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  • Top 10 Garbage Climate Change Stories From The Koch Brothers’ Favorite Right-Wing Website

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    This is a modified version of a post that originally appeared on Buzzfeed.

    The Daily Caller is a right-wing “news” website that founder Tucker Carlson claimed could be the conservative answer to The New York Times. To say that it’s failed to meet The Times’ standards is an understatement; since its launch in 2010, the Daily Caller has published baseless conspiracy theories, creepy slideshows, tabloid-style click-bait, uncorrected errors, false smears -- and many, many misrepresentations of climate science.

    The Daily Caller’s atrocious coverage of climate change shouldn’t be all that surprising when you consider it got its start with an influx of cash from climate science denier Foster Friess, a key ally of the oil billionaire Koch brothers, and has since received steady funding from the Kochs’ political network. Even so, the foul stench of the Daily Caller’s climate change “reporting” demands a quick whiff before we take it out to the trash bin.

    So without further ado, here are worst climate change stories the Daily Caller has published so far this year, put in their rightful place:

    The One That Tried To Link The Orlando Shooter To Clean Energy Advocates

    After CBS discovered footage from a 2012 documentary of Orlando, FL shooter Omar Mateen criticizing workers who were cleaning up the BP oil spill, the Daily Caller ran an article with the headline, “Was The Orlando Shooter An Anti-Fossil Fuel Zealot?” The Daily Caller is just asking, people.

    The One That Compared Respected Climate Experts To An X-Files Villain Who Planned To “Kill All Of Humanity”

    The Daily Caller thought it was newsworthy to point out that in the season finale of The X-Files reboot, “the villain’s master plan was to kill all of humanity to prevent global warming.” The article then compared Pope Francis’s climate adviser and President Obama’s science adviser to the X-Files villain, writing, “Reality does contain many powerful people who think humanity is the root cause of most environmental problems.”

    The One Where A Fossil Fuel Shill Says Mean Things About Al Gore

    It’s probably true that Alex Epstein, founder of a for-profit “think tank” that celebrates dirty energy and “man’s impact on nature,” is “popular” among oil industry executives. But that doesn’t excuse the Daily Caller promoting Epstein’s smear of Al Gore as the “leader of the climate fascists,” or Epstein’s canard that Gore is leading an “unconstitutional crusade against the freedom of scientific speech.” As if that weren’t enough rubbish for one article, the Daily Caller also described Gore’s efforts to fight climate change in China as “propaganda missions” to “properly indoctrinate Chinese citizens” about global warming.

    The One Where The Same Fossil Fuel Shill Drops The F-Bomb On Massachusetts’ Attorney General

    The same week that Epstein smeared Gore, the Daily Caller also managed to base an entire article on Epstein swearing at Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Healey recently announced an investigation into whether ExxonMobil worked with climate denial organizations -- including Epstein’s Center for Industrial Progress -- to fraudulently deceive shareholders and the public about climate change. The Daily Caller eagerly promoted Epstein’s “terse response” to Healey:

     

    The One That Turned American Refugees’ Suffering Into Clickbait

    After The New York Times reported that a Louisiana indigenous community receiving government funding to relocate due to sea level rise would comprise the “first American ‘climate refugees,’” the Daily Caller complained that “it’s not the first time the media claimed to have identified America’s first climate refugees.” It’s true that multiple media outlets have used that designation when discussing Alaskan communities. But even the Daily Caller noted that the Louisiana community’s relocation will be “the first time a government has used global warming to justify moving people,” which means, in the words of Daily Kos’ Climate Denier Roundup, that the Daily Caller “has spun an entire story out of a pedantic nitpick.” The Climate Denier Roundup concluded that "turning the suffering of these peoples into clickbait is pretty despicable."

    The One Where Cutting Your Carbon Footprint Means Acting Like An “Eco-Nut Job”

    “Eco-nut jobs” is not exactly the wording used in the study, which found that Americans are “more willing to take advice” about how to act on climate change “from climate researchers who reduce their own carbon footprint.” The study author noted, “To communicate effectively, advocates of energy conservation need to be the change they wish to see."

