The Daily Beast is dubbing the Environmental Protection Agency's new clean power plan "Obamacare for the Air" in part because it is "intensely polarizing." But the reason that the standards are "polarizing" is that, just like with Obamacare's individual mandate, Republicans have abandoned their previous support for addressing this pressing issue with market-based policies as they move further to the extreme right.
On June 2, the EPA proposed the first standards for carbon pollution from existing power plants, which would allow states flexibility on how to achieve the pollution cuts. States could, for instance, mandate installations of new clean power technology or join regional cap-and-trade programs that take a market-based approach to promoting clean power. The Daily Beast's Jason Mark labeled the standards "Obamacare for the Air" because both plans are "numbingly complex," "based on a market system," "likely to transform a key sector of the economy," and "guaranteed to be intensely polarizing." The Christian Science Monitor's David Unger similarly compared the standards to Obamacare in part because they are "controversial." The editor in chief of the Daily Beast, John Avalon adopted the analogy on CNN's New Day, calling it a "long-time liberal priority."
Both articles left out why the EPA standards are contentious among the political class: it's not because the proposals are "liberal," but rather because the Republican party has shifted so far to the right that it now attacks proposals that it once advocated for. Many prominent Republicans supported a cap-and-trade program before Barack Obama was elected president, just as they once supported the individual mandate in Obamacare. In fact, the greenhouse gas emissions cuts that Sen. John McCain proposed during the 2008 election were far more extensive than the EPA's current proposal. The video below by Media Matters Action Network shows how Republicans used to talk about climate change in ways that they never would today:
As the Republican Party shifted to the right, so too did the conservative media. The Wall Street Journal editorial board previously stated that "the Bush Administration should propose a domestic cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide that could, of course, be easily expanded to Canada and Mexico. And then to Latin America. And then the world." Now the paper's editorials deride this conservative idea as "cap-and-tax." Yet mainstream reporters are often loathe to point out this profound shift, sticking instead to "both-sides-to-blame reporting."
The Environmental Protection Agency's forthcoming regulations on greenhouse gas emissions will provide legally required protection for the health and welfare of Americans at a cheap cost, while allowing states flexibility -- contrary to media fearmongering about the landmark standards.
The Wall Street Journal continued its crusade against clean air, calling on the Supreme Court to put an end to centuries-old state lawsuits that hold polluters accountable for the "smoke, dust, poisonous chemicals, and noxious odors" they dump on their neighbors, despite previously arguing for state-level solutions to air pollution.
The WSJ has a long history of blanket opposition to class action lawsuits, regardless of the merits of the case. It has called class actions nothing more than a "windfall" for plaintiffs lawyers despite the fact that such lawsuits are often the only avenue for legal redress for many consumers. Class actions are often the most effective tool to punish corporate plaintiffs whose behavior cause Americans injury or harm, yet the WSJ has falsely accused federal judges (like conservative Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner) of not following and having "disdain for" Supreme Court precedent, just for allowing class action lawsuits to proceed.
In its most recent editorial on the subject, the WSJ complained that the Supreme Court should "polish off" a new series of class action lawsuits that seek relief for injury caused by air pollution or the physical effects of climate change caused by such pollution. Based on long-established state common law -- judge created doctrine as opposed to legislatively-enacted law -- that redresses personal injury caused by nuisance, trespass, or negligence, these suits allow landowners to bring civil claims against factories and power plants whose air pollution has negatively interfered with their property rights.
In 2011, the Court ruled that federal common law does not provide for civil nuisance claims seeking injunctions against polluters because the federal Clean Air Act (CAA) displaced such litigation, but the question of whether the CAA applies to state common law was explicitly left unanswered. Although the 2011 case sought a court order to stop pollution that caused global warming, other lawsuits based on the state version of common law only seek damages for the air pollution itself, regardless of its contribution to climate change. But the WSJ complained that allowing these more traditional class actions to go forward would "lead to a state-by-state chopped salad of pollution controls," even though it has previously argued that managing pollution should be largely left to the states rather than the federal government.
From the May 28 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News brushed aside the value of Environmental Protection Agency research grants for clean cooking and heating technologies, saying that the dangerous indoor pollution from dirty stoves is only "a mere contribution" to 4.3 million deaths, and fearmongered that the EPA would soon come after American stoves. However, even Fox News' "favorite" environmental pundit has said that the fact that millions are dying from dirty cooking stoves -- more deaths than from AIDS and malaria combined -- is an "immediate problem."
From the May 28 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Loading the player reg...
One year ago, New York City launched its bike share program to the chagrin of a Wall Street Journal editorial board member who claimed it was a "totalitarian" instrument of "aesthetic torture" that has "appalled" New Yorkers. However, the program has survived conservative attacks on it and proven immensely popular, with nearly 9 million rides in its first year.
Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of Wall Street Journal's editorial board, made waves last year by railing against the launch of Citi Bike, New York City's bike share program. In a video op-ed on WSJ Live, Rabinowitz derided the "totalitarian"-backed program that has "begrimed" NYC neighborhoods, saying the city is "helpless" to the wishes of its "autocratic" mayor and the bike lobby.
Even after Rabinowitz' argument was mocked on both the Colbert Report and The Daily Show, Rabinowitz stuck to her vendetta, dubbing the bike racks "instruments of aesthetic torture," and her colleagues defended her. She is not alone among conservatives for displaying an irrational hatred of bicyclists. Soon afterward, Fox Business' Melissa Francis called the Citi Bike racks a "nuisance" and an "eyesore," putting it frankly: "I hate these bikes." But they have proven to be the exception rather than the rule.
Rabinowitz claimed that she represented "the majority of [NYC] citizens" who are equally "appalled" by the bike share program, but polling has shown the opposite with even the Wall Street Journal itself dubbing the bike share "popular." Before the program was launched, polls from Quinnipiac University's Polling Institute found that 74 percent of New Yorkers polled agreed the bike rental program was a "good idea." One month after its launch, the same institute found that only 20 percent were opposed to the program, with the majority of every "age, income party, gender and educational group" supporting the program:
Fox News host Sean Hannity's attempt to blame oil spills from deepwater drilling on environmentalists rather than under-regulated oil companies was debunked by a news service that largely serves energy industry clients.
On May 22, Hannity spoke at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in North Dakota, a state that has recently experienced a boom in oil and gas production. Platts, an industry journal that specializes in covering the oil industry for those employed in relevant industries, reported in coverage of the conference that "Hannity did not know some important details about the drilling industry" including falsely claiming that oil companies were drilling in deepwater because environmentalists forced them out of shallower waters.
In the aftermath of the BP oil spill in 2010, Sean Hannity and other Fox News figures repeatedly claimed that BP was only drilling in dangerous deepwater because environmentalists had "pushed us out there." However, as Media Matters pointed out at the time and Platts is now reporting, companies were actually drilling in deepwater due to discoveries of large, potentially lucrative reserves there.
Platts also pointed out that a reporter challenged Hannity on his portrayal of the fossil fuel industry as a panacea for unemployment, noting that some states "such as Vermont, Georgia or Idaho, which have no oil production" while North Dakota has "naturally abundant resources" (North Dakota also has a very small population, making the impact of the boom on the unemployment rate unusual compared to the rest of the country). Hannity, who has been hosting fossil fuel companies on his radio show as part of a "Get America Back to Work campaign," reportedly replied that increasing oil production in some states would trickle down to other areas.
The Associated Press summarized Hannity's speech as arguing that "government needs to get out of the way" of the oil industry. However, investigative reporter David Cay Johnston argued instead that the government needs to get involved in North Dakota, where worker fatalities have soared because "preventing accidents costs much more than paying off the families of dead workers." An AFL-CIO study found that North Dakota has more workers dying on the job than any other state -- with a worker fatality rate "more than five times the national average" and "one of the highest state job fatality rates ever reported for any state." The study noted that "the oil and gas industry in North Dakota has been a major source of these fatalities" and that North Dakota's fatality rate has "more than doubled" since 2007, around the time that North Dakota's oil boom took off.
From the May 24 edition of Fox News' Cashin In:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News figures often suggest that historical shifts in the global climate somehow disprove the notion that human-driven climate change is threatening our way of life. However, the past transformations of the global climate -- and the mass extinctions that accompanied them -- actually give good reason to worry.
On May 11, Senator and potential presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) picked up a talking point that is often made on Fox News to dismiss climate change, suggesting that because "[o]ur climate is always changing" we should not worry about man-made climate change.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson debunked this suggestion in an episode of FOX Broadcasting Network's Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey that explored large shifts in the global climate that occurred prior to human civilization. In that episode, Tyson concluded: "We are dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate the Earth hasn't seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past -- the ones that led to mass extinctions." Watch the difference between the political games of Fox News and the credible science touted by its sister channel, the FOX Broadcasting Network:
It is a logical fallacy to argue that because climate change has occurred naturally in the past, it cannot change unnaturally now. Skeptical Science analogized it to arguing that because people have died of natural causes, they cannot be murdered.
Video made by John Kerr and Coleman Lowndes.
From the May 22 edition of CNBC's Squawk Box:
Loading the player reg...
Conservative activist James O'Keefe suggested that in his new video he would show that "a lot" of environmental "propaganda" is funded by foreign oil interests. O'Keefe duped two small-time filmmakers into accepting funding from a man posing as an oil tycoon from the Middle East, but his attempts to broaden the scope of the sting to more prominent organizations and activists were based on deceptive edits.
