REPORT: Opponents Of EPA Climate Action Dominate TV News Airwaves

››› ››› JOCELYN FONG & FAE JENCKS

Media Matters analyzed television news guests who discussed the Environmental Protection Agency's role in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from December 2009 through April 2011. Driven largely by Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, results show that in 76 percent of those appearances, the guest was opposed to EPA regulations while 18 percent were in favor. Of the appearances by elected officials, 86 percent were Republican. Only one guest in 17 months of coverage across nine news outlets was a climate scientist -- industry-funded Patrick Michaels.

Background

Responding to a lawsuit brought by states, cities, and advocacy groups, the Supreme Court ruled on April 2, 2007, that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHG) under the Clean Air Act. The Court stated that "EPA can avoid taking further action only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do."

The Bush administration ensured that a response to the ruling would be delayed until the following administration, and it wasn't until December 2009 that the EPA issued a GHG scientific endangerment finding, the legal precursor to regulation. EPA subsequently announced GHG regulations for certain vehicles and stationary sources.

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans have pushed legislation that would take the unprecedented step of repealing the EPA's scientific finding and prohibit the agency from "promulgat[ing] any regulation concerning, take action related to, or take into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change."

[For more detail, see timeline below]

Opponents Of EPA Rules Vastly Outnumbered Supporters In TV Appearances

76% Of Total Guests Were Opponents Of GHG Regulation. Media Matters examined TV news coverage that included elected officials, members of advocacy groups, business leaders, pundits, and others discussing EPA regulation of greenhouse gases. Of these appearances, 152 out of 199 -- over 76% -- opposed regulation. The three outlets that hosted the greatest number of guests, Fox News (FNC), Fox Business (FBN), and CNBC, all featured opponents of GHG regulation at least four times more often than supporters.

Total Guests by Network

[See a complete list of TV guests who discussed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases HERE.]

81% Of Fox Guests And 83% of Fox Business Guests Opposed GHG Regulation. Fox News hosted 52 guests who criticized the EPA's decision to regulate greenhouse gases. In that same period they featured only 10 supporters and two guests who took a neutral stance. Fox Business hosted opponents 65 times, compared to seven appearances by supporters. MSNBC hosted four times more supporters of EPA's action than opponents, but had far fewer guests commenting on the issue than did Fox.

Coverage by CNN, ABC, NBC, And CBS Relied Less On Opinionated Guests. As the chart shows, CNN and broadcasts on network television (nightly news and/or Sunday shows) were far less reliant on outside opinions in their coverage, often featuring straight news reports without live interviews with guests. However, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday hosted over three times more opponents than supporters of GHG regulation with more total guests commenting on the issue than the other broadcast networks and CNN combined.

Views Of TV News Guests At Odds With Public Opinion

CNN/Opinion Research Poll: 71% Say EPA Should Move Forward With GHG Regulations. An April 2011 CNN/Opinion Research Poll asked respondents if they "favor legislation that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from spending any money to enforce regulation on greenhouse gases and other environmental issues, or do you think the federal government should continue to provide funding to the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce those regulations?" Seventy-one percent said "government should continue to provide funding," 28 percent said they "favor legislation to prevent spending," and one percent had no opinion. [CNN/Opinion Research, 4/11/11]

Wash. Post/ABC News Poll: 71% Support Government Regulation Of GHG Emissions. A June 2010 Washington Post/ABC News poll asked, "Do you think the federal government should or should not regulate the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cares and factories in an effort to reduce global warming?" Seventy-one percent of respondents said government should regulate greenhouse gases, including 52 percent who felt "strongly" in favor of regulation. Twenty-six percent said government should not regulate GHG emissions. [ABC News, 6/10/10]

Stanford Survey: 76% Say Government Should Limit GHGs From U.S. Businesses. A June 2010 Stanford survey asked, "Do you think the government should or should not limit the amount of greenhouse gasses that U.S. businesses put out?" Seventy-six percent of respondents said "government should limit greenhouse gasses from U.S. businesses," while 20 percent said it should not. [Stanford University, 6/9/11]

Republican Appearances On Cable Channels Outnumbered Democrats 6 To 1

Cable News Outlets Hosted Republicans 30 Times, Democrats 5 Times. Of the 35 cable news appearances by elected officials who discussed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, 30 were Republicans and five were Democrats. The only cable network that hosted more Democrats than Republicans was MSNBC. CNBC featured eight elected officials, all of whom were Republicans.