    The One That Found Four Random Twitter Users To “Bash” President Obama On Climate Change After The Brussels Terror Attacks

    On the day of the Brussels terror attacks, the Daily Caller cited four random Twitter users (including one who has 49 followers) who “bash[ed]” President Obama and other Democrats on Twitter for having said that climate change is America’s biggest long-term threat. “Now, conservatives with Twitter accounts are throwing these remarks back in their faces,” the Daily Caller gloated.

    The One That Cried Crocodile Tears About EPA Agents Carrying Guns

    This was the lede of a February article at the Daily Caller: “An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agent mistakenly left a gun in a restroom stall in the agency’s headquarters, according to a Freedom of Information Act request from Environment & Energy Publishing’s Greenwire published Monday.” The article went on to tout efforts by a GOP Senator to “strip EPA of its firearms.” But while the Daily Caller is apparently concerned with EPA agents carrying guns when pursuing violators of environmental laws, that concern doesn’t extend to anyone who entered to win “free guns” by signing up for Daily Caller email updates. Maybe if a few EPA officials signed up, the Daily Caller would finally get off the agency’s back.

    The One Where Any Compliment About China Is An Endorsement Of Communism

    When Christiana Figueres announced she would step down as executive secretary of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Daily Caller objected to the fact that she once criticized the United States Congress’ “deep partisan divide” and praised China’s efforts to advance renewable energy. According to the Daily Caller, Figueres “will long be remembered for her remarks castigating democracy and praising communist China’s progress on global warming.”

    The One That Tries To Do Math And Fails Miserably

    The Daily Caller tried to debunk a recent analysis by Carbon Brief showing that solar energy generated more electricity than coal in the United Kingdom for an entire month. The Daily Caller declared that Carbon Brief “claim[ed] that solar out-produced coal in May by almost 50%, but The Daily Caller News Foundation has found that number to actually be only 36%.” Unfortunately, the Daily Caller’s math was completely wrong, as a reader pointed out in the comments. Or as the Climate Denier Roundup put it, the Daily Caller “claims that solar out-produced coal by only 36%, when in fact it’s 49.6%, which is what Carbon Brief said in the first place.” And even if the Daily Caller’s math had been right, the fact that British solar outpaced coal for the first month ever would still be a historic milestone.

  • Reporters Should Contrast Trump’s “Love” Of Coal Miners With Funder’s Record Of Undermining Them

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump will attend a fundraiser hosted by coal industry CEO Robert Murray, who has pressured and even allegedly fired employees for political gain and has repeatedly fought against health benefits, safety protections, and labor rights for coal miners. Media covering the event should contrast Trump’s claims of staunch support for coal miners with his willingness to raise money with Murray.

  • The Dean Of Yale’s Law School Just Schooled The Washington Post On Exxon And The First Amendment

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Yale Law School Dean Robert Post took to The Washington Post to completely dismantle the bogus claim that the attorneys general investigating ExxonMobil for fraud are trampling the company’s First Amendment rights. And in doing so, he pointed to one of several opinion writers who have misinformed the Post’s readers by advancing this “free speech” defense of Exxon's alleged deception on climate change. 

    Writing in The Washington Post on June 24, Robert Post criticized “ExxonMobil and its supporters” in the media for deceptively “[r]aising the revered flag of the First Amendment” to condemn attorneys general who are investigating Exxon. The attorneys general are looking into whether the oil company committed fraud by deliberating withholding truthful information about climate change from shareholders and the public in order to protect its profits. As Post explained, Exxon and its allies are “eliding the essential difference between fraud and public debate,” and if Exxon has indeed committed fraud, “its speech would not merit First Amendment protection.” He added: “Fraud is especially egregious because it is committed when a seller does not himself believe the hokum he foists on an unwitting public.”

