A dirty energy advocate with Big Oil ties is falsely smearing Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' wind energy plan -- with an assist from The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal published a February 7 op-ed attacking Sanders' renewable energy plan by Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, without disclosing that the Manhattan Institute has received at least $800,000 from ExxonMobil and millions more from foundations run by the oil billionaire Koch brothers. Unsurprisingly, given his track record, Bryce's criticism of Sanders is badly at odds with the facts.
In the op-ed, Bryce claimed that Sanders "better check with his Vermont constituents about the popularity of wind energy." Citing anti-wind proposals in the Vermont state legislature and a few scattered examples of local opposition to specific wind energy projects, Bryce declared: "Nowhere is the backlash [against wind energy] stronger than in Mr. Sanders's state."
However, despite the presence of a vocal minority who oppose large-scale wind projects, support for wind energy development is actually very strong in the Green Mountain State.
According to an April 2014 poll that was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin, Metz & Associates for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), 71 percent of Vermonters support building wind turbines along the state's ridgelines, while only 23 percent oppose wind energy development. The poll also found that 86 percent of Vermonters support the state's goal of getting 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, and 72 percent of Vermonters said they would look more favorably on a candidate for state legislature who would make "advancing energy efficiency, clean energy and action on climate change central to their work."
These findings are in line with other polls conducted in Vermont. A May 2014 survey by the Castleton Polling Institute found that 89.3 percent of Vermonters agree that it is necessary and important to change the state's energy mix from the "current system based on fossil fuels, such as oil, and gas" to "a new energy system based on increasing energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro and biomass." And a February 2013 Castleton poll found that 69 percent of Vermonters would favor the development of a wind farm in their own community.
Indeed, Bryce's entire attack against Sanders is premised on deceptively cherry-picking several isolated incidents of local opposition to wind energy. This cherry-picking is exemplified by the very first example he cited as supposed evidence that opposition to wind turbines "has been growing" in the state:
Wind-generated electricity in the U.S. has more than tripled since 2008, but opposition to the gigantic turbines, which can stand more than 500 feet, has been growing. In Vermont several protesters were arrested in 2011 and 2012 while trying to stop work on a wind project built on top of Lowell Mountain.
In reality, 75 percent of Lowell residents voted for Green Mountain Power's Kingdom Community Wind project on Lowell Mountain in 2010, and Lowell voters strongly reaffirmed their support for the project in March 2014, as the Associated Press noted at the time.
From the January 28 edition of CNN's New Day:
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From the January 25 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the January 22 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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The hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe promised to ask a "bunch of hard questions" to embattled Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder about his role in the Flint water crisis, but instead co-host Mika Brzezinski introduced Snyder as "pretty transparent," and Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough conducted a softball interview that allowed Snyder to deflect blame from himself and his political staff to career civil servants and local officials in Flint.
The problems with the interview began with Brzezinski's description of Snyder as "pretty transparent."
Brzezinski's characterization of Snyder echoed a talking point put forward by the Governor himself. But as The Guardian noted, the series of emails that Snyder released two days before the interview with Morning Joe included significant redactions that undercut his claim of transparency:
Michigan governor Rick Snyder cited a commitment to transparency and accountability when he announced he would voluntarily release his emails related to the city of Flint, Michigan.
"The Flint water crisis is an extraordinary circumstance and therefore I'm taking this unprecedented step of releasing my emails to ensure that the people of Michigan know the truth," Snyder wrote.
But that pledge didn't translate smoothly into the first document of the 274-page tranche released Wednesday: A three-page email that was entirely blacked out.
Snyder said the document was redacted because it contained privileged attorney-client communications about a lawsuit unrelated to the Flint water crisis.
But redactions appear throughout the files, which only cover a two-year period between 2014 and 2015 - not 2013, when the decision to use the highly corrosive Flint river was made. And Snyder declined to release emails of his entire staff, saying they're protected under state statute. Michigan is only one of two states that exempt the governor from the Freedom of Information Act.
