Conservation

Issues ››› Conservation
  • Flint, Standing Rock Prove The Impact Of Environmental Issues On Communities Of Color

    With National Media Undercovering These Stories, It's Just A Matter Of Time Until It Happens To Another Community

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    In 2016, major environmental crises that disproportionately affect people of color -- such as the Flint water crisis and the fight over the location of the Dakota Access Pipeline -- were undercovered by the national media for long periods, despite being reported by local and state media early on. The national media’s failure to spotlight these environmental issues as they arise effectively shuts the people in danger out of the national conversation, resulting in delayed political action and worsening conditions.

    In early 2016, Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in the majority black city of Flint over the dangerous levels of lead in the drinking water -- more than a year after concerns about the water were initially raised. While some local and state media aggressively covered the story from the beginning, national media outlets were almost universally late to the story, and even when their coverage picked up, it was often relegated to a subplot of the presidential campaign. One notable exception was MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who provided far more Flint coverage prior to Snyder's state of emergency declaration than every other network combined. Flint resident Connor Coyne explained that when national media did cover the story, they failed to provide the full context of the tragedy by ignoring the many elements that triggered it. In particular, national outlets did not highlight the role of state-appointed “emergency managers” who made arbitrary decisions based on budgetary concerns, including the catastrophic decision to draw Flint’s water from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron (via the Detroit water system).

    This crisis, despite media’s waning attention, continues to affect Flint residents every day, meaning serious hardships for a population that's more than 50 percent black, with 40.1 percent living under the poverty line. Additionally, according to media reports, approximately 1,000 undocumented immigrants continued to drink poisoned water for considerably longer time than the rest of the population due in part to a lack of information about the crisis available in their language. Even after news broke, a lack of proper identification barred them from getting adequate filtration systems or bottled water.

    At Standing Rock, ND, like in Flint, an ongoing environmental crisis failed to get media attention until it began to escalate beyond the people of color it disproportionately affected. Since June, Native water protectors and their allies have protested against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), an oil pipeline which would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation’s primary water source. Several tribes came together to demand that the pipeline be rejected, as it had been when the (mostly white) residents of Bismarck, ND, raised similar concerns. The tribes’ calls for another route option for the pipeline went “criminally undercovered” by the national press until September, when security forces and protesters started clashing violently. CNN’s Brian Stelter wondered whether election coverage had crowded out stories about Standing Rock, saying, “It received sort of on-and-off attention from the national media,” and, oftentimes, coverage “seemed to fall off the national news media’s radar.” Coverage of this story was mostly driven by the social media accounts of activists on the ground, online outlets, and public media, while cable news networks combined spent less than an hour in the week between October 26 and November 3 covering the escalating violence of law enforcement against the demonstrators. Amy Goodman, a veteran journalist who consistently covered the events at Standing Rock, even at the risk of going to prison, told Al Jazeera that the lack of coverage of the issues at Standing Rock went “in lockstep with a lack of coverage of climate change. Add to it a group of people who are marginalised by the corporate media, native Americans, and you have a combination that vanishes them.”

    The reality reflected by these stories is that people of color are often disproportionately affected by environmental hazards, and their stories are often disproportionately ignored.

    In a future in which the Environmental Protection Agency could be led by Scott Pruitt -- a denier of climate science who has opposed efforts to reduce air and water pollution and combat climate change -- these disparities will only get worse. More so than ever, media have a responsibility to prioritize coverage of climate crises and amplify the voices of those affected the most, which hasn't happened in the past.

    The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has reported that more than three-quarters of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. African-Americans are also particularly at risk from climate impacts like rising sea levels, food insecurity, and heat-related deaths, and the black community is three times more likely than whites to die from asthma-related causes. Similarly, Latinos are 60 percent more likely than whites to go to the hospital for asthma and 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than white people. New Hispanic immigrants are particularly "vulnerable to changes in climate" due to "low wages, unstable work, language barriers, and inadequate housing," all of which are "critical obstacles to managing climate risk."

    Leading environmental justice scholar Robert D. Bullard has found that “government is disproportionately slower to respond to disasters when communities of color are involved.” But media have the power to pressure governments into action with investigative journalism. According to a Poynter analysis on media’s failure to cover Flint, “a well-placed FOIA,” a “well-trained reporter covering local health or the environment,” or “an aggressive news organization” that could have “invested in independent water testing” could have been decisive in forcing authorities to act much sooner. Providing incomplete, late, and inconsistent coverage of environmental crises of this type, which disproportionately harm people of color, has real life consequences. And as Aura Bogado -- who covers justice for Grist -- told Media Matters, the self-reflection media must undertake is not limited to their coverage decisions; the diversity of their newsrooms may be a factor as well:

    “When it comes to reporting on environmental crises, which disproportionately burden people of color, we’re somehow supposed to rely on all-white (or nearly all-white) newsrooms to report stories about communities they know very little about. That doesn’t mean that white reporters can’t properly write stories about people of color – but it’s rare.”

