Charles and David Koch, brothers and the oil barons who are already shaping the 2014 midterm elections according to recently leaked audio recordings, are often portrayed as environmentally responsible advocates of the free-market that are unfairly targeted by Democrats. However, their political influence, which benefits the fossil fuel industry and their own bottom line, is unparalleled.
Extensive reporting from the Associated Press on the Koch brothers' financial background and political influence glossed over the duo's ties to the fossil fuel industry and ignored their efforts to dismantle action on climate change.
On August 25, the Associated Press published a "primer on the Koch brothers and their role in politics," headlined "Koch 101," along with a lengthy overview of the history of the Koch family. A primer on the influence of Charles and David Koch is sorely needed: Their political organizations are reportedly expected to spend nearly $300 million during this year's election cycle, yet most Americans still haven't heard of the highly influential brothers.
The AP reported in its backgrounder that the Koch brothers are "reshaping politics with an uncompromising agenda." But when describing the their financial background in "Koch 101," the AP merely hinted at the Kochs' ties to the fossil fuel industry, stating that their company, Koch Industries, "makes a wide range of products including Dixie cups, chemicals, jet fuel, fertilizer, electronics, toilet paper and much more."
The longer article that accompanied it similarly downplays the Kochs' oil industry ties. The AP reported that Koch Industries "got its start building oil refineries" and now owns a range of businesses including "refining, consumer products, chemicals and electric components." The article also mentioned -- and promptly dismissed -- Sen. Harry Reid's (D-NV) criticism of the Koch brothers as "oil baron bullies," but it didn't expand on their connections to oil industry.
Neither report mentioned that the Koch brothers themselves receive a great portion of their vast wealth (together, they have more money than Bill Gates) from fossil fuel-related industries. The Koch brothers own 84 percent of the sales from Koch Industries, which operates 10 large firms, five of which have a stated purpose involving the manufacture, transport, refining, or trading of crude oil, petroleum, or natural gas. From a 2010 Greenpeace report on Koch Industries:
Koch operates crude oil gathering systems and pipelines across North America. Its Flint Hills Resources subsidiary owns refineries in Alaska, Minnesota, and Texas that process more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil daily. The company owns a 3% stake in the Trans Alaska Pipeline System, 4,000 miles of oil and products pipelines in the US, and an 80,000 barrels-per day refinery in Rotterdam. In addition, Koch Industries has held multiple leases on the polluting tar sands of Alberta, Canada since the 1990s and the Koch Pipeline Company operates the pipelines that carry tar sands crude from Canada into Minnesota and Wisconsin where Koch's Flint Hill Resources owns oil refineries.
In addition, neither AP report mentioned that the Kochs are using their wealth to advocate for energy policies that would support the fossil fuel industry's bottom line, including that of Koch Industries.
The Koch brothers have been using their wealth to shape energy policy for years in the name of the free market and recently announced a new initiative focused on energy with "what looks like a deregulatory, pro-consumer spin," according to the Daily Beast. If their new energy initiative is anything like previous actions from their network, it will focus on defending tax breaks for fossil fuel industries while attacking renewable energy policies through bunk studies and media misinformation.
Also missing from both articles: The fact that the Koch brothers play a huge role in impeding action on climate change as major funders of anti-scientific global warming denial. The Kochs and their foundations have donated over $67 million to groups denying climate change, like the Heartland Institute, which recently held a climate denial conference featuring several speakers with financial ties to the Kochs.
The International Forum on Globalization (IFG), an alliance of scholars and activists, blamed the Koch brothers for creating "climate deadlock" in international negotiations on climate action, asserting "clear links between the Kochs' cash and today's US policy paralysis holding hostage any global deal" on climate change. The IFG detailed that the Kochs work to "kill US climate legislation" by funding climate denial and influencing elections and that they "polarize the climate policy debate in the US, making impossible any meaningful movement towards science-based emissions targets to enable an equitable global agreement."
For a potential "Koch 102," the AP should take note of the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity's description of Koch Industries and its political agenda:
Oil is the core of the Koch business empire, and the company's lobbyists and officials have successfully fought to preserve the industry's tax breaks and credits, and to defeat attempts by Congress to regulate greenhouse gases.
