The Wall Street Journal editorial board is echoing debunked oil industry claims that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) climate change plan will harm low-income families and people of color, while also denying the devastation that pollution is disproportionately inflicting on these communities.
In an August 12 editorial, The Journal attacked the EPA for including "new antipoverty transfer programs" in the Clean Power Plan, which will address climate change by limiting carbon pollution from power plants. According to The Journal, provisions to "ensure that all communities share in the benefits" of the plan -- referenced on page 1,317 of the final rule -- are proof that the plan will harm low-income and minority communities by increasing home electricity bills. The only other purported evidence The Journal cited in support of this conclusion came from the National Black Chamber of Commerce, an oil industry front group whose "study" on the Clean Power Plan is based on climate science denial and thoroughly debunked industry-linked reports.
The Journal went on to attack the environmental justice movement as a "political grievance school" and dispute that pollution causes "disproportionate damage to the poor and minorities":
The [EPA] orders states "to evaluate the effects of their plans on vulnerable communities and to take the steps necessary to ensure that all communities benefit from the implementation of this rule." These are the themes of "environmental justice," the political grievance school that argues for income redistribution to offset the allegedly disproportionate damage to the poor and minorities from pollution.
It is more accurate to say that any economic disparities arise from the rule itself. Regulations that artificially raise energy prices are regressive.
The Journal couldn't be more wrong here. While the EPA has worked with environmental justice organizations to take precautions that will protect vulnerable communities from any potential short-term electricity bill increases, independent analysts agree with the EPA that the plan will result in significantly lower electric bills once it is fully implemented. That will help Americans of all socioeconomic conditions, but particularly low-income families.
Meanwhile, the immense public health benefits that will arise from the EPA plan will be particularly important for low-income and minority communities, who do disproportionately suffer from pollution, despite The Journal's protestations.
According to a 2012 report by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the annual per capita income of people who live within three miles of a coal-fired power plant is more than $3,000 less than the national average. Moreover, in 2011 Earthjustice and the Environmental Justice Research Center found that the poverty rate for those who live near a coal plant is a full percentage point higher than the national average. The groups noted that the problem is particularly pronounced in southern states such as Alabama and Mississippi, where "the poverty rate near coal plants is more than twice the national average," and Tennessee, where "the number of people living below the poverty line near coal plants is 41% higher than would be expected from the national average."
People of color are also disproportionately impacted by pollution, and therefore stand to greatly benefit from the Clean Power Plan. For instance, the EPA estimates that its plan will result in 90,000 fewer asthma attacks every year once it is fully implemented. That is particularly important for African-Americans and Latinos, who are each much more likely than whites to die from asthma-related causes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
These groups are also disproportionately affected by climate change. The NAACP has noted that African-Americans, who are more likely than whites to live in urban and coastal areas, are particularly at risk from climate impacts such as rising sea levels, food insecurity, and heat-related deaths. And the 2014 National Climate Assessment stated that new Hispanic immigrants are particularly "vulnerable to changes in climate," due to "[l]ow wages, unstable work, language barriers, and inadequate housing," all of which are "critical obstacles to managing climate risk."
The Wall Street Journal may wish to dismiss what it calls "the EPA's form of carbon justice," but the reality is that the disparate impacts of pollution are very real, regardless of what its editorial board chooses to think.
Image at top via Flickr user Rainforest Action Network using a Creative Commons License.
For the second time in recent months, The Washington Times has cherry-picked statements from fossil fuel industry-funded individuals and organizations to allege that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan "faces opposition from black [and] Hispanic leaders." In reality, a great majority of African-American and Latino voters support climate action, and leaders from many of the largest minority groups have come out in support of the plan.
Several polls indicate that African-American and Latino voters overwhelmingly support government action to combat climate change -- and the Clean Power Plan specifically. Additionally, many major black and Hispanic organizations have endorsed the EPA's plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants because of the financial and health benefits it will provide for their communities.
