Are lawmakers pursuing a "fundamentally misguided" goal when it comes to U.S. energy security? That's the concern voiced by a group of retired military officers and business leaders in a recent report warning that strategies focused on reducing imports of "foreign oil" are missing "the true nature of the problem." This spring, when average U.S. gasoline prices jumped 70 cents, the news media had an opportunity to clarify which policies and candidates actually stand to improve energy security. On the whole, they failed.
The report from the Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC) says the notion of "energy independence" is "widely misunderstood" in a way that "misdiagnoses the problem as one characterized largely by import levels," when in fact "energy security is almost entirely a function of the importance of oil consumption in the domestic economy." In other words, it's how much oil we need that makes us vulnerable, not where the oil is produced.
After all, countries like Canada and Norway, which have long been net oil exporters, saw the same debilitating price volatility that Americans have faced in recent years. The report, echoed by a subsequent analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, says expanded domestic oil production benefits the trade deficit and employment, but not energy security -- contrary to the claims of industry, politicians, and commentators. Instead, it is vehicle fuel economy standards that the panel identified as "the most important energy security accomplishment in decades."
CONNECTING THE DOTS
While experts agree that policies reducing oil consumption do more to protect Americans from price shocks than policies increasing oil production, this fact has not been clearly communicated by the news media. Our analysis of news coverage of rising gasoline prices earlier this year found that only 2% of broadcast coverage, 4% of cable coverage, and 13% of print coverage mentioned fuel economy standards. Out of 69 print items on gas prices, only three acknowledged that reducing oil consumption is the most effective solution. Instead, the coverage often discussed domestic oil production or the Keystone XL pipeline. There are persuasive arguments in favor of both of these, but energy security and gas prices are not among them. (Unfortunately, energy security and gas prices are two of the arguments used most frequently by proponents and relayed uncritically by reporters.)
Conservative media are once again hyping the amount of oil in the U.S. by including oil shale, ignoring that oil companies have found no profitable way to develop that resource.
The most recent flood of misinformation came after testimony by the Government Accountability Office's Anu Mittal about "oil shale," a sedimentary rock that when heated at high temperatures can produce liquid fuels (except gasoline) with a larger carbon footprint than conventional liquid fuels. While some conservative outlets claimed it was major news, the testimony -- which was based on an October 2010 GAO report -- contained no positive developments for oil shale, which has long been known to exist in large amounts in the U.S. but is not commercially viable. Earlier this year, energy expert Robert Rapier wrote, "It is not at all clear that even at $100 oil the shale in the Green River formation will be commercialized to produce oil." Even an editor at the right-wing blog The American Thinker acknowledged that "any large scale operations" for oil shale development would be "prohibitively expensive at this time." And just recently, Chevron gave up its oil shale lease in Colorado.
Mittal noted in her testimony that no technology to develop oil shale "has been shown to be economically or environmentally viable at a commercial scale." But Fox News' nightly news show and CNSNews.com, a project of the conservative Media Research Center, failed to mention that oil shale is not currently commercially viable. Breitbart.com and Investor's Business Daily incorrectly suggested that oil shale is not being developed because of Obama administration policies, rather than economic considerations. And Powerline suggested that oil shale is in fact viable because of the "advance of extraction technology," seemingly confusing oil shale with tight oil from shale rock, which can be extracted via horizontal drilling and hydrofracking.
It's interesting to see that the same people who dismiss the enormous potential of solar and wind power and attack investment in renewable energy are hyping the potential of oil shale. A December 2011 Congressional Research Service report, which classified oil shale as a "sub-economic" resource, stated that "despite government programs in the 1970s and early 1980s to stimulate development of the resource, production of oil shale is not yet commercially viable."
In a rant described by one scientist as "either incredibly ignorant" or "intentionally misleading," Fox News host Greg Gutfeld denied deforestation and distorted climate science.
Fox Nation has a post up suggesting there is something "FISHY" about record sales of the Chevy Volt:
The post excerpts the first four paragraphs of an article from TheStreet about concerns that the Volt's sales numbers may have been skewed by fleet purchases by GE.
But it doesn't look like the folks at Fox Nation actually read the linked article -- the entire point of the story is that those concerns were off-base and that fleet purchases were only 5 percent of the Volt's sales:
As high gas prices dominate the headlines and pain at the pump multiplies, General Motors' Chevy Volt is finding more consumers willing to buy into the plug-in electric hybrid vehicle concept.
In fact, initial concerns that the record sales number posted by the Chevy Volt in March was driven by a big fleet purchase from GE were premature and didn't reflect just how quickly the Volt's fortunes shifted in March.
It's fair to say the Volt ran right over those cautious assumptions. Between the high gas prices and headlines about a Volt battery fire earlier this year possibly receding from the consumer landscape, the sales picture improved.