A recent study from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) claims that smog regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will cost the economy $270 billion. But the regulations, necessary to alleviate the unsafe smog pollution currently experienced by 140 million Americans, will likely achieve net benefits by reducing costs associated with medical expenses and premature deaths, while experts have said the NAM study uses "fraudulent" claims and is "not based in economic reality."
Fox News segments on a method of natural gas extraction called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" gave over five times as much airtime to guests touting the benefits of fracking as it did to one guest warning of its risks.
On August 12, Fox News aired three virtually identical segments from correspondent David Lee Miller on fracking that were conspicuously one-sided. The segments compared the economy of Pennsylvania, which has seen a recent boom in fracking, to that of the southern tier of New York, where fracking is currently under a moratorium. The segments' pro-fracking slant is clear from the outset, with Miller stating that the "key reason for the economic disparity" between the two regions is "hydraulic fracking." The segments each featured three guests to tout the benefits of fracking for a total of 21 seconds per segment, against just one guest having four seconds to explain its risks:
The segments' bias is apparent in more than just the numbers; the information presented in support of fracking was in many cases misleading.
In two of the three segments, Miller featured Gabriel Campana, Republican mayor of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, who stated, "They say for every well that's created, there's over 100 jobs." But a study from the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative found that between 2005 and 2012, "less than four new shale-related jobs have been created for each new well," and noted that even industry-funded studies only estimate that each fracking well creates "as high as 31" jobs -- well below Campana's claim of over 100 jobs per well.
On Fox's Special Report with Bret Baier, Miller's fracking segment replaced Campana with Republican Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (the segment was otherwise almost exactly the same) to claim that "the quality of life has tremendously increased for particularly the people in this region." The people in that region might disagree. Fracking processes have harmed over 200 privately owned bodies of water in the Pennsylvania since 2008, and the process still threatens drinking water in the region. Eugene DePasquale, auditor general of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection likened regulation of the fracking industry in his state to "trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose."
NPR called the town of Dimock, Pennsylvania "'Ground Zero' in the fight over fracking" after dozens of families noticed high levels of natural gas contamination in their drinking water. In 2009, fifteen Dimock families filed a federal lawsuit against Cabot Oil and Gas due to drinking water contamination, including a methane build up in one resident's well that caused an explosion. Fracking sites present other safety concerns; in February a well operated by Chevron exploded killing one worker and injuring another.
Other pro-fracking guests highlighted by Fox were a New York dairy farmer who thinks fracking is vital for his farm's "economic security," and a New York county executive who stated fracking would give the state "a substantial increase in the number of jobs, a substantial increase in the investment." The sole critic was ecologist Sandra Steingraber, who was given four seconds of airtime to state that "fracking brings temporary riches to a few and permanent ruin to many."
A "fair and balanced" segment might have noted that more New Yorkers oppose hydraulic fracturing in the state than support it, or that lax fracking industry oversight has not only led to polluted water but has left "a toll of badly injured or killed workers" and poses very real risks to the southern tier of New York.
The media heralded a report in early 2014, which claimed that building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would not have a significant impact on climate change. Since then, multiple studies have found that same report to be flawed, but most mainstream media outlets have refused to give these studies coverage.
President Obama has stated that he would not approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands crude from Canada through the United States, if it "significantly exacerbate[s] the problem of carbon pollution." So when the U.S. State Department released its environmental impact statement concluding that the Keystone XL would not have a significant impact on climate change, the media touted State's findings as justification for the contentious pipeline's approval.
However, various studies have since called the State Department's report into question, finding specifically that their climate impact analysis is likely inaccurate. The agency's conclusion rests on the assumption that if the Keystone XL is not approved, the oil sands will simply be transported by rail instead. This may not be the case. According to Reuters, the State Department's predictions of increased rail capacity have been consistently wrong. Reuters broke the news in March that State's latest estimates of tar sands being transported by rail were overestimated by over 400 percent. But no* other major mainstream outlet reported on these findings, which undermined the claim that Keystone XL won't affect the climate - a meme many of these same outlets previously had amplified.
