Reports by industry groups have warned of dire consequences from pending EPA limits on pollution from coal-fired power plants. In recent weeks, conservative media have promoted and in some cases even overstated these predictions of a "regulatory train wreck." But according to a detailed analysis by the Congressional Research Service, many of these claims rely on unrealistic assumptions.
CRS assessed reports by the Edison Electric Institute, which concluded that new EPA regulations "would cause the unplanned retirement of" up to 18.8 percent of coal fired electric capacity by 2015, and by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which "concluded that the implementation of four EPA rules could result in a loss of up to 19% of fossil-fuel-fired steam capacity" by 2018. CRS concluded (emphasis added):
The EEI and other analyses discussed here generally predate EPA's actual proposals and reflect assumptions about stringency and timing (especially for implementation) that differ significantly from what EPA actually may propose or has promulgated. Some of the rules are expected to be expensive; costs of others are likely to be moderate or limited, or they are unknown at this point because a rule has not yet been proposed. Rules when actually proposed or issued may well differ enough that a plant operator's decision about investing in pollution controls or facility retirement will look entirely different from what these analyses project.
The primary impacts of many of the rules will largely be on coal-fired plants more than 40 years old that have not, until now, installed state-of-the-art pollution controls. Many of these plants are inefficient and are being replaced by more efficient combined cycle natural gas plants, a development likely to be encouraged in the price of competing fuel--natural gas--continues to be low, almost regardless of EPA rules.
In response to the suspension of federal scientist Charles Monnett, who authored a 2006 article documenting polar bear deaths, conservative media have claimed that the case exposes "the global warming fraud" and that polar bears are not threatened by climate change. In fact, extensive research establishes that polar bears are vulnerable to extinction due to decreasing sea ice, and human-induced global warming is supported by a robust body of evidence independent of any polar bear studies.
"Has a central tenant [sic] of global warming just collapsed?" That's the first sentence of a July 29 Fox News article about a recent study which shows nothing of the sort, demonstrating just how broken climate change coverage is at news outlets like Fox, where scientific illiteracy meets political slant.
Last week, Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), one of the few climate scientists who think we don't need to worry much about global warming, published a paper purportedly challenging mainstream climate models that is both limited in scope and, by many accounts, flawed. After a Forbes column by James Taylor of the libertarian Heartland Institute misinterpreted the study and declared that it blows a "gaping hole in global warming alarmism," an avalanche of conservative media outlets, including Fox, followed suit:
Conservative media are promulgating the myths that higher fuel economy standards are unattainable with current technology, will cost consumers and will increase traffic deaths. In fact, automakers have said they will be able to meet the standards, consumers will net thousands in fuel savings, and safe cars in a variety of sizes will continue to be produced.
Conservative media claim stricter standards for ground-level ozone, the primary component of smog, are unreasonable and unnecessary. In fact, EPA is strengthening the standards because health experts, including the scientific panel that advised the Bush administration, have said that the standards set in 2008 are not sufficient to protect the public.
In at least 40 instances since the beginning of 2011, conservative media outlets wrongly told consumers that the light bulb efficiency standards scheduled to take effect in 2012 will require them to use compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
This is starting to get pathetic.
Right-wing media outlets keep dishing out new "evidence" for why senior Justice Department leaders must have known about Fast and Furious, a failed operation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). All they keep proving is that those officials knew about Project Gunrunner, the high-profile effort begun under President Bush of which Fast and Furious was one small part.
They've already used this conflation to baselessly claim that the stimulus included funds for Fast and Furious (the funds were earmarked for Project Gunrunner and were not distributed to the ATF office that handled Fast and Furious) and that a 2009 Holder speech proves that he was aware of the program (the speech references only Gunrunner and was given before Fast and Furious was initiated).
In their latest effort, these outlets are pointing to a two-minute clip of a speech that then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden gave on March 29, 2009. In the speech, Ogden said:
DOJ's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is increasing its efforts by adding 37 new employees in three new offices, using $10 million in Recovery Act funds and redeploying 100 personnel to the Southwest border in the next 45 days to fortify its Project Gunrunner, which is aimed at disrupting arms trafficking between the United States and Mexico.
ATF is doubling its presence in Mexico itself, from five to nine personnel working with the Mexicans, specifically to facilitate gun-tracing activity, which targets the illegal weapons and their sources in the United States.
