Environment & Science

Issues ››› Environment & Science
  • WaPo Editorial Board Blasts Trump's "Dangerous, Nonsensical Energy Plan"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

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

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

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

    From the May 29 editorial:

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

    [...]

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

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

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

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

  • Media Explain Everything Wrong With Trump’s Energy Speech

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

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

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

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS & KEVIN KALHOEFER

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

  • LA Times Criticizes Lack Of Climate Change Questions In Presidential Debates

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Los Angeles Times editorial board lamented that climate change has been largely overlooked in presidential election coverage so far, despite it being “the most pressing issue of our time.”

    The Times pointed to a Media Matters analysis, which found that through the first 20 presidential primary debates, moderators only asked 22 questions about climate change, making up just 1.5 percent of the 1,477 questions asked during the debates. Instead, debate moderators have focused on the political horserace and other non-substantive issues. Moderators posed so few climate questions that Democratic candidates brought up climate change unprompted more than twice as often as the debate moderators did.

    Debate moderators’ failure to bring up climate change drew the attention of a bipartisan group of 21 Florida mayors, who urged networks hosting debates in Miami to ask the candidates about climate change. The subsequent debates in Miami featured seven questions about climate change, accounting for nearly one-third of the 22 climate questions asked over the course of all 20 primary debates. The lack of climate questions in the debates also prompted a group of Nobel Laureates and hundreds of other experts to call for at least one presidential debate that is exclusively focused on science, health, technology, and environmental issues.

    From the May 26 Times editorial, titled, “Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. So why isn't it getting more play in the election?":

    Climate change is, as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently put it, "one of the most crucial problems on Earth."  Yet the issue has been largely absent from the current presidential campaign.

    [...]

    So what forms the core of our political discourse instead? It’s ranged from the size of Trump’s, uh, hands to whether Clinton enabled her husband’s philandering to how to make Mexico pay for a wall the length of the border, along with international trade agreements, under what circumstances the military should be deployed, and whether the multi-nation deal with Iran to freeze its nuclear program was wise or foolish.

    Climate change barely resonates. An assessment in March by Media Matters found that across 20 debates among candidates in both major parties, global warming accounted for only 1.5% of the questions asked – 22 out of 1,477 questions. Nearly a third of the questions came in two Florida debates after some of that states’ mayors asked that the issue be addressed. And voters haven't particularly cared, either. A February Gallup poll found climate change low on the list of issues that voters say matter to them – especially for Republicans, for whom it was the least-significant issue included in the survey.

    That’s a lot of heads in the sand – dangerously so if the sand happens to be near the rising seas.

    [...]

    Confronting the challenges of climate change will require significant political leadership, particularly since a cluster of deniers hold influential congressional positions. Given the severity of the threat, the issue should play a far greater role in the national discussion.

  • Media Should Scrutinize Trump’s Fact-Free Claim That China Will Violate Paris Climate Agreement

    ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Presumptive Republican presidential nominee and climate science denier Donald Trump told Reuters that if elected, he would renegotiate the historic Paris climate change agreement -- if not scrap it altogether -- because “China doesn’t adhere to it, and China’s spewing into the atmosphere." But media outlets should think twice before repeating Trump’s claims about China, which experts say is already well on its way toward meeting its obligations under the Paris agreement thanks to major investments in clean energy and energy efficiency.

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

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [...]

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    PolitiFact added:

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

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

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

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

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

  • Inside The Industry Manufacturing The Lies You Hear Every Day

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    In April, Ari Rabin-Havt and Media Matters released Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. The book lays out the “carefully concealed but ever-growing industry of organized misinformation that exists to create and disseminate lies in the service of political agendas.”

    I recently spoke with Rabin-Havt about the group of people -- and their enablers -- feeding false narratives into the media, how we’ve entered an era “where truth doesn’t exist,” and how to fix the problem.

    The below conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    The book is titled Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. What does that refer to?

    Well it refers to two things. It refers to a group of people who I found in this book are at the center of creating a lot of the lies you see permeating through the conservative media. A group of people who have come up with everything from death panels to the notion that children raised by LGBT couples have worse outcomes than children raised by straight couples. It’s a recognition that a group of people exists to create lies for both ideological and financial profit with the express intent of distorting the public policy process. That’s Lies, Incorporated.

    The post-truth refers to the fact that because of this group and because of the media environment that this group feeds off of, we now exist in a world where truth doesn’t exist. Where there’s a truth on the right and a truth on the left, and instead of having debates about issues, we have debates about what is true and what is false, and that’s not a debate that advances us as a country.

