While discussing Oregon's recent political scandal, conservative media are reviving their favorite renewable energy bogeyman - the solar panel manufacturer Solyndra -- to push the false narrative that the clean energy industry is an economic failure that is widely infected with "crony capitalism." Contrary to these claims, Solyndra was never a scandal, and renewable energy sources are increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels -- despite historically receiving far less in government subsidies.
When former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber announced he would resign due to the controversy surrounding undisclosed consulting fees his fiancée received while advising him on energy policies, conservative media were quick to compare the controversy to the government loan guarantee and bankruptcy of solar firm Solyndra. As Politico recently explained, the conservative strategy is to use the Kitzhaber scandal as "ammunition" against Democrats and environmentalists who they claim "have propped up failed clean-energy projects" and provided government aid that "ends up financially benefiting only the politically connected companies lobbying for it." Bloomberg News similarly stated that whether or not it is accurate, "[t]he argument being made is that clean energy lobbying is a way for Democrats to get rich."
That's exactly what we've seen in the conservative media. The Washington Times claimed the Oregon scandal once again brings to light "the failures of taxpayer-funded green energy companies such as Solyndra that had political ties to party bigwigs." The National Review Online linked the situation in Oregon to Solyndra and what it claimed were other "green-energy scandals that piled up during [the Obama administration's] first term." The Daily Caller alleged that in the case of both the Kitzhaber scandal and Solyndra, "government supported green energy programs based on political connections." And Fox News also highlighted Solyndra while discussing the Oregon controversy -- twice.
But the simple truth is that the Solyndra episode was never a scandal, a fact that has been proven time and time again. The solar energy firm, which received a federal loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, filed for bankruptcy as a result of plummeting prices for solar panels, as detailed by Greenwire, among others. Conservative media responded by pushing baseless claims that Solyndra used unethical influence in the Obama administration to receive its loan, but an extensive investigation by House Republicans turned up no evidence of wrongdoing.
In addition to pushing the cronyism charge, conservative media have also used the Oregon scandal as an opportunity to broadly claim that renewable energy is not economically viable in the marketplace. For example, National Review Online purported that these sources of energy can't "survive in the marketplace without giant subsidies or special tax favors." During an interview on WSJ Live, Competitive Enterprise Institute's Myron Ebell similarly claimed that "wind and solar and ethanol really cannot survive without handouts from government."
But the reality is that wind and solar power have become increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels -- and are actually cheaper than coal and natural gas in some markets -- despite having received far less in government subsidies over the years.
After a massive oil tanker derailed in West Virginia, several members of Fox News claimed that the accident demonstrates the need to build the Keystone XL pipeline because it is supposedly "safer" to transport oil by pipeline than by train. However, pipelines spill even more oil than trains, and when a major pipeline spill recently occurred near Keystone XL's proposed route, Fox News barely mentioned the spill and didn't once connect it to legitimate safety concerns about Keystone XL.
Conservative media outlets are broadly attacking clean energy and the environmental movement by falsely alleging that prominent environmental philanthropist Tom Steyer has "deep ties" to the recent scandal involving Cylvia Hayes, the fiancée of former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber who failed to publicly disclose that she was being paid by a clean energy group while also advising Kitzhaber on clean energy issues. In reality, there is no evidence that Steyer funded Hayes, or that Steyer has any other connection to the scandal.
Fox News' Special Report used a story about a train derailment and oil spill in West Virginia to push for the passing of the Keystone XL pipeline, a common pattern for Fox, which has a long history of exploiting tragedies to push for the pipeline's construction.
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.
The Associated Press reported that national groups including the Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are heralding the repeal of West Virginia's alternative energy mandate as a lynchpin to repeal stronger renewable energy standards in other states. But the AP identified the Heartland Institute and ALEC only as "national small government groups," ignoring their significant ties to the fossil fuel industry.
