Image at top via Flickr user Fintrvlr using a Creative Commons License.
From the September 18 edition of NPR and WNYC's On the Media:
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CNN will host the second GOP presidential primary debate tonight, September 16. The network has an inconsistent track record on how it has covered GOP candidates' stances on climate change -- debate host Jake Tapper has fact-checked candidates' climate denial, but the network's coverage of the issue has been problematic at times. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly ways CNN has covered the GOP presidential candidates' positions on climate change so far this year.
Across the country, state and local lawmakers are battling over a solar energy policy called net metering. But while the reasons for disagreement vary from place to place, several share a common and oft-unreported thread: Many attacks on the solar policy are supported by fossil fuel interests.
Net metering allows customers who have installed rooftop solar panels to generate their own electricity and send what they don't use into the electric grid for others to use -- like during the day, when the sun is shining but a family is at work or school. In exchange for the electricity provided to the grid, the customer gets a credit applied to their utility bill. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council has explained that solar panels "predictably produce energy during peak hours of the day, supporting the grid when most needed," and that net metering makes solar energy a "viable financial investment for many consumers." The policy has widespread support from liberals and conservatives alike, and has even spurred an offshoot of the Tea Party, called the "Green Tea Coalition," which connects environmentalists with Tea Partiers in support of net metering.
The amount of credit solar energy users receive, however, is the subject of fierce debate in states across the country. Utilities have been pushing for legislation to roll back net metering credits by adding a cap or charging a flat fee for solar users. Net metering poses a distinct challenge for utilities because it disrupts their long-standing monopoly in the electricity market.
Moreover, net-metered solar energy cuts into utilities' profits; with more distributed solar energy in the electric grid, utilities have no reason to invest in and build new power plants. As the Energy & Policy Institute's Matthew Kasper told The Washington Post, distributed solar energy prevents "the need to build new, expensive power plants or transmission lines." He added, "Utilities make their money by building big, new infrastructure projects and then sending ratepayers the bill, which is exactly why utilities want to eliminate solar."
In coverage of net metering battles, the media has largely focused on opposition from utilities. But there are larger forces at play: Outside interests are influencing the battle through front groups and legislation. Here are just a few of the groups inserting themselves into net metering battles:
Americans for Prosperity, which was created by the Koch brothers and acts as their political arm, has fought against net metering in Georgia and Florida, and pushed misleading claims that net metering policies "have resulted in rate hikes and did not result in solar becoming more economically viable." In March, PolitiFact rated this claim "Pants on Fire" and called it "completely wrong."
Consumer Energy Alliance, which has received over $400,000 from the American Petroleum Institute and been affiliated with fossil fuel giants including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and others, produced a phony petition in 2014 that attacked Wisconsin's net metering policy.
The Institute for Energy Research, which has received funding from ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Koch brothers' political network, released a report earlier this year claiming that net metering only benefits higher-income households.
The National Black Chamber of Commerce, which has received $1 million in funding from the ExxonMobil Foundation, recently claimed (falsely) that Louisiana's net metering policies shift costs onto low-income families.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group that connects fossil fuel industry executives with legislators to push model bills serving industry interests, has released a resolution on net metering, calling it "antithetical to free markets."
Several other fossil fuel front groups have been fighting against net metering, as detailed in a report by the Energy & Policy Institute:
The involvement of these groups, who don't appear to have direct ties with local utilities, may seem strange. But not when you consider that net metering policies are causing an unprecedented increase in solar energy use and thereby helping wean Americans off fossil fuels.
From 2010 to 2014, the amount of annual solar photovoltaic (PV) installations roughly increased by a factor of seven, and the U.S. had a record quarter for solar photovoltaics installations in the second quarter of 2015, reaching a total installed capacity high enough to power over four million homes. Meanwhile, prices have dropped rapidly over the past 10 years: the cost of installing solar is now 73 percent lower than it was in 2006.
Nine of the 10 states with the most solar electricity installed per capita also have strong net metering policies. But policies to roll back net metering are already impacting solar companies. One company, Vivint, scrapped its plans to expand to Nevada after the state changed its policy to cap net metering at what solar advocates call an unreasonably low limit. Massachusetts' net metering cap poses a similar threat to the solar industry there.