O'Keefe hyped his latest YouTube video, titled "Expose: Hollywood's War On U.S. Energy," by suggesting in a fundraising email that it would expose "the darker side of how a lot of the feel-good environmentalist propaganda gets funded by international interests who jeopardize national security." In it, he convinces the filmmakers of FRACKED, an upcoming documentary about the risks of fracking, to accept funding from an actor posing as "Muhammed," an oil tycoon from the Middle East who is being represented by an ad executive. The filmmakers said in a statement that they agreed to this funding because "It was understood that the investor would have no control over the content of the film and that we, the directors, would have final cut. We thought to ourselves 'oh the irony! We'll use the funding from an oil company to make a film that promotes green energy!'" Encouraging reliance on green energy, rather than oil from domestic or foreign sources, is essential to national security and it's not clear how a real "Muhammed" would benefit from this.
The video suggested that not only would the filmmakers, Josh and Rachel Tickell, accept oil money but that larger environmental organizations may as well, by adding a false voiceover. The voiceover claimed that the Tickells named environmental groups "When asked if environmental partners would be willing to be paid off":
VOICEOVER: And when asked if environmental partners would be willing to be paid off...
"AD EXECUTIVE" REPRESENTING "MUHAMMED": Which ones? Which ones?
REBECCA TICKELL: Environment California and CodeBlue.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Would that be something that --
JOSH TICKELL: And the NRDC.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Like they accept donations and things like that too?
REBECCA: Absolutely. They would work with us on this film.
But the Tickells were actually stating that they could reach out to these groups to promote their film, not that these groups would accept oil funding - the parts in bold were in the unedited tape starting at 3:28:30 but not in the edited version:
JOSH TICKELL: What's our market reach? We essentially work with six verticals. And these are things that we have developed for the better part of two decades. Grassroots? We have a number of organizations that actively activate our grassroots base. [...] Universities -- as I said, we do a lot of work with universities. That builds credibility, it also allows you to do a back and forth when you're taking people from the university, putting them in the film, and then you're screening it. That university becomes part of your prestige of the film -- oh we have an MIT professor, oh we have this professor, we have that professor. NGOs --
REBECCA TICKELL (interrupting): Which these two organizations, their main focus is anti-fracking.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Which ones? Which ones?
REBECCA TICKELL: Environment California and CodeBlue.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Would that be something that --
JOSH TICKELL: And the NRDC.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Like they accept donations and things like that too? I want my client to --
REBECCA: Absolutely. They would work with us on this film. They would make sure that all of their members saw the film. They would speak at the screenings, they would send out email blasts.
Kate Kiely, a spokeswoman for The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement to Media Matters that "NRDC actually has very strict rules about donations. We have a hard and fast policy not to accept money from any fossil fuel industries. Nor do we accept money to advocate for projects. Our advocacy is always based on strong science, law and policy." When asked whether the organization had "ever accepted funding from foreign oil interests" or if they had any part in the upcoming film FRACKED, Kiely wrote that the answer to both was "a resounding 'NO.'"
Most environmental organizations and activists do not accept funding from special interests that contradict their values. As the Tickells stated during O'Keefe's video, public knowledge that they had agreed to accept Middle Eastern oil money would damage their credibility among environmentalists.
However, according to O'Keefe, his deceptive editing job has already convinced a Senate committee to investigate:
Marlo Lewis, senior fellow of the fossil fuel-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, argued that moving regions that will be affected by sea level rise is a better idea than taking efforts to mitigate climate change.
During the May 20 episode of NPR's On Point, Lewis was hosted alongside two climate experts to discuss the recent findings that the collapse of a West Antarctic ice sheet "appears unstoppable," and will cause global sea levels to rise of ten feet or higher in the next 200 to 1,000 years. Lewis dismissed taking action to reduce our carbon emissions, saying we could simply adapt to the effects of climate change.
Host Tom Ashbrook challenged him, saying, "So you're saying move New York, move Miami, move Southern Florida, move Boston?" Lewis responded, "Yeah." His reasoning: "The built environment from the studies I've seen, most building stock turns over in about 50 years. And so the markets adapt to this sort of phenomenon anyway."
Lewis' argument doesn't make much economic sense. The flood damages from just five U.S. cities will cost nearly $8 billion per year by 2050, according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change -- and this is before the 10 feet of sea level rise is expected. According to the study, taking adaptive action in coastal cities at risk could cost up to $50 billion per year globally -- much more expensive than simply preventing the worst damage from happening in the first place.
Lewis is listed as one of the National Journal's energy experts and contributes to FoxNews.com, National Review Online, and Forbes.com. Lewis has used his media platform to defend Fox News and the Wall Street Journal for their use of false balance in reporting on climate science.