    One of the conservative media figures that Post called out for distorting the Exxon investigations was The Washington Post’s own George Will, who penned an April 22 column peddling the false claim that the attorneys general pursuing Exxon are seeking to “criminalize skepticism” about climate change. And that wasn’t the only basic fact that Will butchered, as the Climate Denier Roundup explained at the time:

    George Will used his column in the Washington Post to offer a lesson on how this campaign [against Exxon] is part of a larger progressive strategy to shut down debate. But apparently it’s Will that needs a history lesson, as he uses as evidence a story about a 2013 IRS investigation accusing the agency of targeting conservatives. But that investigation “found no evidence” that the IRS actions were politically motivated.

    Unfortunately, Will is not the only voice on the Post’s opinion pages who has misrepresented the facts to defend Exxon.

    As the Climate Denier Roundup noted, the same day that Will’s column ran, the Post also published an op-ed by two officials at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a think tank that peddled climate science denial while receiving funding from Exxon. The CEI op-ed repeated the falsehood that the attorneys general are seeking to “run roughshod” over Exxon’s First Amendment protections and prosecute “dissent.” It also engaged in carefully crafted legalese about CEI’s relationship with Exxon, as the Climate Denier Roundup observed:

    Worth noting CEI’s careful phrasing about its relationship with Exxon, which CEI says “publicly ended its support for us after 2005.” With Donors Trust and others making it possible to anonymize giving, the key word is “publicly.”

    Flashback to November 2015, and the story at the Post is much the same. Like Will, the Post’s Robert Samuelson claimed in a November 8 column that investigations of Exxon are an “assault” on free speech, and that the “advocates of a probe into ExxonMobil are essentially proposing that the company be punished for expressing its opinions.” Samuelson also repeated Exxon’s bogus talking point that a 1989 Exxon document proves that groundbreaking reports about Exxon by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times "'cherry-pick[ed]' their evidence."

    Then there’s the Post editorial board itself, which prematurely concluded in a November 15 editorial that Exxon “didn’t commit a crime.” Perhaps the Post will reconsider after hearing from Robert Post on that matter. 

    From Robert Post’s June 24 op-ed in The Washington Post:

    If large oil companies have deliberately misinformed investors about their knowledge of global warming, they may have committed serious commercial fraud.

    [...]

    ExxonMobil and its supporters are now eliding the essential difference between fraud and public debate. Raising the revered flag of the First Amendment, they loudly object to investigations recently announced by attorneys general of several states into whether ExxonMobil has publicly misrepresented what it knew about global warming.

    The National Review has accused the attorneys general of “trampling the First Amendment.” Post columnist George F. Will has written that the investigations illustrate the “authoritarianism” implicit in progressivism, which seeks “to criminalize debate about science.” And Hans A. von Spakovsky, speaking for the Heritage Foundation, compared the attorneys general to the Spanish Inquisition.

    Despite their vitriol, these denunciations are wide of the mark. If your pharmacist sells you patent medicine on the basis of his “scientific theory” that it will cure your cancer, the government does not act like the Spanish Inquisition when it holds the pharmacist accountable for fraud.

    The obvious point, which remarkably bears repeating, is that there are circumstances when scientific theories must remain open and subject to challenge, and there are circumstances when the government must act to protect the integrity of the market, even if it requires determining the truth or falsity of those theories. Public debate must be protected, but fraud must also be suppressed. Fraud is especially egregious because it is committed when a seller does not himself believe the hokum he foists on an unwitting public.

    [...]

    If ExxonMobil has committed fraud, its speech would not merit First Amendment protection. But the company nevertheless invokes the First Amendment to suppress a subpoena designed to produce the information necessary to determine whether ExxonMobil has committed fraud. It thus seeks to foreclose the very process by which our legal system acquires the evidence necessary to determine whether fraud has been committed. In effect, the company seeks to use the First Amendment to prevent any informed lawsuit for fraud.