More recently, a study published in Nature Climate Change found that approving the Keystone XL could lead to carbon dioxide emissions four times greater than the State Department's highest estimates. Again, the findings were mostly ignored by top U.S. media outlets** -- with one notable exception. The Los Angeles Times amplified the study and its findings that State's analysis didn't account for the pipeline's impact on the global oil market, which would lead to far greater greenhouse gas emissions. The study authors projected that the pipeline will increase carbon emissions by up to 110 million metric tons due to increased global consumption, far overshooting State's projection of 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons. The oil industry has dismissed this study based on the faulty argument that the oil will be shipped by rail anyways, which Associated Press reported -- without mentioning Reuters' contradictory findings.
The authors previously concluded in a similar study that approving the Keystone XL could "potentially counteract some of the flagship emission reduction policies of the U.S. government." How many more studies and reports need to be issued before the mainstream media corrects themselves on the climate impact of approving the Keystone XL pipeline?
*According to a LexisNexis search for "keystone" from March 5 to March 8 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
**According to a search of LexisNexis and internal video archives for "keystone" from August 8 to August 11 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
Image at the top of an oil sands site from Flickr user Pembina Institute with a Creative Commons license.
The Washington Post editorial board scolded Congress for not doing enough to act on climate change. But the board later found itself at odds with its own criticism, calling on Congress to lift a ban on crude oil exports without mentioning that doing so could further contribute to global warming.
The Washington Post recently published an editorial criticizing Congress' failure to pass any legislation to cut the nation's greenhouse gas emissions to help mitigate global warming. The board commended the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for "fill[ing] Congress' irresponsible policy void," asserting that global warming is a serious problem that calls for action. From the editorial:
Here's the reality: The world is warming, scientists say humans are responsible, the United States has contributed more than any other nation to the carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere, and the problem won't get addressed any time soon without serious U.S. buy-in and leadership. The consequences of unabated warming are somewhat uncertain -- yet the possibility of very negative, perhaps catastrophic, global outcomes is too distinct to do nothing.
This is a consistent stance at the Post -- in July, the newspaper published an editorial again reprimanding Congress for its "head-in-the-sand approach to climate change." So it may come as a surprise to see the same editorial board asking Congress to implement a policy that would be a step backwards from climate action.
On August 7, the Washington Post published an editorial calling for the United States to increase exports of crude oil, which have been mostly illegal since the 1970s. The board asked Congress to "lift the ban" on crude oil exports "entirely," asserting that since crude oil production has grown in the past few years to levels greater than U.S. refineries can currently handle, increasing crude exports would help "support U.S. profits and U.S. jobs, and to tolerate imports of crude oil that U.S. refineries can handle."
The Post left out one thing: Lifting the ban could increase greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. An analysis from Oil Change International found that overturning the crude export ban would expand the global crude market and increase U.S. oil production by an additional 9.9 billion barrels by 2050, thereby increasing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 4.4 billion tons. The Post even acknowledged that lifting the ban would "encourage the development of oil fields and transport infrastructure," with no mention of that development's impact on climate change.
This statement presents a tension with the board's previous position that asked Congress to take action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. And the EPA's carbon pollution plan that the Post recently praised as "filling Congress' irresponsibly policy void" could be more than negated by lifting the crude export ban. The EPA plan is expected to decrease carbon dioxide emissions by up to 383 million metric tons; lifting the ban could increase emissions by almost 12 times that amount.
The Washington Post board frequently calls for "urgent" climate action, so why is it simultaneously advocating a policy that could negate it?
Photo at the top from Flickr user Terence Wright with a Creative Commons license.
A recent national report from the Government Accountability Office found that a higher regulatory standard is needed to ensure that drinking water sources are protected from fracking wastewater practices. But the largest circulating newspapers of the states with the highest levels of fracking production -- therefore among the most vulnerable to its risks -- have ignored this study.
Coal giant Murray Energy's chief executive was promoted on Fox News to express "concern" about coal miners by attacking the Obama Administration's keystone climate change legislation. Here's what wasn't mentioned during the segment -- or any time this year on Fox News prime time: the organization has been fighting an effort to regulate coal dust, which would help save hundreds of coal miners' lives.
