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  • Meet The Utah Columnist Shining A Light On Fossil Fuel Front Groups

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    In recent decades, fossil fuel interests have been funding front groups to advance their ideological and political goals, and key to these groups’ success is concealing their industry backing. But Utah columnist Paul Rolly has been working to shine a light on the industry backing behind the most influential front groups in his state. In an interview with Media Matters, Rolly discussed the importance of following the money.

    Rolly has been a columnist at The Salt Lake Tribune for the last 20 years, and he has stood out because of his work exposing fossil fuel front groups operating in Utah. He has uncovered the oil industry fingerprints behind campaigns to seize public lands from the federal government, attack renewable energy, and promote an industry-friendly agenda in higher education.

    Why is it so important to Rolly to educate his readers about Big Oil’s involvement in these fights? “It’s our job,” he said, explaining that it’s vital that readers know “what the sources of bills are, where they’re coming from, who they benefit, who’s behind them, who’s making money, and who’s making campaign contributions.” He hopes this information will give his readers the ability to “make informed decisions when they vote.”

    Utah is ground zero for many of the fossil fuel industry’s campaigns, making Rolly’s work invaluable. One of the most prominent fossil fuel-backed campaigns in recent years has been the effort to transfer control of federal lands to state governments, which would greatly benefit fossil fuel interests, as states would likely open up more areas to oil and gas drilling and coal mining.

    State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT) has played a leading role in the public land grab movement in the west, and Rolly has been paying close attention. In 2012, Ivory co-founded a group called the American Lands Council (ALC), which aims to “secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing States.” Utah, Rolly explained, is the only state that has passed legislation setting aside taxpayer funds to sue the federal government over control of public lands, like those managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The lawsuit was recommended by a legal team hired by a Republican-dominated commission of Utah legislators, even though the lawyers acknowledged that the lawsuit “could cost up to $14 million, take years to play out in the courts,” and is “far from a sure victory,” according to the Associated Press.

    Rolly has repeatedly pointed out that Ivory has taken a six-figure annual salary from the ALC, which is largely funded by counties in Western states. The ALC’s tax forms reportedly indicate that Ivory and his wife have pocketed almost half of the group’s total revenue. Rolly believes that the negative attention Ivory received over his salary at ALC may explain why he stepped down as the organization’s president in December. (He remains an unpaid member of its executive committee).

    Rolly has devoted several columns to exposing the fossil funding behind ALC and other groups that are engaged in the public lands campaign. He's pointed out that Federalism in Action, where Ivory currently heads the “Free the Lands” project, is affiliated with the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. And he's documented that the firm hired by the Utah legislature to promote the land transfer agenda, Strata Policy, also has financial ties to the Koch brothers. As the Los Angeles Times has noted, ALC has also received financial support from Americans for Prosperity, which was co-founded by the Kochs and continues to spearhead their agenda.

    The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group that connects fossil fuel executives with legislators to push model bills that serve industry interests, is also highly influential in Utah and has a heavy hand in the public land grab movement. And, as Rolly told Media Matters, “the Koch brothers are a big deep-pocket force behind ALEC.” Ivory is an ALEC member and was even awarded the group’s “Legislator Of The Year” award in 2014.

    In addition to the public lands battle, Rolly has turned his attention to the Kochs’ influence in local universities. He said national stories about the Kochs' investments in higher education led him to examine their efforts at Utah State University, where Strata co-founder Randy Simmons was previously the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy and currently supervises a Koch-funded scholarship program. As Rolly reported: “The Kochs have extended influence to institutions of higher education, setting up grants at universities to hire professors that teach the Kochs' anti-tax, anti-regulation business and political philosophies to mold young minds to fall in step with the Kochs' industrial wishes going forward through the 21st Century.”

    Too often, media fail to disclose these important ties, Rolly noted. ALEC, for one, “probably doesn’t get the attention it should” in the national media, nor do its “ties to the Koch brothers, and their deep-pocket influence, and what happens to state legislatures.” Many valuable resources that provide context are “underused,” in Rolly’s opinion, including legislators’ conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure forms, which he examines to see if there’s any connection between “who’s giving them money” and “what they’re doing as a legislator.” He said he also examines the tax filings of nonprofits such as ALC.