  • What Media Should Know About The House Science Committee Members Defending Exxon

    ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Thirteen Republican members of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, led by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), are wrongly accusing 17 attorneys general and eight environmentally focused organizations of trying to “silence speech” by ExxonMobil and other companies that may have intentionally misled shareholders and the public about climate change. Media coverage of the committee members’ actions should note that they have taken a combined $3.4 million from the fossil fuel industry -- and that all 13 members have received money directly from Exxon. Moreover, Smith has a track record of baselessly attacking climate scientists, and the committee members announced their efforts on the same day that Exxon-funded fronts groups made the same deceptive “free speech” allegation in a full-page ad in The New York Times.

  • WSJ's Kimberley Strassel Pushes Illogical Conspiracy Theory About Exxon Climate Investigations

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has tried every trick in the book to wrongly defend ExxonMobil against allegations that the company intentionally misled shareholders and the public about the science of climate change. Now one member of the editorial board is pushing yet another defense of Exxon so riddled with errors that it completely falls apart upon a basic review of the facts.

    In a June 16 column, the Journals Kimberley Strassel alleged that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s recent subpoena of ExxonMobil shows that the attorneys general investigating Exxon aren’t really concerned with whether the company’s climate science denial constitutes fraud. Rather, Strassel declared, “The real target is a broad array of conservative activist groups that are highly effective at mobilizing the grass-roots and countering liberal talking points.”

    As supposed proof, Strassel pointed to Healey’s request for Exxon’s communications with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Strassel asserted that Healey targeted ALEC because it is “one of the most powerful forces in the country for free-market legislation,” an argument she based on the false premise that “ALEC doesn’t now, and hasn’t ever, taken a position on the climate.”

    The truth is that ALEC has crafted model legislation that misrepresents the science of climate change and hosted prominent climate science deniers at its conferences, and ALEC officials – including CEO Lisa Nelson – have refused to acknowledge or outright denied the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels and other human activities are causing climate change. ALEC, a corporate front group that connects fossil fuel industry executives with legislators to serve industry interests, has also pushed model bills that would mandate teaching climate science denial in public schools. So it’s not hard to understand why Healey would want to know whether Exxon and ALEC have teamed up to undermine climate science.

    Strassel similarly claimed that Healey targeted the oil billionaire Koch brothers’ front group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) because “its 2.3 million activists nationwide are highly effective in elections.” This must be true, Strassel argued, because “AFP confirms it has never received a dime from Exxon.”

    However, as Climate Hawks explained in response to a Daily Caller article that made the same claim, “Americans for Prosperity's predecessor Citizens for A Sound Economy got hundreds of thousands from ExxonMobil,” meaning that “the group in question simply went by another name when it was funded by ExxonMobil.”

    Moreover, it remains an open question whether Exxon is continuing to funnel money to AFP via DonorsTrust and the Donors Capital Fund, dark money groups largely backed by the Koch brothers. In October, InsideClimate News reported that a group of Democratic senators wrote a letter to Exxon “questioning Exxon's contributions to Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, which provide a conduit between well-heeled contributors and various conservative public policy organizations, including many at the forefront of climate science denial.” InsideClimate News further noted that the senators cited research from Robert Brulle of Drexel University, who provided evidence that Exxon may have engaged in an effort to “simply reroute its support” of climate denial organizations:

    Brulle is a leading sociologist who has been published extensively in the peer-reviewed literature on the climate denial movement.

    In material supplementing one of his studies, Brulle documented Exxon donations directly to climate denial groups such as the Heartland Institute, up until about 2008. At about the time Exxon scaled back its giving to those groups, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund stepped up their donations to them.

    Americans for Prosperity “frequently provides a platform for climate contrarian statements,” as the Union of Concerned Scientists has noted. The Americans for Prosperity Foundation has received approximately $23 million in combined contributions from Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund since 2008.

  • New Book Reveals How “Broken Media” Enables War On Science

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    In his new book The War on Science (Milkweed Editions), science writer and ScienceDebate.org chair Shawn Otto describes the ongoing assault on scientific knowledge that is occurring across public life, from our churches to our courts and classrooms, and from the halls of Congress to the pages of our largest newspapers. Otto points to many culprits, but as he explained in comments about the book, it heavily focuses on the role our “broken media” has played in allowing the “war on science” to undermine our collective understanding of the world around us.