The Volt -- a month after GM temporarily shuttered production of the car -- reached sales of 2,289 in March, 50% higher than December 2011, which previously was the vehicle's best month since launch. More importantly, only 160 of the purchases were by fleet buyers, while 2,129 Volts were purchased by retail car buyers. The fleet buying was only 5% of Volt sales.
Back to the drawing board, Fox Nation.
Following a lengthy investigation, the national Oil Spill Commission concluded in January 2011 that "the root causes" of the BP disaster were "systematic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur." This week the same panel of experts found that Congress "has yet to enact any legislation responding to the explosion and spill." Rather than implement the panel's recommendations, the House has actually "passed several bills" with provisions that "run contrary to what the Commission concluded was essential for safe, prudent, responsible development of offshore oil resources," said the commissioners.
So far ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News have ignored the panel's assessment report, issued just days before the second anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan was the exception, running a segment on the panel's findings and the ongoing impacts of the spill.
Rush Limbaugh responded today to former GM executive and fellow conservative Bob Lutz, who has repeatedly called out Limbaugh and other right-wing commentators for relentlessly attacking the Chevy Volt, a vehicle he championed at GM.
Lutz took a shot at Limbaugh during an appearance earlier this month on The Colbert Report. And in a speech at the Hudson Institute yesterday, Lutz criticized conservatives' "knee-jerk reaction" to "the idea of vehicle electrification," when they should support "shifting portions of the American mobile sector onto a more efficient and domestically produced power source."
Citing a recent study by the government of Nunavut in Canada, conservative media are claiming that the number of polar bears is "increasing." The takeaway, according to these media outlets, is that concerns about the fate of polar bears in a warming world are overblown. But polar bear scientist Steven Amstrup says these commentators are mistaken.
The polar bears located west of the Hudson Bay are one of 19 polar bear subpopulations, and one of 8 subpopulations that are thought to be shrinking, according to a comprehensive review conducted in 2009. (One population was found to be increasing, three are stable, and there isn't enough data to assess the other seven). Amstrup and others previously analyzed bears captured from 1984-2004 and found that the West Hudson Bay population declined from 1,194 in 1987 to 935 in 2004.
But a new survey by the government of Nunavut, a largely Inuit territory in Northern Canada, puts the population size as of last August at 1,013, according to a widely circulated article in Canada's Globe and Mail. This new estimate is derived from a plausible range of 717 to 1,430 bears and, importantly, comes from an aerial survey, unlike the previous studies which involved capturing and recapturing bears.
Amstrup said media outlets claiming the aerial survey shows an increasing population are mistaking a single point estimate for a trend. "The population size is just a number. It is a valuable number to have, but from the standpoint of population welfare, it is the trend in numbers that is critical," he wrote in an email. Because previous estimates used a different methodology, and covered a different geographic area, they cannot be easily compared to the latest figures, contrary to the media narrative. When the aerial survey is repeated in later years, it will then be able to tell us more about how the population size is changing. In the meantime, the Canadian government is expected to release its latest capture-recapture data next month.
Population estimates are used to determine how many polar bears can be killed each year. Hunting polar bears is a significant source of income among the Inuit, who have been skeptical of dire predictions of popopulation decline.
Amstrup emphasizes that "in the bigger picture, whether any one population is currently declining, stable or increasing is beside the point," adding, "it is criticial to remember that our concern about polar bears is focused on the future." The scientists who spend their lives studying polar bears have been unable to envision how the population numbers can withstand the long-term decline of the sea ice.
More detailed responses from Amstrup below:
Last night Bill O'Reilly claimed that a Media Matters video about Fox News' 2008 gas price coverage "lied" and called him a "hypocrite" because he "didn't hammer President Bush when gas prices rose during his tenure." But the video was not a critique of Fox's 2008 coverage -- in fact, we chose clips from 2008 where Fox's statements "mirrored the facts."
To be sure, O'Reilly is off-message at Fox on gas prices these days, frequently railing against speculators, oil companies, and the Obama administration, while his colleagues try to keep the focus on Obama.
But in 2008, O'Reilly stressed a basic truth that has not made its way on to The O'Reilly Factor or Fox News lately: that reducing oil consumption is the only way to reduce our vulnerability to gas price spikes. In fact, O'Reilly even called for government mandates requiring fuel efficient and alternative vehicles. This year O'Reilly has not once brought up the recent increases in fuel economy standards during his gas price coverage.
In a front page article on Friday, The Washington Post reported that a $50 LED light bulb manufactured in the U.S. by Philips had won the Department of Energy's L-Prize for using only 10 watts of energy to produce light as bright as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. But the Post completely obscured the consumer savings from the LED's energy efficiency, including in an infographic that had to be corrected because its math was wrong.
The graphic claimed we would be better off buying 30 incandescent bulbs over 10 years rather than one of the prize-winning bulbs:
But as several outlets pointed out, the Post greatly underestimated electricity rates. After correcting for this, the LED bulb that the Post called "costly" actually saves consumers a significant amount of money over time, as the corrected infographic shows:
Quite a difference.