    But he also noted the difficulties that newsrooms face as the journalism industry struggles financially, resulting in increased pressure and reduced resources. Newspapers have been shutting down all over the country, and the ones that remain have had to greatly cut down on staff (including the Salt Lake Tribune). When that happens, Rolly noted, “the first thing to suffer is investigative reporting” because it requires so much time and staff resources. He added: “The industry is in peril right now.”

    There are also structural difficulties that further complicate the task of investigative journalism, Rolly noted, such as Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Because of that ruling, Rolly said, super PACs can “basically take over [political] campaigns” and “you have no idea who’s contributing the money.”

    It’s worth keeping in mind that even as newspapers are facing increased financial pressures, reporting like Rolly’s can be good for business. His columns are among the newspaper’s most viewed pieces online, he says. And he recently received the “Making Democracy Work” award from the League of Women Voters for his work at the Tribune.

    The need for the media to disclose the industry backing that’s behind fossil fuel front groups is clear. Dark money groups like DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund exist solely to hide these funds. And research shows that organizations funded by Exxon and the Koch brothers are “more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." Yet Media Matters has shown time and time again that fossil fuel front groups are getting away with promoting anti-environmental agendas while hiding the real voices behind their misleading messages.

    In the words of the Tribune, Rolly told the League of Women Voters that “democracy best works when the public is informed.” Reporters would do well to follow Rolly’s example by digging a little deeper to uncover the dark money behind special interest campaigns occurring all around the country.

  • Inside The Fossil Fuel Industry's Media Strategy To Drill And Mine On Public Lands

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    A handful of fossil fuel industry front groups are engineering media campaigns aimed at persuading the public that the federal government should relinquish control of public lands to western states, claiming it would benefit the states economically. But evidence actually suggests that these land transfers would harm state economies, and the industry front groups are hiding their true motivation: opening up more public lands to oil drilling and coal mining while sidestepping federal environmental laws.

  • Coalition Of Scientists Takes Novel Approach To Grading Accuracy Of Climate Change Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    A group of scientists from around the world is using new web-based technology to assess the accuracy of media coverage of climate change, and the organization spearheading these efforts is looking for support to take its work to the next level.

    The organization, known as Climate Feedback, uses what’s known as web annotation technology to layer scientists’ comments directly onto articles and opinion pieces, so that readers can easily understand whether -- and to what degree -- the pieces are consistent with scientific understanding of climate change. Climate Feedback then assigns a credibility score known as “feedback” to each media piece, which serves as an overall guide to its accuracy -- or lack thereof.

    The result looks like this:

    At Media Matters, we’ve given scientists a forum to set the record straight when media distort their climate studies. Now Climate Feedback is further improving the media conversation by giving scientists the opportunity to respond to a wide variety of climate change coverage, as founder Dr. Emmanuel Vincent explained in an email to Media Matters.

    “We think scientists need to have a voice of their own in the media,” Vincent said. “Not as a replacement of journalism, but as a way to ensure that scientific results are not misunderstood or distorted.”

    The approach Climate Feedback employs is unique in several respects. It borrows from the peer review process used to evaluate scientific research papers, ensuring that media coverage of climate science receives a similar level of scrutiny. “After an article is selected for review, scientists with relevant expertise are invited to provide their feedback directly” using the web annotation platform, Vincent said. “Reviewers then fill [out] a short questionnaire with their rating and appreciation of the overall credibility of the piece that are all revealed at the same time to guarantee the independence of scientists’ reviews.”

    Vincent noted that Climate Feedback usually solicits comments from five to 10 scientists for each media evaluation, which is substantially higher than the two to three reviewers typically involved in a classic peer review of scientific literature. “This distributes the workload among scientists who can focus on discussing what they know best,” and helps “convey a more robust sense of the consensus when there is one.”

    Climate Feedback also ensures that only highly qualified experts weigh in on the accuracy of the media reports it analyzes. According to Vincent, contributors must have been the lead author of an article published in a top-tier peer-reviewed scientific journal within the last three years, and they must have a doctorate in a relevant discipline. Depending on the nature of the claims made in the article, Climate Feedback may seek comments from experts in a variety of subjects including biogeochemistry, oceanography, climate variability, paleoclimatology, climate impacts on ecosystems, human health and beyond.