    Media have many opportunities -- and the obligation -- to correct course. Media have a role to play in identifying at-risk communities, launching early reporting on environmental challenges that affect these communities, and holding local authorities accountable before crises reach Flint’s or Standing Rock’s magnitude.

    While the dangers in Flint and Standing Rock eventually became major stories this year, they were not the only ones worthy of attention, and there are other environmental crises hurting communities of color that still need the support of media to amplify a harsh reality. Media could apply the lessons left by scant coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline and Flint to empower these communities and bring attention to the many other ongoing situations of disproportionate impact that desperately need attention -- and change. As Bullard suggests, every instance of environmental injustice is unique, but media coverage should be driven by the question of “how to provide equal protection to disenfranchised communities and make sure their voices are heard.”

    Illustration by Dayanita Ramesh

  • Native Water Protectors, Veterans, And Activists At Standing Rock Got Zero Attention On Major Sunday Shows Again

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    UPDATE: Hours after the Sunday political talk shows ignored the story, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they will deny the current route for the pipeline in favor of exploring alternate routes. 

    Sunday morning political talk shows entirely ignored the ongoing demonstration at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, continuing a troubling pattern of scant media attention being paid to the historic protests and the violent crackdown on the movement for environmental, civil, and Native peoples’ rights.

    Law enforcement and private security officers armed with rubber bullets, water cannons, and dogs have clashed with peaceful protesters at the reservation in North Dakota, where Native demonstrators known as water protectors have sought to delay, and ultimately redirect or derail, construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is currently slated to run near the reservation. The pipeline, which was originally supposed to be built near Bismarck, was redirected near the reservation after residents of Bismarck raised concerns that the pipeline would contaminate their water supply. The protest has become “the longest-running protest in modern history” with “the largest, most diverse tribal action in at least a century, perhaps since Little Bighorn.” 

    On December 3 and 4, thousands of U.S. veterans arrived at Standing Rock to support the Native water protectors, join their cause, and “call attention to the violent treatment that law enforcement has waged on the protesters.” The Army Corps of Engineers has ordered the water protectors to vacate the site on their own reservation by December 5.

    Despite the ongoing violent retaliation against the activists by law enforcement personnel, the December 4 editions of the major Sunday morning political talk shows -- including ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press -- entirely ignored the events at Standing Rock.

    The Sunday political talk shows’ outrageous Standing Rock blackout is in line with how cable news has covered, or not covered, the protests. From October 26 through November 3, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC combined spent less than an hour covering the ongoing demonstration and violent law enforcement response. Fox News stood out for its minimal coverage, devoting just four and a half minutes to reporting on the events during the time frame analyzed. A review of internal Media Matters records shows that the five main Sunday shows have failed to devote time to the events at Standing Rock since at least September.

    CNN’s media criticism show, Reliable Sources, discussed the media blackout on Standing Rock and provided some guidance on how cable news should cover the gathering moving forward. The show’s host, Brian Stelter, lamented that “one of the most important civil and environmental rights stories of our time” was receiving “off and on attention from the national media,” noting that too often, the story seems to completely “fall off the national news media’s radar.”

    Stelter’s guest -- Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, who was charged with trespassing while reporting live on the ground -- implored "all the media” to be "there on the ground giving voice to the voiceless” and said that “all the networks” “have a responsibility” to show images of police cracking down on protesters. Goodman also linked the media’s Standing Rock blackout to the national political media’s silence about climate change during the presidential campaign: “Not one debate moderator raised that as a question,” Goodman decried. “This is a key issue.” 

    Some shows on MSNBC did cover the events at Standing Rock, with Al Sharpton giving a “shoutout to the protestors” and noting that, “until recently, they weren't getting any attention from the outside world.” Joy-Ann Reid, who said that “there needs to be a lot more reporting on this,” provided exemplary coverage of the protests, inviting a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to be interviewed by MSNBC’s Cal Perry on the ground in North Dakota. Reid’s segment -- by devoting time to Standing Rock in the first place, talking with a person directly affected, and having a media presence at the site -- is a model for all news shows to follow. Reid also covered the “grossly underreported story” the week prior.

    Online publications and public media have given some coverage to the actions against the pipeline amid the national news media’s virtual blackout, bringing videos and images of the clashes directly to the nation in ways TV news networks are not. And Democracy Now, which has diligently reported on the activity at Standing Rock, posted a video of private security hired by the Dakota Access Pipeline Company attacking protesters with dogs and pepper spray that has over one million views on YouTube.

    NowThisNews’ Facebook page has an informational video about the protests, including images of violent attacks by law enforcement personnel on the protesters and interviews from activists, that also has over one million views. 

    Media have a responsibility to provide coverage of the environmental and human rights battles occurring at Standing Rock. Denying the activists due coverage allows right-wing spin to infiltrate the conversation, plays into a long-standing problem of both the lack of representation of people of color in media and a double standard in covering progressive protesters, and is a barrier to generating the public pressure necessary to induce change.

  • Meet The Utah Columnist Shining A Light On Fossil Fuel Front Groups

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    In recent decades, fossil fuel interests have been funding front groups to advance their ideological and political goals, and key to these groups’ success is concealing their industry backing. But Utah columnist Paul Rolly has been working to shine a light on the industry backing behind the most influential front groups in his state. In an interview with Media Matters, Rolly discussed the importance of following the money.

    Rolly has been a columnist at The Salt Lake Tribune for the last 20 years, and he has stood out because of his work exposing fossil fuel front groups operating in Utah. He has uncovered the oil industry fingerprints behind campaigns to seize public lands from the federal government, attack renewable energy, and promote an industry-friendly agenda in higher education.

    Why is it so important to Rolly to educate his readers about Big Oil’s involvement in these fights? “It’s our job,” he said, explaining that it’s vital that readers know “what the sources of bills are, where they’re coming from, who they benefit, who’s behind them, who’s making money, and who’s making campaign contributions.” He hopes this information will give his readers the ability to “make informed decisions when they vote.”

    Utah is ground zero for many of the fossil fuel industry’s campaigns, making Rolly’s work invaluable. One of the most prominent fossil fuel-backed campaigns in recent years has been the effort to transfer control of federal lands to state governments, which would greatly benefit fossil fuel interests, as states would likely open up more areas to oil and gas drilling and coal mining.

    State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT) has played a leading role in the public land grab movement in the west, and Rolly has been paying close attention. In 2012, Ivory co-founded a group called the American Lands Council (ALC), which aims to “secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing States.” Utah, Rolly explained, is the only state that has passed legislation setting aside taxpayer funds to sue the federal government over control of public lands, like those managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The lawsuit was recommended by a legal team hired by a Republican-dominated commission of Utah legislators, even though the lawyers acknowledged that the lawsuit “could cost up to $14 million, take years to play out in the courts,” and is “far from a sure victory,” according to the Associated Press.

    Rolly has repeatedly pointed out that Ivory has taken a six-figure annual salary from the ALC, which is largely funded by counties in Western states. The ALC’s tax forms reportedly indicate that Ivory and his wife have pocketed almost half of the group’s total revenue. Rolly believes that the negative attention Ivory received over his salary at ALC may explain why he stepped down as the organization’s president in December. (He remains an unpaid member of its executive committee).

    Rolly has devoted several columns to exposing the fossil funding behind ALC and other groups that are engaged in the public lands campaign. He's pointed out that Federalism in Action, where Ivory currently heads the “Free the Lands” project, is affiliated with the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. And he's documented that the firm hired by the Utah legislature to promote the land transfer agenda, Strata Policy, also has financial ties to the Koch brothers. As the Los Angeles Times has noted, ALC has also received financial support from Americans for Prosperity, which was co-founded by the Kochs and continues to spearhead their agenda.

    The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group that connects fossil fuel executives with legislators to push model bills that serve industry interests, is also highly influential in Utah and has a heavy hand in the public land grab movement. And, as Rolly told Media Matters, “the Koch brothers are a big deep-pocket force behind ALEC.” Ivory is an ALEC member and was even awarded the group’s “Legislator Of The Year” award in 2014.

    In addition to the public lands battle, Rolly has turned his attention to the Kochs’ influence in local universities. He said national stories about the Kochs' investments in higher education led him to examine their efforts at Utah State University, where Strata co-founder Randy Simmons was previously the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy and currently supervises a Koch-funded scholarship program. As Rolly reported: “The Kochs have extended influence to institutions of higher education, setting up grants at universities to hire professors that teach the Kochs' anti-tax, anti-regulation business and political philosophies to mold young minds to fall in step with the Kochs' industrial wishes going forward through the 21st Century.”

    Too often, media fail to disclose these important ties, Rolly noted. ALEC, for one, “probably doesn’t get the attention it should” in the national media, nor do its “ties to the Koch brothers, and their deep-pocket influence, and what happens to state legislatures.” Many valuable resources that provide context are “underused,” in Rolly’s opinion, including legislators’ conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure forms, which he examines to see if there’s any connection between “who’s giving them money” and “what they’re doing as a legislator.” He said he also examines the tax filings of nonprofits such as ALC.