    Otto identifies many common journalistic failings that he says “aid the slide into unreason,” provide unwarranted support for extreme views, and play into the hands of industry groups and other vested interests to such an extent that they represent a “danger to democracy” itself. Chief among these is what Otto refers to as reporters’ “laissez-faire, hands off view” that “there is no such thing as objectivity,” which has led to false balance in news reports by giving inaccurate claims equal weight to scientific facts.

    A primary reason for false balance, according to Otto, is that journalists approach questions in a fundamentally different way from scientists. “Journalists look for conflict to find an angle,” he writes, “so there are always two sides to every story.”  A scientist, by contrast, would say that “one of these claims can be shown to be objectively false and it’s poor reporting to paint this as a controversy.” As a result, the journalistic approach “tends to skew public policy in counterfactual directions.”

    A good example is climate science denial. Although 97 percent of climate scientists say that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are causing global warming, claims disputing man-made climate change appear far too often in major print and television media. Noting the prevalence of climate science denial in opinion pieces about the historic Paris climate agreement, Otto argues that this kind of misrepresentation “deprives the public of the reliable information necessary for self-governance.”

    Otto adds that journalists’ “confusion about the nature of objectivity” has not only enabled the industrial war on science, but also “directly caused” much of it by spurring the development of the public relations industry. Otto argues that reporters’ failure to establish the truth and willingness to cite anti-science views on matters of fact has provided an opening for public relations campaigns to emerge and influence coverage. And indeed, he writes that many journalists ultimately move into the public relations industry themselves, “seeking to manipulate the thinking of their former colleagues in the media.”

    At the same time, reporters frequently underestimate the public’s interest in hearing about scientific topics, Otto says. He recounts asking media figures to cover the 2008 presidential candidates’ refusal to debate science policy issues, despite widespread calls for such discussion from major players in the scientific community. But the news directors and editors he spoke to “said they thought it was a niche topic, and the public wasn’t interested.” Otto and others commissioned polling data showing otherwise, but Otto believes that this incorrect media assumption about public disinterest in science persists to this day.

    The War on Science also points to another newsroom bias that has worked against science reporting. According to Otto, “There is a long-standing tradition in newsrooms for editors and news directors to forbid political reporters from covering science issues and to rarely place science stories in the political pages.” This might not seem like such a big problem, except that commercial news media have faced tightening budgets and increasing competition from free online news, forcing staff cutbacks. And as Otto points out, “Among the first things to go were the most expensive: investigative and science reporters.”

    The end result of all these factors is insufficient coverage of scientific topics like climate change. In remarks discussing the book, Otto noted that moderators completely ignored climate change in the first two presidential debates following the Paris agreement, and observed, “There’s something wrong when you have Leonardo DiCaprio using his Oscar speech to talk about climate change but journalists and presidential candidates are largely ignoring science.”

    Of course, there are also some more intentionally nefarious causes of media misinformation on climate change, such as Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon’s infamous 2010 directive that the network’s journalists cast doubt on climate science, which Otto says “set the tone of junk-science skepticism for all Fox News reportage” that followed. And the problem’s not just cable news: Otto writes that the rise of conservative talk radio programs like The Rush Limbaugh Show and right-wing websites have also helped “[o]ne-sided rhetorical arguments backed by outrage and sheer wattage” drown out facts and reason, particularly when it comes to climate science.

    So what can be done about it? To start, Otto suggests reporters begin covering the war on science itself. As InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times demonstrated with important investigations into ExxonMobil’s climate change deception, journalists “have a wealth of stories at their fingertips when they start exploring how science is being intentionally misrepresented by vested interests.”

    Otto also implores media to devise a “journalistic method” comparable to the scientific method, which could seek to “strip away biases and leave verifiable knowledge.” This could include obtaining a “meta-consensus from fellow reporters,” essentially a journalistic peer review process to ensure that news reports are accurately conveying the known facts.