Elected officials by network

Democrats Hosted By Fox News And Fox Business Opposed GHG Regulation. Fox News and Fox Business each hosted one Democrat who discussed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases during their appearance. However, those Democrats, then-Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and then-Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV) both expressed opposition to EPA's GHG rules. By contrast, every Republican who discussed the regulations on cable news opposed the EPA's actions.

Elected Officials Who Criticized GHG Regulations On TV Received Millions From Fossil Fuel Interests

The Elected Officials Who Opposed EPA Regs In TV Appearances Received Over $3 Million From Fossil Fuel Companies. According to our analysis, 26 elected officials and candidates for office have discussed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases in TV appearances since December 2009. Of those 26, 23 opposed the EPA's action on greenhouse gases. These 23 politicians collectively received $3,026,041 from companies that generate, produce, or refine fossil fuels from 2007-2010. The three elected officials who supported the EPA received a total of $202,000. On average, the opponents of EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases received approximately $131,500 from fossil fuel companies, while the supporters received, on average, about $67,300.

Donations from fossil fuel companies

[See complete list of elected officials and their donors HERE.]

Representatives Of Advocacy Groups Opposing GHG Regs Appeared More Frequently Than Those In Favor

76% Of Guests Representing Advocacy Groups Opposed EPA Regulations. Of the television appearances by guests who discussed the GHG regulations, 29 were identified as representatives of advocacy groups. For around 76 percent of those appearances -- 22 of the 29 -- the guest opposed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases.

Positions of Guests Representing Advocacy Groups

Only Climate Scientist Interviewed Is Funded By Fossil Fuel Interests

Cato's Patrick Michaels Was The Only Climate Scientist Hosted In TV Coverage Of EPA Regulations. Of the TV guests who discussed EPA's GHG regulations over 17 months, only one, Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute, has a background in climate science. Michaels appeared twice on Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto and spoke in opposition to EPA GHG rules. Michaels holds a Ph.D. in ecological climatology and was a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia.

Michaels Has Estimated That "40 Percent" Of His Funding Comes From The Petroleum Industry. From the August 15, 2010, edition of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS:

ZAKARIA: Right, but people say that you're advocating also for the current petroleum-based industry to stand pat, to stay as it is, and that a lot of your research is funded by these industries.

MICHAELS: Oh, no, no. First of all, what I'm saying is --

ZAKARIA: Well, is your research funded by these industries?

MICHAELS: Not largely. The fact of the matter is --

ZAKARIA: Well, can I ask you what percentage of your work is funded by the petroleum industry?

MICHAELS: I don't know -- 40 percent. I don't know. [CNN, Fareed Zakaria GPS, 8/15/10]

Michaels Has Taken Money From Fossil Fuel Interests For Decades. From a February 2010 report by Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard:

Greenpeace recently obtained an older copy of Michaels' curriculum vitae via a Freedom of Information Act request that shows that the Western Fuels Association, a coal and fuel-transportation business group, gave him a $63,000 grant in the early 1990s for "research on global climatic change." He also received $25,000 from the Edison Electric Institute, an association of electric utilities, from 1992-95 for "literature review of climate change and updates." And a 2006 leaked industry memo revealed that he received $100,000 in funding from the Intermountain Rural Electric Association to fund climate denial campaigning around the time of the release of An Inconvenient Truth. Reporter Ross Gelbspan wrote in his 1998 book The Heat is On, one of the earliest works documenting industry funding for climate change skepticism, that Michaels also received $49,000 came from the German Coal Mining Association and $40,000 from the western mining company Cyprus Minerals. [Mother Jones, 2/26/10]

Timeline

The following graph shows the monthly number of guest appearances covered in this report and is followed by a timeline of major events related to the EPA's greenhouse gas regulations.