When Scarborough asked Snyder how two state agencies and the federal Environmental Protection Agency could have all failed to act on the water crisis as it emerged, Snyder responded that the explanation is "a huge bureaucratic problem and it's part of the problem with culture and government." Scarborough replied, "You did appoint, though, these two environmental bureaucrats in Michigan, though, didn't you?" But he then let Snyder claim that his administration did not adequately respond to the crisis because "career civil servants" in the state Department of Environmental Quality failed to realize that the water was contaminated.
The Morning Joe hosts failed to ask Snyder about his recently-released emails, which show that his own chief of staff Dennis Muchmore -- who has since retired -- disputed that the state was responsible for addressing the issue and cited state officials to dismiss concerns about contaminated drinking water as attempts by "some in Flint" to turn the issue into a "political football." Muchmore also referred to people raising concerns about the water as an "anti-everything group." Snyder himself "wrote just seven brief emails concerning Flint water during the past two years," according to an MLive.com review of the emails.
Morning Joe also let Snyder attempt to pin the blame on local officials in Flint. Brzezinski asked Snyder whether it was the state-appointed emergency manager who "authorized the switch for the city of Flint to stop buying water from Detroit." Snyder responded: "In terms of the change itself, it was a broader effort in terms of saying they wanted to change their water system to a new water authority. And it was actually voted for by the city council and it was ratified by the emergency manager. It was a 7-1 vote of the city council to leave the Detroit water system." Earlier in the interview, Snyder also took credit for working to "reconnect the Detroit water system" once the problem "first came to light."
But the Morning Joe hosts failed to challenge Snyder by explaining that the decision to use the polluted Flint river as the new water source was the state-appointed emergency manager's alone. As the Detroit Free Press "Truth Squad" noted in response to an even more inaccurate document distributed by the Snyder administration that claimed the "[c]ity of Flint decide[d] to use the Flint River as a water source":
City officials did not drive the decision to take water from the Flint River. There was never such a vote by the city council, which really didn't have the power to make such a decision anyway, because the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.
The council's vote in March 2013 was to switch water supply from Detroit to a new pipeline through the Karegnondi Water Authority - but the pipeline wasn't scheduled to be completed for at least three years.
Flint officials didn't make that decision [to use the Flint river as a water source] while under state emergency management. State-appointed emergency manager Ed Kurtz made that decision, which would have had to be approved by the state.
Free Press columnist Nancy Kaffer has similarly explained that Snyder's citation of the March 2013 city council vote to place responsibility on local officials "doesn't wash":
Snyder's spokeswoman has consistently placed responsibility for Flint's water crisis in local hands, pointing to a 7-1 Flint City Council vote endorsing the switch to Karegnondi. But that explanation -- like so many things about this whole situation -- doesn't wash.
The Flint City Council voted 7-1 to approve the switch, with the support of [Flint mayor Dayne] Walling, who lost his seat earlier this month. But that's of no matter; when an emergency manager is in place, he or she is the ultimate authority. Moreover, emergency managers are appointed precisely because, in the judgment of the governor and treasurer, a city hasn't adequately managed its affairs.
Additionally, the Morning Joe hosts failed to mention that the Flint City Council also voted 7-1 to stop using the Flint river in March 2015 -- only to have that move rejected by the state-appointed emergency manager.
Brzezinski did ask Snyder to respond to a "pretty searing" New York Times article that posed the question: "If Flint were rich and mostly white, would Michigan's state government have responded more quickly and aggressively to complaints about its lead-polluted water?" But Brzezinski led into the question by assuring, "we think you're a really good man," and when Snyder responded by disputing the Times' premise and again laying blame on "a handful of quote unquote experts that were career civil service people that made terrible decisions," Morning Joe moved on to a discussion of the Detroit public school system.
The Morning Joe hosts could have asked Snyder about a Times editorial that more definitively linked the question to his own conduct, writing that the emails Snyder's political staff sent him "show a cynical and callous indifference to the plight of the mostly black, poverty-stricken residents of Flint."
National Journal's Ron Fournier and CNN's Jake Tapper each admitted that they failed to cover the crisis involving Flint, Michigan's water supply until recently.
In a January 20 National Journal column headlined "How Government--and This Columnist--Failed Flint," Fournier acknowledged that he "blew it" by failing to bring up Flint's ongoing water crisis in a December 2015 column about Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's "refreshing approach to politics." By December, Snyder had already been widely criticized for his handling of the situation, which has resulted in children across the city suffering from lead poisoning.
