadth of research that undergirds the work of the group preparing to release it, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The op-ed, published Wednesday under Donna Laframboise's byline, suggested a 2010 review of the procedures for IPCC reports was an indication that the media should not listen to the panel when it says that "'science' has spoken." Laframboise noted that one respondent to a questionnaire included in the review said that some of the 450 lead authors, 800 contributing authors and more than 2,500 reviewers have "insufficient scientific competence." However, she did not mention that the IPCC itself asked the InterAcademy Council (IAC) to carry out the review, or that the IAC stated that it was "pleased that so many of our report's recommendations were adopted" by the organization for its upcoming report. Furthermore, the IAC said the IPCC's recommendations "are well supported by the scientific evidence."
While Laframboise went on to criticize the IPCC for occasionally relying on non-peer-reviewed sources, a standard bugbear, the same review defended that practice, stating that doing otherwise "would require the IPCC to ignore some valuable information" and that the review procedures for such literature were "adequate." The IAC review found that 84 percent of the references cited in the primary scientific assessment report of the IPCC were peer-reviewed scientific literature.
Laframboise also alleged that five authors (out of hundreds) from the last report had conflicts of interest because they had written reports or were employed by environmental groups. She offered no evidence that those authors' scientific credentials are in any way deficient, and neglected to concede the point that some lead authors have also been connected to oil companies or other fossil fuel interests. Laframboise did not mention that one of the IPCC guidelines taken on after the IAC review was a conflict of interest policy covering "all individuals directly involved in the preparation of IPCC reports," including authors and review editors.
A recent incident in which 7,500 songbirds died after flying over a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant has been ignored by the same conservative media outlets that often exaggerate the danger posed to birds by wind turbines, including hyping an incident in which a single bird was killed in Scotland.
The birds killed by the LNG facility, which may have included some endangered species, were headed south for the winter when a routine "flare" release at the Canaport LNG facility in Canada, used to burn off excess natural gas, drew them in. Though company officials apologized for the episode and said they are modifying equipment to reduce flaring, one manager at the plant admitted "At the moment there's not a whole lot I can do to resolve it in the short term." The dead reportedly included "a large number of red-eyed vireos" (see photo above).
Three months prior, another migrating bird, the white-throated needletail, died after flying into a wind turbine off Scotland. The needletail is not endangered or threatened, but it is sighted only rarely in the United Kingdom.
Can you guess how conservative media covered these two cases?
Searches of Nexis, Google and an internal video database indicate that the thousands of birds that died after flying into a Canadian gas flare have not been mentioned by any U.S. conservative outlet to date (or any major U.S. outlet other than the environmental sites Treehugger and National Geographic).
Conversely, the single bird that flew into a wind turbine became a big story in the conservative media bubble. Right-wing outlets used the episode to smear green energy, sometimes betraying sheer glee, as when National Review Online blogger Greg Pollowitz wrote "Your [sic] laughing as you read this, aren't you?" or Rush Limbaugh remarked "[a] bunch of environmentalist whackos watched a precious windmill kill a rare bird."
Conservative media's fixation on a single bird death -- albeit regrettable -- while completely ignoring thousands more seems to let slip that feigning an interest in conservation is simply a convenient way for these outlets to attack wind power, which they have depicted as an agent of "mass slaughter " or an "open-ended aviary holocaust," while overlooking far more elementary, existential threats to wildlife, including climate change. Lest we forget, conservative media figures have regularly mocked those who are concerned about the impact that humans are having on animals -- one Fox News contributor declared "lots of species may be about to leave the planet, and I don't care" -- and attacked conservation efforts for endangered species from lizards to polar bears.
Fox News is glossing over the near-unanimous consensus* on climate change by citing a fringe study that claims the phenomenon is minor and "not dangerous." But the network did not mention the latter's industry ties or dubious pedigree -- or that a major report is expected to undercut it later this month.
Happening Now first mentioned the questionable study Wednesday, in a segment on a hearing in the House of Representatives. Host Gregg Jarrett and Fox News reporter Doug McKelway suggested that two new pieces of evidence weaken testimony offered in support of the science behind climate change: a leaked draft of the forthcoming U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth assessment report, which McKelway claimed "will acknowledge temperatures have remained stable for the last 15 years or so," and a just-released study from a similarly-named front group, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), which concludes that warming will likely be "modest and cause no net harm." Based on these, McKelway concluded, "evidence of global warming is coming under increased scrutiny and increased doubt."
However, Fox News omitted what is expected to be the signature finding of the IPCC, an unpaid group that works to summarize the state of climate science and has been called "inherently conservative" in its approach -- that "the odds are at least 95 percent that humans are the principal cause" of climate change (short-term trends do not undermine this verdict).
In the first half of 2013, a little more than half of CNBC's climate change coverage cast doubt on the consensus position that it exists and is manmade. In the three months since, little has changed -- in a disservice to its viewers, who will need to factor climate change into their long-term business planning, CNBC has continued to deny the science.