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Evlondo Cooper

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  • Scorecard: Debate moderators should be asking climate change questions. Are they?

    Voters need to hear candidates' positions on climate change

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Less than one quarter of the debates in competitive Senate and governors’ races in 2016 featured a question about climate change, according to tracking by Media Matters. Moderators need to do better in 2018, but so far, they’re doing worse.

    Only 1 of 12 debates Media Matters has analyzed thus far this election season included a question about climate change.

    Climate change is a crisis that's now affecting all Americans, and debate moderators should be asking candidates what they plan to do about it. In 2017, climate and extreme weather disasters cost the U.S. at least $306 billion in damages -- an all-time record. Extreme weather exacerbated by climate change is taking a big toll on the U.S. this year too, from heat waves to wildfires to hurricanes, with localized effects that candidates for statewide offices need to address.

    On this scorecard, Media Matters is tracking debates in close Senate and gubernatorial races. For upcoming debates, we'll provide information about how the public can suggest questions and watch the events. For past debates, we'll note whether moderators asked climate questions, and if they did, we'll post a transcript of questions and answers as well as video or audio clips.

    We are focusing on competitive races -- those ranked by the Cook Political Report as being a "toss-up" or "lean R" or "lean D" as of September 19. If you have additional information about debates that we should include, please email ecooper AT mediamatters.org.

    We are tracking debates in these races:

    Alaska governor Kansas governor North Dakota senator
    Arizona senator Maine governor Ohio governor
    Colorado governor Michigan governor Ohio senator
    Connecticut governor Minnesota governor Oregon governor
    Florida governor Minnesota senator Rhode Island governor
    Florida senator Missouri senator Tennessee senator
    Georgia governor Nevada governor Texas senator
    Illinois governor Nevada senator West Virginia senator
    Indiana senator New Mexico governor Wisconsin governor
    Iowa governor

     

    Alaska

    Climate threats: Alaska is at risk from extreme heat, coastal flooding, and wildfires, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Bill Walker (independent) -- incumbent
    Mike Dunleavy (R)
    Mark Begich (D)
    Billy Toien (Libertarian)

    Past debates:

    Date: September 5
    Hosted by: Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce, KINY-AM
    Moderator: Pete Carran (KINY-AM host)
    Audio: KINY-AMY
    Climate questions: The moderator did not ask any climate-related questions.

    Date: September 10
    Hosted by: Anchorage Chamber of Commerce
    Moderator: Tim Thompson (Alaska Airlines spokesman)
    Video and partial transcript: Anchorage Daily News
    Climate questions: The moderator did not ask any climate-related questions.

    Date: September 19
    Hosted by: Alaska Mortgage Bankers Association, Anchorage Board of Realtors
    Debate still to be analyzed.

    Date: September 20
    Hosted by: Anchorage Branch NAACP, Kappa Alpha Psi Anchorage Alumni Chapter, University of Alaska Anchorage Multicultural Chapter
    Debate still to be analyzed.

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    Arizona

    Climate threats: Arizona is at risk from extreme heat, drought, and wildfires, among other threats.

    Senate candidates:

    Martha McSally (R)
    Kyrsten Sinema (D)

    Information on debates TBA.

    Colorado

    Climate threats: Colorado is at risk from drought and wildfires, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Walker Stapleton (R)
    Jared Polis (D)

    Upcoming debate:

    Date: October 13
    Where to watch: KOAA-TV News5Now, KOAA.com, TheStateDebate.com
    Hosted by: KOAA-TV, The Gazette
    Moderator: Rob Quirk (KOAA-TV anchor)
         Tweet or contact Quirk to encourage him to ask a climate question.
    Panelists: Joey Bunch (Gazette political reporter)
         Tweet or contact Bunch to encourage him to ask a climate question
    Elizabeth Watts (KOAA-TV anchor) 
         Tweet or contact Watts to encourage her to ask a climate question.
    How to submit questions: Via TheStateDebate.com, box in upper right-hand corner

    No additional debates have yet been scheduled.

    Connecticut

    Climate threats: Connecticut is at risk from inland flooding and coastal flooding, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Bob Stefanowski (R)
    Ned Lamont (D)
    Oz Griebel (independent)

    Past debates:

    Date: September 12
    Hosted by: Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, The Day
    Moderator: Ann Nyberg (WTNH-TV anchor/reporter)
    Panelists: Paul Choiniere (The Day editorial page editor), Izaskun E. Larrañeta (The Day deputy managing editor), Mark Davis (WTNH-TV chief political correspondent)
    VideoYouTube
    Climate questions: The moderator and panelists did not ask any climate-related questions.

    Date: September 17
    Hosted by: Connecticut Association of Realtors, WTNH-TV
    Moderator: Michael Barbaro (Connecticut Association of Realtors president)
    Panelists: Mark Davis (WTNH-TV chief political correspondent), Kristi Olds (CTR.tv spokesperson), Russell Blair (The Hartford Courant content editor)
    VideoWTNH-TV YouTube page
    Climate questions: The moderator and panelists did not ask any climate-related questions.

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: September 26
    Where to watch: WFSB-TV Channel 3
    Hosted by: WFSB-TV

    Date: October 18
    Hosted by: Connecticut Broadcasters Association
    Date: October 30
    Where to watch: WTNH-TV News 8
    Hosted by: Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, WTNH-TV, The Hartford Courant

    No more debates are planned.

    Florida

    Climate threats: Florida is at risk from extreme heat, inland flooding, and coastal flooding, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Ron DeSantis (R)
    Andrew Gillum (D)

    Upcoming debate:

    Date: October 24
    Where to watch: WPBF-TV Channel 25, Florida Public Radio
    Hosted by: Leadership Florida, Florida Press Association

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    Senate candidates:

    Rick Scott (R)
    Bill Nelson (D) -- incumbent

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: October 2
    Where to watch: WTMO-CD Channel 31, WWDT-CD Channel 43, WRMD-CD Channel 49, WSCV-TV Channel 51
    Hosted by: Telemundo
    Moderators: Marilys Llanos (WSCV-TV reporter and presenter)
         Tweet or contact Llanos to encourage her to ask a climate question.
    Jackie Nespral (WTVJ-TV anchor)
         Tweet or contact Nespral to encourage her to ask a climate question.

    Date: October 16
    Where to watch: CNN
    Hosted by: CNN
    Moderator: Wolf Blitzer (CNN lead political anchor)
         Tweet or send a Facebook message to Blitzer to encourage him to ask a climate question.

    No additional debates are planned.

    Georgia

    Climate threats: Georgia is at risk from extreme heat, wildfires, inland flooding, and coastal flooding, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Brian Kemp (R)
    Stacey Abrams (D)

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: October 23
    Where to watch: Atlanta Press Club
    Hosted by: Georgia Public Broadcasting

    Date: November 4
    Where to watch: WSB-TV Channel 2

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    Illinois

    Climate threats: Illinois is at risk from extreme heat, drought, and inland flooding, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Bruce Rauner (R) -- incumbent
    J.B. Pritzker (D)
    Kash Jackson (Libertarian)
    Sam McCann (Conservative)

    Past debate:

    Date: September 20
    Hosted by: NBC 5 (WMAQ-TV), Telemundo Chicago, Union League Club of Chicago, Chicago Urban League
    Moderator: Carol Marin (WMAQ-TV political editor)
    Video: YouTube
    Climate questions: The moderator did not ask any climate-related questions.

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: October 3
    Where to watch: WGBO-DT Channel 66, ABC 7 (WLS-TV)
    Hosted by: WLS-TV, Univision, League of Women Voters

    Date: October 11
    Hosted by: WGEM-TV, Illinois Broadcasters Association

    No additional debates are planned.