    Once an evaluation is published, Climate Feedback shares it with the reporter or columnist via email or social media. As an example of his group’s success, Vincent pointed to an article in London’s Telegraph newspaper, which “appended a correction and made major modifications” to its original article, “withdrawing 5 sentences, in such a way that the title of the article announcing an imminent ice age is not supported anymore.” Additionally, one Climate Feedback evaluation formed the basis of an open letter from a group of scientists to The Wall Street Journal, criticizing an opinion piece for “attempt[ing] to throw clouds of uncertainty around the hard facts about climate change.” And just last week, members of the British House of Lords referenced another Climate Feedback evaluation while calling on The Times of London to more accurately cover climate science.

    Since Climate Feedback launched in late 2014, Vincent has observed several common media failings, including using flawed reasoning, making logical fallacies, cherry-picking data, and offering misleading or imprecise statements. One example he highlighted was a May 2015 Forbes column by “merchant of doubt” James Taylor, of the Exxon- and Koch-funded Heartland Institute, which misleadingly denied the impact of global warming on polar ice. Vincent noted in his email that Taylor’s column received “almost a million views and is by far Forbes’ most influential climate article in 2015 – which gives an idea of the scale of the problem we’re tackling.”

    Indeed, because the challenge is so great, Climate Feedback is ramping up its efforts via a crowdfunding campaign this week. The aim is to raise enough funds to hire a scientific editor and build a “Scientific Trust Tracker,” which will aggregate the group’s ratings to assess the overall credibility of various news sources. According to Vincent, the new tool “should provide a healthy incentive for more accurate science reporting,” because “building trust is essential for news sources and scientists’ endorsements can help journalists with integrity to get ahead.”

    Climate Feedback is doing this work at an important time. Major U.S. media outlets continue to give undue attention to those who deny the scientific consensus that fossil fuel pollution and other human activities are causing global warming, while scientists remain vastly underrepresented in some of the most high-profile media discussions of climate change, such as those taking place on the broadcast networks’ Sunday shows. And revelations of Exxon’s climate change deception exemplify the ability of the fossil fuel industry to inject misinformation into the media to undermine climate policies. As the fossil fuel industry continues to wage war on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and other major climate initiatives, too many Americans remain confused about the causes of climate change (although the trend is positive), and not enough recognize the urgent need for action.

    As Vincent explained, “We now have growing evidence that corporate interests have been using the same playbook as Tobacco companies a few decades earlier: using the media to sow doubt about the science of the smoking-cancer connection then and of climate change now in order to confuse the public and undermine democratic support for dealing with the issue.”

    Climate Feedback is a valuable resource to counteract the fossil fuel industry’s harmful influence and encourage media consumers to “stand with science” to achieve more accurate climate change coverage.

  • Six Years After BP Oil Spill, Media Highlight Research On Spill’s Continuing Toll

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Six years after BP’s offshore oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, media outlets are detailing new research that shows how the spill continues to harm wildlife and the local environment. These reports stand in stark contrast to the countless times conservative media defended BP and downplayed the disaster’s catastrophic impacts.

    The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history, which devastated the region’s ecosystem and economy. The magnitude of the spill was so great that new evidence of its long-lasting impacts continues to surface six years later in research and media coverage.

    US News & World Report: The BP Spill Is Responsible For A “Die-Off Of Baby Dolphins.” On April 12, U.S. News & World Report covered a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finding that “[m]ore than 170 stillborn and juvenile bottlenose dolphins found stranded in recent years along the Gulf Coast were likely killed by oil from the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.” The article further reported:

    Scientists observed a spike in stranded stillborn and juvenile dolphins along Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana's shores from 2010 to 2013. Researchers now believe the dolphins' mothers suffered chronic illnesses after being exposed to oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill off the coast of Louisiana.

    "Our new findings add to the mounting evidence from peer-reviewed studies that exposure to petroleum compounds following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill severely harmed the reproductive health of dolphin living in the oil spill footprint in the northern Gulf of Mexico," veterinarian and study co-author Teri Rowles, head of NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, said in a statement.