From Fournier's January 20 column, in which he also pointed to a broader failure on the part of the media to cover the crisis:
Like the story about Johnny Whitmire, the scandal in Flint is a reminder of how government and other institutions fail.
--Arrogant leadership, with a lack transparency, follow-up, and singular attention to mission.
--Lack of power at the bottom of society's brutal pecking order. This would not have happened in a wealthy city like Traverse City, Michigan, or Snyder's hometown of Ann Arbor.
--Finally, a lack of oversight from traditional institutions. Where was the state legislature and Congress? Where was the media? Why did a scientist in Virginia crack the case with a FOIA request, rather than an investigative journalist?
For that matter, why did I write a column about Snyder's leadership that didn't even mention Flint? There's no good answer, no excuse. I took my eye off the ball. I blew it.
In addition, during an interview with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver on the January 20 edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, Tapper apologized for failing to cover the Flint crisis over the many months that it was becoming worse and worse. After promising to "shame" Snyder or President Obama if they don't provide Weaver with "the response you need," Tapper admitted, "I'm sorry that it took us so long to get on this story."
From the January 20 edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper:
Fox News' Chris Stirewalt placed blame on the residents of Flint, Michigan for the city's drinking water crisis, saying that "[t]he people of Flint should have been protesting in the streets" after noticing that their water was poisoned. Stirewalt also appeared to blame Flint parents for giving their children contaminated water, declaring: "[I]f you were pouring water into a cup for your child and it stunk and it smelled like sulfur and it was rotten, would you give that to your child? No, you'd revolt, you'd march in the street."
Stirewalt overlooked the protests that took place last year in January, February, April, July, and October, and this year in early January. Most recently, there have been at least three rallies since January 16, when hundreds of people gathered at Flint's City Hall to confront Governor Rick Snyder and demand justice.
This has been an ongoing crisis since April 2014, when the city switched its water supply from Lake Huron (via the city of Detroit) to the Flint River. Residents started lodging complaints about the drinking water shortly thereafter. The new water system was later found to be contaminated with chemicals that can cause nervous system problems and increase the risk of cancer, and General Motors refused to use the water because it was rusting car parts. Snyder declared a state of emergency on January 5, 2016, months after children in the city were found to have high levels of lead in their blood. There's a "very strong likelihood," according to Virginia Tech drinking water expert Marc Edwards, that Flint's water is linked to Genesee County's recent spike in Legionnaire's disease, which has killed 10 residents.
From the January 20 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
MEGYN KELLY (HOST): But now the city manager apparently knew. I mean it's not -- the thing that's so egregious about this is, correct me if I'm wrong, is, that they had knowledge. They knew, Chris, that there was something was wrong with the water. And they let the people that were too proud to give up but too poor to matter continue drinking it, including children!
CHRIS STIREWALT (CONTRIBUTOR): Well, look, I will say that an individual -- people have no choice, right? If you are poor you have no place to go and you don't have resources to move -- but if you were pouring water into a cup for your child and it stunk and it smelled like sulfur and it was rotten, would you give that to your child? No, you'd revolt, you'd march in the street. You know, we've had a lot of demonstrations of late in the United States. We've had a lot of demonstration movement about justice for this, and don't do that and don't say this. The people of Flint should have been protesting in the streets.
From the January 20 edition of MSNBC Live:
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From the January 20 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the January 19 edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront:
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From the January 19 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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UPDATE (1/15/16): After publication of this post, The Washington Post updated its article to include the following:
Update: Supporters of wind power energy noted [the Utah State/Strata] report is backed by wind power critics, and said it's unfair to criticize the tax credits because fossil fuels have received many more government incentives than renewables over a longer period of time. They pointed to other sources showing wind's costs to be lower than for other electricity sources.
The Washington Post's Fact Checker wrongly challenged President Obama's State of the Union comments about wind energy by citing a study linked to the oil billionaire Koch brothers. By contrast, FactCheck.org cited an Energy Department analyst who confirmed that Obama was correct when he said that wind energy is less expensive than fossil fuels in the regions of the country that he mentioned.
