A study published in the prestigious journal American Economic Review estimates that the costs imposed on society by air pollution from coal-fired power plants are greater than the value added to the economy by the industry. The study concluded that coal may be "underregulated" since the price we pay for coal-fired power doesn't account for its costs.
According to a Nexis search, not a single major newspaper or television network has covered the study. By contrast, an industry-funded report on the cost of EPA regulations of these air pollutants has received considerable media attention.
The authors of the American Economic Review paper -- Nicholas Muller of Middlebury College and Yale's William Nordhaus and Robert Mendelsohn -- are considered centrists. Mendelsohn opposed the Kyoto climate treaty and spoke this year at the right-wing Heartland Institute's conference on climate change.
Economist Paul Krugman wrote that the study should "be a major factor in how we discuss economic ideology," adding "It won't, of course." From Krugman's post:
It's important to be clear about what this means. It does not necessarily say that we should end the use of coal-generated electricity. What it says, instead, is that consumers are paying much too low a price for coal-generated electricity, because the price they pay does not take account of the very large external costs associated with generation. If consumers did have to pay the full cost, they would use much less electricity from coal -- maybe none, but that would depend on the alternatives.
At one level, this is all textbook economics. Externalities like pollution are one of the classic forms of market failure, and Econ 101 says that this failure should be remedied through pollution taxes or tradable emissions permits that get the price right. What Muller et al are doing is putting numbers to this basic proposition -- and the numbers turn out to be big. So if you really believed in the logic of free markets, you'd be all in favor of pollution taxes, right?
Media outlets have turned to the Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce at least 39 times this year to comment on energy issues without disclosing that the Manhattan Institute is partly funded by oil interests. Bryce, who often promotes fossil fuels while disparaging renewable energy, has been criticized for making misleading claims.
In a Bloomberg op-ed today, former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) criticizes his fellow conservatives for not dealing in facts when it comes to climate science. The National Journal also has an interesting article out on how a "number of influential Republicans who have left the battlefield of electoral politics are now taking action in an effort to change the GOP's stance" on climate change. After noting that Inglis is making a conservative case for taking action to combat climate change, the article stated:
A leading GOP strategist who advises congressional leadership on energy issues was dismissive of the former officeholders' efforts.
"If you're Bob Inglis and really believe that, the way that we work these things out is that you run for office," said Republican strategist Mike McKenna. "These retired guys, they say they think this, that, and the other. But if you really want to change it, you have to be on the inside. If you care about this stuff, you run for office. They have been unable to convince anybody that they're right. The working party thinks one thing; these retirees think another. If you want to make a difference, get off the porch and work with the rest of us."
But who is Mike McKenna and whose interests does he represent?
In its sixth editorial pivoting off of Solyndra's bankruptcy, the Wall Street Journal claimed that two recent loan guarantees to clean energy companies amount to "$1.1 billion for 45 permanent jobs," while the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL oil pipeline extension "would create some 13,000 union jobs and around 118,000 'spin-off' jobs," and "taxpayers wouldn't have to risk a dime."
The Journal dismissed the temporary construction jobs that clean energy companies will create with their loan guarantees, but touted the "13,000 union jobs" that Transcanada claims it will create -- all of which are temporary construction-related jobs. And this figure is more than double the estimate conducted by the State Department, which projected a "peak workforce of approximately 5,000 to 6,000" to "construct the entire Project." According to Cornell University's Global Labor Institute, both of those estimates include jobs that will actually be created in Canada. The Cornell report also said the study on which TransCanada bases its job claims is "so opaque as to make meaningful review impossible."
As for those "118,000 'spinoff' jobs" -- the study, which was commissioned by TransCanada, actually estimated that Keystone XL would create 118,935 "person-years of employment" -- a person-year of employment is defined as the equivalent of one full-time job for one year. The director of the Cornell group predicted that people would confuse "person-years" for the number of jobs created. Sure enough, the Journal misrepresented the estimate.
And how about those risks?
Following the lead of Sen. James Inhofe, conservative media are distorting an Inspector General's report in an attempt to discredit EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. But the IG report addresses obscure procedural issues, not the merits of EPA's finding or the science on which it was based, which even the Bush administration said was robust enough to require an endangerment finding.