    Indiana

    Climate threats: Indiana is at risk from extreme heat, drought, and inland flooding, among other threats.

    Senate candidates:

    Mike Braun (R)
    Joe Donnelly (D) -- incumbent
    Lucy Brenton (Libertarian)

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: October 8
    Where to watch: C-SPAN, Indiana Debate Commission
    Hosted by: Indiana Debate Commission
    Moderator: Anne Ryder (Indiana University Media School senior lecturer)
         Tweet or contact Ryder to encourage her to ask a climate question.
    How to submit questions: Via the Indiana Debate Commission website

    Date: October 30
    Where to watch: C-SPAN, Indiana Debate Commission
    Hosted by: Indiana Debate Commission
    Moderator: Amna Nawaz (PBS NewsHour anchor)
         Tweet at Nawaz to encourage her to ask a climate question.
    How to submit questions: Via the Indiana Debate Commission website

    No additional debates are planned.

    Iowa

    Climate threats: Iowa is at risk from drought, inland flooding, and extreme heat, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Kim Reynolds (R) -- incumbent
    Fred Hubbell (D)

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: October 10
    Where to watch: KCCI-TV Channel 8
    Hosted by: The Des Moines Register, KCCI-TV

    Date: October 17
    Hosted by: KTIV-TV, KTTC-TV, KWWL-TV

    Date: October 21
    Hosted by: KCRG-TV, KWQC-TV, The Quad-City Times

    No additional debates are planned.

    Kansas

    Climate threats: Kansas is at risk from extreme heat, drought, wildfires, and inland flooding, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Kris Kobach (R)
    Laura Kelly (D)
    Greg Orman (independent)

    Past debate:

    Date: September 5
    Hosted by: Johnson County Bar Association
    Moderator: Nick Haines (KCPT-TV news host/executive producer)
    Video: KCPT-TV YouTube page
    Climate questionsThe moderator did not ask any climate-related questions.

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    Maine

    Climate threats: Maine is at risk from extreme heat, drought, coastal flooding, and inland flooding, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Shawn Moody (R)
    Janet Mills (D)
    Terry Hayes (independent)
    Alan Caron (independent)

    Past debate:

    Date: September 10
    Hosted by: Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce
    Moderator: Beckie Conrad (Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce president)
    VideoLewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Facebook page
    Climate questions: The moderator did not ask any climate-related questions.

    Upcoming debate:

    Date: October 28
    Hosted by: Maine Public

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    Michigan

    Climate threats: Michigan is at risk from extreme heat, drought, and inland flooding, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Bill Schuette (R)
    Gretchen Whitmer (D)

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: October 9
    Where to watch: WOOD-TV Channel 8
    Hosted by: WOOD-TV
    Moderator: Rick Albin (WOOD-TV political reporter)
         Tweet or contact Albin to encourage him to ask a climate question.

    Date: October 24
    Where to watch: Local 4 (WDIV-TV)
    Hosted by: WDIV-TV
    Moderator: Kimberly Gill (WDIV-TV anchor) 
         Tweet or contact Gill to encourage her to ask a climate question.

    No additional debates are planned.

    Minnesota

    Climate threats: Minnesota is at risk from drought and extreme heat, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Jeff Johnson (R)
    Tim Walz (D)

    Past debates:

    Date: August 31
    Hosted by: Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)
    Moderator: Mike Mulcahy (MPR political editor)
    VideoMPR News Facebook page
    Climate questions: Moderator Mulcahy asked both Johnson and Walz about their positions on climate change. See the video:

    Date: September 19
    Hosted by: TwinWest Chamber of Commerce
    Moderator: Nick Halter (Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal senior reporter/broadcaster)
    VideoYouTube
    Climate questions: The moderator did not ask any climate-related questions.

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    Senate candidates:

    Karin Housley (R)
    Tina Smith (D) -- incumbent

    Information on debates TBA.

    Missouri

    Climate threats: Missouri is at risk from extreme heat, drought, and inland flooding, among other threats.

    Senate candidates:

    Josh Hawley (R)
    Claire McCaskill (D) -- incumbent
    Jo Crain (Green)
    Craig O’Dear (independent)

    Past debate:

    Date: September 14
    Hosted by: Missouri Press Association
    Moderator: David Lieb (Associated Press correspondent)
    VideoHawley’s Facebook page
    Climate questions: The moderator did not ask any climate-related questions.

    Upcoming debate:

    Date: October 8
    Where to watch: KSDK-TV Channel 5, KETC-TV Channel 9, KWMU-FM
    Hosted by: St. Louis Public Radio, KSDK-TV's 5 On Your Side, Nine Network of Public Media
    Moderator: Judy Woodruff (PBS NewsHour managing editor) 
         Tweet at Woodruff to encourage her to ask a climate question.
    Panelists:
    Jo Mannies (St. Louis Public Radio reporter) 
         Tweet at Mannies to encourage her to ask a climate question.
    Mike Bush (5 On Your Side anchor)
         Tweet or contact Bush to encourage him to ask a climate question.

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    Nevada

    Climate threats: Nevada is at risk from drought, extreme heat, and wildfires, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Adam Laxalt (R)
    Steve Sisolak (D)

    Upcoming debate:

    Date: October 15
    Where to watch: KSNV-TV Channel 3
    Hosted by: Las Vegas Review-Journal, Telemundo, KSNV-TV

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    Senate candidates:

    Dean Heller (R)
    Jacky Rosen (D)

    Upcoming debate:

    Date: October 8
    Hosted by: Telemundo, News 4 (KRNV-DT), News 3 (KSNV-TV)

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    New Mexico

    Climate threats: New Mexico is at risk from extreme heat, drought, and wildfires, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Steve Pearce (R)
    Michelle Lujan Grisham (D)

    Past debate:

    Date: September 19
    Hosted by: KRQE-TV
    Moderator: Dean Staley (KRQE-TV anchor)
    VideoNews 13 (KRQE-TV) YouTube page
    Climate questions: The moderator did not ask any climate-related questions.

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    North Dakota

    Climate threats: North Dakota is at risk from extreme heat and inland flooding, among other threats.

    Senate candidates:

    Kevin Cramer (R)
    Heidi Heitkamp (D) -- incumbent

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: October 5
    Where to watch: Prairie Public Broadcasting YouTube page 
    Hosted by: Prairie Public Broadcasting
    Moderator: Judy Woodruff (PBS NewsHour managing editor)
         Tweet at Woodruff to encourage her to ask a climate question.

    Date: October 18
    Hosted by: North Dakota Newspaper Association

    Date: October 26
    Hosted by: North Dakota Broadcast Association

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    Ohio

    Climate threats: Ohio is at risk from extreme heat, drought, and inland flooding, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Mike DeWine (R)
    Richard Cordray (D)

    Past debate:

    Date: September 19
    Hosted by: University of Dayton, Cox Media Group Ohio
    Moderator: James Brown (WHIO-TV news anchor)
    Panelists: Jim Otte (WHIO-TV investigative reporter), Laura Bischoff (Dayton Daily News reporter), Christopher Devine (University of Dayton assistant professor of political science)
    VideoCBS News YouTube page 
    Climate questions: The moderator did not ask any climate-related questions.