During his January 13 State of the Union address, Obama highlighted the advancements renewable energy has made since he took office, citing the low price of wind energy as an example: "In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power."
The Post's Fact Checker conceded that the "cost of wind power surely is lower in those states than in others," but stated that "the average price of coal and natural gas ... is still cheaper than newer sources like wind," citing an analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance about the average cost of electricity nationwide (the Post attributed the stat to the Dallas Morning News).
But The Post never actually addressed whether Obama was correct when he said that wind power is less expensive than fossil fuels in parts of Iowa and Texas.
By contrast, FactCheck.org noted that Obama "rightly points out that in some areas of states like Iowa and Texas, wind energy is already cheaper than energy produced by coal or natural gas." Indeed, an analysis from investment banking firm Lazard released last November found that the high-end estimate for the unsubsidized cost of wind energy in Texas and the Midwest ($51 per megawatt hour) is less than the low-end estimate for the cost of all fossil fuel-based forms of energy nationwide (the cheapest being gas combined cycle, with a low-end estimate of $52 per megawatt hour):
Obama's statement was also supported by an official from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), who said in an email to FactCheck.org: "Both our analysis and recent market trends suggest that wind is generally lowest in cost and most competitive in the Great Plains region of the country, roughly corresponding to 'Iowa to Texas.'" The EIA analyst noted that "wind is the low-cost source of power generation in the overnight hours in many states where it exists" and that wind energy has "out-compete[d] other sources in states such as Iowa and Texas during daytime hours." He also explained that when it comes to building new power production nationwide, "wind is generally in a competitive range with combined cycle [natural gas] and perhaps even lower cost than coal, on an unsubsidized basis."
FactCheck.org also cited a March 2015 article from the Dallas Morning News, which noted that "in Texas, the country's largest wind energy producer, renewable energy plans count among the cheapest options available."
The Post's Fact Checker also took issue with Obama's remarks by claiming he "overlook[ed] the impact of the federal tax credit that has driven much of the cost of wind power down." As purported evidence, the Post cited a report by the Institute of Political Economy at Utah State University and the research group Strata, without mentioning that either entity has received funding from the oil billionaire Koch brothers. The report was led by Randy Simmons, who is the former Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State and runs Utah State's "Koch Scholars" program. He is also a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Strata received $653,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2013 alone. Meanwhile, Utah State University received over $1.6 million from the Charles Koch Foundation between 2007 and 2013, according to data compiled by Greenpeace. Then in 2015, the university confirmed that its business school -- where the Institute of Political Economy resides -- would receive an additional $1.54 million from the Charles Koch Foundation, including $540,000 in salary and benefits for two tenure-track professors at the Institute of Political Economy.
But while The Post claimed that Obama overlooked the impact of wind subsidies -- the focus of the Koch-linked report it cited -- The Post itself overlooked the fact that fossil fuels have historically received far more in government subsidies and handouts than wind or other forms of renewable energy, particularly in the beginning stages of those industries' expansion. A 2011 analysis by Management Information Services for the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) found that a whopping 70 percent of the energy subsidies handed out between 1950 and 2010 were given to the oil, natural gas, and coal industries, compared to only nine percent for renewables like wind and solar. And an analysis from DBL Investors shows how the oil and gas industries received far more in subsidies than renewables during the first 30 years of those subsidies' existence:
The Post's Fact Checker did mention that experts predict unsubsidized wind energy will become cost-competitive with fossil fuels nationwide within the next decade. But only FactCheck.org managed to explain that the President was right when he noted that wind is already cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of the country.
A new report by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Inspector General (IG) has validated the EPA's review of the proposed Pebble Mine project in Alaska's Bristol Bay, concluding that there is "no evidence of bias in how the EPA conducted" its review nor any evidence that "the EPA predetermined the assessment outcome." Media coverage of the IG report should explain that the inspector general's involvement was requested by the company that wants to build the mine and backed by the official it hired to criticize the EPA's review, and that the House Science Committee Chairman blasting the IG report previously praised an EPA IG report when the results were more critical of the EPA.
The troubling trend of the fossil fuel industry and conservative media twisting scientific research to fit their own agenda is not going away, as Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson recently found out. In the age of rampant climate denial, scientists and researchers like Jacobson are increasingly recognizing that they must fight back against deliberate rightwing distortions of their work.