The July 31 edition of Fox News' Your World With Neil Cavuto featured coal CEO Bob Murray to attack the Environmental Protection Agency's recently proposed carbon pollution standards. When Fox News host Neil Cavuto asked him to expand on his claim that the standards will "hurt the coal industry," Murray nearly broke down in tears while claiming that the standards will harm the industry with "no environmental benefit at all." He then touted the possibility of "clean coal technology" as a substitute, and stated, "I'm concerned about my coal miners":
Actions speak louder than words: Murray Energy has been fighting a coal dust regulation for months that would help save 1,500 coal miners' lives each year. On April 23, the U.S. Labor Department announced a long-awaited rule to regulate coal dust, which causes the deadly black lung disease; the disease has reportedly killed over 76,000 miners since 1968. The new rule would restrict exposure to coal dust to half of the current limit, a move that is estimated to lower medical bills by about $37 million a year and help save hundreds of lives. Murray Energy announced that it would file a federal lawsuit against the regulation later that day.
Fox News' prime time shows, including Your World With Neil Cavuto, have not mentioned the move to protect coal miners from coal dust, nor Murray Energy's attempt to dismantle it.*
The EPA's carbon standards will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by coal plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels and are an important effort to mitigate climate change. Their health benefits are expected to help prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks in 2030. Murray Energy is attempting to sue these regulations as well, and its effort has gained support from nine state legislatures.
There was no need for him to sack these people so quickly. There was no guarantee that he'd be dramatically more profitable in, say, March 2013. But he fired them, because he's basically amoral.
*Based on a Nexis search of Fox News primetime shows for "coal dust" from January 1 to July 31.
Climate change comes with a steep price tag for the economy, and mainstream media outlets are starting to get the message: NBC illustrated this by connecting "the new price of fighting fires" in California to global warming.
The July 29 edition of NBC's The Today Show reported on the extreme costs of fighting the dozens of wildfires currently burning in Yosemite National Park and across California, and how they are connected to climate change. The fires, taking place during Yosemite's driest year on record, have destroyed 20 homes and forced over 1,200 people to be evacuated. NBC correspondent Miguel Almaguer stated that the dozens of California wildfires are "costing big money," expanding that the state of California will spend $1 billion to fight wildfires this year. Almaguer also highlighted how global warming has had a direct impact on the fire, citing firefighters who are working on "the front lines of climate change":
MIGUEL ALMAGUER: Firefighters say this is the front lines of climate change.
FIREFIGHTER: The days are continuously longer, warmer, hotter periods during the summer, which helps dry the fuels out.
ALMAGUER: With record-setting wildfires in Washington and Oregon, 300-plus homes destroyed, this is the season of megafires. These massive blazes burning bigger, hotter, faster than ever before. In California where nearly 5,000 wildfires have burned this year, they'll spend $1 billion to fight flames. The price tag for a single retardant drop from a DC-10: $60,000.
FIREFIGHTER: It is not a cheap venture. Absolutely. It costs money to make these things happen. We are in unprecedented conditions.
ALMAGUER: The new cost of fighting fires to protect what is priceless in a season like no other.
The broadcast aired the same day that the White House Council of Economic Advisors released a report detailing the economic costs of not acting on climate change. The report found that the nation will suffer $150 billion in economic damages each year if we fail to prevent global temperatures from increasing two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Another recent report released by the Risky Business Project determined that a "business as usual" approach to climate change will cost the nation up to $507 billion in property damages by 2100. And the National Climate Assessment recently found that the United States is already paying an economic price for climate change. These findings illustrate why it is necessary to act on climate change as soon as possible; further delay may make the problem unavoidable.
The globe recently experienced the hottest June on record, fitting in with the trend of global warming. Yet several top media outlets reported on the announcement without mentioning climate change at all.
2014 has been a record-breaking year for global temperatures. On July 21, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association announced that the average global temperature for the month of June was the hottest experienced for 134 years of records. This finding follows the hottest May on record, the hottest March to June period on record, and the third hottest first half of the year on record. The average ocean surface temperatures for the month of June were the warmest on record for any month of the year. NOAA's climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt explained succinctly to the Associated Press -- the only top U.S. print source* that reported on the findings in the context of global warming -- stating that the planet is in the "steroid era of the climate system." Climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck added: "This is what global warming looks like."
But if you consume mainstream media, you likely missed this context. CBS, NBC, MSNBC, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal,** and The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang all covered the announcement without mentioning its key context: global warming, driven by human activities, is making hotter temperatures the norm.
The July 21 edition of ABC's World News With Diane Sawyer was the only broadcast network program to report on the record in the context of global warming, introducing it as "a new statistic for arguments about climate change," and going on to discuss extreme weather events currently happening across the United States: