Image at top via Flickr user Fintrvlr using a Creative Commons License.
Ten years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, environmental justice advocates feel the time is long overdue for the media to start connecting the dots between climate change and social justice.
There may be no clearer example of this intersection than in the impact and aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Between the devastating effects of the storm itself, and the decade-long effort to restore destroyed communities afterwards, the region's African-American population has demonstrably suffered the most.
In media coverage of the storm's upcoming 10-year anniversary, a few reports have discussed how the hurricane's strength was exacerbated by climate change -- warmer seas lead to stronger storms, and global warming-driven sea level rise causes catastrophic storm surges. Others have looked at how African-American communities have suffered -- and continue to suffer -- disproportionately compared to white communities from the storm's impacts.
But rarely do media discuss the relation between the two.
There have been a handful of excellent exceptions, including a Guardian op-ed from Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of Uprose, an organization that fights for environmental justice. Yeampierre wrote:
Those of us from low-income communities of color are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. US cities and towns that are predominantly made up of people of color are also home to a disproportionate share of the environmental burdens that are fueling the climate crisis and shortening our lives. One has only to recall the gut-wrenching images of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath to confirm this.
Yeampierre explained to Media Matters that "understanding the intersectionality" between climate change and social justice is "really important. We can't pick, we can't choose. It all matters to us, all of these issues." When asked why media should report on the connection between the two issues, Yeampierre said: "On top of generations and generations of struggling to have their human rights respected, now [communities of color] are dealing with climate change on top of that. That's the story for front-line communities all over the country."
Yeampierre also noted the problem with dealing with these issues in "silos," adding that climate change "is demanding something different":
Our communities have always known that there is an intersection, that's not new. We've always known that. ... The way that people usually solve problems is in silos, so because they think and provide resources and attention in a way that's siloed, it slows down the ability to really address our communities' needs in a holistic way. This is a problem that goes across issues.
Climate change is demanding something different. Climate change is demanding that we build just relationships. Climate change is demanding that, because we know that by 2040 people of color will be the majority in this country, at a time when climate change will have fully taken a hold, it's important that we are developing intergenerational indigenous relationships on the ground right now.
Yeampierre is not alone in her views. Tracey Ross, associate director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, told Media Matters that she hopes the Katrina anniversary will bring renewed media attention to "just how vulnerable low-income communities and communities of color are to extreme weather events":
Following Hurricane Katrina, news reports revealed to the country just how vulnerable low-income communities and communities of color are to extreme weather events. While days of hurt turned into years of struggle for families, news coverage largely shifted its focus away from the impacts of the tragedy. Today, low-income communities in New Orleans remain in disrepair, and the intersections of climate change, racial inequality, and poverty are more pressing for the country than ever before. We hope that the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina brings renewed attention to these important issues.
Vien Truong, the national director of Green for All -- which works to "make sure people of color have a place and a voice in the climate movement" -- told Media Matters that the real story of Katrina's devastation on low-income communities "has been under-reported":
Hurricane Katrina showed the country the devastating impacts extreme weather events have on us all -- and especially to low income communities. The impact of the storm -- the loss of homes, lives, and livelihood -- revealed the importance for all communities to engage in the conversation around environmental equity. This is a story, however, that has been under-reported.
She added: "As we remember the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, let us also reaffirm the importance of environmental justice."
Image at the top from Gulf South Rising, a movement created to highlight the impact of the global climate crisis on the Gulf South region.
It seems like a different study attacking the EPA's Clean Power Plan pops up in the media every other week. But many of these studies are riddled with flaws and funded by fossil fuel interests, so media should think twice before repeating their claims.
A new briefing from the Energy & Policy Institute (EPI) detailed the fossil fuel funding and methodological flaws of six reports attacking the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) carbon pollution standards. One of them, a study from NERA Economic Consulting, has been thoroughly debunked by multiple experts, who say the report is completely out of date, uses faulty efficiency cost assumptions and outdated renewable energy cost assumptions, and does not acknowledge any of the EPA plan's economic benefits, rendering its findings irrelevant.
The deeply flawed NERA study also forms the basis for a new analysis from the Institute for Energy Research (IER) (not included in EPI's briefing), which concluded that the Clean Power Plan will result in 14,000 premature deaths. IER's analysis led to horrific (and completely false) headlines like this, from the conservative news site Daily Caller:
To arrive at their conclusion, IER used NERA's GDP loss estimate and converted it directly into increased premature deaths. However, using that method doesn't make much sense, as NERA failed to acknowledge the Clean Power Plan's projected life-saving health and economic benefits. Thankfully, IER's conclusion has so far been confined to the conservative media fringe.
However, numerous groups have touted the public health benefits of pollution standards, and the EPA estimates that its plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants would prevent 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children. So how does IER's analysis arrive at such a drastically different conclusion? A look at the chain of fossil fuel-funding behind IER and the NERA study may provide the answer.
The cover page of the NERA study states that it was prepared for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the Association of American Railroads, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, Consumer Energy Alliance, and the National Mining Association. Combined, they're a who's who of fossil fuel industry trade groups and advocacy organizations. EPI put together a graphic showing many of the coal and oil companies that comprise these groups:
As for IER, the group lists former Koch lobbyist Thomas Pyle as its president and is partly funded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers and their political network. IER has also received funding from Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Koch-backed DonorsTrust and Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.
The other reports detailed in EPI's briefing include one from the National Black Chamber of Commerce, another from the Beacon Hill Institute, two from Energy Ventures Analysis (one of which was funded directly by coal giant Peabody Energy), and one from IER. These reports are often publicized through coordinated media campaigns and newspaper op-eds across the country.
EPI's report illustrates how multiple industry-funded studies work in concert to simulate a chorus of diverse voices attacking the EPA's flagship climate plan. But really, it's just the industry protecting its bottom line.
Image at top via Flickr user Fintrvlr using a Creative Commons License.
A 2014 report from National Economic Research Associates (NERA), which claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan will greatly increase electricity bills, has been roundly criticized as premature and reliant on faulty assumptions. But even after the EPA released the final version of their plan -- which has significant differences from the draft plan -- media have continued to uncritically cite NERA's report. Expert analysts explained to Media Matters the NERA report's many flaws, and why media should avoid broadcasting NERA's claims if they want to report the facts.
In coverage of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) newly-proposed standards to lower methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, several major media outlets uncritically quoted oil industry officials who claim that the new rules are unnecessary because the industry is already effectively limiting its emissions. By contrast, other outlets mentioned a new study by the Environmental Defense Fund showing that methane emissions are far higher than official estimates, part of a body of evidence that undercuts the industry's claim.
From the August 20 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and Fox Business are aggressively criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for accidentally spilling toxic wastewater into Colorado's Animas River while attempting to treat pollution from an abandoned gold mine. But over the years, these same conservative media outlets have almost completely ignored pollution that was caused by the fossil fuel industry, devoting more attention to the EPA spill than to seven recent cases of industry-caused pollution combined.
The Boston Globe continues to publish columns by former Republican Sen. John E. Sununu that carry massive conflicts of interest. The Globe today allowed Sununu to advocate against "unnecessary regulation" of the Internet and coal power plants without noting his financial ties to those industries.
Sununu wrote in his August 17 column that "Obama's bureaucrats reach ever deeper into the economy, pursuing expensive and unnecessary regulation of the internet." Sununu and the Globe did not disclose that he is the highly-paid honorary co-chair of Broadband for America, an organization whose members have included major broadband providers and has been heavily funded by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
Sununu also serves on the board of directors for Time Warner Cable (TWC), which fights Internet regulation. TWC wrote in its 2014 annual report that "'Net neutrality' regulation or legislation could limit TWC's ability to operate its business profitably and to manage its broadband facilities efficiently and could result in increased taxes and fees imposed on TWC." It added that "TWC's business is subject to extensive governmental regulation, which could adversely affect its operations." TWC is merging with Charter Communications, pending regulatory approval.
In his column, Sununu also criticized the Obama administration for environmental regulations, writing that at the "EPA as elsewhere, arrogant leadership and incompetent bureaucracy are a dangerous combination. Today, America's coal plants have never been cleaner, our nuclear plants have never been safer, and the evolution of fracking (a 40-year-old technology) has driven down energy costs to their lowest levels in decades."
Akin Gump, the largest Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, lists Sununu as an "Adjunct Senior Policy Advisor" who "advises clients on a wide range of public policy, strategic and regulatory issues" including "policy and regulation." Akin Gump's policy and regulation page lists subpractices such as "Energy Regulation, Markets and Enforcement," "Environment and Natural Resources," and "Environmental Permitting and Approvals."
Akin Gump's policy and regulation page states that their clients include the coal industry. They write elsewhere in the "environmental litigation" section of their site that "Akin Gump's environmental lawyers remain at the forefront of the defense of coal-fired power plants sued as part of EPA's Utility Enforcement Initiative."
Media Matters previously noted that Sununu has written about issues related to Akin Gump's business practices without disclosing his role in the firm. The Boston Globe told Media Matters in 2012 that Sununu's role with Akin Gump was "very limited" and "We looked into whether he should make some sort of blanket disclosure, but it doesn't seem warranted by the small amount of work he does for the firm."
UPDATE: Reached by phone by Media Matters' Joe Strupp, Editorial Page Editor Ellen Clegg said she's on vacation and hasn't "read this column closely." She said the Globe plans to include online biographical sketches that "should help readers learn more about who the freelance contributors are and opt for more disclosure. They will be able to link to the italicized tagline at the bottom. It's been in the works for some time. Our contract with freelancers requires that they disclose conflicts of interest. We rely on them to push it out. We're going to disclose board memberships and consulting gigs and other paid work as well as books they've written and things like that." She said that "on this particular column, we'll link to the bio sketch when it's up."
Asked how the Globe would address the print edition of columns -- Sununu's column ran in the print edition, according to the Nexis database -- Clegg said she'll "take a look at it" and "we do require that [disclosure] when we think it's warranted."
In recent weeks, The Hill has published at least six articles that quoted industry-funded front groups attacking the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan without disclosing the groups' fossil fuel ties. Many oil, coal and utility companies have a financial interest in opposing the Clean Power Plan, which establishes the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, and readers of The Hill deserve to know whether groups criticizing the plan have taken money from fossil fuel companies.
From the August 14 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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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.
On August 12, FoxNation.com republished portions of a post by The Gateway Pundit headlined, "Letter to Editor PREDICTED COLORADO EPA SPILL One Week Before Catastrophe So EPA Could Secure Control of Area." Fox Nation highlighted the portion of the Gateway Pundit post in which author Jim Hoft wrote: "The letter detailed verbatim, how EPA officials would foul up the Animas River on purpose in order to secure superfund money. If the Gold King mine was declared a superfund site it would essentially kill future development for the mining industry in the area. The Obama EPA is vehemently opposed to mining and development."
Examiner.com also cited the letter in an August 12 post claiming "[e]vidence suggests that the EPA's Animas wastewater spill was purposeful for gaining Superfund money." The conspiratorial letter was also republished in The Wall Street Journal, although The Journal described the spill as an "accident" and only cited the letter to suggest further EPA action "may make the situation worse."
Investor's Business Daily published an Aug. 12 op-ed with the headline: "EPA Regulations Are 'Jim Crow' Laws Of 21st Century." The op-ed, written by a senior fellow at the oil-funded Heartland Institute, attacked the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan -- which places the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants -- as harmful to minorities. To make his case, the author cited a National Black Chamber of Commerce study that relies on several thoroughly debunked studies and climate science denial. The op-ed also cited conservative author Deneen Borelli, who called the EPA climate plan "the green movement's new Jim Crow."
From the op-ed:
EPA Regulations Are 'Jim Crow' Laws Of 21st Century
In announcing EPA's new so-called "Clean Power Plan" regulations, President Obama repeatedly told us that by restricting power plant emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the plan would "cut carbon pollution." But that repeated phrase "carbon pollution" reveals fundamental, disqualifying ignorance.
As a new report from the National Black Chamber of Commerce documents, EPA's new regulatory requirements will result in estimated job losses reaching 7 million for blacks and 12 million for Hispanics, with the poverty rate increasing by more than 23% for blacks and 26% for Hispanics.
That's because the rules will ultimately more than double the cost of natural gas and electricity, adding over $1 trillion to family and business energy bills.
"A lot of people on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum are going to die," says Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V. African-American author Dineen Borelli calls EPA's overregulation "the green movement's new Jim Crow." National Black Chamber of Commerce President Harry Alford calls the EPA's regulatory overkill "a slap in the face to poor and minority families."
Fox host Steve Doocy and senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano equated the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) accidental spill of toxic water into the Animas River in Colorado while attempting to treat pollution from an abandoned gold mine, to the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez oil spills. Napolitano criticized the EPA, calling the accidental spill "a classic case of the government violating its own law" that it has "severely" punished others, including BP, for violating. But in 2010, he downplayed the environmental impact of the BP oil spill, vigorously defending BP by claiming the federal government's "shakedown" of the company, did "as much damage to our ... liberties as the oil spill did to the Gulf Coast." From the August 13 edition of Fox News Fox & Friends:
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If it seems like conservative media are relishing the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accidentally spilled toxic wastewater into the Animas River in Colorado while attempting to treat pollution from an abandoned gold mine, it's because they are. Many of the media figures who are most ferociously criticizing the EPA over the spill have a long history of opposing EPA efforts to reduce pollution, which suggests that they are conjuring up faux outrage about this pollution in an attempt to weaken the EPA and prevent it from fulfilling its mandate to protect Americans' air and water.
The Washington Times laid out this anti-EPA strategy quite clearly in an Aug. 10 article. The Times promoted the allegation from "critics" that the mine spill "threaten[s] the credibility of the Environmental Protection Agency at a crucial moment" and provides "ammunition" for opponents of the EPA's clean air and water protections, including the Clean Power Plan. The "critics" quoted in the article included Dan Kish, a senior vice president at the oil industry-funded Institute for Energy Research, and Michael McKenna, the president of MWR Strategies, a lobbying firm that represents polluting fossil fuel interests such as Koch Industries and Southern Company.