Following GOP strategy, Fox News is again blaming the Obama administration for rising gasoline prices -- a claim that has been repeatedly debunked by energy analysts. But back in the summer of 2008, when the average U.S. gasoline price hit a record high of $4.11, Fox said that "no President has the power to increase or to lower gas prices."
In 2008, Fox's coverage occasionally even mirrored the facts: expanding domestic oil drilling will not significantly lower prices, and the only way to reduce our vulnerability to gas price spikes is to use less oil. Perhaps there was more room for reality-based coverage at Fox when there wasn't an incumbent president to defeat?
In case you missed it, here's how Fox is covering gas prices now:
The Muppets. SpongeBob SquarePants. Dr. Seuss.
Beloved icons of childhood entertainment in America, or subtle forms of anti-business indoctrination that brainwash your kids into hating capitalism?
Thank goodness we have Fox to ask these questions.
Lou Dobbs sounded the alarm again tonight on his Fox Business show:
DOBBS: Now, an "Unmentionable" -- a story you won't hear anywhere in the liberal national media, or nearly all of the national liberal media. Hollywood is once again trying to indoctrinate our children. Two new films out this year, plainly with an agenda, plainly demonizing the so-called "1 percent" and espousing the virtue of green-energy policies, come what may.
The graphic that aired during a clip of the movie declared, " 'Lorax' Movie Pushes Anti-Industry Message":
From the January 31 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Tonight on Fox Business' Power And Money, David Asman hosted Joe Petrowski, President and CEO of Gulf Oil LP, to claim that because President Obama has decided not to immediately build the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline and pursue additional domestic oil production, gas prices will increase as early as "the summer." Petrowski specifically asserted that building the pipeline could reduce gas prices in the long term by as much as "20 to 30 cents a gallon."
However, according to researchers at the Cornell University Global Labor Institute, TransCanada, the proposed manufacturers of the pipeline, admitted that "KXL will increase the price of heavy crude oil in the Midwest by almost $2 to $4 billion annually." The Cornell study explains that this will happen as a result of "diverting major volumes of Tar Sands oil now supplying the Midwest refineries, so it can be sold at higher prices to the Gulf Coast and export markets."
Fox expects us to take Petrowski at his word when he claims that building KXL could result in gas prices dropping "20 to 30 cents a gallon"; indeed, Asman responds to his claim by saying that the Gulf executive is "on the retail side of the gas business, so you know" how gas prices come about.
But the Cornell University study estimates nearly the exact opposite of Petrowski's claim, estimating that building the KXL pipeline could increase domestic gas and diesel fuel prices in some states by between "10 to 20 cents more per gallon" and, to rub salt on the wound, possibly "cancel out some or all of the jobs created by KXL" after only one year of increased fuel prices. From the study:
HIGHER FUEL PRICES IN 15 STATES
According to TransCanada, KXL will increase the price of heavy crude oil in the Midwest by almost $2 to $4 billion annually, and escalating for several years. It will do this by diverting major volumes of Tar Sands oil now supplying the Midwest refineries, so it can be sold at higher prices to the Gulf Coast and export markets. As a result, consumers in the Midwest could be paying 10 to 20 cents more per gallon for gasoline and diesel fuel, adding up to $5 billion to the annual US fuel bill. Further, the KXL pipeline will do nothing to insulate the US from oil price volatility.
Even one year of fuel price increases as a result of KXL could cancel out some or all of the jobs created by KXL, based on the (more accurate) $3 to 4 billion budget for KXL (the remaining cost to build within the Us). Higher fuel prices due to KXL would have broad adverse impacts. Gasoline is a significant cost for most Americans, and especially for those with lower incomes and/or residing in rural areas. Moreover, refined oil products (notably gasoline and diesel) are very widely used throughout the economy (especially in agriculture and commercial transportation). So higher fuel prices due to KXL would ripple through the economy and impact a very broad range of people and businesses.
From the January 19 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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In 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency established an Environmental Justice Small Grants Program, which disburses about $1 million in grants every year to non-profit organizations and Native American tribes in the disadvantaged communities that are disproportionately affected by pollution. The grants help communities learn about and find solutions for local environmental and public health problems.
Following a Daily Caller report, Fox News repeatedly lambasted the program as "government waste" that "we can't afford." Fox's Tobin Smith even baselessly claimed that there is "hundreds of billions of dollars of waste" in "these things." In 2011, the grant program disbursed $1 million in funding - around .0000003% of federal expenditures. So for those trying to follow Fox's logic: We can't afford $1 million for local programs supporting environmental and public health, but if you try to reconsider $70 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy, it's "class warfare."
Fox predictably failed to mention that this grant program existed throughout the Bush administration. In highlighting several program successes, Bush's EPA described how a $15,000 grant helped an economically disadvantaged area in Michigan that is home to several Native American reservations collect over 47 tons of hazardous waste -- more than the county waste facility collected over the previous seven years.