On January 8, the Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch reported on what he seemed to consider a "gotcha" moment for the environmental movement: environmentalists have been touting a study showing that the U.S. could transition to 100 percent renewable energy, but according to Bastasch, "they must not have realized the study also shows nearly 1.2 million Americans permanently out of work."
Bastasch did not get this statistic from the study itself, nor did he contact any of the study's authors. He turned instead to a fossil fuel industry group called Energy In Depth, which he described as "an oil and gas industry-backed education project."
Last summer, Jacobson led a Stanford University study showing that the U.S. can fully replace its fossil fuel infrastructure with 100 percent renewable energy -- wind, water, and solar (WWS) -- by 2050, and that such a plan would bring economic benefits, including a net gain of two million long-term jobs (defined as jobs lasting at least 40 years).
Last week, Energy In Depth's Steve Everley claimed that the Stanford plan would kill over 1.2 million more long-term jobs than it would create.
The study itself, as Jacobson explained to the ClimateDenierRoundup on Daily Kos, found that shifting to 100 percent renewables "would create 3.9 million 40-year construction jobs (3.9 million people working 40 years on construction) in addition to nearly 2 million permanent operation jobs." It would also lead to a loss of 3.9 million fossil fuel-based jobs, resulting in a net increase of 2 million jobs over 40 years.
Jacobson told Media Matters in an email that Everley "refused to count the construction jobs as 40-year jobs, instead saying they were not 'long-term' jobs and pretending as if they were just short term (e.g., 1 year) construction jobs." He added that Everley "refus[ed] to correct it when informed of the error."
Not surprisingly, the Daily Caller took Everley's post and ran with it. In an article headlined "Enviros Accidentally Tout Study Showing 100% Green Energy Will Permanently Kill Millions Of Jobs," Bastasch wrote that "green groups" such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have ignored the "inconvenient truth" about Jacobson's study. In reality, the only inconvenient truth here is that the Daily Caller has an aversion to accurate climate reporting.
Jacobson acknowledged to Media Matters that it's "necessary" for him to stand up for his work "when the misinformation is so egregious." Said Jacobson, "Whereas I have experienced cases where people didn't like our results because they affected their energy of choice, this is the first time I've come across someone (Everley) actually falsifying data from our study then refusing to correct it when informed of the error."
But this has become a common trend among fossil fuel front groups and rightwing media outlets, which frequently distort climate research to fit a pro-fossil fuel agenda. Scientific researchers have previously expressed deep concerns about conservative media outlets' "ridiculous," "alarming," and "patently false" distortions of their research.
In fact, these media distortions have become so common that a NASA scientist recently predicted climate science deniers would twist his study on Antarctic ice to dispute the climate change consensus -- and of course, that's exactly what happened.
Scientific research can be complicated, so it's a good idea to ask the researchers themselves what their research means, especially if it appears to mean something groundbreaking or unexpected. And when a fossil fuel industry consultant like Everley or rightwing outlet like the Daily Caller won't fix their stories even after the researcher himself demands a correction, then you know the falsehood is intentional.
So when conservative news sites like the Daily Caller continue to echo fossil fuel industry distortions of climate research, we're left with the unfortunate situation in which the researchers themselves must continue to speak out and defend their work.
Photo at top via Flickr user delwedd with a Creative Commons license.
UPDATE (1/15/16): After the publication of this post, Energy in Depth published a new post stating that Jacobson "delete[d]" data "showing a net loss of long-term jobs" from the transition to 100 percent renewable energy, which was echoed by the Daily Caller. In an email to Media Matters, Jacobson clarified that he had informed the Energy in Depth blogger Steve Everley on January 5 "that the numbers [Everley] was using for his article were dead test numbers not used or linked to anything," but that "[e]ven after being informed, [Everley] still used the irrelevant test numbers in his article." Jacobson continued: "Because of [Everley's] abuse of the dead numbers and because they served no purpose, I removed the dead numbers from the spreadsheet. All numbers that the paper relies on are still in the spreadsheet and were never touched." He added: "Any reader can compare the paper with the spreadsheet to determine this themselves."