TV News Guests by Month

April 2007: Supreme Court Says EPA Has The Authority To Regulate Greenhouse Gases. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 opinion authored by then-Justice John Paul Stevens, stated on April 2, 2007: "Because greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act's capacious definition of 'air pollutant,' we hold that EPA has the statutory authority to regulate the emission of such gases from new motor vehicles." The ruling further stated that "EPA can avoid taking further action only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do." [Massachusetts v. EPA, 4/2/07]

December 2007: Bush White House Refuses To Accept EPA's Draft Endangerment Finding On GHGs. On December 5, 2007, then-EPA official Jason Burnett sent the White House a draft endangerment finding, which stated: "The Administrator proposes to find that the air pollution of elevated levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public welfare." The White House reportedly refused to open the email and the document was not made public until October 2009. [Greenwire, 10/13/09]

January 2008: EPA Administrator Tells Bush That The Administration Must Issue Endangerment Finding. In a January 31, 2008, letter to the president, EPA administrator Stephen Johnson said that the Massachusetts v. EPA decision and "the latest science of climate change" require the EPA "to propose a positive endangerment finding, as was agreed to at the Cabinet-level meeting in November." Johnson further stated that regardless of energy legislation passed in 2007, "a finding is still required by the Supreme Court case, and the state of the latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research." The letter was made public in February 2011. [Wall Street Journal, 2/8/11]

April 2008: States Sue EPA For Failing To Respond To Supreme Court Ruling. Reuters reported in April 2008 that "eighteen states sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday for failing to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and trucks, one year after the Supreme Court ruled that the agency had the power to do so." The article further noted: "In addition to the states, officials from three cities and at 11 environmental groups signed the suit, which seeks action within 60 days. Environmental lawyers acknowledged a response is unlikely before President George W. Bush leaves office." [Reuters, 4/2/08]

July 2008: Bush EPA Decides To Delay GHG Regulations Until Next Administration. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Bush administration "rejected its own experts' conclusion that global warming poses a threat to the public welfare, launching a comment period that will delay action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least until the next president takes office." Along with this "Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking," the EPA administrator released "several critical comments from senior officials undercutting his staff's work." [Los Angeles Times, 7/12/08]

September 2009: EPA Issues Rule Requiring Certain Facilities To Report GHG Data. Directed by a 2007 spending bill signed by President Bush, the EPA announced a new rule requiring "about 10,000 facilities that emit about 85 percent of the nation's greenhouse gases to begin to collect emissions data under a new reporting system," as reported by Greenwire. [Greenwire, 9/22/09]

December 2009: EPA Announces GHG Endangerment Finding. After reviewing over 380,000 public comments, the EPA issued findings "that the current and projected concentrations of the mix of six key greenhouse gases-carbon dioxide ... in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations" and that emissions greenhouse gases "from new motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines contribute to the atmospheric concentrations of these key greenhouse gases and hence to the threat of climate change." [EPA, 12/7/09]

March 2010: States Sue EPA To Stop GHG Regulation. Reuters reported that "At least 15 U.S. states have sued the Environmental Protection Agency seeking to stop it from issuing rules controlling greenhouse gas emissions until it reexamines whether the pollution harms human health." [Reuters, 3/19/10]

April 2010: EPA Subjects New Cars To First Ever GHG Emissions Standards. A joint rule issued by the EPA and the Department of Transportation requires "new passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles, covering model years 2012 through 2016 ... to meet an estimated combined average emissions level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile in model year 2016, equivalent to 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) if the automotive industry were to meet this CO2 level all through fuel economy improvements." [EPA, 4/1/10]

May 2010: EPA "Tailoring" Rule Excludes Small Facilities From GHG Permitting Regulations. Greenwire reported that EPA issued a rule which "'tailors' permitting programs to limit the number of facilities that would be required to obtain New Source Review and Title V operating permits based on their greenhouse gas emissions. EPA said the threshold would cover power plants, refineries and other large industrial plants while exempting smaller sources like farms, restaurants, schools and other facilities." [Greenwire, 5/13/10]

June 2010: Senate Rejects Murkowski Effort to Block Greenhouse Gas Regulations. In a 53-47 vote the Senate rejected Sen. Lisa Murkowski's resolution of disapproval, which would have overturned the EPA's GHG endangerment finding and prevented EPA from regulating GHG emissions. [New York Times, 6/10/10]

August 2010: U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Sues Over Endangerment Finding. Greenwire reported: "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the advocacy group Coalition for Responsible Regulation have asked a federal appeals court to review U.S. EPA's decision that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare." [Greenwire, 8/16/10]