West Virginia will likely soon become the first state to repeal an alternative energy standard, following a multi-year campaign by fossil fuel interests to target more environmentally-friendly renewable energy standards in statehouses across the country. In recent days, both chambers of the West Virginia state legislature easily passed a bill repealing the state's Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which requires 25 percent of the state's energy to come from alternative power sources (including non-renewable sources) by 2025.
The AP reported on January 31 that groups including the Heartland Institute and ALEC "argue renewable energy plans limit free market choices and could result in higher electricity costs," but did not reveal that these groups are tied to fossil fuel interests that would benefit from repealing clean energy standards:
After West Virginia legislators voted to delete a law that counts burning tires and some coal as alternative fuels, national small government groups are turning the uncontroversial repeal into a rally cry to remove more stringent energy standards in other states.
National small government lobbies, including The Heartland Institute, still heralded the repeal's passage in West Virginia in early January as a win and a call to action.
"One can only hope other states follow West Virginia's sensible lead," H. Sterling Burnett, Research Fellow, Environment & Energy Policy for The Heartland Institute, said in a news release after the state House passed the bill Jan. 22.
The groups argue renewable energy plans limit free market choices and could result in higher electricity costs. But for years, the American Legislative Exchange Council and others have failed to get any states to delete their standards.
As The Washington Post has noted, "In many cases, the groups involved [in efforts to undermine renewable energy standards and other environmental initiatives] accept money from oil, gas and coal companies that compete against renewable energy suppliers." The anti-renewables campaign by Heartland and ALEC is a case in point.
A Media Matters review of several major newspapers found that their coverage of congressional efforts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline has been missing an essential component of the story: the hundreds of millions of dollars that the fossil fuel industry spent in the midterm elections to elect members of Congress who support Keystone XL and other aspects of the oil industry's agenda. Of the newspapers reviewed, only The New York Times tied congressional support for Keystone XL back to the fossil fuel industry's campaign contributions.
CBS News reported that a "coalition of big oil companies, environmental groups and food companies have been aggressively lobbying" against the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) "amid concerns that it is doing little to address climate change and is having unintended environmental consequences." However, major oil and food companies oppose the RFS out of concern for their own economic well-being, not concern for the environment, and some prominent environmental groups support the standard.
The Washington Post has allowed opinion writer Ed Rogers to advocate for the positions and interests of his lobbying firm's clients in numerous anti-environmental pieces. The Post and Rogers have not disclosed his major conflicts of interest even though his firm received over $1.6 million in fees in 2014 alone from energy and transportation clients like Chevron, Caterpillar, and the National Mining Association.
Rogers is a Republican strategist who chairs and co-founded the BGR Group with former Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) in 1991. As the Post itself has reported, the firm is one of the top Washington D.C. lobbying firms, having banked more than $15 million in 2014. The newspaper's reporters have described Rogers as a "Republican mega-lobbyist," "lobbyist extraordinaire," and "a go-to guy for Republicans."
One of BGR's practice areas is energy and transportation, where it professes to having "the industry expertise, Capitol Hill experience and knowledge of government to successfully advocate our clients' public policy goals." Rogers is listed as a group leader for the issue area.
On his Post "Insiders" blog, Rogers frequently advocates for positions favored by his energy and transportation clients. While the Post notes that Rogers is "a political consultant" and "chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group," the publication fails to disclose Rogers' firm's clients and conflicts of interest in his anti-environmental posts. For instance:
Misinformer of the Year George Will reversed the timeline of events surrounding President Obama's threat to veto a bill forcing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and distorted a quote from Obama about the number of jobs Keystone XL would create.
In his January 15 syndicated column, Will wrote, "[T]here no longer is any reason to think [Obama] has ever reasoned about [Keystone XL]. He said he would not make up his mind until the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled. It ruled to permit construction, so he promptly vowed to veto authorization of construction." However, Will's version of events is backward.Obama announced on January 7 that he would veto H.R. 3, the House of Representatives bill that would force theapproval of Keystone XL. That was two days before the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on January 9 that a group of landowners did not have standing to challenge the state over a law that approved the pipeline's route through the state.