This is just the latest attempt by The Washington Times to use industry-funded "critics" to undermine the Clean Power Plan, which would address climate change by placing the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It follows two other Times articles that cherry-picked statements from fossil fuel industry-funded individuals and organizations to allege that the EPA climate plan "faces opposition from black [and] Hispanic leaders."
Then there's The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which revealed a newfound concern for pollution in an Aug. 11 editorial that lamented the "fiasco" in Colorado it blamed on "the green police." The Journal's stated worries about the "ecological ramifications" of the mine spill are hard to take seriously when they come from one of the most persistent critics of federal efforts to clean up pollution -- dating back to the Journal's claims about acid rain and ozone depletion in the 1970's and 1980's.
In the years since, the Journal's editorial page has consistently sided with polluting industries against EPA air and water protections. When the Supreme Court recently ruled against the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards on procedural grounds, jeopardizing a safeguard that reduces toxic air pollution linked to cancer, heart attacks, and premature death, the Journal called it "a welcome rebuke to EPA arrogance." When the EPA moved to reduce pollution by increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, the Journal declared that automakers were being held as "hostages" to the EPA's "crushing" rule. And when the EPA moved to protect waterways that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans, the Journal described it as an "amphibious attack" by the "Washington water police."
Now the Journal is urging states to "refuse to comply" with the EPA's Clean Power Plan, so that power plants can continue to spew unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air, threatening public health and exacerbating climate change.
Fox News has also been all over the EPA's mishandling of the Colorado mine spill, including comparing it to the BP Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez oil spills. But Fox pundits vigorously defended BP in the wake of the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and even claimed coverage of the Exxon Valdez spill was proof that "the press is horrible to business." They've also characterized the EPA's Clean Water Rule as a power grab, claimed that EPA officials are "job terrorists" for seeking to reduce smog, and enlisted fossil fuel industry allies to attack the EPA's carbon pollution standards.
For these conservative media outlets, pollution is only a problem when they can blame the EPA for it.
By now you're probably familiar with Koch-funded science denial. Now meet Coke-funded science denial.
Fox News host Shepard Smith compared the news that Coca-Cola is funding scientists who dispute the link between caloric intake and obesity to the fossil fuel industry money behind climate change deniers, in stark contrast with how right-wing media figures reacted.
The New York Times recently revealed how Coca-Cola is behind a new organization called the Global Energy Balance Network that is promoting exercise as "a solution to chronic disease and obesity while remaining largely silent on the role of food and nutrition." The group's vice president, Steven N. Blair, said in a video announcing the organization: "Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is ... blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks, and so on [for obesity]. And there's really virtually no compelling evidence that that in fact is the cause."
But the Times reported that health experts "say this message is misleading and part of an effort by Coke to deflect criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes." The experts "contend that the company is using its new group to convince the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet despite scientific evidence that exercise has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume." Global nutrition professor Barry M. Popkin told the Times that "Coke's support of prominent health researchers was reminiscent of tactics used by the tobacco industry, which enlisted experts to become 'merchants of doubt' about the health hazards of smoking."
On the August 10 edition of Fox News' Shepard Smith Reporting, anchor Smith offered a similar analogy -- and extended it even further to climate change denial. Smith said the story "reminds you of exactly what the tobacco industry did back in day, and more recently, it also reminds you of what the climate deniers -- the climate change deniers -- are doing as well":
However, Fox contributor Lisa "Kennedy" Montgomery countered with rhetoric more in line with that of Fox News, claiming that "there's so much adulterated science out there that people are no longer going to trust the scientific method at all," and that it's "hard to figure out ... what is emotional rhetoric and what is fact" on climate change. (The facts undoubtedly show that climate change is real and that humans are causing it.)
And Rush Limbaugh came to the complete opposite conclusion as Smith. On the August 10 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh ranted that the Times' Coca-Cola story "undermine[s] the whole notion of a scientific consensus," because it "can be bought and paid for":
LIMBAUGH: If Coca-Cola can find scientists and get an opinion that they want from by paying them, do you think the same thing could happen to climate change scientists and a "consensus" of them? Do you think somebody could come along and offer those scientists enough money? I mean, the left, if anybody's paying attention, is writing their own obituary in this stuff.
They're undermining the whole notion of a scientific consensus. Now it can be bought and paid for by Coca-Cola.
The tobacco industry has used deceitful tactics for decades to deny and cast doubt upon the scientifically proven health impacts of cigarettes, and the fossil fuel industry has employed the same tactics on climate change. Now, the Coke-funded scientists agreeing with the industry's bottom line have been roundly criticized by independent scientists and health experts. Is Coke the new flavor of industry-funded science denial?