A dirty energy advocate with Big Oil ties is falsely smearing Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' wind energy plan -- with an assist from The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal published a February 7 op-ed attacking Sanders' renewable energy plan by Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, without disclosing that the Manhattan Institute has received at least $800,000 from ExxonMobil and millions more from foundations run by the oil billionaire Koch brothers. Unsurprisingly, given his track record, Bryce's criticism of Sanders is badly at odds with the facts.
In the op-ed, Bryce claimed that Sanders "better check with his Vermont constituents about the popularity of wind energy." Citing anti-wind proposals in the Vermont state legislature and a few scattered examples of local opposition to specific wind energy projects, Bryce declared: "Nowhere is the backlash [against wind energy] stronger than in Mr. Sanders's state."
However, despite the presence of a vocal minority who oppose large-scale wind projects, support for wind energy development is actually very strong in the Green Mountain State.
According to an April 2014 poll that was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin, Metz & Associates for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), 71 percent of Vermonters support building wind turbines along the state's ridgelines, while only 23 percent oppose wind energy development. The poll also found that 86 percent of Vermonters support the state's goal of getting 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, and 72 percent of Vermonters said they would look more favorably on a candidate for state legislature who would make "advancing energy efficiency, clean energy and action on climate change central to their work."
These findings are in line with other polls conducted in Vermont. A May 2014 survey by the Castleton Polling Institute found that 89.3 percent of Vermonters agree that it is necessary and important to change the state's energy mix from the "current system based on fossil fuels, such as oil, and gas" to "a new energy system based on increasing energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro and biomass." And a February 2013 Castleton poll found that 69 percent of Vermonters would favor the development of a wind farm in their own community.
Indeed, Bryce's entire attack against Sanders is premised on deceptively cherry-picking several isolated incidents of local opposition to wind energy. This cherry-picking is exemplified by the very first example he cited as supposed evidence that opposition to wind turbines "has been growing" in the state:
Wind-generated electricity in the U.S. has more than tripled since 2008, but opposition to the gigantic turbines, which can stand more than 500 feet, has been growing. In Vermont several protesters were arrested in 2011 and 2012 while trying to stop work on a wind project built on top of Lowell Mountain.
In reality, 75 percent of Lowell residents voted for Green Mountain Power's Kingdom Community Wind project on Lowell Mountain in 2010, and Lowell voters strongly reaffirmed their support for the project in March 2014, as the Associated Press noted at the time.
Bloomberg has published several columns by contributor Robert Bryce that either attack renewable energy or promote oil without disclosing that he is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute's Center for Energy Policy and the Environment, which has long received significant funding from ExxonMobil.
The New York Times recently published an op-ed attacking renewable fuels from the Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce without disclosing his ties to the oil industry, despite a directive from its former public editor for the paper to fully disclose its op-ed contributors' financial conflicts of interest.
In a March 10 New York Times op-ed, Robert Bryce falsely characterized the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as an expensive "tax." The standard, which requires oil refiners, blenders, and gasoline and diesel importers to blend a set amount of renewable fuel into their gasoline supply, was dismissed by Bryce as a "boondoggle" and a "rip-off."
But the Times failed to disclose Bryce's financial incentive to attack the RFS, identifying him only as a "senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of a new report from the institute, 'The Hidden Corn-Ethanol Tax.'" The Manhattan Institute has, in fact, received millions from oil interests over the years, including $635,000 from ExxonMobil and $1.9 million from the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, where Charles Koch and his wife sit on the board of directors. Koch made his fortune from oil and currently has significant holdings in oil and gas operations.
Bryce is, in essence, acting as a spokesperson for the oil industry, which has much to gain from weakening or repealing the RFS. The renewable fuel requirement is set to increase over the next several years, potentially replacing up to 13.6 billion gallons of the conventional fuel supply by 2022.
As House Republicans try to slash funding for research and development of new energy technologies, conservative figures who once proclaimed their support for such initiatives have been curiously silent.
Buoyed by Republican lawmakers, the House recently passed a spending bill that cuts funding for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the key federal program that invests in research and development of new energy technologies, by 81 percent. ARPA-E is a bipartisan Bush-era creation modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which spurred breakthroughs like the internet and stealth fighter. Now, even a midpoint reconciliation with the more generous Senate spending bill could leave funding for the program in tatters.