    And this is a group that not a lot of people realize exists, with an agenda to argue against the facts?

    Sometimes a group of people, “experts,” who are paid to create the facts, who are paid to manufacture the facts with the express intent -- and this is what’s interesting -- not of advancing their cause, but of taking us to a draw, keeping us at the status quo. It’s not about advancing an ideology, it’s about keeping everything locked in place.

    Because there are certain people who benefit from that, whether it’s a certain political party, or a certain business?

    It’s a certain ideology, it’s a certain business, it’s a certain faction, it’s sometimes a group of people. Sometimes the issues are barely connected. A lot of the scientists who worked against the notion that tobacco causes cancer had issues that were completely unrelated. Some were cold warriors who simply believed that any regulation was a step towards communism. One prominent tobacco scientist was a eugenicist who believed that cancer was caused by genetics and therefore couldn’t be caused by tobacco.

    The book opens with the story that in 1957 the tobacco industry really started it.

    The tobacco industry, they were patient zero here, they really launched this world. What happened is the barons of the tobacco industry met at the Plaza Hotel with John Hill, who was the head of Hill & Knowlton, the legendary public relations firm. John Hill sat them down and said, “You have to stop this advertising that says our cigarettes are the healthiest, you have to cut that out. What we need you to do is start arguing with the science that says cigarettes are unhealthy. And how you do that is we form this Tobacco Industry Research Committee and we do our own science that speaks to our needs.”

    What’s interesting is John Hill knew cigarettes are unhealthy. How do we know that? Because John Hill quit smoking prior to this meeting because of its impact on him.

    You cover a lot of issues in the book, such as cigarettes, climate change, guns, immigration, and abortion. Which issues among the ones in the book seem to have the biggest offenders?

    They’re all very different. The thing I would like to look at is that these lies have an impact on people. We think about death panels for example. This woman, Betsy McCaughey, made up death panels.

    That was in the Affordable Care Act debate.

    That was horrible, right? But the truth is why it’s horrible is because people aren’t getting insurance today because of that lie. Who isn’t? Well, there was a story in the Washington Post that quoted two women who qualified for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but weren’t getting it and were paying out of pocket for expensive out-of-pocket costs and when they asked them why, one put her fingers in the shape of a gun and implied that it was death panels.

    You cite several conservative outlets from Fox News to The Daily Caller to Breitbart. What is the role that the right-wing media have in spreading these lies?

    Some of it is laziness, some of it is people are biased towards lies that conform to their world views and confirm their world views. They make us comfortable, they make us feel good. We go to media that doesn’t educate us, that makes us feel good about living in our own world.

    My friend Clay Johnson wrote a book a few years back called The Information Diet. In it, he talks about how pizza tastes better than broccoli. If you had a pizza pie in front of you and a plate of steamed broccoli, which one do you want to eat? Well, 99 percent of people want to eat the pizza. But we know that you can’t just eat pizza, you need to eat your broccoli, too. The fact is, we know that in our food diets. On our information diets, people believe and just ingest only pizza, and that’s part of the problem.

    Has that gotten better or worse in recent years?

    I think it’s gotten worse. Part of the reason is we have a media structure now where you don’t have to get any information other than the information you want.

    Our world now is a world of unlimited bandwidth. Which in the end it is better to have more voices in the process, it’s better to have a world where somebody can create a site like Daily Kos, like Breitbart and rise up based on the ability to attract an audience -- that’s not a bad thing. The question is, if your only source of news is somebody like Breitbart, it’s going to distort your world view.

    Why do you think the Lies, Incorporated group has so much success with these right-wing outlets?

    Sometimes they work for them. You look at certain right-wing outlets, and you’ll see members of Lies, Incorporated writing and working for them. Sometimes it’s because these liars are spreading lies that conform to that world view. And part of that is, a lot of this world blossomed over the past seven years. In the past seven years, we had a Democrat in the White House who was pushing for change that leaned progressive, which meant the people fighting that change were conservative, which meant Lies, Incorporated, whose goal is to keep the status quo in place, was fighting against that. I think that creates the world that you’re talking about.

    How much does the mainstream media enable these lies?

    I think they occasionally do. I think some of it is when you have the ‘he said-she said’ version of reporting, it enables the lies. It’s also enabling to the lies to sometimes just broadcast them in general. Putting Betsy McCaughey on TV at all, even if you’re doing it to call her out, enables her lies. The question is, how do you then structure your coverage, and this is part of the solution, is media need to bear responsibility for broadcasting lies and for putting liars on television. And when they do, this will help to start to solve this problem.