    The oil spill's long-term effects on dolphins' reproduction remain unclear.

    More than 1,400 dead dolphins and whales – collectively referred to as cetaceans – have washed up on the Gulf's shores since the disaster, far more than the average before the spill. Federal officials have declared an "unusual mortality event" for cetaceans in the region, which remains ongoing.

    The Tampa Tribune: Spill May Have Long-Term Effects On Fish Health. The Tampa Tribune reported on April 18 that researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) are just “beginning to chart the long-term effects of one of the biggest environmental disasters in history.” For one, the scientists are examining the long-term effects on both shallow and deepwater fish:

    No contaminated fish have made their way to the seafood market, said Steven Murawski, a professor of population dynamics and marine ecosystem analysis at USF, but researchers are still trying to figure out how many generations of fish may be affected by the spill.

    [...]

    Now, researchers are working to determine if the spill has had any long-term effect on fish DNA by attempting to grow second generations of affected fish at Mote Marine in Sarasota. The production of baby red snapper has fallen in the eastern gulf, for example, but researchers can’t yet say if that’s a result of the spill or natural cycling.

    The fish can metabolize some oil components and were only exposed to lower, sub-lethal concentrations of toxins because the oil that escaped the well was a light form of crude, but there are still questions surrounding the effects of long-term exposure, [USF scientist David] Hollander said.

    “It’s like if you stick your head in a paint can and smell the fumes you would get a headache, but what are the results if you painted a room and went to sleep in it so you’re breathing those fumes for a lot longer?” Hollander said.

    National Geographic: The Oil Spill Was Even Bigger Than Previously Thought. On April 20, National Geographic reported on a new study finding that the BP oil spill was even bigger than previously thought -- 19 percent bigger, to be exact. From National Geographic:

    Scientists from the federal government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several private research companies found oil along 1,313 miles (2,113 kilometers) out of 5,930 miles (9,545 kilometers) of surveyed shoreline after the spill, an increase of 19 percent from previously published estimates. That makes the disaster the largest marine oil spill in history by length of shoreline oiled, the team reported in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

    [...]

    The scientists found the majority of the oiling in Louisiana, with significant oiling in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and, to a lesser extent, Texas.

    National Geographic also reported that approximately “30 percent of the oil thought to have been spilled is still unaccounted for,” adding that some scientists think “it must have sunk to the ocean bottom, where it may be harming communities there.”

    h/t Americans United for Change

  • SCORECARD: National Federation Of Independent Business vs. Small Business

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) claims that it is speaking for the small business community in its opposition to Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination. In reality, NFIB is a front group that has received millions of dollars from the Koch brothers network and other large corporate interests, and its opposition to Garland is part of a campaign against environmental, labor and healthcare policies that most small businesses support.

    NFIB has released a scorecard criticizing Garland for allegedly having “ruled against private parties and especially private businesses with striking regularity.” But here is how NFIB rates on Media Matters' small business scorecard:

     

  • USA Today, Bloomberg Contributors Obscure Role Of Industry-Funded Think Tank In “Exxon Knew” Scandal

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View are echoing false attacks on attorneys general who are investigating whether oil companies deceived the public on climate change, and grossly misrepresenting why the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands has subpoenaed records from an oil industry-funded think tank as part of his investigation.

    A coalition of attorneys general has committed to holding fossil fuel companies including Exxon accountable if they obfuscated climate change research in order to protect their financial interests. This follows reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times showing that Exxon’s own scientists confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterwards. One of the climate denial organizations that Exxon funded was the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker is now subpoenaing CEI for “records of the group's donors and activities involving climate policy,” as InsideClimate News reported. CEI said it “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena,” and called it "an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.”

    Now, contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View are defending CEI and Exxon by misrepresenting Exxon’s alleged wrongdoing. Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle authored a column on April 8 headlined, “Subpoenaed Into Silence on Global Warming,” in which she claimed the attorneys general are trying to “shut down dissenters” and criminalize “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.” Similarly, USA Today contributor Glenn Reynolds proclaimed in an April 11 column that the attorneys general investigations look like “a concerted scheme to restrict the First Amendment free speech rights of people they don’t agree with,” and that their goal is to “treat disagreement as something more or less criminal.”