Attack campaigns against net metering could halt the expansion of a clean energy industry that threatens the fossil fuel interests usually behind those attacks. Media coverage of net metering debates should make that fact loud and clear, so the public knows the real identity of who's against net metering, and why.
Photo at top from Flickr user Wayne National Forest with a Creative Commons license.
Net metering policies, which allow utilities' customers to send energy from solar panels on their homes into the electric grid in exchange for a credit, are being threatened by efforts in several states to roll back or dismantle the policies -- most of which are bolstered by anti-solar myths from utilities and fossil fuel interests that are being parroted in the media. Here are the facts about net metering.
The bureau chief of CBS' Raleigh affiliate accurately reported the fossil fuel ties of American Energy Alliance, a Koch front group whose industry affiliation is regularly ignored by mainstream media outlets.
In a September 9 article headlined "Renewables critics sound off," WRAL capitol bureau chief Laura Leslie reported that the American Energy Alliance (AEA) sponsored a roundtable attacking North Carolina's renewable energy policy. Leslie described AEA as "the political lobbying arm" of an organization funded by the Charles and David Koch, explaining that its president, Thomas Pyle, is a former Koch Industries lobbyist. She added that "[m]uch of the money the Koch family has made has been through petrochemical fuels."
Additionally, Leslie detailed the Koch ties of another roundtable participant, a professor from Utah State University's Institute for Political Economy who authored an anti-renewable energy study described by advocates as "misleading."
From the WRAL post:
Opponents of renewable energy programs held an hour-long roundtable at the Legislative Building on Wednesday about their concerns.
The event was sponsored by the American Energy Alliance, the political lobbying arm of the Institute for Energy Policy, a conservative think tank funded by Charles and David Koch. The event moderator was Tom Pyle, president of the AEA and the IEP, and a former Koch Industries lobbyist.
Much of the money the Koch family has made has been through petrochemical fuels. According to a Pro-Publica investigation in 2014, the Kochs have used a trade group known as Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce to funnel money to a long list of conservative nonprofit groups, many of which defend the fossil fuel industry against public policy initiatives favoring renewables.
Another panelist at the event was Ryan Yonk, an assistant professor at Utah State University's Institute for Political Economy, a free-market think tank that also has strong ties to the Koch brothers. Yonk co-authored a study that says the average household in North Carolina lost $3,800 in disposable income in 2013 because of the cost of the renewable energy standard.
"The folks that get hurt the most are the folks that are very least able to afford it," Yonk said.
Dustin Chicurel-Bayard with the North Carolina Sierra Club pointed out that the study, which he characterized as "misleading," has been thoroughly debunked by researchers at the American Wind Energy Association.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent shared a Facebook post on September 9 showing off several cars and wrote (sic throughout): "Look closely & you shall see a huge leaking pipeline connected directly to a Saudi Prince's ass sucking massive quantities of rawcrude as I throttle relentlessly over the rotting corpses of mikeymoore & algore & all the pathetic greenies." "Greenie" is a term for an environmentalist or conservationist.
The day prior, Nugent falsely claimed in his column at The Daily Caller that fossil fuel production benefits wildlife, and wrote: "Conservation is indeed the 'wise use,' and like hunters and responsible consumers everywhere, we enjoy using God's creation wisely."
Nugent's Facebook post:
In a factually baseless column published in The Daily Caller, National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent claimed that wildlife populations increase and thrive in areas where pipelines, oil drilling, fracking, coal mining, and other forms of energy production occur, an evidence-free claim that contradicts scientific studies proving the opposite.
Nugent's September 8 column, headlined, "Flourishing Wildlife In Harmony With 'All Of The Above' Energy Production," claimed that on thousands of privately-owned properties across the country, "wildlife and flora and fauna rich wilderness thrives side by side with gas, oil, shale, coal, wind, solar and hydro driven energy production."