CLAIM: The Weekly Standard wrote that in the final days of the Bush administration, "OMB [Office of Management and Budget] 'remanded' the application back to DOE for further review and modification. As when the Supreme Court remands a case to lower courts for reconsideration, this step is usually tantamount to killing the application."
FACTS: The Department of Energy's loan guarantee credit committee, not the OMB, remanded the application, saying that that although the Solyndra project "appears to have merit," the committee needed more information. The loan programs staff -- still under the Bush administration -- subsequently developed a schedule to complete Solyndra's due diligence that would approve the conditional commitment in early March 2009 and close it by April 2009. Even FoxNews.com reported that "the Bush officials were still weighing the decision on a loan right up until the handover to the Obama administration." In March the credit committee, staffed with the same career officials that previously remanded the application, recommended approval.
A Washington Times editorial titled, "Bachmann is right: HPV vaccine has dangerous side effects," argued that Rep. Michele Bachmann, a 2012 Republican presidential candidate, "shouldn't step away from her original claim about the [HPV] vaccine's unintended results because she's actually right." The Times may have been referring to an interview Bachmann gave on NBC's Today, during which she relayed a mother's contention that after her daughter was given the HPV vaccine, "she suffered from mental retardation." Doctors have called that suggestion "irresponsible" and wrong.
The Times did not defend Bachmann's suggestion that there is a link between the HPV vaccine and mental retardation. Rather, the editorial brought up another argument against the HPV vaccine, stating: "There are serious side effects to government mandating the HPV vaccine, but they are behavioral, not medical. Teens 'inoculated' against HPV are being given a false sense of security tantamount to a green light to participate in sexual activity."
But that, too, has been disputed. In fact, there is no evidence the vaccine leads to promiscuity, and studies show that when they are asked about their own behavior, teens are "much less likely to say" that the vaccine would have some kind of influence on their decision to engage in sexual activity.
In a recent editorial titled, "The Solar Orphan: Solyndra suddenly has no political parents," the Wall Street Journal quipped, "Watching the denials of paternity yesterday in Congress, you'd think that failed solar company Solyndra was a political orphan instead of a former Administration darling." But the Journal might want to avoid leveling paternity charges.
In March 2010, the Journal ranked Solyndra #5 of the Top 50 Venture-Backed Companies in a survey designed to gauge "the odds of success for U.S.-based companies valued at less than $1 billion." In a separate survey seeking "to identify those green companies that have the capital, executive experience and investor know-how to succeed in an increasingly crowded field," the Journal ranked Solyndra the Top Clean-Tech company in the country.
A year and a half later, Solyndra has gone bankrupt due to changing market conditions and stiff competition, and the GOP is using that fact to attack clean energy investments. Now the Journal is suggesting that the Department of Energy, by betting on a company that the Journal itself called the #1 clean tech company in the U.S., gave Solyndra a loan guarantee because it did "not understand" the solar industry and engaged in "political favoritism":
The problem with politically directed investment isn't merely that bureaucrats are betting with someone else's money on industries they may not understand. Such investment also invites political favoritism for the powerful few at the expense of millions of middle-class taxpayers. Americans need to know the full story of who made or influenced the decision to give Solyndra its loan guarantee, and if political pressure was brought to bear.
Where's Maury when you need him?
After falsely insinuating that Obama campaign donor and oil tycoon George Kaiser personally stood to profit from investments in Solyndra, the now-bankrupt California solar company that received a federal loan guarantee, Fox is trying to gin up more controversy. Fox Nation is promoting a video clip from 2009, which it claims shows the "Solyndra Investor," Kaiser, "bragging about how he was trying to get as much of Obama's giant stimulus payout as possible."
While Fox suggests that the video shows Kaiser bragging about getting money for Solyndra, the video clearly shows Kaiser was discussing his foundation's efforts to help Oklahoma entities attract federal funding. Kaiser didn't say, as Fox's headline claimed, "We're trying to get as much stimulus money as we possibly can." He said we're trying to get "as much of it for Tulsa and Oklahoma as we possibly can."
Kaiser described how his foundation was helping local entities "make effective grant requests" to fund anti-poverty efforts, such as early childhood education and health care. The Tulsa World has the full video of the speech, in which Kaiser told the Tulsa Rotary Club about the initiatives of his charitable foundation.
In the rush to cover the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received a loan guarantee from the federal government, many news media outlets have misrepresented or omitted key facts.