    Otto further argues that reporters can avoid false balance and improve reporting if they “go deeper” into science topics. Here, he cites the impressive work of Minnesota Public Radio News’ Climate Cast, which manages to avoid false balance about the existence of climate change by producing detailed reports on climate impacts and steps being taken to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

    Finally, Otto proposes the creation of a National Center for Science and Self-Governance with initiatives focused on journalism, education, elections, religion, law, and more. Otto describes a series of actions the center could take to improve science coverage, including certifying the accuracy of stories, training journalists to cover scientific topics, and honoring journalists who consistently get the science right.

  • WaPo Editorial Board Blasts Trump's "Dangerous, Nonsensical Energy Plan"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post’s editorial board lambasted the energy proposals put forth by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump as “illogical” and “dangerous,” adding that his vow to undue environmental protections will cause future generations to “suffer.”

    After Trump gave a speech about energy issues at an oil conference last week, media figures quickly ripped apart his comments as “utter nonsense” demonstrating a “lack of basic knowledge” about the energy industry. Industry experts later questioned the feasibility of Trump’s energy-related pledges in The New York Times, in part by pointing out that his vow to restore coal jobs contradicts his pledge to expand the natural gas industry, which according to Harvard economics professor Robert N. Stavins “would actually have the effect of lowering demand for coal, causing more mines to close.”

    The Post added to the criticism by pointing out that Trump’s promise to achieve energy independence is misguided because the “best way to insulate the country from oil price volatility would be to make the economy less dependent on oil, but Mr. Trump has no interest in doing so.” The Post also argued that Trump’s pledge to kill the U.S.’s major climate policy and “cancel” the Paris climate agreement would be a “massive blow to the global fight against climate change,” concluding that if he succeeds, “[f]uture generations will suffer.”

    From the May 29 editorial:

    Last week’s Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that voters think Donald Trump would handle the economy better than would Hillary Clinton. But from his destructive tax proposals to the illogical energy plan he detailed on Thursday, there is little basis for that belief.

    [...]

    Setting “energy independence” as an overriding policy goal is a policy mistake of long standing in Washington. In fact it is far less risky to participate in the global market than to erect barriers to energy imports or ban them entirely. If you rely only on yourself for your oil, you put all of your eggs in one supply basket. Disruptions due to a natural disaster or anything else that would be relatively localized in a global oil market would cause major volatility in a closed domestic one. The best way to insulate the country from oil price volatility would be to make the economy less dependent on oil, but Mr. Trump has no interest in doing so.

    Mr. Trump’s error reflects a deeper contradiction in his thinking. He praises the unencumbered free market, insisting that, “the government should not pick winners and losers” and that he would “remove obstacles” in the way of private enterprises. At the same time, he promises energy independence, a renaissance for the coal industry and other goals that would require government interference in the market. The decline of coal, for example, has occurred in large part because under the Obama administration natural gas drilling has boomed, lowering the price of gas and spurring utilities to move away from coal.

    Mr. Trump’s plan is dangerous as well as incoherent. In his zeal to revoke environmental regulations, Mr. Trump promises to kill the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon dioxide rules and pull the country out of the Paris climate agreement. He also promised “clean air and clean water,” but over the past half-century, it has been government regulation, sometimes market-based, that has helped clear up the nation’s air and water. Mr. Trump’s plan would lead to dirtier air and water — and to a massive blow to the global fight against climate change. With great care and difficulty, President Obama persuaded major polluting countries such as China to listen to scientists and move with the United States toward cuts in emissions.

    Future generations will suffer if Mr. Trump succeeds in reversing that progress.

  • Media Explain Everything Wrong With Trump’s Energy Speech

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump gave a speech about energy issues on May 26 at an oil conference in North Dakota in which he asserted that he would expand fossil fuel drilling and restore coal mining jobs and he ignored or downplayed renewable energy’s potential. Media figures have criticized Trump’s claims as “utter nonsense” that “defy free market-forces” and noted that his remarks displayed a “lack of basic knowledge” about the energy industry and were full of “absurd, impossible-to-keep promises.”

