Conservative Media Again Promote Inhofe's Faux-Scandal

Blog ››› ››› JILL FITZSIMMONS

Conservative media are twisting comments made by an EPA administrator -- and circulated by Senator Inhofe (R-OK) -- to suggest that the Obama administration is trying to shut down the coal industry. But the official was referring to a rule that applies only to new coal plants, and which industry leaders have said "won't have much of an impact" on business.

In a speech at Yale University in March, Region 1 administrator Curt Spalding discussed the EPA's efforts to implement necessary environmental safeguards with minimal economic consequences. Referring to greenhouse gas performance standards for new power plants, Spalding said:

You can't imagine how tough that was. Because you got to remember, if you go to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and all those places, you have coal communities that depend on coal. And to say we just think those communities should just go away, we can't do that. But she had to do what the law and policy suggested. And it's painful. It's painful every step of the way.

The conservative media seized on these comments as proof of the Obama administration's "plan to destroy the coal industry in America."

The Daily Caller -- once again serving as Senator Inhofe's press office -- reported that Inhofe would take to the Senate floor to "highlight a little-known speech by an EPA regional administrator who admitted on video that the Obama administration's air regulations will kill the coal industry. Likewise, Fox Business' Lou Dobbs reported that Spalding was "caught on tape admitting the Obama administration's air regulations will kill the coal industry."

Fox Nation took that one step further, claiming that Spalding revealed that "the whole point of President Obama EPA's air regulations was to kill coal." And the Blaze reported that according to Spalding, the EPA aims to "drive an entire industry into the ground for no apparent reason."

In fact, Spalding said no such thing. And to suggest that the new greenhouse gas rule would "kill" the coal industry is absurd, as it applies only to new power plants. In announcing the rule, the EPA clearly stated that it "only concerns new generating units that will be built in the future, and does not apply to existing units already operating or units that will start construction over the next 12 months."

And since few companies plan to build new coal plants anyway given the low cost of natural gas, The Economist predicts that the new rules "will only formalise a shift that had already been under way, with little immediate economic impact." American Electric Power, one of the largest U.S. utilities, told the National Journal: "We don't have any plans to build new coal plants. So the rules won't have much of an impact." Duke Energy echoed this point, saying that the new rule "means nothing to us."

This is the second time in just over a month that Senator Inhofe has stirred up a faux-controversy over remarks by an EPA official that supposedly support the conservative narrative about Obama's "war" on fossil fuels. Region 6 administrator Al Armendariz resigned in April following a media firestorm over an analogy he made in 2010 comparing his environmental enforcement strategy to Roman crucifixion. Although he was clearly referring to the most egregious violators of clean air and water standards, the conservative media took his remarks out of context to suggest that the EPA is waging a "war on oil."

In fact, an Associated Press report found that "the number of enforcement actions against oil and gas producers dropped by 61 percent over the past decade," despite an increase in domestic production. It noted that "the EPA went after producers more often in the years of Republican President George W. Bush, a former Texas oilman, than under Obama."

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