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: October 1
    Hosted by: Marietta College

    Date: October 8
    Hosted by: Cleveland State University, Ohio Debate Commission

    Senate candidates:

    Jim Renacci (R)
    Sherrod Brown (D) -- incumbent

    Upcoming debate:

    Date: October 14
    Where to watch: Ohio Debate Commission website
    Hosted by: Ohio Debate Commission
    Moderators:
    Ann Fisher (WOSU Public Media host)
         Tweet or contact Fisher to encourage her to ask a climate question.
    Russ Mitchell (WKYC-TV anchor) 
         Tweet or contact Mitchell to encourage him to ask a climate question.

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    Oregon

    Climate threats: Oregon is at risk from drought, wildfires, extreme heat, coastal flooding, and inland flooding, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Knute Buehler (R)
    Kate Brown (D) -- incumbent
    Patrick Starnes (Independent Party of Oregon)

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: October 2
    Where to watch: KOIN-TV Channel 6
    Hosted by: Children First for Oregon, KOIN-TV, Pamplin Media Group
    Moderators: Jeff Gianola (KOIN-TV anchor) 
         Tweet or contact Gianola to encourage him to ask a climate question.
    Shasta Kearns Moore (Portland Tribune education reporter) 
         Tweet at Kearns Moore to encourage her to ask a climate question.

    Date: October 4
    Where to watch: NBC5 (KOBI-TV)
    Hosted by: KOBI-TV

    Date: October 9
    Where to watch: KGW-TV Channel 8
    Hosted by: KGW-TV, The Oregonian

    No additional debates have yet been scheduled.

    Rhode Island

    Climate threats: Rhode Island is at risk from extreme heat, coastal flooding, and inland flooding, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Allan Fung (R)
    Gina Raimondo (D) -- incumbent
    Joe Trillo (independent)

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: September 27
    Where to watch: WPRI-TV Channel 12
    Hosted by: Roger Williams University
    Moderator: Danielle North (WPRI-TV anchor) 
         Tweet or contact North to encourage her to ask a climate question.
    Panelists: Tim White (WPRI-TV investigative reporter) 
         Tweet or contact White to encourage him to ask a climate question.
    Ted Nesi (WPRI-TV political/economic reporter) 
         Tweet at Nesi to encourage him to ask a climate question.

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    Tennessee

    Climate threats: Tennessee is at risk from extreme heat, drought, inland flooding, and wildfires, among other threats.

    Senate candidates:

    Marsha Blackburn (R)
    Phil Bredesen (D)

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: September 25
    Where to watch: WTVF-TV Channel 5, WNPT-TV Channel 8
    Hosted by: The Tennessean, League of Women Voters of Tennessee, WTVF-TV, WNPT-TV

    Date: October 10
    Hosted by: Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, Nextar Media Group

    No additional debates have yet been scheduled.

    Texas

    Climate threats: Texas is at risk from extreme heat, drought, coastal flooding, and wildfires, among other threats.

    Senate candidates:

    Ted Cruz (R) -- incumbent
    Beto O’Rourke (D)

    Past debate:

    Date: September 21
    Hosted by: Southern Methodist University, The Dallas Morning News, KXAS-TV
    Moderators: Julie Fine (KXAS-TV political reporter), Gromer Jeffers (The Dallas Morning News political writer)
    Video: NBC News YouTube page
    Climate questions:
    The moderators did not ask any climate-related questions.

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: September 30
    Hosted by: University of Houston, ABC 13 (KTRK-TV), Univision 45 (KXLN-DT)
    How to submit questions: Via ABC13.com

    Date: October 16

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    West Virginia

    Climate threats: West Virginia is at risk from extreme heat and inland flooding, among other threats.

    Senate candidates:

    Patrick Morrisey (R)   
    Joe Manchin (D) -- incumbent

    Upcoming debate:

    Date: November 1
    Hosted by: West Virginia Broadcasters Association

    Information on additional debates TBA.

    Wisconsin

    Climate threats: Wisconsin is at risk from extreme heat, drought, and inland flooding, among other threats.

    Governor candidates:

    Scott Walker (R) -- incumbent
    Tony Evers (D)

    Upcoming debates:

    Date: October 19
    Where to watch: NBC15 (WMTV-TV)
    Hosted by: Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
    Moderator: Jill Geisler (journalist)
         Tweet at Geisler to encourage her to ask a climate question.

    Date: October 26
    Where to watch: WTMJ-TV Channel 4, WUWM-FM, NBC26 (WGBA-TV)
    Hosted by: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
    Moderators: Charles Benson (WTMJ-TV anchor)
         Tweet or contact Benson to encourage him to ask a climate question.
    Shannon Sims (WTMJ-TV anchor)
         Tweet or contact Sims to encourage her to ask a climate question.
    Mitch Teich (WUWM-FM host)
         Tweet or contact Jeffers to encourage him to ask a climate question.

    No additional debates have yet been scheduled.

  • Trump admin claims replacing Clean Power Plan will help minorities. That’s not true.

    White House talking points promote debunked study from National Black Chamber of Commerce, an industry front group

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER

    The Trump administration has proposed a replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, and it's defending its proposal by citing a thoroughly debunked and discredited 2015 study from an industry-funded front group, the National Black Chamber of Commerce. 

    The Clean Power Plan (CPP), finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Barack Obama in 2015, called for reducing carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants while increasing the use of renewable energy. The Trump administration intends to revoke that plan and replace it with the Affordable Clean Energy rule, would allow much more pollution from coal plants.  

    Trump administration cites figures from debunked 2015 study

    The Trump administration's draft talking points in support of the EPA's replacement plan, obtained by E&E News, cite a debunked study commissioned by the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), a fossil-fuel-funded group that purports to represent black businesses. The talking points claim that the Clean Power Plan "would have hurt minorities and senior citizens disproportionally," and goes on to list statistics that came directly from the NBCC report:

    According to Harry Alford, President of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, CPP would increase Black poverty by 23 percent and Hispanic poverty by 26 percent. It would result in cumulative job losses of 7 million for Blacks and nearly 12 million for Hispanics in 2035.

    But the NBCC report was thoroughly debunked after it was released in 2015.

    Fact-checkers exposed serious problems with the NBCC study

    The nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists outlined many of the NBCC study’s flaws in a blog post in 2015. It explained that the study, which was conducted by Management Information Services Inc. (MISI), was itself based on other studies that had a variety of problems (emphasis in original):

    [H]ere’s the first of the study’s fatal flaws: it depends, as it explicitly says (p. 21), on the findings of seven other studies, which it lists. But those seven include:

    • Three studies that came out before the EPA published the draft CPP, meaning they don’t actually study the CPP as proposed—even though that’s the supposed focus of the NBCC/MISI analysis
    • One that was just (self-described) “preliminary analysis” from the United Mine Workers of America, a group you’d be hard-pressed to characterize as an unbiased voice in this debate
    • Three other studies funded by other fossil fuel interests who oppose the Clean Power Plan

    Two of those studies were the focus of a recent UCS webinar showing how such studies use bad assumptions and get used to sow confusion and spread disinformation about the CPP.

    One of those, done by IHS on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is the report most cited in this new work, even though it was one of those that came out before the draft CPP, and even though there was, as the Chamber itself admitted, “a big difference” between what they’d modeled and what EPA put forth (which the new study doesn’t acknowledge).

    The flaws in the study by Energy Ventures Analysis (EVA) for Peabody Energy (the largest U.S. coal company) are also clear. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has pointed out that, unlike other studies, EVA’s didn’t even show a business-as-usual case, meaning that any CPP results were floating in a vacuum, without reference to a base case of shifting energy costs and other economic factors.