  • As Trump Talks Energy, Media Should Recall His Preposterous Track Record

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS & KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is expected to discuss energy policies during a May 26 keynote speech at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference. When reporting on his remarks, media should keep in mind Trump’s long track record of extreme and half-baked positions on energy and environmental issues, including repeatedly denying climate change science, vowing to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, and pledging to “renegotiate” the landmark Paris climate agreement.

  • Big Oil Cheerleader Robert Bryce Predictably Misleads On Wind Energy And Eagle Deaths In WSJ

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Life can be full of surprises, but Big Oil ally Robert Bryce deceptively attacking wind energy in the pages of the Wall Street Journal evidently isn’t one of them.

    On May 6, Daily Kos published a blog post presciently warning that the Journal would provide Bryce with opinion page space to attack wind energy by latching onto newly announced revisions to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regulations governing the accidental harming or killing of bald and golden eagles. The blog cited Bryce and the Journal as likely contributors to “a fresh round of fossil fuel-penned pieces crying crocodile tears for birds”:

    Bryce wrote op-eds attacking wind power in February, October and November 2013, which are all similar to one he wrote in 2009, and just like what he wrote in 2015. Since he already attacked wind power back in February of this year, one might think the WSJ editors wouldn’t want to go back to him for essentially a rerun of the same op-ed. But the WSJ has published over twenty of his pieces since 2009, all of which are either explicitly anti-wind or pro-fossil fuels.

    On May 15, Bryce and the Journal proved the Daily Kos blog post right with a Bryce op-ed castigating FWS for “trying to make it easier for the wind industry to kill” eagles.

    Bryce complained that the new rules would allow wind energy producers to kill or injure up to 4,200 eagles per year and hyped data showing that wind turbines were responsible for about 573,000 total bird deaths (not just eagles) in 2012. But as the Daily Kos piece explained, it is misleading to cite these figures without explaining that wind turbines are responsible for only “about 3 percent of human-caused eagle deaths” and that other factors -- including the oil and gas industry and climate change -- are a much greater threat to birds than wind energy. From the Daily Kos:

    [A]t present 970 million birds crash into buildings annually, 175 million die after flying into power lines, 72 million killed by misapplied pesticide, 6.6 million from collisions with communications towers, and “as many as 1 million birds die in oil and gas industry fluid waste pits."

    [...]

    Given the massive harm to birds from carbon pollution (an Audubon report found that half of all of America’s birds are at risk from climate change) [Bryce] should be gung-ho about reducing emissions.

    In addition to Bryce’s long record of attacking clean energy, there’s another reason his latest anti-wind screed is so predictable: He’s a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, which has received millions of dollars from oil interests over the years, including $800,000 from ExxonMobil and $1.9 million from a foundation run by the oil billionaire Koch brothers.

    Unfortunately, it was also easy to predict that the Journal editorial board members would allow Bryce to attack wind energy without disclosing his oil industry conflict of interest -- because they did the same thing earlier this year.

  • Experts, Media Say Trump Wrong, Clinton Right About Coal Industry's Decline

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Media outlets and industry experts are recognizing that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is wildly off-base when he claims that he can revive the coal industry, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is correct when she says that market forces -- not environmental regulations -- are the main cause of the coal industry’s decline.

    Following his victory in the May 3 Republican primary, Trump pledged, “We're going to get those miners back to work,” referencing coal miners in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio specifically. When asked how exactly Trump would accomplish that feat, a Trump advisor said the candidate would review Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards that affect the coal industry.

    But Trump’s plan to restore coal industry employment is highly unrealistic, as several industry experts and media fact-checkers have recently noted.