Here's a list of people of color who aren't representing the fossil fuel industry that The Washington Times could have cited if it had wanted to fairly reflect how the nation's African-American and Latino communities feel about the Clean Power Plan:
Cornell Williams Brooks, NAACP President and CEO: In an Aug. 4 statement mentioning the health benefits the EPA's plan would bring to African-Americans living "within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant," NAACP's Cornell Williams Brooks noted:
"As we enter the third day of America's Journey for Justice, I applaud President Obama's introduction of the Clean Power Plan. Just as we march to preserve our right to vote and to ensure that our children have access to good schools and a quality education, we also march to preserve our rights to clean air, clean water and to communities less impacted by climate change. The NAACP will continue to advocate for safer, cleaner, healthier energy alternatives and the job opportunities that result from innovative energy solutions. We stand with President Obama's efforts to establish the protections our communities need."
Albert S. Jacquez, Deputy Executive Director of National Council of La Raza Action Fund (NCLRAF): In an Aug. 8 opinion column in The Huffington Post, Jacquez cited concern about how the Latino community is among the most affected by climate change in places like California, Texas, and Florida as a key reason for the overwhelming Latino support for taking action:
Thus, it is not surprising that Latinos are so concerned about climate change. Polling shows that 82 percent are concerned with climate change, and nine-in-ten believe it is important for the government to take action on climate change.
This is why President Obama's historical and ambitious Clean Power Plan is so important and relevant for Latinos. The Clean Power Plan sets the first-ever limits on dangerous carbon pollution from the nation's existing power plants. It will protect public health from dangerous carbon pollution, invest in clean, renewable energy development, and boost energy efficiency measures, creating jobs in the process.
Gilbert Campbell and Antonio Francis, Volt Energy: In a statement, the two co-founders of this "minority-owned renewable energy firm" applauded the Clean Power Plan:
Volt Energy applauds President Obama's leadership on clean energy and especially with the Clean Power Plan. The president's leadership and commitment to clean power and climate action has helped the industry create millions of jobs and become one of the fastest growing sectors in our economy. As a minority-owned renewable energy firm, we also appreciate his championing of small businesses and working towards creating an inclusive green economy.There is real wealth being created in the clean energy industry and it is vital that communities of color are actively involved and also reaping the benefits.
Jamez Staples, Renewable Energy Partners: Staples, who is also on the Economic Development Committee of the African American Leadership Forum, said:
"We live in a time when profits are increasingly valued over people. The Clean Power Plan has the capacity to create more balance by opening doors to clean energy that protects our health and our kids' futures."
Kimberly Lewis, U.S. Green Building Council: Lewis, who fights to expand "access to green building to communities of color," stated:
My nieces and nephews are the light of my life. They will bear the burden of previous generations unsustainable use of energy resources that lead to pollution and climate change. President Obama's Clean Power Plan is vital to protecting vulnerable populations such as children, the poor and the elderly who share an undue burden of climate change. It will not be easy - but we believe the EPA's approach can work.
Christine Alonzo, Executive Director of the Colorado Latino Leadership Advocacy Research Organization (CLLARO): In an Aug. 5 op-ed published in The Denver Post, Latino organization representative Christine Alonzo expressed her group's support for the Clean Power Plan:
As part of the national strategy to deal with climate change, CLLARO supports the Clean Power Plan and will encourage members of the Latino community to support it also. The improvement in the quality of health and life within the Latino community and the overall Colorado community merits such support.
Van Jones, Green For All: Van Jones, founder of Green for All -- which works to "make sure people of color have a place and a voice in the climate movement" -- praised the Clean Power Plan in an op-ed co-authored with Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) and published in The Guardian. They wrote that communities of color are disproportionately exposed to the health hazards of power plants, and that the Clean Power Plan "is a desperately needed response" to this problem:
African-Americans are more likely to live near environmental hazards like power plants and be exposed to hazardous air pollution, including higher levels of nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter and carbon dioxide than their white counterparts ... We can't afford this. Black kids already have the highest rate of asthma in the nation, and our infant mortality rate is nearly double the national rate.
President Obama's Clean Power Plan is a desperately needed response to this problem. The Clean Power Plan would cut carbon pollution from power plants and put our country on a path towards cleaner energy solutions. It could stop up to 6,600 premature deaths and prevent up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children over the next 15 years - especially in African-American communities.
Elena Rios, National Hispanic Medical Association: National Hispanic Medical Association President and CEO Elena Rios said in a statement:
I, along with the National Hispanic Medical Association's 50,000 member doctors and allied health professionals, strongly support the EPA's final rule limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants. Pollution from these power plants -- both carbon pollution and other toxic power-plant emissions -- sickens people raising the risk of illnesses like asthma, allergies, lung cancer and heart disease.