    Fact-checkers at PolitiFact and The Washington Post had both highlighted severe problems with the 2014 U.S. Chamber of Commerce study that was a main source for NBCC's study. From a 2014 PolitiFact analysis:

    [The U.S. Chamber] study wrongly assumed the administration would set a benchmark of reducing carbon emissions by 42 percent before 2030. The regulations released June 2 actually put forward a 30 percent reduction within that timeframe. The chamber itself told PolitiFact its estimates are not based on the goals as announced.

    For that same reason, The Washington Post's fact-checking team gave Republican politicians who cited the Chamber of Commerce study in 2014 a "Four Pinocchio" rating, its lowest.

    Separate fact-checks cast doubt on another study that the NBCC report relied on, this one conducted by NERA Economic Consulting in 2014. The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote that the NERA study "falsely inflates the cost of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan by denying energy efficiency’s proven ability to save consumers money," and went on to explain that the study used "a 2012 study that has been repeatedly discredited" to justify its inflated cost estimates. The Washington Post's fact-checking team also raised serious questions about the NERA study.

    The NERA study was funded by industries that had much to gain from stymieing the Clean Power Plan, including fossil fuel interests. Among the commissioning groups were the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the National Mining Association.

    Clean Power Plan would have benefited Black, Latinx, and other minority communities

    Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, became a central figure in a disinformation campaign backed by fossil-fuel interests because he was willing to assert that the Obama EPA’s Clean Power Plan would harm communities of color. He placed anti-Clean Power Plan op-eds in at least seven newspapers and saw right-wing outlets echo and amplify his discredited assertions.

    In fact, the EPA under Obama took steps to ensure that the Clean Power Plan addressed many of the environmental and economic concerns of minority and low-income communities, after pressure was applied by civil rights leaders, environmental justice groups, and environmental activists.

    When the NBCC report came out in 2015, a coalition of environmental justice groups, including Green For All and Voces Verdes, challenged its claims that the Clean Power Plan would hurt minority communities. The groups argued instead that the plan would in fact help marginalized and low-income Americans:

    The report alleges that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan will harm African American and Hispanic families, when in fact findings from numerous independent organizations show the plan will actually benefit communities.

    In reality, the Clean Power Plan will prevent asthma and other pollution-related illnesses, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and save families money on their utility bills. Low income and minority Americans, who are most often the hardest hit when it comes to the effects of climate change, will benefit substantially.

    Recently the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) produced a report reaffirming and further outlining these benefits. The report also refutes many of the myths asserted by the NBCC, known to [be] funded by special interests groups seeking to preserve the bottom line for dirty energy companies.

    Trump administration's Affordable Clean Energy rule will harm minority communities

    Environmental justice activists point out that the Trump administration's new plan is the one that poses a real threat to communities of color. The advocacy group GreenLatinos issued this statement from its president and CEO, Mark Magaña:

    The Trump Administration continues to put the health of the Latino community and all Americans at risk by gutting the Clean Power Plan, the first and only federal limit on carbon pollution from power plants — a major source of the pollution that exacerbates climate change — which protects public health and promotes climate change solutions.

    The Latino community is hit first and worst by climate change and we suffer disproportionate public health effects with 40% of Latinos living within 30 miles of a power plant. The stakes are too high, with Latinx children being 40% more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino white children.

    Today, as we continue to witness these severe weather patterns and devastating impacts of carbon pollution on public health, the Trump Administration is moving to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, endangering the health of our communities and undermine the transition to cleaner and safer renewable energy sources.

    GreenLatinos rejects the efforts by the Trump Administration and Acting Administrator Wheeler as they disregard the overwhelming support for increasing efforts to protect our air quality.

    Other environmental justice advocates also spoke out against the Trump EPA's Affordable Clean Energy rule. “They’re really putting people’s lives in danger,” Mustafa Santiago Ali, a senior vice president at the Hip Hop Caucus and former EPA advisor on environmental justice, told Earther.

  • Koch-funded groups mount PR and media campaign to fight carbon pricing

    Worried about momentum for carbon taxes, climate deniers go on attack via right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters  

    A coalition of right-wing organizations is waging a multilayered attack to erode growing support for carbon pricing. Most of the groups involved have been funded by the Koch network or other fossil fuel interests.

    Several different carbon-pricing mechanisms -- variously backed by groups of progressives, Democrats, establishment Republicans, or business interests -- are being proposed at the state and national level. To counter these initiatives, the right-wing coalition is running a public relations campaign featuring industry-friendly arguments and climate denial. Their advocacy includes exerting direct pressure on lawmakers to oppose carbon-pricing initiatives and placing op-eds in right-wing and mainstream media publications.

    The basics of carbon pricing  

    A carbon price is a cost attached to emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, intended to reduce those emissions. According to the World Bank, there are two main ways to price carbon:

    An ETS [emissions trading system] — sometimes referred to as a cap-and-trade system — caps the total level of greenhouse gas emissions and allows those industries with low emissions to sell their extra allowances to larger emitters. By creating supply and demand for emissions allowances, an ETS establishes a market price for greenhouse gas emissions. The cap helps ensure that the required emission reductions will take place to keep the emitters (in aggregate) within their pre-allocated carbon budget.

    A carbon tax directly sets a price on carbon by defining a tax rate on greenhouse gas emissions or — more commonly — on the carbon content of fossil fuels. It is different from an ETS in that the emission reduction outcome of a carbon tax is not predefined but the carbon price is.

    Some 45 countries and 25 states, provinces, and other subnational regions have implemented some variation of carbon pricing, including California and the nine Northeastern states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

    Momentum is building for carbon-pricing policies

    Carbon pricing has almost no chance of being implemented on the national level anytime soon. The last serious push came early during the Obama administration when the U.S. House passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, but it died in the Senate in 2010.

    President Donald Trump opposes carbon pricing, as do the vast majority of Republican members of Congress. Nevertheless, the approach is gaining traction at the state level, and a growing number of business interests and establishment Republicans are promoting carbon-pricing proposals at the national level.

    • The Climate Leadership Council -- which is composed of a number of influential conservatives, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schulz, and major oil companies and other corporations -- is one of the most prominent organizations advocating for carbon pricing. It launched in 2017 with the release of a report, “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends.” Its proposal is known as the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan.
    • In June, a new political action committee, Americans for Carbon Dividends, was launched to build support for the Baker-Shultz plan. It is co-chaired by former Sens. Trent Lott (R-MS) and John Breaux (D-LA), who both represented oil states.
    • Other conservative groups that support carbon pricing include republicEn and R Street.
    • Conservative thinkers who have endorsed carbon pricing or called for it to be given serious consideration include Weekly Standard editor at large Bill Kristol, New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Cato Institute's Peter Van Doren, and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Aparna Mathur, among many others.
    • The nonpartisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates for a carbon fee and dividend proposal, has a conservative caucus and counts Shultz and former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) as members of its advisory board.
    • Six House Republicans recently exhibited openness to carbon taxes by voting against an anti-carbon-tax resolution. Two years ago, no Republicans voted against a similar resolution.
    • Two House Republicans are pushing a carbon-tax bill. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, introduced the Market Choice Act on July 23. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is the bill's co-sponsor.
    • A few congressional Democrats are also pushing carbon-pricing bills: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Cicilline (D-RI) have introduced the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, and Rep. John Larson (D-CT) has introduced the America Wins Act.
    • More than a dozen states have taken serious strides toward enacting a carbon price. Legislators in eight states have introduced carbon-pricing legislation in 2018 alone: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. In June, the Massachusetts Senate passed a carbon-pricing bill, which now goes before the state House. 
    • In January, nine states -- Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington -- formed the Carbon Costs Coalition, which is advocating for carbon pricing.
    • At the December 2017 One Planet summit held in France, two states -- California and Washington -- joined five Pacific Rim countries -- Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico -- in committing to implement carbon pricing.