These readers may be interested to know of Lewis' fossil fuel funding, as Ashbrook disclosed for NPR listeners:
ASHBROOK: What are your motivations here? We've got a lot of fossil fuel money in your organization. Does that mean you're speaking up to defend their interests? And how do we have confidence that you're not?
LEWIS: Well, Tom, I kind of make it a policy not to respond to ad hominem arguments.
ASHBROOK: Ad hominem? I mean I'm just looking at your funders. Isn't that fair?
LEWIS: I think, you know, if you can ever find an instance in which I've changed any position I've ever taken at any time in my professional life because of a contribution to an organization that I've worked for, I'll pay you a thousand dollars. So let's drop that subject.
ASHBROOK: I don't think it's ad hominem, Mr. Lewis, it's just an honest question. A tax on carbon would be tough for ExxonMobil and Texaco.
Listen to the entire 45-minute podcast below.
Image at the top from Flickr user stacyflower with a Creative Commons license.
From the May 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
Loading the player reg...
Just as some conservative media figures have cried censorship when their terrible movies aren't promoted in film festivals, they now think that if their error-laden, unoriginal papers pushing climate "skepticism" aren't published in top scientific journals, there is a "cover-up."
The Drudge Report, an influential conservative news website, devoted the top spot of their site on May 16 to hype an article that claims climate scientists "COVERED UP SCEPTIC'S 'DAMAGING' REVIEW" and even compared it to the faux "Climategate" scandal.
The article by The Times, a British newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, suggests that because a paper by the University of Reading's Lennart Bengtsson was not published in a prestigious scientific journal, politically motivated suppression is behind the "cover-up." Bengtsson recently resigned from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which criticizes almost any policy to address climate change and sometimes misleads on climate science. He claimed that he faced criticism from fellow academics for joining an organization, which he compared to the political witchhunts of Joseph McCarthy.
Nicola Gulley, the editorial director of IOP Publishing, which oversees the journal in question (Environmental Research Letters) stated that the draft paper was not published because it "contained errors" and "did not provide a significant advancement in the field." Top journals typically reject about nine out of ten papers submitted -- it is not a "cover-up" but a standard practice to accept only the papers that most advance the field.
The Times selectively quoted from one of the independent, anonymous peer-reviews of Bengtsson's submission, to suggest that the paper was rejected because it would help climate "skeptics," which would be "harmful." Gulley said that comments were "taken out of context" as the full quote from the reviewer was: "Summarising, the simplistic comparison of ranges from [three scientific assessments], combined with the statement they are inconsistent is less then helpful, actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of 'errors' and worse from the climate sceptics media side." The reviewer outlined that the paper notes differences between the assessments but "does not make any significant attempt at explaining or understanding the differences" even though such explanations are readily available. He or she also noted that the "overall innovation of the manuscript is very low, as the calculations made to compare the three studies are already available within each of the sources."
As Professor Myles Allen of the University of Oxford explained to the Science Media Centre, "[w]hether there is a story here at all depends on" how you read "harmful," which could mean "harmful to our collective understanding of the climate system" rather than "harmful to the case for a particular climate policy." Dr. Simon Lewis added that the editor, not the reviewer, would have final say: "What counts are the reasons the editor gave for rejection. They were because the paper contained important errors and didn't add enough that was new to warrant publication. Indeed, looking at all the comments by the reviewer they suggested how the paper might be rewritten in the future to make it a solid contribution to science. That's not suppressing a dissenting view, it's what scientists call peer review."
Prof. Allen further noted that leaking a cherry-picked comment from a review for a politicized media story, as The Times did, is harmful to the progression of science:
The real tragedy here is that climate scientists are now expected to check their comments in an anonymous peer review to ask themselves how they might 'play' if repeated in the Times or the Mail. The progress of science since Galileo has depended on the principle that an anonymous graduate student can point out errors in a paper by a Nobel laureate confident that their comments will be used solely for the purposes of editorial judgement.
Even Bengtsson himself took issue with The Times article, saying he did not believe that there is "any systematic 'cover-up' of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics' work is being 'deliberately suppressed'"
I do not believe there is any systematic "cover up" of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics' work is being "deliberately suppressed", as The Times front page suggests. I am worried by a wider trend that science is being gradually being influenced by political views. Policy decisions need to be based on solid fact.
"I was concerned that the Environmental Research Letters reviewer's comments suggested his or her opinion was not objective or based on an unbiased assessment of the scientific evidence. Science relies on having a transparent and robust peer review system so I welcome the Institute of Physics publishing the reviewers' comments in full. I accept that Environmental Research Letters is entitled to its final decision not to publish this paper - that is part and parcel of academic life. The peer review process is imperfect but it is still the best way to assess academic work.