The League Of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC): In a press release at the time the EPA's climate plan was announced, LULAC stated that "the Clean Power Plan will benefit Hispanic Americans more than most":
The League of United Latin American Citizens, this nation's largest and oldest Hispanic civil rights organization, fully supports the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to cut carbon pollution from America's power plants. Given that half of the U.S. Latino population lives in areas where the air quality does not meet EPA's health standards and that Latinos are 30 percent more likely to have to visit the hospital for asthma related attacks, the Clean Power Plan will benefit Hispanic Americans more than most.
Coalition Of Hispanic Groups Voiced Strong Support For Clean Power Plan In Letter To EPA's McCarthy. In a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, a coalition of groups including GreenLatinos, AZUL, National Hispanic Medical Association, Latino Decisions, Mujeres de la Tierra, National Hispanic Environmental Council, Presente.org, CHISPA, Hispanic Federation, and Protegete: Our Air, Our Health stated:
We strongly support EPA in moving forward with the proposed Clean Power Plan in the strongest form possible. We know that communities of color and low-income communities, including the Latino community, are frequently among those most negatively impacted by carbon pollution. Whether it is exposure to health damaging copollutants associated with carbon emissions or the present and worsening effects of climate change, these impacts are both direct and indirect and they threaten the social and economic order of overexposed and overburdened communities.
In anticipation of the first Republican presidential debate, Politico's Andrew Restuccia laid out the questions "we'd ask the candidates" if "we had it our way." Among the questions Restuccia came up with are why climate-denying GOP candidates think they "know better than most climate scientists"; what would be their "alternative" to the Clean Power Plan for meeting the Supreme Court requirement that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limit carbon pollution; would they "support dismantling the federal EPA" like Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI); do they "believe that fossil fuels receive any subsidies in the tax code"; and do they support the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project.
From the August 6 edition of Politico's Morning Energy (ME):
HERE'S WHAT ME WOULD ASK: ME is under no illusion that energy will take center stage at the debate. But if we had it our way, here's what we'd ask the candidates:
-- How many of you think climate change is a hoax? If so, what evidence can you point to to support that position and why do you know better than most climate scientists?
-- How specifically would you go about dismantling Obama's climate regulations? Given that the Supreme Court has compelled the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, what would your alternative be?
-- If diplomats succeed in reaching an international climate change deal later this year, would you ignore those commitments as president?
-- Would you support dismantling the federal EPA and delegating its responsibilities to individual states, as Gov. Walker has suggested?
-- If President Barack Obama rejects the Keystone XL pipeline, would you encourage its developer to resubmit an application as soon as you take office, so your administration can approve it?
-- Do you support lifting the ban on crude oil exports? How would you respond if, as some critics warn, ending the crude export ban results in a gasoline price spike?
-- Do you believe that fossil fuels receive any subsidies in the tax code? If so, how many would you support repealing? (Be specific.) If not, why not?
-- What is your position on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project? And if not Yucca, where should the nation put its nuclear waste?
There has been a lot of media discussion lately about the "winners and losers" from the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which will fight climate change by placing the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. But with all of their focus on the political, financial, and legal ramifications of the carbon pollution standards, reporters are frequently overlooking the biggest winner of all: public health, particularly that of children, seniors, low-Income communities, people of color, and anyone with heart or lung disease.
As the American Lung Association (ALA) has put it, the Clean Power Plan "will directly save lives." The EPA estimates that its plan will result in up to 3,600 fewer premature deaths every year -- not to mention 90,000 fewer asthma attacks and 1,700 fewer heart attacks -- once it is fully implemented in 2030.
But the landmark policy will be even more important for certain communities that are particularly vulnerable to air pollution and the effects of climate change. According to the ALA, those most at risk include "infants, children, older adults, people with lung disease, people with cardiovascular disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works outdoors." These Americans face some of the greatest risks associated with unchecked climate change, such as worsened ozone and soot pollution.
People of color are also disproportionately impacted by climate change, as EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Green for All Executive Director Nikki Silvestri have explained. According to a report by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), nearly three-quarters of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. The NAACP has also noted that African-Americans, who are more likely than whites to live in urban and coastal areas, are particularly at risk from climate impacts such as rising sea levels, food insecurity, and heat-related deaths. And the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that African-Americans are 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 than whites to die from asthma, according to HHS. Meanwhile, the 2014 National Climate Assessment stated that new Hispanic immigrants are particularly "vulnerable to changes in climate," due to "[l]ow wages, unstable work, language barriers, and inadequate housing," all of which are "critical obstacles to managing climate risk."