    Although some of the more conservative, oil-industry-backed carbon-tax plans are opposed by progressives, and the more progressive plans are opposed by conservatives and the oil industry, they all have one foe in common -- the Koch-backed anti-carbon-pricing coalition.

    Alex Flint, the executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, a group of conservative leaders who support carbon pricing, said in April, “Those who oppose a carbon tax are rallying their defenses for a reason: they see supporters gaining momentum.”

    A right-wing campaign against carbon pricing ramps up

    On July 19, the U.S. House voted 229 to 180 to approve a nonbinding resolution opposing a carbon tax, largely along party lines. Six Republicans voted against it, and seven Democrats voted for it. The anti-carbon-pricing coalition helped to make sure almost all Republicans were on the "yes" side.

    The measure had been introduced on April 26 by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), House majority whip and possible contender for House speaker, and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) -- both climate deniers. The “sense of the House” resolution declared that “a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States,” and it garnered 48 co-sponsors total. (Scalise had previously sponsored anti-carbon-tax measures in 2013 and 2016.)

    On the day the resolution was introduced, the leaders of more than 25 right-wing and industry lobbying groups released a letter calling on members of Congress to support it. "We oppose any carbon tax," the letter read (emphasis in original). On July 9, many of these same groups sent a follow-up letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) urging them to hold a vote on Scalise’s resolution. Groups sent one more letter to members of Congress on July 17, two days before the vote.

    The influential right-wing group Americans for Tax Reform, which signed onto all three letters, put out its own call for representatives to vote yes.

    Altogether, 51 groups signed at least one of the letters in favor of Scalise's resolution:

    At least 42 of the 51 groups (82 percent) have received money from the Koch network, a conglomerate of fossil fuel executives, donors, think tanks, and advocacy groups that work to advance the right-wing deregulatory and anti-environment objectives of the Koch brothers and their company, Koch Industries. Scalise is a recipient of Koch money too: In 2017 and 2018, KochPAC, a political action committee that represents Koch Industries, gave $105,000 to Scalise and to a PAC and leadership fund he runs.

    Koch Industries also weighed in directly in support of Scalise’s resolution by sending a letter to members of the House on July 16.

    The Koch brothers have waged a multimillion-dollar crusade to undermine acceptance of climate change and support for climate change solutions since the mid-2000s. Starting in 2008, the Kochs' main political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, cajoled hundreds of elected officials, including many congressional Republicans, into signing its influential “No Climate Tax" pledge. “The pledge marked a pivotal turn in the climate-change debate, cementing Republican opposition to addressing the environmental crisis,” Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker last year.

    Right-wing groups' arguments against carbon pricing often feature the Kochs' libertarian talking points or straight-up climate-change denial.

    For example, the American Energy Alliance makes vague free-market arguments in a piece on its website titled “ICYMI: There’s Nothing Conservative About a Carbon Tax”:

    Simply calling something “conservative” or “free-market” doesn’t make it so. The Climate Leadership Council’s carbon tax is an affront to the principles that conservatives have championed for decades. Most important, a carbon tax would destroy American jobs, encourage more wasteful spending from Washington, and burden consumers with higher energy costs. You’d be hard pressed to find a more damaging policy for American families.

    The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch-funded think tank that argued Scalise’s resolution understates the harm of carbon pricing, denied the well-established scientific consensus around human-caused climate change in its April 30 white paper, “Does a Carbon Tax Support Prosperity?”:

    There remain questionable fundamental issues about the way carbon dioxide affects the climate. Observed temperatures by sophisticated technologies greatly and consistently conflict with today’s widely accepted, although highly questionable, scientific consensus about the effects humans have on climate change.

    Conservative and right-wing media amplify the anti-carbon-tax campaign

    In the days after Scalise’s resolution was introduced, it was covered in the right-wing and conservative mediasphere and praised in op-eds by commentators from right-wing think tanks.

    • The Hill published an op-ed supporting the resolution, written by the authors of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's anti-carbon-tax white paper.
    • RealClearPolicy published an op-ed opposing carbon taxes in general, written by a researcher from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
    • The Washington Examiner ran an op-ed from a Heartland Institute senior fellow praising the resolution and contending that a carbon tax would be "disastrous."

    Conservative outlets continued to publish anti-carbon-pricing opinion pieces from Koch-funded think tanks up until the House voted on Scalise's resolution.

    • TribTalk, a publication of The Texas Tribune, published an op-ed denouncing carbon taxes that was co-written by an author of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s white paper and a senior economist at the Institute for Energy Research. The latter is a Koch-funded partner group of the American Energy Alliance.  
    • RealClearEnergy ran an op-ed by staffers from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and ALEC that incorporated many of the white paper’s talking points.
    • The Daily Signal published an opinion piece co-written by an analyst and an intern from the Heritage Foundation that promoted Scalise's resolution and denounced the Baker-Shultz plan.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed from Americans for Tax Reform’s director of strategic initiatives that endorsed the Scalise resolution.

    After Scalise’s resolution passed, anti-carbon-pricing groups took a brief victory lap before quickly turning their attention toward attacking Curbelo’s carbon-tax bill.

    • The Daily Caller wrote about Americans for Tax Reform’s press conference, highlighting opposition to Curbelo’s proposal: "Conservative and anti-tax groups from around the world joined together to speak against a carbon tax bill that has been introduced in Congress." 
    • Reason published an article contending that Curbelo’s bill could raise privacy concerns for businesses.
    • The Miami Herald published a letter to the editor attacking Curbelo’s legislation from the president of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a group that has sided with polluters in other fights over environmental issues.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed co-written by staffers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance that argued Curbelo's bill would be "a costly failure."
    • Forbes published a piece attacking carbon-pricing proponents written by an executive for Americans for Tax Reform.
    • CNSNews published an op-ed from a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute that bashed Curbelo's bill.
    • The Star Beacon, an Ohio newspaper, published an op-ed from the president of American Commitment condemning Curbelo’s bill.
    • The Washington Examiner published an opinion piece by an analyst from the Family Business Coalition that attacked progressives’ “delusional tax reform ideas,” including proposals for a carbon tax.

    Anti-carbon-pricing coalition enlists minority groups in its campaign

    The anti-carbon-pricing coalition is also trying to make it look like its effort has the support of minority communities -- a strategy the polluter lobby has used often. The National Black Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Leadership Fund, two Koch-funded minority groups with long histories of opposing climate solutions, were enlisted as signatories on the coalition's letters endorsing Scalise's anti-carbon-tax resolution.

    National Black Chamber President Harry C. Alford gave a quote to Scalise to support his resolution: “We can continue to reduce regulations and watch our economy rise with the recent tax reform. Bringing unnecessary hurdles before us like a carbon tax will preclude that growth and hurt our economy immensely.” Alford, a climate denier, has previously opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to impose smog restrictions on factories and power plants and to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants through the Clean Power Plan. The National Black Chamber of Commerce also led a disinformation campaign against rooftop solar in Florida in 2016.

    The Hispanic Leadership Fund participated in Americans for Tax Reform's press conference criticizing Curbelo's bill. In 2015, the fund joined with other Koch-aligned groups in asking a federal judge to vacate the Clean Power Plan. In 2009, it co-sponsored a Heartland Institute conference on climate change, which was based on the premise that “Global Warming is Not a Crisis.”