Nugent claimed that areas where energy production happens are actually beneficial to wildlife populations, writing, "From the lichen enhancing heat from Alaska pipelines benefitting caribou, to the game rich biodiversity of reclaimed coal mines in the east, the great fishing around oil platforms in the oceans, wildlife populations actually increase and expand as a result of energy development."
However, Nugent's anecdotal claim of a "mutually beneficial" relationship between wildlife and energy development is flatly contradicted by the numerous, well-documented threats that things like oil and gas production pose to wildlife -- including habitat loss, increased death rates, oil spills, and many more negative impacts. It also ignores the effect that unchecked climate change from burning fossil fuels poses to plants, animals, and indeed, entire ecosystems.
From Nugent's Daily Caller column:
There in the small clearing was indeed a wonderful trophy, but not the kind you can eat or hang on the wall. However, this particular trophy is appreciated by all human beings as the commodity by which Jimmy and I were able to get to Colorado for our dream elk hunt.
The squealing sounds that lured my friends up and over the mountain wasn't elk speak, but rather energy speak, as the pumpjack creaked and groaned away pumping natural gas from far beneath the pristine wilderness mountain top terrain.
Here on the vast Hill Ranch outside of Trinidad, Colorado, like thousands and thousands of privately owned properties across America, wildlife and flora and fauna rich wilderness thrives side by side with gas, oil, shale, coal, wind, solar and hydro driven energy production.
Our energy requirements and love of wild things are not only not mutually exclusive, they are mutually beneficial.
From the lichen enhancing heat from Alaska pipelines benefitting caribou, to the game rich biodiversity of reclaimed coal mines in the east, the great fishing around oil platforms in the oceans, wildlife populations actually increase and expand as a result of energy development.
Sorry Al Gore, but the polar bears floating away on the ice floe is what polar bears do, Mr. Bozo scam artist.
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed denying the fact that reducing ozone pollution -- the key component of smog -- will result in public health benefits. Medical and environmental experts castigated the op-ed as "completely outside of scientific understanding," "blatantly false," and "a sad and shallow screed."
Two recent major analyses project a positive outlook for renewable energy, bolstering President Obama's recent initiative to implement more clean energy. But the media have largely ignored these reports -- and conservative media have instead seized upon an Inspector General report on Solyndra to cast doom on the future of renewable energy.
In July, the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released a report examining and applying methods for estimating the current and future economic potential of domestic renewable energy. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which recently crunched the numbers, NREL's analysis shows that renewable energy sources have the potential to supply anywhere from "35 percent to as much as 10 times the nation's current power needs." As UCS noted, NREL found that solar and wind power have the greatest economic potential.
On August 31, a joint report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) found that renewable energy sources "can produce electricity at close to or even below the cost of new fossil fuel-based power stations." The report stated that over the past five years, there has been a "significant drop in the price of solar and wind generation costs, especially for solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, as a result of sustained technological progress."
In the meantime, on August 24, President Obama announced new executive actions intended to support renewable energy and encourage energy efficiency in households nationwide. The actions included supporting projects to improve solar panel energy production, bringing solar energy to more homes, making it easier for residents to invest in clean energy technologies, and making $1 billion in additional loan guarantee authority available for clean energy ventures.
As expected, conservative media have been seizing upon defunct solar company Solyndra -- which received funding from the same loan guarantee program before going bankrupt -- to dismiss the president's clean energy actions and renewables as a whole.
This time, Solyndra mentions did not come out of the blue -- but they still don't work to cast doubt current or future renewable energy policies. The Department of Energy's (DOE) Inspector General released a report on August 24 finding that Solyndra officials misled DOE officials to receive its loan. The report found that DOE officials felt pressured to approve the loan, but the IG report stated that "the actions of the Solyndra officials were at the heart of this matter, and they effectively undermined the Department's efforts to manage the loan guarantee process." Further, a 2014 DOE audit found that the department has sufficiently implemented recommendations to improve oversight and management of the program.
But the new Solyndra report should not be used to cast doubt on the future of renewable energy as a whole.
Conservative media may never stop talking about Solyndra to smear other clean energy programs. But problematic Solyndra reporting has not been limited to the right-wing; mainstream media also have a history of uncritically reporting inaccuracies and airing one-sided coverage.