Moreover, Obama emphasized in his announcement that he would veto the bill not just because of ongoing litigation in Nebraska, but also because the bill "seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines serve the national interest." When asked about the Nebraska court decision on January 9, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz similarly stated that the Obama administration's "position hasn't changed" and that Obama would still veto the bill and then wait for the State Department review process to play out before he "makes any decisions" regarding Keystone XL.
Will also mischaracterized a quote from Obama to falsely suggest the president had touted job numbers for the pipeline that were at odds with the State Department's own estimates. Will claimed: "[Obama] said it would create 'a couple thousand' jobs (the State Department study says approximately 42,100 'direct, indirect, and induced')." However, the full quote shows Obama said that "the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs" (emphasis added). Obama's figure is entirely consistent with the State Department's Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which said:
During construction, proposed Project spending would support approximately 42,100 jobs (direct, indirect, and induced), and approximately $2 billion in earnings throughout the United States. Of these jobs, approximately 3,900 would be direct construction jobs in the proposed Project area in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas (3,900 over 1 year of construction, or 1,950 per year if construction took 2 years).
Finally, Will turned to mocking the environmental concerns of pipeline opponents: "To oppose the pipeline is to favor more oil being transported by trains, which have significant carbon footprints, and accidents. To do this in the name of environmental fastidiousness is hilarious." However, there is no shortage of studies that back up environmentalists' concerns and contradict Will's claim that the tar sands oil that would flow through Keystone XL will simply be "transported by trains" if the pipeline is not built. In fact, even the State Department report, which considered it unlikely that building Keystone XL would significantly affect the production of carbon-intensive Canadian tar sands oil, noted that the pipeline could do so if oil prices fell below $75 a barrel -- which is exactly what has happened since the report came out.
Environmentalists view stopping Keystone XL as a critical part of addressing climate change, and Will has a long record of denying that climate change is a real, manmade problem with drastic consequences.
Many news outlets are uncritically touting the State Department's conclusion that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly worsen climate change without noting that this determination was based on an expectation of high oil prices. Some media outlets, however, have reported the significance of the recent plunge in oil prices, such as the Associated Press, which noted that "[l]ow oil prices could make the pipeline more important to the development of new oil sands projects in Canada than anticipated by the State Department ... and therefore is more likely to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming."
Fox News consistently pushes fears of government "land grabs" surrounding environmental regulations. But the network celebrated the recent court decision allowing TransCanada to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on private land -- with no mention of the threat to landowner rights.
The Nebraska Supreme Court recently overturned a lower court ruling that would have protected the property rights of landowners who do not want the Keystone XL pipeline built on their land and fear that a spill could devastate region's drinking water and agriculture-based economy. As CBS reported, the ruling upheld a 2012 law allowing Canadian oil firm TransCanada to "seize property using eminent domain from any landowners who deny the developer access." A majority of Nebraska's Supreme Court -- four of the seven judges -- actually voted that the statute authorizing TransCanada's use of eminent domain was unconstitutional, but that fell just short of the supermajority (of at least five judges) necessary to make such a ruling.
Rather than address the decision's impact on property rights, Fox News celebrated the ruling by repeating the GOP talking point that President Obama is now out of "excuses" for stalling on Keystone XL as the GOP attempts to pass legislation forcing its approval in Congress this week. On the January 9 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt reported that the ruling "basically removes... the last obstacle or excuse for the administration and President Obama saying that it was not ripe for a decision." On the January 9 edition of Special Report, Correspondent Mike Emanuel stated that "New Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said now the President is out of excuses." And on the January 12 edition of America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer posited that the White House may have "run out of excuses on Keystone," and Republican strategist Tony Sayegh agreed:
As the newly GOP-controlled Senate attempts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, the long-debunked myth that the pipeline would create 42,000 jobs continues to pervade in the media -- despite the fact that it will create only 35 permanent jobs:
For many years conservative media and the the GOP have framed the Keystone XL pipeline -- which would transport highly greenhouse gas-intensive Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico for export to the global oil market -- as a job creation policy, often claiming that the project would create 42,000 new jobs.