    The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is also part of the anti-carbon-tax effort. Its president wrote a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald opposing Curbelo’s legislation. In 2016, the group supported a utility-backed ballot measure designed to restrict consumer access to rooftop solar power in Florida.

    These efforts are especially harmful because minority and low-income communities suffer disproportionately from the burning of fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change and minorities are generally more concerned about climate change than white people. 

    Taking the fight to the states

    Curbelo’s bill won’t be passed into law by this Congress, and the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan and other national carbon-pricing proposals won’t get much if any traction this year either. But in a number of states, carbon-pricing measures are gathering more support and have more chance of being enacted. The right-wing, anti-carbon-pricing coalition wants to halt this trend, so it's at work on the state level too. Media Matters will examine these state-focused efforts in a forthcoming piece.

  • Newspapers are failing to connect extreme heat to climate change

    During the recent heat wave, only about 11 percent of articles mentioned global warming, a new report finds

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER

    Almost 90 percent of articles about the recent heat wave in the biggest 50 U.S. newspapers failed to mention hot weather’s connection to climate change, according to a new report published by the nonprofit Public Citizen.

    This unfortunate trend extends beyond newspapers. Media Matters has documented how rarely broadcast TV networks cover climate change. Our most recent study looked at how the major broadcast networks covered the links between climate change and extreme heat and found that over a two-week period from late June to early July, only one segment out of 127 about the heat wave mentioned climate change.

    Public Citizen looked at coverage of extreme heat in the top 50 U.S. newspapers by circulation over the first half of 2018 and found that less than 18 percent of the articles mentioned climate change:

    In the top 50 newspapers, a total of 760 articles mentioned extreme heat, heat waves, record heat, or record temperatures from January 1 to July 8, 2018. One hundred thirty-four of these pieces (17.6 percent) also mentioned climate change or global warming.

    In late June and early July, when a heat wave was afflicting much of the U.S., the percentage of articles mentioning climate change was even lower:

    During the period June 27 to July 8, only 23 of 204 heat-related articles (11.3 percent) mentioned climate.

    Public Citizen also looked beyond the top 50 papers to see how extreme heat was covered in papers in 13 states where 10 or more local areas broke heat records from June 27 to July 8. This more localized newspaper coverage was even worse:

    During the heat wave, there were 673 articles, with 26 (3.9 percent) mentioning climate.

    While writers and editors may want to exercise caution in attributing any individual event to climate change, the science is clear that our warming climate is making extreme events like heat waves, floods, and fires more intense and more frequent. That’s why environmental journalists and communicators have been calling on major news outlets to do a better job of covering climate change and the environmental rollbacks that could make things worse.

    Public Citizen’s report did highlight notable exceptions when newspapers did strong reporting to connect extreme heat to climate change -- such as a story by Austin American-Statesman reporter Roberto Villalpando that explained how climate change is bringing 100-degree days to Austin earlier in the year. Despite this, the report concluded, “U.S. news outlets continue to tell only half the story. These exceptions need to become the norm if the public is going to wake from its slumber on climate change in time to take the bold action we urgently need to avoid catastrophic harm, and possibly even an existential threat to the U.S., later this century.”

  • Oil industry enlists minority groups to publish pro-drilling op-eds

    Most Black and Hispanic Americans oppose offshore drilling, so these op-eds paint a distorted picture

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As part of a partnership with the American Petroleum Institute (API), the largest oil and gas lobbying organization in the U.S., Black and Hispanic business groups have been placing op-eds in local newspapers touting the benefits of offshore drilling, as Reuters recently reported. Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to be opposed to offshore drilling than white Americans, according to a Pew poll conducted in January. The op-ed campaign is part of an industry-driven effort to make offshore drilling look more broadly supported and to shift minority opinion by enlisting groups that purport to represent communities of color.

    Op-eds push oil industry statistics but fail to disclose oil industry connections

    Media Matters identified six newspapers in the Southeast that have published op-eds by minority business leaders or political leaders who argue in favor of increased offshore oil and gas drilling along the Atlantic Coast. Most of these minority authors are affiliated with the Explore Offshore alliance, which they mention in their pieces -- but they neglect to disclose that Explore Offshore is a project of API and that many of the talking points and statistics they cite in their op-eds come straight from API materials.

    API announced the Explore Offshore alliance on June 6, billing it as a “bipartisan coalition representing a diverse group of community organizations, businesses, and local associations across the Southeast that support safe and responsible expanded U.S. access to oil and natural gas through advanced technologies.” The minority business groups in the coalition are highlighted on the Explore Offshore homepage, while most other coalition members are listed in less prominent places on the website -- an indication that API wants to highlight Black and Hispanic participation. The minority groups in the coalition include the Florida Black Chamber of Commerce, the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the North Carolina Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce, and the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, plus one minority religious organization, the Hispanic Pastors Association.

    Florida:

    In Florida, The Palm Beach Post and the Tallahassee Democrat published a pro-drilling op-ed written by Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The Tampa Bay Times published a like-minded op-ed co-authored by Miriam Ramirez, a former member of Puerto Rico’s Senate and a co-chair of Explore Offshore Florida, a state affiliate of API's national Explore Offshore coalition.

    Fuentes and Ramirez and her co-authors took figures from API’s one-pager about the benefits of drilling in Florida’s waters. Fuentes wrote (emphasis added):

    Continued offshore development would put more than 56,000 Floridians to work and add $4.5 billion per year to our economy.

    API's one-pager says (emphasis added):

    Employment in Florida due to spending by the Eastern Gulf offshore oil and natural gas industry is projected to reach over 56,000 jobs.

    Contributions to Florida’s state economy due to spending on Eastern Gulf [Outer Continental Shelf] oil and natural gas exploration and development activities could be nearly $4.5 billion per year by the end of the forecast period.

    Ramirez and her co-authors wrote (emphasis added):

    Economic studies show that the industry’s spending would bring Florida $1.3 billion per year in government revenue within 20 years of opening up the area for oil and natural gas development.

    API's one-pager says (emphasis added):

    Florida could see a 37.5% share of the Eastern Coast bonuses, rents and royalties generated which are projected to reach $1.3 billion per year within 20 years.

    The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which Fuentes runs, receives support from Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light, two large utilities that are building natural gas-fired plants in Florida. The chamber and the two utilities have backed anti-environment campaigns in the past. In 2016, the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce joined Duke, Florida Power & Light, and other power companies in supporting Amendment 1, a deceptive, utility-backed ballot measure designed to restrict consumer access to rooftop solar power in Florida. The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce also receives support from Florida-based, third-party energy supplier Liberty Power, a company that recently paid a settlement to New York state for engaging in deceptive practices and is the subject of a cease-and-desist complaint filed by Connecticut’s Office of Consumer Counsel for allegedly deceiving consumers.

    The other Florida minority group that's part of API's Explore Offshore alliance, the Florida Black Chamber of Commerce, has fossil fuel ties as well. It is closely affiliated with the National Black Chamber of Commerce, which has received extensive funding from fossil fuel interests including ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. The National Black Chamber notoriously led minority opposition to the EPA's Clean Power Plan, which would limit pollution from power plants. Eugene Franklin, president of the Florida Black Chamber of Commerce, served on the board of directors of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Both the Florida chamber and the national chamber supported the pro-utility Amendment 1 in 2016.