These cuts are an extreme departure from the rare interparty comity that has typically surrounded research and development for alternative energy. Indeed, conservative media figures have frequently embraced such efforts -- as opposed to programs that award loans to address the so-called "valley of death" between development and commercialization -- echoing the pro-ARPA-E views of free-market groups and some Republican leaders. Among the latter was former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who supported increasing funding. But with ARPA-E now in trouble, these figures appear tongue-tied.
Conservative media have denigrated solar energy by denying its sustainability, ignoring its successes, and arguing the U.S. should simply cede the solar market to China. Yet this booming industry has made great strides, and with the right policies can become a major source of our power.
The Wall Street Journal failed to disclose the fossil fuel ties of an op-ed writer who criticized an effort to encourage colleges to divest from fossil fuel-producing companies.
On Sunday, the Journal published an op-ed by Robert Bryce, which attacked environmental activists who are seeking to have colleges and universities shed their investments in fossil fuel producing companies. Bryce alluded to the supposed "absurdity of the activists' calls for a 'fossil free' future." The diverstiture effort, Fossil Free, is a campaign managed by 350.org, an organization committed to "building a global grass roots movement to solve the climate crisis."
But the Journal did not disclose that Bryce's organization, the Manhattan Institute, has received over $600,000 from Exxon Mobile since 1998, including $95,000 in 2011. The Manhattan Institute has also received funding from the David H. Koch Foundation and the Olin Foundation, foundations started by energy titans David Koch and John Olin.
The Journal has an ongoing problem with disclosing the affiliations of its op-ed contributors, including 12 advisers to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign leading up to November's election and Karl Rove. This disclosure problem has permeated several issue areas, including a number of climate change-denying op-eds from Bryce.
Despite the overwhelming consensus among climate experts that human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, 66 percent of Americans incorrectly believe there is "a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening." The conservative media has fueled this confusion by distorting scientific research, hyping faux-scandals, and giving voice to groups funded by industries that have a financial interest in blocking action on climate change. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have shied away from the "controversy" over climate change and have failed to press U.S. policymakers on how they will address this global threat. When climate change is discussed, mainstream outlets sometimes strive for a false balance that elevates marginal voices and enables them to sow doubt about the science even in the face of mounting evidence.
Here, Media Matters looks at how conservative media outlets give industry-funded "experts" a platform, creating a polarized misunderstanding of climate science.
The Economist has called the libertarian Heartland Institute "the world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change." Every year, Heartland hosts an "International Conference on Climate Change," bringing together a small group of contrarians (mostly non-scientists) who deny that manmade climate change is a serious problem. To promote its most recent conference, Heartland launched a short-lived billboard campaign associating acceptance of climate science with "murderers, tyrants, and madmen" including Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Facing backlash from corporate donors and even some of its own staff, Heartland removed the billboard, but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Heartland does not disclose its donors, but internal documents obtained in February reveal that Heartland received $25,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 and anticipated $200,000 in additional funding in 2012. Charles Koch is CEO and co-owner of Koch Industries, a corporation with major oil interests. Along with his brother David Koch, he has donated millions to groups that spread climate misinformation. Heartland also receives funding from some corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science. ExxonMobil contributed over $600,000 to Heartland between 1998 and 2006, but has since pledged to stop funding groups that cast doubt on climate change.
Despite their industry ties and lack of scientific expertise, Heartland Institute fellows are often given a media platform to promote their marginal views on climate change. Most visible is James Taylor, a lawyer with no climate science background who heads Heartland's environmental initiative. Taylor dismisses "alarmist propaganda that global warming is a human-caused problem that needs to be addressed," and suggests that taking action to reduce emissions could cause a return to the "the Little Ice Age and the Black Death." But that hasn't stopped Forbes from publishing his weekly column, which he uses to spout climate misinformation and accuse scientists of "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend. It also hasn't stopped Fox News from promoting his misinformation.
Natural gas can help the U.S. transition away from reliance on coal in the near-term if it is produced responsibly. But conservative media have dismissed the risks involved with the rapid spread of natural gas extraction to push for deregulation, attack the Obama administration, and ignore the need for a comprehensive energy policy to transition to renewable energy.
Following relentless attacks on the solar industry in the wake of Solyndra's bankruptcy, wind power has become the latest target of the right-wing campaign against renewable energy. But contrary to the myths propagated by the conservative media, wind power is safe, increasingly affordable, and has the potential to significantly reduce pollution and U.S. reliance on fossil fuels.
Media outlets have turned to the Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce at least 39 times this year to comment on energy issues without disclosing that the Manhattan Institute is partly funded by oil interests. Bryce, who often promotes fossil fuels while disparaging renewable energy, has been criticized for making misleading claims.