    In a May 5 “Fact Check,” the Associated Press reported that while Trump has long claimed that EPA emission standards on coal-fired power plants are “killing American jobs,” experts say “a bigger factor in coal's decline has been cheaper natural gas.” The AP noted that John Deskins, the director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, “said government's ability to boost coal production is limited,” and the AP quoted Deskins saying, “It is very unlikely we will see a return to levels of coal production like we observed in 2008." The AP added: “There is another limitation on coal's future in Appalachia: After decades of heavy production, there is less of it to be mined.”

    Similarly, in a May 10 column in The Hill, contributor and Rice University associate professor Daniel Cohan wrote: “Despite the bold pledge, Trump is about as likely to bring back the heyday of coal mining employment as to cajole Mexico to fund a border wall. Neither is going to happen, no matter who is elected president.” Cohan noted that Appalachian coal mining employment “began to decline in the 1980s,” and that the “financial services firm Lazard estimates that wind, utility-scale solar and natural gas all provide cheaper options for new power generation than coal, even before considering subsidies.” Cohan added that the U.S. coal industry can also no longer count on coal exports, which “have plummeted as demand has waned in Europe and Asia,” particularly in China, where the government is cutting the country’s coal use to address severe air pollution and climate change.

    Additionally, a May 10 ClimateWire article titled “Trump Cannot Bring Back Coal” reported that both Deskins and Chiza Vitta, a Standard & Poor’s credit rating analyst, “see a continuing decline in the coal sector, with no real chance for a major recovery.” ClimateWire reported that Vitta said the coal industry is going to have to “be notably smaller to be profitable again” and added: “We do not view regulations as the primary factor for the decline.”

    As Forbes contributor Tim Worstall put it: “Trump simply isn’t going to bring back all those mining jobs. They’re gone, gone forever.”

    Meanwhile, PolitiFact has ruled that Clinton’s claim that “the market” is responsible for coal industry bankruptcies is “mostly true.”

    In a May 4 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Clinton stated:

    One hundred thousand coal miners in this country lost their lives in the 20th century, so I want people to pay attention to what we, as a nation, need to do to support them. But the market is making this decision. The market has driven down the cost of coal so you have companies going bankrupt. So what I'm offering is a $30 billion plan to really revitalize coal country, to provide support for coal miners and their families, and I think that is the least the country owes these brave people.

    In its May 10 fact check of Clinton’s remarks, PolitiFact determined that it is “mostly true” that “market forces made coal companies go bankrupt.” PolitiFact stated: “We talked to coal industry experts who told us that the primary forces working against coal are market-based, notably the growth of natural gas as a cleaner, cheaper alternative.” In addition to low natural gas prices, Politifact reported that West Virginia University law professor Patrick McGinley cited a “depleted supply” of Appalachian coal and “growing demand and diminishing costs for renewable energy, like wind and solar power,” as significant factors in the coal industry’s decline.

    PolitiFact added:

    But it was a big, failed bet on the international coal market that ultimately pushed companies to a point where they couldn’t pay off their debts, forcing them to file for bankruptcy reorganization.

    About five years ago, the big coal companies  — Arch, Alpha and Peabody — took out massive loans to invest in metallurgical coal, a type found in the Appalachia region. They thought fast-growing Asian countries, particularly China, would want the coal to facilitate economic development.

    But China’s growth slowed, and the demand never materialized. The companies have been unable to pay back their debts on this project, and that’s what sent them into bankruptcy, [University of Wyoming professor Robert] Godby said.

    PolitiFact said that environmental regulations “may make electricity companies apprehensive about investing in coal down the line,” and “may play a larger role” as the coal industry becomes more vulnerable and environmental protections grow. But the article concluded, “Economic forces on both the national and international markets are the main reason coal’s prominence in the American energy sector is now vulnerable, forcing coal-burning plant closures and several high-profile bankruptcies.”

    Indeed, while Clinton’s remarks about the coal industry have been frequently distorted by conservative media, competition from natural gas and renewables, depletion of easily recoverable coal reserves, and advances in mining technology are the most significant factors in the coal industry’s decline -- not environmental protections.

  • 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.