December 2010: Appeals Court Denies Industry Request To Delay GHG Regulations. From the Washington Post: "A U.S. appellate court Friday turned down a request from utilities, oil refiners and the state of Texas to delay the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions by the Environmental Protection Agency. ... The companies contend in that lawsuit that the EPA regulations would be too costly. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that the companies 'have not shown that the harms they allege are "certain," rather than speculative.' " [Washington Post, 12/12/10]

December 2010: EPA Sets Schedule For Power Plant And Refinery Regulations. Settling lawsuits filed in 2008 by several states and environmental groups, EPA announced that the agency "will propose [greenhouse gas] standards for power plants in July 2011 and for refineries in December 2011 and will issue final standards in May 2012 and November 2012, respectively." The standards will apply to new and existing facilities. [EPA, 12/23/10]

January 2011: GHG Permitting Rules Go Into Effect. As of January 2, 2011, the largest stationary sources of emissions are subject to permitting regulations on the emission of greenhouse gases. As of this date, "any new plant that will emit more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide (or the equivalent) annually will need an EPA permit, as will existing plants that install new capacity that emits 75,000 tons or more." [Discover Magazine, 1/3/11]

February 2011: House Votes To Gut EPA's GHG Efforts. On February 19, the House passed a Continuing Resolution which would have defunded EPA greenhouse gas regulations and cut funding for the collection of greenhouse gas emissions data. [Columbia Law School, 3/7/11]

March 2011: EPA Extends Greenhouse Gas Reporting Deadline. EPA issued a rule extending the reporting deadline for 2010 data, originally scheduled for March 31, 2011. EPA stated: "Following conversations with industry and others and in the interest of providing high quality data to the public this year, EPA is extending this year's reporting deadline to September 30, 2011. This extension will allow EPA to further test the system that facilities will use to submit data and give industry the opportunity to test the tool, provide feedback, and have sufficient time to become familiar with the tool prior to reporting." [EPA, 3/17/11]

April 2011: Senate Rejects Multiple Amendments Blocking Or Limiting EPA Regulation. Politico reported that the Senate "voted 50-50 to reject the sweeping rider from Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) that would undo EPA climate rules, and veto the agency's scientific finding that climate change threatens public health and welfare." The Senate also defeated amendments that would have delayed emissions standards for stationary sources for two years. [Politico, 4/6/11]

April 2011: House Passes Legislation To Revoke EPA Authority To Regulate Greenhouse Gases. By a 255-177 vote, the House passed a proposal introduced by Rep. Fred Upton, which "would repeal a dozen EPA greenhouse-gas-related regulations" and "would redefine the term 'air pollutant' to exclude greenhouse gases. And it states that EPA may not 'promulgate any regulation concerning, take action related to, or take into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change,' " as explained by the Congressional Research Service. [CRS, 4/11/11]

Methodology

This report analyzes guests who appeared on Fox News, Fox Business Network, MSNBC, CNBC and CNN, and on the nightly and/or Sunday news programs of ABC, CBS, NBC, or Fox Broadcasting Co. between December 1, 2009 and April 30, 2011 (inclusive) and who discussed the EPA's role in regulating greenhouse gas emissions during their appearance.

For the primetime shows on Fox News, Fox Business, and MSNBC; CNN's coverage; ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s nightly and/or Sunday news programs, we searched the Nexis database for "epa and greenhouse or carbon or climate change or global warming or co2" to identify relevant guest appearances. For shows that did not appear in Nexis, we searched closed captioning transcripts from our video archive for "carbon," "greenhouse," and variations of the term "epa." Anchors, hosts and correspondents on the show were not included, but paid contributors and hosts of other shows brought on to express an opinion were included.

Guests who expressed support for the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases were labeled as supporting the EPA regulations, while those who expressed opposition to the regulations or questioned the EPA's authority over greenhouse gas emissions were labeled as opposing the EPA regulations. Guests who did not express a position for or against the regulations were labeled as neutral.

Political donations from fossil fuel interests were calculated based upon totals reported by the Center for Responsive Politics since 2007. For non-federal office holders, financial disclosure forms from each state were consulted. Only donations from companies that actively produce, refine, or generate power from natural gas, oil, or coal were included. The total for each candidate only includes donations from companies' PACs, not individual employees, though donations from employee PACs were included.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.