For all these reasons and more, the Clean Power Plan will help address what the Natural Resources Defense Council calls "the disproportionate health impacts of dirty, coal-fired power generation on low-income communities and people of color."
So while there will be plenty of time to discuss whether cap-and-trade programs or climate science denial are politically "toxic," there should also be room in the conversation for the role the Clean Power Plan will play in making the air we breathe cleaner and safer.
Image at top via Flickr user Mike Licht using a Creative Commons License.
Rightwing media are echoing claims by the fossil fuel industry that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, President Obama's landmark climate change policy, will dramatically increase electricity bills. In reality, while the Clean Power Plan may slightly increase Americans' electric bills in the short term, multiple independent analyses support the EPA's claim that the plan will result in significantly lower electric bills once it is fully implemented.
A new report exposes the many ways that Big Oil has been working to deceive the public on climate change over the past several decades. The media has fallen for many of its tactics, effectively allowing the industry to change the debate on climate science and hide the industry backing behind its front groups and campaigns.
For nearly three decades, top executives at ExxonMobil have known that fossil fuel emissions harm the climate, according to a document uncovered by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). And since then, the UCS report shows, Exxon and other major oil companies have been working to "deceive the public" about the truth on climate change.
The UCS report -- titled "The Climate Deception Dossiers: Internal Fossil Fuel Industry Memos Reveal Decades of Corporate Disinformation" -- is based on a trove of internal company and trade association documents and identifies seven tactics that oil companies have used to sow misinformation and sway public opinion in its favor. Several of these tactics involve spreading "disinformation," and the media has taken the bait. Here's how:
A key document uncovered by UCS is a 1998 memo from the American Petroleum Institute (API) that includes a draft "Global Climate Science Communications Plan." The plan's stated goal is that a "majority of the American public, including industry leadership, recognizes that significant uncertainties exist in climate science, and therefore raises questions among those (e.g. Congress) who chart the future U.S. course on global climate change." API's plan says one of its hoped-for "victories" is for media coverage to "reflect balance on climate science." And indeed, false balance is rampant in mainstream media coverage of climate science. For example, in 2014, every broadcast Sunday news show except CBS' Face the Nation aired segments that included false balance on climate science.
Another API "victory" was for media to recognize "the validity of viewpoints that challenge the current 'conventional wisdom'" on climate change. A 2013 study published in Public Understanding of Science found that conservative media frequently portray contrarians and deniers as objective experts on science. Mainstream media outlets often follow suit, such as when several major newspapers earlier this year described the fossil fuel-funded Heartland Institute as merely one of many climate "skeptics," which lent validity to the organization's criticism of Pope Francis' climate change encyclical.
UCS also discovered that API vowed to make the media "understand... uncertainties in climate science." Conservative media often push the false myth that climate science is "unsettled," and a heavy focus on "uncertainties" in climate science is an unfortunate trend in media stories: a 2013 study from Oxford University showed that nearly 80 percent of climate change stories surveyed were framed in the context of uncertainty. Meanwhile, the science behind human-caused climate change is in fact settled, with the same level of certainty as the science behind cigarettes' causing deadly disease.
UCS' report also shows how the oil industry has created fake grassroots organizations to lobby on behalf of the fuel companies. Several Media Matters reports have detailed the media's failure to disclose the funding behind many pro-industry organizations and campaigns -- most notably, Americans for Prosperity, the "grassroots" front group created by the oil billionaire Koch brothers.
Finally, UCS reveals the extensive role played by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which connects industry executives to state legislators and pushes legislation that furthers the oil industry's agenda. Again, many media outlets have failed to disclose the industry interests behind several ALEC campaigns, particularly its attempts to dismantle clean energy policies.
"Doubt is our product," a tobacco executive once said, kicking off a decades-long campaign to hide the deadly impacts of smoking from consumers. The fossil fuel industry's campaign to sow uncertainty and introduce doubt into climate change coverage shows how the industry is taking yet another page from Big Tobacco's playbook.
The conservative website Daily Caller argued that President Obama's executive action to bring solar energy to low-income communities would be costly, but to prove its point, it cited a solar energy project that will bring millions in economic benefits.