    In casting the issue as a matter of “free speech,” both McArdle and Reynolds ignored the real reason the attorneys general have launched investigations into Exxon and subpoenaed records from CEI. As InsideClimate News explained, despite Exxon’s “emerging understanding of climate change science in the 1970s,” the oil giant subsequently worked to “undermine the scientific consensus, in part by financing research organizations including CEI.” InsideClimate News added:

    CEI is one of several organizations that have been repeatedly named over the years by those who have criticized Exxon and other fossil fuel companies for financing the climate denial work of third parties. After the Royal Society of the United Kingdom castigated Exxon in 2006 for giving money to groups misrepresenting climate science, Exxon said it had stopped financing the CEI.

    Additionally, the Climate Investigations Center (CIC) uncovered that the year after CEI received $270,000 from Exxon for “Global Climate Change,” “Global Climate Change Outreach,” and “General Operating Support,” CEI released a climate science-denying TV commercial with the tag line: “Carbon Dioxide: They Call it Pollution, We Call it Life.” CIC stated that the commercial “caused such an outcry, we believe it triggered ExxonMobil to cut funding to CEI altogether.” 

    Bloomberg View’s McArdle warned that the attorneys general investigations could set a bad “precedent” that would “eventually be used against” the “enemies of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and ExxonMobil.” But that has already happened: climate science denier and then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was found by the Virginia Supreme Court to have overstepped his authority by demanding that the University of Virginia provide emails and other documents from climate scientist Michael Mann. Identical documents were sought by the American Tradition Institute, whose senior director of litigation, Chris Horner, was also a senior fellow at CEI.

    McArdle did mention in her column that her husband Peter Suderman had “briefly worked for CEI as a junior employee.” While she was at it, she could have disclosed that Suderman currently works for Reason magazine, and that the Reason Foundation has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Exxon.

  • Sen. Whitehouse: WSJ's "Exxon Knew" Falsehoods Are Part Of Its "Long Tradition" Of Protecting Polluters

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    wsjpollution

    Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) called out The Wall Street Journal for its long history of wrongly defending fossil fuel companies, including the Journal's recent attempts to confuse its readers about the rationale for a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of Exxon Mobil and other oil companies. Writing in the Huffington Post, Whitehouse cited Journal editorials dating back to the 1970s and described the Journal's modus operandi as follows: "Deny the science, question the motives, exaggerate the costs, help the polluters."

    The Journal has repeatedly distorted Whitehouse's calls for a federal investigation into whether Exxon and other oil companies violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) by purposely misleading shareholders and the public about climate change. The Journal continued to misrepresent the basis for an investigation in an April 1 editorial that falsely claimed Whitehouse wants to "punish those who disagree with him on climate."

    Whitehouse directly responded to the Journal's distortions in the Huffington Post, pointing out that "[c]limate skeptics -- people who 'disagree' with me on the reality of climate change -- are not the targets of such an investigation, any more than smokers or people who 'disagreed' with the Surgeon General were targets" of an earlier Department of Justice lawsuit against tobacco companies, which the Journal also vocally opposed. He added: "Fraud investigations punish those who lie, knowing that they are lying, intending to fool others, and do it for money. No one should be too big to answer for that conduct."

    Whitehouse concluded of the Journal's behavior: "[A]ll this makes it look like they are out to protect the fraudsters, by misleading regular people about what such a lawsuit would do and continuing their long tradition of downplaying or denying scientists' warnings about the harms of industries' products."

    From Whitehouse's April 3 op-ed:

    The Wall Street Journal is quite irate that I rank them with industry front groups and cranks denying climate change. But they have a record whenever industrial pollutants are involved. Look at the Journal's commentary on acid rain, on the ozone layer, and on climate change. There is a pattern: Deny the science, question the motives, exaggerate the costs, help the polluters. When they are wrong this often, but keep at it, you have to wonder whether they care about whether they're right or wrong, or whether they are performing some other service.

    [...]