    South Carolina:

    In South Carolina, The Post and Courier and The Greenville News published a pro-drilling op-ed by Stephen Gilchrist, chair of the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce and chair of Explore Offshore SC, the South Carolina branch of API's Explore Offshore coalition. Gilchrist also apparently relied on API statistics in his op-ed, writing (emphasis added):

    Offshore development could … add $3.8 billion to our state budget per year. This could create 34,000 much needed jobs in the state

    But Gilchrist appears to have gotten one of those API talking points wrong by a factor of 20. He claimed that offshore drilling could add $3.8 billion to South Carolina's budget each year, but API’s South Carolina one-pager claims the $3.8 billion would come in over a 20-year period (emphasis added):

    Employment due to offshore oil and gas development activities on the Atlantic Coast in South Carolina could reach over 34,000 jobs within 20 years

    The cumulative effect on the state budget from 2020-2040 is projected to be over $3.8 billion.

    Gilchrist has cultivated questionable alliances that many African-Americans in South Carolina would not be comfortable with. In 2015, Gilchrist invited Donald Trump to an event for Black entrepreneurs that was co-hosted by the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce. The crowd at the event was "predominantly white," according to The Post and Courier. In late 2017, Gilchrist invited his friend Steve Bannon, former Trump advisor and white nationalist sympathizer, to a minority business roundtable sponsored by his group.

    Virginia:

    In Virginia, the Daily Press published an op-ed co-authored by former state Del. Winsome Earle Sears, an African-American, who now serves as co-chair of Virginia Explore Offshore, API's Virginia coalition. Like her cohorts in other states, she drew talking points right from API materials. From her op-ed (emphasis added):

    With the exploration and potential for development of offshore energy resources, Virginia could gain 25,000 jobs, many with an average salary of $116,000 — more than double the commonwealth’s average. We’re also projected to attract $1.5 billion per year in private investment

    From API’s announcement of its Explore Offshore coalition in Virginia (emphasis added):

    • By 2035, the oil and natural gas industry could create over 25,000 new high-paying jobs in Virginia
    • Offshore development could result in $1.5 billion in private investment into Virginia ...
    • The average salary for oil and natural gas exploration and development jobs is $116,000.

    The Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which is part of API's Explore Offshore coalition, joined a number of oil and gas trade associations in signing a letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management urging the agency to allow more offshore drilling. The Virginia Hispanic chamber has also partnered with Dominion Energy, Virginia’s largest and most powerful utility.

    Conservative groups with anti-environment agendas and fossil-fuel ties have a history of trying to co-opt minorities

    API is mimicking a well-worn strategy in which polluters target minority and low-income communities with industry-funded research and disinformation about energy. For example, in recent years, Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Edison Electric Institute, and the Heartland Institute, among many others, have waged a campaign to hinder the growth of solar energy at the state level. That effort has included the false claim, often advanced via minority politicians and front groups, that net-metering policies designed to make rooftop solar power more accessible would harm minority and low-income people.

    Fossil fuel industries and their allies, including the National Black Chamber of Commerce, also targeted minority groups with misinformation about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which, if fully implemented, would have prevented thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year.

    These tactics are especially insidious because research consistently shows that minority and low-income communities suffer disproportionately from the burning of fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change. The third U.S. National Climate Assessment, released in 2014, found:

    Climate change will, absent other changes, amplify some of the existing health threats the nation now faces. Certain people and communities are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and some communities of color.

    In early 2018, EPA scientists published a study in the American Journal of Public Health that found people of color in the U.S. are exposed to more air pollution than white people are, with African-Americans exposed to the most. A number of other studies have documented the negative health effects of air pollution on minority and low-income communities. A joint report released in 2017 by the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force found that natural gas facilities in particular are harmful to Black Americans:

    • [M]any African American communities face an elevated risk of cancer due to air toxics emissions from natural gas development: Over 1 million African Americans live in counties that face a cancer risk above EPA’s level of concern from toxics emitted by natural gas facilities.
    • The air in many African American communities violates air quality standards for ozone smog. Rates of asthma are relatively high in African American communities. And, as a result of ozone increases due to natural gas emissions during the summer ozone season, African American children are burdened by 138,000 asthma attacks and 101,000 lost school days each year.

    Blacks and Hispanics also suffer disproportionately from climate change impacts such as extreme weather. Just last year, Hurricanes Harvey and Maria devastated African-American and Latino communities in Houston and Puerto Rico.

    Polls have shown that nonwhite people in the U.S. are more concerned about climate change than white people are. A 2015 poll of African-Americans found that 60 percent of respondents ranked global warming as a serious issue, while a 2017 survey of Latinos found that 78 percent of respondents were worried about global warming.

    Surveys have also documented strong support among minority groups for clean energy solutions. A 2015 poll found that 66 percent of African-Americans believed that using more renewable energy would create new jobs, and 57 percent believed that shifting to clean energy would decrease their energy costs. A separate poll conducted in 2015 found that 84 percent of Latinos believed that the U.S. should mandate greater use of clean energy sources like solar and wind power.

    Clearly, minority communities understand the risks of climate change and want clean energy solutions to mitigate those risks.

    But API has chosen to partner with minority business groups to erode support for clean energy solutions and promote pro-fossil fuel arguments that would harm the very communities these organizations purport to represent. And, in a decision that demonstrates just how out of touch Explore Offshore is with minority communities, API recruited former Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), a confederate apologist, to be a national co-chair.

    Newspapers in the Southeast and around the country should not be letting oil industry allies spread propaganda and claim to represent minority interests. Op-eds that more accurately represent Black and Latino aspirations would point out that these communities have the most to lose from expanded offshore drilling and the most to gain from a shift to clean energy.

  • A timeline of scandals and ethical shortfalls at Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department

    Journalists have uncovered a long list of the interior secretary’s questionable actions and controversies

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This post was updated on 7/24/18 to incorporate additional news reports.

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s multiple scandals have triggered at least 11 government investigations into his conduct plus requests for at least three more. They involve a number of issues including excessive travel expenditures, apparent coziness with industries affected by his department’s decisions, and potential violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from some types of political activity. Under his leadership, the Department of Interior (DOI) has been credibly accused of doing the bidding of dirty energy lobbyists, misappropriating government resources, discriminating against Native American employees, and censoring scientific reports. Even in an administration that may be the most unethical in modern history, Zinke’s corruption and managerial ineptness stand out.

    Journalists have documented numerous instances of questionable ethical behavior at DOI during Zinke’s 16 months at the head of the department. The following is an overview of original reporting on scandals and controversies at Zinke’s DOI:

    July 26, 2017, Anchorage Daily News: Zinke threatened to pull support for projects in Alaska after Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted “no” on Obamacare repeal. On July 26, Zinke called Alaska’s two senators, Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R), to inform them that Murkowski’s vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act jeopardized administration support for projects in Alaska, including expanding oil drilling. Sullivan called Zinke’s message “troubling,” and Murkowski told E&E News, “It was a difficult call.” The DOI’s inspector general opened an investigation into the incident, then dropped it in late August after the senators refused to discuss it with investigators. The Government Accountability Office also opened an investigation, but then dropped it in June 2018 because DOI did not cooperate, Politico reported. "Interior did not provide us with any information on the substance of the telephone calls. In light of this, we lack the requisite facts on which to base a legal opinion," Thomas Armstrong, GAO's general counsel, wrote to two House Democrats who requested the investiation last year.

    September 28, 2017, Politico/Wash. Post: Zinke gave a speech to a hockey team owned by a campaign donor, then chartered a $12,000 flight home. Zinke traveled to Las Vegas on June 26 to give a motivational speech to a hockey team at the behest of team owner Bill Foley. After the speech, Zinke flew on a charter flight that cost taxpayers over $12,000 to an airport near his Montana home, aboard a plane owned by oil and gas executives. An inspector general report released on April 16, 2018, found that Zinke and his aides failed to relay important details about the trip to ethics officers, including Foley’s role as one of Zinke’s largest campaign contributors and the fact that the speech was unrelated to Zinke’s work as interior secretary. According to Politico, Foley donated $7,800 to Zinke’s 2014 congressional campaign, while employees and political action committees associated with his financial services company donated another $166,860. The inspector general also found that the $12,000 charter flight “could have been avoided.”