On July 7, the Obama administration announced an initiative that will make it easier for all Americans -- but those in low- and moderate-income communities in particular -- to access solar energy. In response, the Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch criticized one of the initiative's key components: a program to encourage the development of community solar programs, known as "solar gardens" -- large, centrally-located solar arrays from which community members can purchase solar energy in exchange for credits on their electric bills.
Bastasch warned that solar gardens "could increase costs and bring dubious benefits." To make his point, he cited Denver's plan to power 16 city-owned buildings with solar energy from community solar gardens. But far from being costly, the project is expected to save the city $6 million over the next 20 years.
Climate change deniers have been talking a lot about "energy poverty" to criticize Pope Francis' landmark climate change encyclical, claiming that the policies he supports would harm the poor by making energy prohibitively expensive. But media should think twice before uncritically reporting the fossil fuel industry's energy poverty campaign, which is misleading at best and flat-out wrong at worst, as multiple investigations have compared the campaign to the tactics of Big Tobacco and highlighted how both could harm poor communities.
Two major U.S. coal companies are at the center of the fossil fuel industry's energy poverty campaign: Peabody Energy and Arch Coal. In advance of the encyclical, Arch Coal blasted out a list of talking points to fight back, claiming that the encyclical does not "address the tragedy of global energy poverty." Similarly, Peabody is behind a campaign that began last year called "Advanced Energy for Life," which aims to build "awareness and support to eliminate energy poverty, increase access to low-cost electricity and improve emissions through advanced clean coal technologies."
It is true that access to modern forms of energy is essential for alleviating poverty by providing increased access to education and health services. But fossil fuels are not necessarily the answer, as many experts and reports have detailed. Energy poverty is largely a rural phenomenon, where centralized energy systems -- a precondition for expanding access to coal -- are simply not feasible. According to experts who have worked on the ground to provide energy to rural communities, off-grid energy solutions are far more economical, and renewables in particular are often more effective at bringing electricity to communities cheaply and quickly.
Moreover, the coal industry's misleading campaign to push their product in poor communities has drawn comparisons to Big Tobacco's efforts to push tobacco use worldwide.
Fossil fuel advocates are criticizing Pope Francis' recent climate encyclical, claiming his call to phase out fossil fuels will harm the poor by preventing access to electricity and keeping them in "energy poverty." But fossil fuels are not economically viable in most of the communities that suffer from a lack of electricity, and on-the-ground experts have explained that distributed renewable energy sources are often a more effective way to lift the world's impoverished -- who will be most affected by the adverse impacts of climate change -- out of energy poverty.
Toxic air pollution from power plants has been linked to serious health problems including cancer, heart attacks, and premature death, and mercury in particular is a potent neurotoxin that is especially dangerous for young children and pregnant women. But that hasn't stopped conservative media from joyfully celebrating a U.S. Supreme Court decision that jeopardizes the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) plan to rein in this harmful pollution.
Like Americans for Prosperity, the Beacon Hill Institute, and the State Policy Network before it, the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) is the latest oil industry front group to run a deceptive op-ed campaign against the EPA's climate change plan, with NBCC president Harry C. Alford alleging in newspapers across the country that the Clean Power Plan will impose "economic hardship" on blacks and Hispanics. None of these newspapers disclosed that the NBCC has received $1 million from the ExxonMobil Foundation, and the op-eds themselves rely on climate science denial and thoroughly debunked industry-linked studies in an attempt to dismiss the financial and health benefits the Clean Power Plan will provide to black and Hispanic communities.
Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change reveals his belief that there is a moral obligation to act swiftly on climate change, which disproportionately harms the world's poor. But conservative media are relentlessly attacking the pope over the encyclical, calling it "insipid" and "blasphemous," and fearmongering that the Catholic leader is a "Marxist" pushing for "a new world order," among other things.
Bloomberg has published several columns by contributor Robert Bryce that either attack renewable energy or promote oil without disclosing that he is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute's Center for Energy Policy and the Environment, which has long received significant funding from ExxonMobil.
The Wall Street Journal's opinion page has been serving as a mouthpiece for the fossil fuel industry's attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which will set limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Nearly every WSJ op-ed about the proposed rule since it was released on June 2, 2014 has been written by people with ties to the energy industry -- and every single one has attacked it.