    [I]f there is indeed a core of deliberate fraud at the heart of the climate denial enterprise, no industry should be big enough to suppress investigation of that fraud. Most of the writers I mentioned note similarities between the tobacco fraud scheme and the climate denial operation, as has the lawyer who won the tobacco lawsuit for DOJ; as apparently have more than a dozen state Attorneys General.

    Climate skeptics -- people who "disagree" with me on the reality of climate change -- are not the targets of such an investigation, any more than smokers or people who "disagreed" with the Surgeon General were targets of the tobacco case. Those folks may very well be victims of the fraud, the dupes. Fraud investigations punish those who lie, knowing that they are lying, intending to fool others, and do it for money. No one should be too big to answer for that conduct.

    This is an important difference, and it's the difference I'm talking about when I say the Wall Street Journal editorial page is trying to saddle me with an argument I'm not making because they don't have a good response to the one I am. Frankly, all this makes it look like they are out to protect the fraudsters, by misleading regular people about what such a lawsuit would do and continuing their long tradition of downplaying or denying scientists' warnings about the harms of industries' products.

  • Meet The National Federation Of Independent Business, The Corporate Front Group Claiming It's The Voice Of Small Business

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Media outlets are adopting the National Federation of Independent Business' (NFIB) claim that it is speaking for the small business community in its opposition to Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination. In reality, NFIB is a front group that has received millions of dollars from the Koch brothers network and other large corporate interests, and its opposition to Garland is part of a campaign against environmental, labor and healthcare policies that most small businesses support.

  • Wall Street Journal Continues To Falsely Attack Sen. Whitehouse's Call For "Exxon Knew" Investigation

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    white house

    After The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrongly accused Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) of trying to "silence climate dissidents," the Journal published a response from Whitehouse. But it ran the piece alongside two letters to the editor that echoed the Journal's false framing of calls by Whitehouse and others to investigate evidence that ExxonMobil and other oil companies intentionally misled their shareholders and the public on climate change.

    Reports by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times show that Exxon's own scientists confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was fueling climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that spread doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterwards. Based on this evidence, Whitehouse called for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether Exxon and other fossil fuel companies violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

    The Journal badly misrepresented Whitehouse's call for a federal investigation of Exxon in a March 15 editorial, falsely alleging that the federal government could "slap the cuffs on people who don't believe in U.N. climate models" and "throw people in jail for scientific skepticism." Whitehouse objected to the Journal's false editorial on Twitter, explaining: "Simply denying climate change isn't what could violate federal law. ... The questions I posed to the Attorney General were to learn whether the Department of Justice is doing its due diligence to investigate whether fossil fuel specials interests are leading a coordinated, fraudulent effort to deceive the American people."

    On March 21, the Journal published a letter to the editor from Whitehouse, in which he noted that the Journal was "trying to saddle me with an argument I am not making":  

    My belief is that there are sufficient similarities between the tobacco industry's fraudulent denial of its products' health effects and the fossil fuel industry's denial of its products' climate and oceans effects, that a proper inquiry should be made about pursuing a civil action like the one the Justice Department brought and won against tobacco. ... Trying to saddle me with an argument I am not making is no way to convince anyone that the argument I am making is wrong.

    But the newspaper published Whitehouse's response alongside two other letters that echoed the Journal's false claim that Whitehouse wants the federal government to prosecute people just because they disagree with him on climate change.

    The first letter wrongly alleged that "people who don't believe mankind causes climate change could be prosecuted," and compared the calls to investigate Exxon to prosecuting people who do not believe in God and burning atheists at the stake:

    If people who don't believe mankind causes climate change could be prosecuted (and fined and jailed?), does that mean people who don't believe in God could be prosecuted (and perhaps burned at the stake)? Conversely, if atheists take over our government, could believers be prosecuted (and fined and shunned)?

    The second letter claimed that "RICO prosecutions aren't necessary" because Whitehouse is already instilling a "climate of fear" against those who "read the climate data differently from the prevailing administration position."

    But despite what the Journal and others would have you believe, a federal investigation would not target people -- scientists or otherwise -- who challenge the climate change consensus. It would investigate whether oil company officials chose to contradict the findings of their own scientists in order to protect their profits.