    You mention false equivalency in the book, in which every story has to have two equal sides.

    Sometimes I feel like public policy stories end up getting covered like AP sports stories. An AP sports story has a similar model every time. Two teams played, this was the score, quote from winning team, quote from losing team, close story. When you try to cover public policy that way, you invariably end up injecting lies into the equation.

    People can have differences of opinion. We can look at similar data and have a different view on what that data means. That happens all the time. And there should be differences and we should have a debate about those differences. And we should come to the best conclusions. But the data should be the data and should be upheld and truth should be truth and we should hold it up and we shouldn’t allow people to inject lies in just because they’re doing it under the cover of politics.

    Which lies are the worst culprits on the false equivalency?

    The one that I think rises above all else is climate change, where the false equivalency for years put climate deniers who had no standing in the scientific community at the same level as scientists and in fact advanced some climate deniers further because they weren’t interested in science and accuracy, they were interested in spinning politics.

    Why does it still stick when there is overwhelming scientific agreement that there is man-made climate change?

    The lies are sticky, when people believe what they believe it is very difficult to convince people to look at truth when they have a firmly held belief in their head.

    What is the way to counter this?

    Part of it is a media solution, not giving liars a platform to lie and not allowing them to grow in the media. Part of it is making sure there is a transparency in how issues are covered. Part of it is making sure we don’t cover public policy like we’re covering basketball.

    If we did those three things alone, it would weaken Lies, Incorporated because the practitioners of Lies, Incorporated are hackers, they’re hackers of our small “d” democratic process.

    Hackers exploit weakness in computer systems. These democracy hackers exploit weakness in our media and public policy systems recognizing that they can inject themselves into the debate. Like a patch on a piece of computer software, by closing those loopholes and vulnerabilities, we can shut them out of the system.

    How are these liars making money doing this?

    Some of it is grant money from conservative institutions, some of it is speaking fees, some of it is writing a best-selling book. Some of it is they hold positions that allow them to make money and do this ideologically. Some of them are independently wealthy.

    What is the biggest surprise people might find from the book?

    How interconnected this world is. How all these people kind of all come from the same kernel. How all of this is an interconnected web designed to distort democracy. And how we actually, this is going on behind the scenes and how little coverage it gets.

  • Think Tank Engulfed In "Exxon Knew" Scandal Peddles Discredited Study That Benefits Oil Industry

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Fox News and Fox Business have been promoting a debunked annual report from the fossil fuel front group Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which claims that federal regulations cost the economy nearly $1.9 trillion each year. But the study has been roundly discredited and debunked, and it is being touted while CEI is under fire for its role in helping fossil fuel companies -- which would benefit from reduced federal regulations -- deceive the public on climate change.

  • Meet The Utah Columnist Shining A Light On Fossil Fuel Front Groups

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    In recent decades, fossil fuel interests have been funding front groups to advance their ideological and political goals, and key to these groups’ success is concealing their industry backing. But Utah columnist Paul Rolly has been working to shine a light on the industry backing behind the most influential front groups in his state. In an interview with Media Matters, Rolly discussed the importance of following the money.

    Rolly has been a columnist at The Salt Lake Tribune for the last 20 years, and he has stood out because of his work exposing fossil fuel front groups operating in Utah. He has uncovered the oil industry fingerprints behind campaigns to seize public lands from the federal government, attack renewable energy, and promote an industry-friendly agenda in higher education.

    Why is it so important to Rolly to educate his readers about Big Oil’s involvement in these fights? “It’s our job,” he said, explaining that it’s vital that readers know “what the sources of bills are, where they’re coming from, who they benefit, who’s behind them, who’s making money, and who’s making campaign contributions.” He hopes this information will give his readers the ability to “make informed decisions when they vote.”

    Utah is ground zero for many of the fossil fuel industry’s campaigns, making Rolly’s work invaluable. One of the most prominent fossil fuel-backed campaigns in recent years has been the effort to transfer control of federal lands to state governments, which would greatly benefit fossil fuel interests, as states would likely open up more areas to oil and gas drilling and coal mining.

    State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT) has played a leading role in the public land grab movement in the west, and Rolly has been paying close attention. In 2012, Ivory co-founded a group called the American Lands Council (ALC), which aims to “secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing States.” Utah, Rolly explained, is the only state that has passed legislation setting aside taxpayer funds to sue the federal government over control of public lands, like those managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The lawsuit was recommended by a legal team hired by a Republican-dominated commission of Utah legislators, even though the lawyers acknowledged that the lawsuit “could cost up to $14 million, take years to play out in the courts,” and is “far from a sure victory,” according to the Associated Press.

    Rolly has repeatedly pointed out that Ivory has taken a six-figure annual salary from the ALC, which is largely funded by counties in Western states. The ALC’s tax forms reportedly indicate that Ivory and his wife have pocketed almost half of the group’s total revenue. Rolly believes that the negative attention Ivory received over his salary at ALC may explain why he stepped down as the organization’s president in December. (He remains an unpaid member of its executive committee).

    Rolly has devoted several columns to exposing the fossil funding behind ALC and other groups that are engaged in the public lands campaign. He's pointed out that Federalism in Action, where Ivory currently heads the “Free the Lands” project, is affiliated with the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. And he's documented that the firm hired by the Utah legislature to promote the land transfer agenda, Strata Policy, also has financial ties to the Koch brothers. As the Los Angeles Times has noted, ALC has also received financial support from Americans for Prosperity, which was co-founded by the Kochs and continues to spearhead their agenda.

    The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group that connects fossil fuel executives with legislators to push model bills that serve industry interests, is also highly influential in Utah and has a heavy hand in the public land grab movement. And, as Rolly told Media Matters, “the Koch brothers are a big deep-pocket force behind ALEC.” Ivory is an ALEC member and was even awarded the group’s “Legislator Of The Year” award in 2014.

    In addition to the public lands battle, Rolly has turned his attention to the Kochs’ influence in local universities. He said national stories about the Kochs' investments in higher education led him to examine their efforts at Utah State University, where Strata co-founder Randy Simmons was previously the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy and currently supervises a Koch-funded scholarship program. As Rolly reported: “The Kochs have extended influence to institutions of higher education, setting up grants at universities to hire professors that teach the Kochs' anti-tax, anti-regulation business and political philosophies to mold young minds to fall in step with the Kochs' industrial wishes going forward through the 21st Century.”

    Too often, media fail to disclose these important ties, Rolly noted. ALEC, for one, “probably doesn’t get the attention it should” in the national media, nor do its “ties to the Koch brothers, and their deep-pocket influence, and what happens to state legislatures.” Many valuable resources that provide context are “underused,” in Rolly’s opinion, including legislators’ conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure forms, which he examines to see if there’s any connection between “who’s giving them money” and “what they’re doing as a legislator.” He said he also examines the tax filings of nonprofits such as ALC.

    But he also noted the difficulties that newsrooms face as the journalism industry struggles financially, resulting in increased pressure and reduced resources. Newspapers have been shutting down all over the country, and the ones that remain have had to greatly cut down on staff (including the Salt Lake Tribune). When that happens, Rolly noted, “the first thing to suffer is investigative reporting” because it requires so much time and staff resources. He added: “The industry is in peril right now.”

    There are also structural difficulties that further complicate the task of investigative journalism, Rolly noted, such as Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Because of that ruling, Rolly said, super PACs can “basically take over [political] campaigns” and “you have no idea who’s contributing the money.”

    It’s worth keeping in mind that even as newspapers are facing increased financial pressures, reporting like Rolly’s can be good for business. His columns are among the newspaper’s most viewed pieces online, he says. And he recently received the “Making Democracy Work” award from the League of Women Voters for his work at the Tribune.

    The need for the media to disclose the industry backing that’s behind fossil fuel front groups is clear. Dark money groups like DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund exist solely to hide these funds. And research shows that organizations funded by Exxon and the Koch brothers are “more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." Yet Media Matters has shown time and time again that fossil fuel front groups are getting away with promoting anti-environmental agendas while hiding the real voices behind their misleading messages.

    In the words of the Tribune, Rolly told the League of Women Voters that “democracy best works when the public is informed.” Reporters would do well to follow Rolly’s example by digging a little deeper to uncover the dark money behind special interest campaigns occurring all around the country.

  • Inside The Fossil Fuel Industry's Media Strategy To Drill And Mine On Public Lands

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    A handful of fossil fuel industry front groups are engineering media campaigns aimed at persuading the public that the federal government should relinquish control of public lands to western states, claiming it would benefit the states economically. But evidence actually suggests that these land transfers would harm state economies, and the industry front groups are hiding their true motivation: opening up more public lands to oil drilling and coal mining while sidestepping federal environmental laws.