Let's go over this again: Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious are not the same thing, and Fast and Furious wasn't reportedly begun until six months after Ogden gave this speech.
These days, Attorney General Eric Holder can't seem to scratch his nose without eliciting complaints and criticisms from media critics on the right. As the Public Employee Enemy #1 of anti-Obama conservatives, he's faced false allegations of racism, cover-ups and partisanship. Their latest charge? That he's recreating the historic subprime mortgage crisis that began the nation's economic collapse.
Last weekend, Paul Sperry at Investor's Business Daily (IBD) wrote a lengthy, context-free article condemning the Justice Department's investigations of banks whose lending policies discriminate against minorities. According to the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, the department received more referrals from regulatory agencies "of matters involving a possible pattern or practice of discrimination" in 2010 than it's received in at least twenty years. The DOJ investigations into the potential violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Fair Housing Act by several banks have led to a number of settlements.
Sperry's IBD article is written in a way that inaccurately suggests the terms of the DOJ/bank settlements are both inherently dangerous (because they will lead to another housing crisis) and unfair (because banks are being strong-armed by the power of the federal government and the threat of being labeled racist into offering risky lines of credit). Along the way, the reporter ignores the facts and the law. Most striking is the article's tacit implication that being forced to serve minorities is inherently equivalent to being forced to engage in unwise lending practices.
The first misleading premise pushed by Sperry is that the Justice Department has asked banks to "relax their mortgage underwriting standards" and that this type of "government-imposed lax underwriting" was the cause of the housing boom and subsequently meltdown. From IBD:
In what could be a repeat of the easy-lending cycle that led to the housing crisis, the Justice Department has asked several banks to relax their mortgage underwriting standards and approve loans for minorities with poor credit as part of a new crackdown on alleged discrimination, according to court documents reviewed by IBD. [...]
Such efforts risk recreating the government-imposed lax underwriting that led to the housing boom and bust, critics fear.
First, DOJ settlements explicitly state that banks are not obligated to lend to unqualified individuals, only that they must begin providing services to minority communities they've allegedly ignored. As their agreement with Midwest BankCentre states, banks are not required to "make any unsafe or unsound loan" and must offer services only to potential customers "whose credit history does not present an unacceptably high risk to the Bank or indicate a history of fraudulent transactions."
Second, regardless of the agreements between DOJ and the banks, Sperry's fundamental argument -- that government affordable housing initiatives caused the financial crisis -- follows a years-old conservative myth that is not supported by the facts.
Right-wing media are baselessly attacking the Obama administration by falsely conflating Project Gunrunner, a program of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) that was begun under President Bush, and Operation Fast and Furious, a controversial initiative undertaken by Phoenix's Gunrunner group in which agents knowingly allowed guns to be trafficked across the border to Mexico.
Media Matters has long noted that the right-wing media is unparalleled in its willingness to throw its weight behind entirely fabricated conspiracies and fake stories. In their world, the Shirley Sherrod controversy was "orchestrated" by the White House to "smear" Andrew Breitbart; the Obama administration deliberately ignored the BP oil spill in order to stop future drilling; and President Obama secretly skipped his daughter's soccer team in order to do... something.
So it should come as no surprise that the right-wing media have turned a controversial program from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) into an elaborate conspiracy directed from the highest reaches of government intended to bolster the case for gun control legislation - even as they acknowledge there is no evidence for this claim.
Last week, the House Oversight Committee held two hearings into the ATF's Project Gunrunner, a division that seeks to halt the flow of firearms to Mexico, and a controversial initiative it began in 2009 called Operation Fast and Furious. According to the committee's report, under Fast and Furious, ATF knowingly allowed guns to be trafficked across the border to Mexico in order to "identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case." Reports indicate that the program may lead to acting ATF director Kenneth Melson's replacement.
But rather than stick to the facts, the right wing has again created an alternate reality. Spokesmen for the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America have used Fox News appearances to declare that what actually happened was a clever plot involving Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder aimed at creating a "river of guns" flowing into Mexico to create "political advantage" and "set the stage for more gun restrictions on the law abiding people in this country."
The right-wing blogosphere has since jumped on the story, but apparently aware of just how far-out all this sounds, they have generally couched the theory in a series of questions or even outward admissions that they have no evidence to support it.