  • Discredited Group Opposing Merrick Garland Misrepresents His Vote On Haze Pollution Standards

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    haze

    discredited conservative legal group is claiming that Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland was the sole dissenter in a 2002 D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals case "striking down" an "illegal" Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to reduce haze pollution. In reality, the other two judges on the court agreed with Garland that the EPA is required to work with states to reduce haze pollution under the Clean Air Act; they just ruled against EPA's specific approach to achieving those reductions. And a revised version of the regional haze rule is now in place.

    Shortly after President Obama announced his Supreme Court nomination of Garland, who is now the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) released a statement of opposition. In its "topline points," JCN claimed that Garland was "the only dissenter in a 2002 case striking down an illegal, job-killing EPA regulation (the 'Haze Rule')."

    In order to comply with the Clean Air Act and return the country's national parks to their natural visibility, the EPA issued a proposal in 1999 to cut particulate matter and other haze-forming pollutants from nearby power plants and industrial facilities. These decades-old facilities were emitting pollutants that drifted for miles, cutting down visibility in some parks by half. The EPA has noted that the same pollution that causes haze also poses "serious health risks, especially for people with chronic respiratory diseases." The EPA estimated the regional haze rule could result in up to $9.8 billion in annual health benefits.

    In 2002, the Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to require the EPA to rework its plan for states to use the "best available retrofit technology," or BART, to achieve their pollution reduction targets. As the Associated Press reported at the time, the majority decision "upheld the program's fundamental goal," stating that the EPA's haze reduction plan "plainly and permissibly serves to assure the reasonable progress sought by Congress" in provisions of the Clean Air Act related to improving visibility. The AP further noted that Garland "filed a dissent, maintaining that the federal Clean Air Act expressly delegates authority to the EPA to make judgments on what steps should be required to reduce pollution." Garland argued that the EPA's view that the Clean Air Act authorized the BART provisions was "a reasonable interpretation of the legislative language."

    Following the circuit court decision, the EPA adjusted the regional haze rule to provide a process allowing states to "consider an individual facility's contribution to regional haze when determining whether to require controls, and what the level of control should be." The regional haze rule was finalized in 2005.

    Since then, the haze rule has been upheld in multiple courts. It was contested in 2011 by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt after the EPA rejected Oklahoma's state implementation plan and imposed a federal plan, but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the EPA's favor, and the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently refused to hear the case. The haze rule was later contested by the state of North Dakota, but the Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit found in favor of the EPA. Again, the state attempted to challenge the ruling, but the appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court. And the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld EPA's regional haze plan for Arizona.

  • Las Vegas Review-Journal Twists Exxon Climate Change Deception Allegations

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    UPDATE (3/16/16): The Wall Street Journal editorial board has one-upped the Review-Journal in egregiously distorting a potential federal investigation of Exxon and other oil companies for intentionally misleading shareholders and the public about climate change. In a March 15 editorial, the Journal falsely claimed that the Department of Justice may "throw people in jail for scientific skepticism," and managed to do so without ever uttering the words "Exxon" or "oil companies." A March 15 Washington Times op-ed by Southeastern Legal Foundation chief operating officer Todd Young also attacked the potential investigation without mentioning oil companies, falsely alleging that the investigation could broadly apply to "those who question human-caused climate change science," when it would actually examine evidence that oil companies knew of reality of climate change but publicly sowed doubt about climate science in order to protect their profits.

    ORIGINAL POST:

    In discussing a possible investigation into whether ExxonMobil deceived the public through a campaign to sow uncertainty about climate science research, the Las Vegas Review-Journal misstated the issue as one of beliefs: "The last time we checked, there was no crime in being skeptical of climate change." But the reason for a potential Department of Justice investigation is that evidence shows the company intentionally misled the public about the role fossil fuels play in climate change.

    The March 13 editorial takes issue with a proposed federal investigation into what Exxon knew about climate change from its research and what the company chose to do with that information. The Review-Journal disputes that Exxon could be in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) -- as charged by several House Democrats. The editorial misrepresents the alleged RICO violation, saying there "is no crime in being skeptical of climate change" and that an investigation would be "a trampling of [Exxon's] First Amendment rights" (emphasis added):

    As reported by Kate Sheppard of the Huffington Post, Reps. Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier, House Democrats from California who were persuaded by environmental groups' smear tactics, approached the Department of Justice last fall to look into whether ExxonMobil violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or any other federal laws. The company was allegedly "organizing a sustained deception campaign disputing climate science and failing to disclose truthful information to investors and the public."