    But he also noted the difficulties that newsrooms face as the journalism industry struggles financially, resulting in increased pressure and reduced resources. Newspapers have been shutting down all over the country, and the ones that remain have had to greatly cut down on staff (including the Salt Lake Tribune). When that happens, Rolly noted, “the first thing to suffer is investigative reporting” because it requires so much time and staff resources. He added: “The industry is in peril right now.”

    There are also structural difficulties that further complicate the task of investigative journalism, Rolly noted, such as Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Because of that ruling, Rolly said, super PACs can “basically take over [political] campaigns” and “you have no idea who’s contributing the money.”

    It’s worth keeping in mind that even as newspapers are facing increased financial pressures, reporting like Rolly’s can be good for business. His columns are among the newspaper’s most viewed pieces online, he says. And he recently received the “Making Democracy Work” award from the League of Women Voters for his work at the Tribune.

    The need for the media to disclose the industry backing that’s behind fossil fuel front groups is clear. Dark money groups like DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund exist solely to hide these funds. And research shows that organizations funded by Exxon and the Koch brothers are “more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." Yet Media Matters has shown time and time again that fossil fuel front groups are getting away with promoting anti-environmental agendas while hiding the real voices behind their misleading messages.

    In the words of the Tribune, Rolly told the League of Women Voters that “democracy best works when the public is informed.” Reporters would do well to follow Rolly’s example by digging a little deeper to uncover the dark money behind special interest campaigns occurring all around the country.

  • Inside The Fossil Fuel Industry's Media Strategy To Drill And Mine On Public Lands

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    A handful of fossil fuel industry front groups are engineering media campaigns aimed at persuading the public that the federal government should relinquish control of public lands to western states, claiming it would benefit the states economically. But evidence actually suggests that these land transfers would harm state economies, and the industry front groups are hiding their true motivation: opening up more public lands to oil drilling and coal mining while sidestepping federal environmental laws.

  • Two Things Media Should Note About Inspector General Report Vindicating EPA's Pebble Mine Review

    ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    A new report by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Inspector General (IG) has validated the EPA's review of the proposed Pebble Mine project in Alaska's Bristol Bay, concluding that there is "no evidence of bias in how the EPA conducted" its review nor any evidence that "the EPA predetermined the assessment outcome." Media coverage of the IG report should explain that the inspector general's involvement was requested by the company that wants to build the mine and backed by the official it hired to criticize the EPA's review, and that the House Science Committee Chairman blasting the IG report previously praised an EPA IG report when the results were more critical of the EPA.

  • Conservative Media Baselessly Invoke Solyndra To Smear Obama Budget

    ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER, DENISE ROBBINS & ALEXANDREA BOGUHN

    Conservative media revived their Solyndra scandal-mongering to attack the proposed clean energy funding in President Obama's budget. But contrary to their claims, Solyndra did not receive the clean energy tax credits included in the President's budget, and the budget doesn't increase funding for the largely successful loan guarantee program that did support Solyndra.

  • Another Phony Government "Land Grab" Featuring Fox's Favorite Tea Party Farmer

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Fox News went to bat for a Virginia lobbyist-turned-farmer unhappy with the easement restrictions agreed to as a condition on the purchase of her property, characterizing the execution of the easement as an attempted "land grab" and government invasion. 

    On the October 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade summarized the story of farmer and right-wing political activist Martha Boneta with the tease, "Caught on camera: A woman's farm invaded by the government." Boneta appeared for an interview to explain how, in the words of co-host Steve Doocy, a "land grab" of her farm was in the works.

    Boneta, a GOP donor and so-called "Tea party farmer," complained that because the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) owns conservation easements on her land, the group is conducting "invasive" and "abusive" inspections of the property. She proclaimed, "What we have here is an organization that has the power over thousands of acres of American farm land and yet there is no accountability to the American people or the democratic process."

    Conservation easements are legally binding agreements entered into by private parties. And PEC is a private party, with a private property right attached to Boneta's farm that the organization's representatives are responsible for inspecting. Boneta's claim that PEC is "an organization that has the power over thousands of acres of American farm land" is simply her devious way of describing the basic right of a person or organization to purchase and own property and control the conditions upon which they transfer that property.

  • California's Plastic Bag Ban: Myths And Facts

    ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL & DENISE ROBBINS

    On September 30, California became the first state to ban the use of plastic bags in stores, leading to a barrage of misinformation from various media outlets claiming the ban would actually hurt the environment. However, these contrarian claims are undermined by research showing that previous bans and taxes have reduced energy use and litter, while doing no harm to the economy.

  • Myths and Facts About The EPA's Move To Protect Drinking Water

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Conservative media are calling the Environmental Protection Agency's clarification of the Clean Water Act an "unprecedented land grab" that will regulate "nearly every drop of water." However, the proposed revision, which will help protect the drinking water of 117 million Americans, will not add any new categories of waters but will clarify that upstream sources will be protected from pollution.