When BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in 2010, Fox News pundits rushed to the corporation's defense with excuses ranging from pitiful to conspiratorial. But now the ruling is out, exposing the falsities of Fox's defense: BP was to blame for the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Fox News pundits pulled out all the stops to deflect blame from BP when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded in 2010, killing 11 workers and causing devastating environmental impacts. They accused environmentalists and the government for "forcing" the company to drill further from shore and touted conspiracy theories. The network berated the Obama administration for "villainiz[ing]" and "demonizing" the corporation and compared Congressional hearings on the disaster to "Soviet-style" trials and "Inca ritual slaughter":
A federal court, however, ruled on September 4 that BP was largely responsible for the disaster -- not the scapegoats that Fox News tried to pin the blame on.
Watch the difference between Fox News' spurious defense and the facts:
A federal judge assigned 67 percent of the blame to BP, concluding that the corporation acted in "gross negligence" and "willful misconduct." The Wall Street Journal reported on several instances where the court found that BP forewent safety measures in the name of profit:
Struggling with a dangerously unstable oil well in April 2010, BP chose to drill an additional 100 feet into a fragile rock formation thousands of feet beneath the Gulf of Mexico.
That decision set in motion a series of failures that led to the deadly Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
"BP's decision to drill the final 100 feet was the initial link in a chain that concluded with the blowout, explosion and oil spill," Judge Carl Barbier wrote. The decision "was dangerous," he added, and "motivated by profit."
Video created by Coleman Lowndes.
Several media outlets ignored the opening of the country's largest advanced biofuel plant -- which produces a fuel with a far lesser climate impact than gasoline that can help reduce our dependence on oil -- even though they previously claimed that such a biofuel "does not exist."
The New York Times brazenly claimed in 2012 that cellulosic ethanol, a type of fuel made from agricultural waste such as corn stalks, "does not exist" -- and many other news outlets also adopted this misleading framing. Industry journal Platts published a blog titled: "Puzzling over the US mandate for a fuel that doesn't exist yet," later clarifying that the fuel simply did not exist "in the US at commercial volumes" at the time. The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that "Congress subsidized a product that didn't exist" and "is punishing oil companies for not buying the product that doesn't exist." FoxNews.com called the fuel "merely hypothetical." National Review Online contributing editor Deroy Murdock stated "EPA might as well mandate that Exxon hire leprechauns."
However, since a new facility started producing cellulosic ethanol on a commercial-scale on September 3, these outlets have remained silent.* Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels opened the biggest cellulosic ethanol facility in the country for production, which will "convert 570 million pounds of crop waste into 25 million gallons of ethanol each year." The Iowa facility is being heralded as "a major step in the shift from the fossil fuel age to a biofuels revolution."
Cellulosic ethanol and other "advanced biofuels" are included in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires oil companies to mix fuel made renewable sources into their product. This standard was part of a bill that passed during the Bush Administration with bipartisan support -- a fact that several right-wing news outlets failed to mention in their coverage.
A lifecycle analysis from Argonne National Laboratory estimated that the type of fuel produced at the new Poet-DSM facility emits up to 96 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline. The Poet-DSM facility is the first of three cellulosic ethanol plants scheduled to start production this year, which will together produce an estimated 17 million gallons per year. Jeremy Martin, an expert from the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the plant opening "an important milestone on the road to clean transportation." Martin added: "With efficient vehicles and clean fuels like cellulosic biofuel we can cut our projected oil use in half in 20 years."
*Based on a search of publicly available content from September 1 - September 7.
Photo at top of cellulosic biofuel crop from Flickr user KBS with a Creative Commons license.
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.
From the July 31 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Company:
From the July 8 edition of CBS' CBS This Morning:
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Refusing to act on climate change will be bad for business, according to a major recent report assessing the alarming risks of unchecked global warming on the U.S. economy. But while some top business media outlets recognize global warming as a serious issue for their audience, others are still stuck in denial.
On June 23, the Risky Business Project released a comprehensive analysis of the economic impacts of climate change in the United States. The study found that the current path of "business as usual" -- emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases responsible for driving catastrophic climate change without restrictions -- will reduce labor productivity of outdoor workers by up to three percent, reduce agricultural yields by up to 70 percent in some regions, and cost up to $507 billion in property damages from sea level rise by 2100. The co-chairs are calling for business to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions to prevent an economic crash on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis or worse.
However, some top U.S. business media outlets are denying that climate change is a problem worth addressing -- a disservice to their business viewers, who have a lot to lose. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly cases of business media covering Risky Business:
In covering the study's findings, Bloomberg Television, a cable and satellite business news channel, featured an interview with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, one of the report's co-chairs and a Republican. Bloomberg's Erik Schatzer began the interview by stating that "the research [on man-made climate change] is overwhelmingly conclusive," and went on to have a rational discussion about solutions to global warming that businesses can take today. Schatzer noted that Bloomberg Television is a child company of the media organization founded by Michael Bloomberg, another co-chair of Risky Business. Paulson suggested that businesses fully disclose their climate change risks, that they invest in "resilience," and that the nation "take out a national insurance policy" to respond to the impacts of climate change, adding that businesses must advocate for government policies that would allow the nation to "avoid the most adverse outcomes."
Paulson elaborated on "the cost of inaction" alongside former Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, in a well-done interview on the June 29 edition of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS:
Fox Business's coverage of the Risky Business report ridiculed the impacts of climate change and brushed aside the findings as "scare tactics." On the June 24 edition of Cavuto, Fox Business contributor Lauren Simonetti asserted that the organization is using "scare tactics," going on to entirely dismiss the idea of increasing heat-related mortality, saying "what does that mean -- mortality?"
Journalists should not be duped into portraying anti-wind energy activist John Droz Jr. as simply a "physicist" and an expert on issues related to climate change. Droz has cast doubt on man-made climate change and undermined scientifically accurate sea-level rise predictions in North Carolina, despite admitting he has no expertise in either area.
CNN's profile of progressive philanthropist Tom Steyer falsely equated Steyer's political donations with those of the Koch brothers without noting the Kochs will spend far more, and it failed to disclose that the group it quoted criticizing Steyer's environmental activism is funded by the Kochs.
During the June 19 edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, a profile of environmental activist and philanthropist Tom Steyer attempted to equate Steyer's planned contributions on behalf of candidates who support legislative action on climate change to planned 2014 spending by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch. During the profile, Tapper portrayed Steyer as a hypocrite, noting that "another point of dispute involves Steyer's assets. ... Steyer made his money as the manger of a $20 billion hedge fund, amassing a fortune through a variety of investments, including many in the very fossil fuels he now decries." Tapper went on to criticize Steyer for having "continued to make money off these unclean energies while simultaneously decrying them," though he also noted that Steyer is divesting his fossil-fuel investments.
The segment also included a clip of Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), accusing Steyer of "hypocrisy" in his previous investments:
Tapper did not note that AFP is what Politico called the "main political arm" of the Koch brothers, or that the group reportedly plans to spend $125 million in this year's elections for the purpose of "benefiting conservatives."
Further, the premise that Steyer's political contributions are equivalent to those of the Koch brothers is flawed. Contrary to Tapper's contention that Steyer is a direct ideological counterpart to the Kochs, the political spending from Steyer is not equal to that of the Koch brothers. According to the Daily Beast, the Kochs have "set an initial 2014 fundraising target of $290 million" to fund a "new energy initiative" intended in part as a response to "the commitment by liberal billionaire Tom Steyer to steer $100 million into ads in several states to make climate change a priority issue in the elections."
Tapper did not mention that Steyer's planned political contributions are one-third of those planned by the Koch brothers' interests.