    Rep. Lieu says he believes the company was working publicly to undermine climate science, and that its actions are on par with tobacco companies who were guilty of "lying to the American people" by denying the link between smoking and cancer in order "to better sell their product." Just as the DOJ used RICO law to prosecute tobacco companies in the late 1990s, Rep. Lieu says he would "would hope for a prosecution" of ExxonMobil if the facts warrant it.

    [...]

    If the FBI decides to open an investigation, the move would be motivated entirely by political considerations. The last time we checked, there is no crime in being skeptical of climate change or advocating for policies that aid ExxonMobil's interests. An investigation would simply be Democrats and the environmental lobby seeking a big scalp.

    Furthermore, such an investigation is a trampling of First Amendment rights. ExxonMobil is under no obligation to worship at the altar of climate change, nor is any other company or individual. There is no constitutional rationale for punishing the company for its actions relating to dubious climate change claims, and the FBI shouldn't humor Democrats or environmental lobbyists any longer on this issue. There should be no further investigation.

    The case against Exxon would be based not on the company's "skepticism," but on whether Exxon violated the law. Sharon Eubanks -- a former U.S. attorney who helped prosecute a RICO case against Big Tobacco for its denial of the health risks of smoking -- told ThinkProgress that a similar RICO case could be made against Exxon for its role in misleading the public about its research on climate change:

    "The cigarette companies actively denied the harm of cigarette smoking, and concealed the results of what their own research developed," she said. "The motivation was money, and to avoid regulation."

    Based on the revelations about ExxonMobil, Eubanks said the Department of Justice should consider investigating whether similar collusion occurred among big fossil fuel companies and other high-carbon-emitting industries that would profit from climate denial.

    "It appears to me, based on what we know so far, that there was a concerted effort by Exxon and others to confuse the public on climate change," Eubanks said. "They were actively denying the impact of human-caused carbon emissions, even when their own research showed otherwise."

    Independent reports into Exxon's handling of its climate research reinforce Eubanks claim that there could be reason to investigate Exxon. The Pulitzer Prize-winning InsideClimate News published a six-part series detailing its eight-month investigation into what Exxon knew using "primary sources including internal company files dating back to the late 1970s [and] interviews with former company employees."

    InsideClimate's investigation showed that "Exxon confirmed global warming consensus in 1982 with in-house climate models." Despite the company's scientific confirmation of climate change and fossil fuels' role, Exxon "sowed doubt about climate science for decades by stressing uncertainty."

    The Los Angeles Times, in conjunction with the Energy and Environmental Reporting Project at Columbia University, came to similar conclusions surrounding what Exxon knew and how its subsequent cover-up deceived the public. The Times' reporting showed that the oil giant spent millions to raise questions about climate science, only to return to what it had learned in the '80s by admitting in 2007 that fossil fuels were playing a significant role in climate change:

    From 1998 to 2005, Exxon contributed almost $16 million to at least 43 organizations to wage a campaign raising questions about climate change, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental activist group. Greenpeace has estimated that Exxon spent more than $30 million in that effort.

    [...]

    Today, the effect of climate change is widely accepted. Average global temperatures have risen approximately 1.5 degrees since 1880, and the sea level has risen at a rate of 0.06 of an inch per year and is accelerating. Moreover, Arctic sea ice coverage is shrinking so drastically that last August, National Geographic had to redraw its atlas maps.

    In 2007, the company, for the first time since the early 1980s, publicly conceded that climate change was occurring and that it was in large part the result of the burning of fossil fuels.

    "There was a fork in the road. They had the opportunity to make a decision to go one way or the other way," said Martin Hoffert, an Exxon consultant in the 1980s and professor emeritus of physics at New York University. "If Exxon had listened to its scientists and endorsed our research -- and not started that campaign -- it would have had, in my opinion, an enormous impact."