Take Bob Owens, a Pajamas Media blogger who has previously openly discussed armed revolution and written that he hopes that makes Media Matters researchers "feel threatened." This week, Owens has written two articles speculating about whether Fast and Furious was "never designed to succeed as a law enforcement operation at all" and was instead "a PR op for gun control."
In his second piece, Owens writes, "We admittedly do not have any direct evidence of this allegation." That's generally where responsible people decide not to further comment until and unless they actually amass some sort of evidence. But Owens can't do that, you see, because the "circumstantial case... has proven strong enough to have few detractors and raises questions that must be answered."
Right-wing media seized on the leak of an undated, "early working draft" of a proposed transportation authorization bill to suggest that President Obama plans to tax automobile drivers based on how many miles they drive and that the government will use it to spy on their driving habits. But the Obama administration has not embraced such a proposal, and, in any event, such an idea is hardly new or controversial, as House Republicans have passed similar bills.
Looking to buttress their claim that the Environmental Protection Agency's greenhouse gas regulations will do substantial damage to the economy and job growth, Congressional Republicans and conservative media outlets have cited a study of their potential economic effects conducted by Margo Thorning, Chief Economist for the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF).
For instance, the New York Post's Abby Wisse Schachter recently relied heavily on Thorning's analysis to characterize the EPA rules as "an onerous regulation regime that may result in $75 billion drop in capital formation and as many as 1.4 million jobs lost by 2014." ACCF's numbers have also been cited by the Senate Republican Policy Committee, the American Petroleum Institute, the Chamber of Commerce and an Investor's Business Daily op-ed in arguments supporting legislative efforts to prohibit EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. However, the study's conclusions are based on an assumption for which it provides no support.
The ACCF analysis, which Thorning presented to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in February, concludes that "if U.S. capital spending declines by $25 to $75 billion, in 2014 there would be an economy wide job loss of 476,000 to 1,400,000 when direct, indirect and induced effects are included. As a result, GDP would be $47 billion to $141 billion less in 2014." Conservative media outlets that have quoted the study have failed to take note of the word "if" in that sentence. However, the uncertainty underlying the study is important, especially given the fact that Thorning doesn't completely explain the assumptions she uses to get to her estimate of the decline in investment spending (which is in turn used to generate her estimate of job losses.) From Thorning's February testimony [emphasis added]:
When evaluating a prospective investment, business analysts typically add a risk premium to the firm's cost of capital, ranging from 0 to 50% and higher. Assuming that the pending GHG regulations increase the risk premium added to the firm's cost of capital by 30% to 40% and using conservative estimates of the elasticity of investment in response to changes in the cost of capital, it seems likely that U.S. investment could decrease by 5% to 15% over 2011-2014 period compared to the baseline forecast.
"[A] 5% to 15% decline in investment for only the directly affected industries would result in an approximately $25 to $75 billion reduction in investment outlays."
Thorning's testimony directed readers to further details contained in a declaration she submitted to the DC Circuit Court in September in support of a motion to stay the greenhouse gas regulations. But in that declaration, Thorning provides no additional explanation for the assumption that the EPA regulations "increase the risk premium added to the firm's cost of capital by 30% to 40%." From the declaration [emphasis added]:
Right-wing media have recently trivialized or dismissed the potential effects of a federal government shutdown. However, a shutdown could disrupt the economy and many businesses, cause hundreds of thousands of workers to be furloughed, and disrupt numerous public services.
While visiting Brazil this week, President Obama stated at a business summit that the U.S. supports Brazil's efforts to develop the offshore oil discovered there, adding: "When you're ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers. At a time when we've been reminded how easily instability in other parts of the world can affect the price of oil, the United States could not be happier with the potential for a new, stable source of energy."
In response, Investor's Business Daily accused Obama of wanting "to increase our dependency on foreign oil," while areas in the U.S. remain off-limits. Fox Nation promoted the IBD editorial with the headline: "Obama Tells Brazil: U.S. Wants to Be Dependent on Foreign Oil":
However, the facts tell quite a different story:
The right-wing media have repeatedly mischaracterized Attorney General Eric Holder's recent reference to "my people" to claim that he is a "black nationalist" or that the Obama Justice Department is motivated by "racial bias." In his statement, Holder actually took issue with the suggestion that a 2008 incident involving the New Black Panther Party was a more "blatant form of voter intimidation" than what occurred in the 1960s; Holder said the suggestion "does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line, who risked all."