Over time, that message has made its way into mainstream media -- even after being debunked by studies and outlets such as Politifact, the Washington Post Fact Checker, and more -- by both Republican Senators who tout misleading job benefits without being corrected and by media pundits themselves.
But an exhaustive study by the State Department concluded that the Keystone XL project will result in just 50 jobs, including "35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors." Further, the report stated that spending on the project would support only 3,900 temporary construction jobs if construction lasted one year and just 1,950 temporary construction jobs if construction lasted two years. The report also states that a majority of potential other jobs supported by the project would come from "indirect and induced spending," yet a recent Washington Post article detailed how the "indirect" job estimates themselves don't hold up, as some have already been created in anticipation of the pipeline, and most would last for less than a year:
"42,000 new jobs" is going too far. Most of those jobs are far from the construction site, and it's hard to argue they are new. Moreover, under State's accounting, they only last for a year. For some workers, it would be a good but brief payday.
The Chicago Tribune published an op-ed by the CEO of Caterpillar, a manufacturer of large construction equipment, which advocated for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline but failed to disclose Caterpillar's significant financial stake in the pipeline's construction.
The January 7 op-ed in the Tribune by Caterpillar chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman advocated for the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, a pipeline that would connect the Alberta tar sands in Canada to an existing pipeline in the United States. Oberhelman's op-ed touted the perceived benefits of the pipeline:
Think how manufacturers will help grow the U.S. economy if after more than six years of examination, review and debate, this pipeline is finally approved. Manufacturers can hire tens of thousands of workers to build a modern, state-of-the-art pipeline, delivering a project that will increase U.S. energy supplies.
Let the construction begin and manufacturers will hire laborers, welders, mechanics, clerks, engineers and office managers. Although some argue that the bulk of hiring will be insufficient -- only 42,000 temporary construction-related jobs and far fewer permanent ones -- think about it this way: Putting 42,000 people to work is like employing every undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Creating more than 42,000 jobs -- even temporary jobs -- is no small matter, especially when the United States faces historically low labor participation rates like we do now.
Let the construction begin, and see the benefits to local communities as they absorb the more than $2 billion in worker payments from Keystone XL jobs.
However, while the paper did disclose the fact that Oberhelman is the CEO of Caterpillar, it left out the significant financial benefit the construction of the pipeline would have for Caterpillar. A Forbes article from March 2013 quoted the then-Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, as saying that, "the oil sands are the largest market in the world for Caterpillar mining trucks." Indeed, even the Keystone XL pipeline website highlights Caterpillar as one of the companies that would benefit from the pipeline's construction.
In addition, a letter from the Vice President of Caterpillar, Kathryn D. Karol, to Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) in support of the Keystone XL pipeline explains that Caterpillar has a "keen interest in the approval" of the pipeline as "the world's leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbine, and locomotives ... With energy related products and services accounting for over one-fourth of [Caterpillar's] business."
This year saw landmark reports on climate change, detailing the ever-increasing scientific certainty that human activities are driving catastrophic climate change and that action needs to be taken to prevent the worst effects. Yet despite the fact that more Americans than ever support action on climate change, conservative media went to ridiculous lengths to cast doubt on the scientific consensus behind global warming, citing everything from free market economics to witchcraft, touting conspiracy theories and predictions of an "ice age," and even fulfilling Godwin's law.
Here are the 11 dumbest things conservative media said about climate change this year:
11. Bill O'Reilly: "It's Easier To Believe In A Benevolent God, The Baby Jesus" Than Manmade Climate Change. On the December 16 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly led a discussion on whether or not it is easier to believe in the birth story of Jesus than in manmade climate change, positing that it is "easier to believe in a benevolent God, the baby Jesus, than it is in some kind of theory about global warming." When his guest pointed out that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activities are driving global warming, O'Reilly baselessly countered, "I wouldn't put it that high. I've read a lot about it." He concluded: "[I]t's a choice -- people choose to believe."