Hopefully, in coverage of Obama's clean energy actions, media will discuss the prominent forward-looking reports, which unequivocally show a bright future for renewable energy.
Image at the top via Flickr Creative Commons.
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the Environmental Policy Alliance are each running TV ad campaigns attacking the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) forthcoming smog pollution reduction rule. But before members of the media repeat the ads' claims, they should know that NAM's ads are based on a misleading study, and that the Environmental Policy Alliance is a front group for oil and gas PR executive Richard Berman.
It seems like a different study attacking the EPA's Clean Power Plan pops up in the media every other week. But many of these studies are riddled with flaws and funded by fossil fuel interests, so media should think twice before repeating their claims.
A new briefing from the Energy & Policy Institute (EPI) detailed the fossil fuel funding and methodological flaws of six reports attacking the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) carbon pollution standards. One of them, a study from NERA Economic Consulting, has been thoroughly debunked by multiple experts, who say the report is completely out of date, uses faulty efficiency cost assumptions and outdated renewable energy cost assumptions, and does not acknowledge any of the EPA plan's economic benefits, rendering its findings irrelevant.
The deeply flawed NERA study also forms the basis for a new analysis from the Institute for Energy Research (IER) (not included in EPI's briefing), which concluded that the Clean Power Plan will result in 14,000 premature deaths. IER's analysis led to horrific (and completely false) headlines like this, from the conservative news site Daily Caller:
To arrive at their conclusion, IER used NERA's GDP loss estimate and converted it directly into increased premature deaths. However, using that method doesn't make much sense, as NERA failed to acknowledge the Clean Power Plan's projected life-saving health and economic benefits. Thankfully, IER's conclusion has so far been confined to the conservative media fringe.
However, numerous groups have touted the public health benefits of pollution standards, and the EPA estimates that its plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants would prevent 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children. So how does IER's analysis arrive at such a drastically different conclusion? A look at the chain of fossil fuel-funding behind IER and the NERA study may provide the answer.
The cover page of the NERA study states that it was prepared for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the Association of American Railroads, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, Consumer Energy Alliance, and the National Mining Association. Combined, they're a who's who of fossil fuel industry trade groups and advocacy organizations. EPI put together a graphic showing many of the coal and oil companies that comprise these groups:
As for IER, the group lists former Koch lobbyist Thomas Pyle as its president and is partly funded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers and their political network. IER has also received funding from Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Koch-backed DonorsTrust and Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.
The other reports detailed in EPI's briefing include one from the National Black Chamber of Commerce, another from the Beacon Hill Institute, two from Energy Ventures Analysis (one of which was funded directly by coal giant Peabody Energy), and one from IER. These reports are often publicized through coordinated media campaigns and newspaper op-eds across the country.
EPI's report illustrates how multiple industry-funded studies work in concert to simulate a chorus of diverse voices attacking the EPA's flagship climate plan. But really, it's just the industry protecting its bottom line.
Image at top via Flickr user Fintrvlr using a Creative Commons License.
A 2014 report from National Economic Research Associates (NERA), which claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan will greatly increase electricity bills, has been roundly criticized as premature and reliant on faulty assumptions. But even after the EPA released the final version of their plan -- which has significant differences from the draft plan -- media have continued to uncritically cite NERA's report. Expert analysts explained to Media Matters the NERA report's many flaws, and why media should avoid broadcasting NERA's claims if they want to report the facts.
In coverage of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) newly-proposed standards to lower methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, several major media outlets uncritically quoted oil industry officials who claim that the new rules are unnecessary because the industry is already effectively limiting its emissions. By contrast, other outlets mentioned a new study by the Environmental Defense Fund showing that methane emissions are far higher than official estimates, part of a body of evidence that undercuts the industry's claim.
From the August 20 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and Fox Business are aggressively criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for accidentally spilling toxic wastewater into Colorado's Animas River while attempting to treat pollution from an abandoned gold mine. But over the years, these same conservative media outlets have almost completely ignored pollution that was caused by the fossil fuel industry, devoting more attention to the EPA spill than to seven recent cases of industry-caused pollution combined.