    October 5, 2017, Politico: Zinke’s participation in a Republican fundraiser in the Virgin Islands raised ethics concerns. During what DOI labeled an official trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Zinke attended a fundraiser for the Virgin Islands Republican Party in March 2017. Donors paid up to $5,000 per couple for a picture with him. After concerns were raised, the Virgin Islands Republican Party reimbursed taxpayers for the trip.

    November 20, 2017, Politico: Zinke’s wife used Interior staff and resources to coordinate her travel with her husband’s. Lola Zinke relied on DOI staff to ensure her travel arrangements allowed her to accompany the interior secretary during some of his official events and trips, including ones to California, Alaska, Norway, and Greenland. “While the department says Lola Zinke paid her own way, the records show Interior used staff time to coordinate some of her activities while traveling with her husband,” Politico reported. One ethics expert called that “an ethically gray area.” Some ethics watchdogs are also concerned that Lola Zinke is using her access to high-level events to further her own political career; until recently, she served as campaign chair for a Republican Senate candidate, and she worked on the Trump campaign and transition teams. The DOI’s inspector general tried to investigate whether these actions and other travel arrangements by Ryan Zinke constituted an abuse or misuse of government resources, but the investigation was stymied “by absent or incomplete documentation for several pertinent trips and a review process that failed to include proper documentation and accountability,” according to a memo released on November 15.

    December 7, 2017, Politico: Zinke spent $14,000 on helicopter rides so he could attend a swearing-in and ride horses with Vice President Mike Pence. Zinke put taxpayers on the hook for a pair of helicopter trips that blurred the line between his professional and personal obligations. On June 21, he attended the swearing-in of his congressional replacement, Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), then took an $8,000 helicopter ride to an emergency management exercise in West Virginia. On July 7, Zinke took a $6,250 round-trip helicopter flight from Washington, D.C., to Yorktown, VA, to guarantee he was back in time to go horseback riding with Pence and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). The inspector general’s office declined to confirm an investigation into these specific helicopter rides, but spokesperson Nancy DiPaolo told CNN on December 8, “We are taking a comprehensive look at the secretary’s travel since he took office.”

    December 29, 2017, Newsweek: Zinke spent almost $40,000 in wildfire preparedness funds for a helicopter tour of Nevada. On July 30, days after firefighters managed to largely contain the Whittier Fire in California, Zinke used nearly $40,000 from wildfire preparedness funds to pay for a helicopter tour of Nevada that did not include any visits to fire zones. DOI initially told Newsweek the tour was “in full compliance of all federal regulations.” But after Newsweek provided Interior officials with documentation showing the tour was paid for with funds “earmarked for such uses as worker pay and to purchase equipment,” DOI admitted the helicopter tour “was charged to the account in error” and said it would pay for the ride from “a more appropriate account.”

    January 22, 2018, HuffPost: Zinke failed to disclose his shares in a firearms company and signed orders that could have benefitted the firearms industry. As nominee for interior secretary, Zinke neglected to inform the Office of Government Ethics that he retained 1,000 shares in PROOF Research, a rifle and weapons-parts manufacturer founded in Zinke’s hometown. Cabinet appointees are required to disclose all assets worth $1,000 or more. Although there is some dispute about the value of Zinke’s shares, HuffPost notes that Zinke’s long relationship with the company may have resulted in the company getting special access at Interior. Zinke provided consulting services to PROOF from 2011 to 2012. As interior secretary, he met with PROOF CEO Larry Murphy and a company lobbyist about a month after he was confirmed. Zinke also enacted policy changes -- such as rescinding the ban on lead ammunition and expanding hunting access at wildlife refuges -- that could benefit the firearms industry.

    February 1, 2018, Politico: Interior appeared to cave to pressure from MGM to stonewall a casino proposal backed by two Native American tribes. The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes received indications from Interior officials in May 2017 that the department would clear the way for the tribes to build a casino in Connecticut, about 12 miles from MGM Resorts International’s nearly $1 billion casino complex in Massachusetts. But MGM launched an aggressive lobbying campaign to convince Interior’s political appointees to change course, including outreach to Zinke via multiple meetings and phone calls with two Nevada Republican lawmakers closely allied with MGM. MGM lobbyists were invited by Zinke for a social visit two weeks before the agency was to decide on the tribes’ request. MGM lobbyists also met with Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whose former firm also lobbies for MGM. Bernhardt signed an ethics agreement barring him from “participating in matters involving his former employer,” according to ThinkProgress. On September 15, DOI informed the tribes that it would delay its decision, even though federal law requires it to decide yes or no within 45 days. Records obtained by Politico show that “career staffers were circulating what they labeled ‘approval’ letters just 48 hours before their political bosses reversed course and refused to either OK or reject the tribes’ application.” The DOI’s inspector general has opened an investigation into the incident.

    February 21, 2018, Mother Jones: Scientists resigned in protest after their agency violated ethical guidelines to give Zinke sensitive oil and gas research ahead of its public release. The head of the U.S. Geological Survey’s energy and minerals program, Murray Hitzman, resigned in protest on Dec. 17, 2017, after his agency bowed to pressure to provide Zinke with sensitive data about oil and gas deposits in Alaska before it was released publicly. The deputy associate director of the energy and minerals program also left the agency in part over pressure to violate ethical guidelines. Although DOI asserted its authority to see any scientific research the department produces, “numerous current and former Interior officials, however, say the department’s position raises serious ethical issues—particularly when it comes to energy and mineral assessments, which contain valuable economic data that have the potential to move markets,” Mother Jones reported. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), the ranking member of the House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, asked DOI’s inspector general to investigate whether department officials committed any ethical violations in requesting the data.

    March 9, 2018, AP: Interior planned to spend nearly $139,000 to upgrade Zinke’s office doors. Interior officials approved a contract to renovate “three sets of double doors in the secretary’s office, including two doors that open onto a corner balcony with a spectacular view of the Washington Monument and the National Mall,” The Associated Press reported. Though Zinke scoffed at questions about the excessive price of the renovations during a Senate hearing on March 13, two days later he told the House Committee on Natural Resources that he negotiated the price down to $75,000. Despite this, House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) sent Zinke a letter on March 22 asking for a briefing “on the need to replace the doors” and asking for “details on the acquisition process, bidding and receipts,” according to Reuters.

    March 11, 2018, USA Today: Zinke’s trip to Pennsylvania to announce $56 million in grants during a close campaign may have violated the Hatch Act. Toward the end of a tight campaign for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone, Zinke went to nearby East Bethlehem to announce $56 million in grants to clean up abandoned mining sites in the area. The entire event “had the feel of a hastily arranged news conference/town hall meeting/political opportunity,” according to the local Observer-Reporter. Saccone was among the politicians present, while his challenger did not attend. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is weighing a request to investigate whether Zinke’s trip was designed to benefit Saccone politically.

    March 15, 2018, AP: Zinke stacks wildlife-trade advisory board with trophy hunters. Zinke appointed trophy hunters, including some with direct ties to the Trump family, to the International Wildlife Conservation Council, an advisory board tasked with rewriting federal rules to allow the importation of body parts from slain African elephants, lions, and rhinos. The Associated Press reported, “A coalition of more than 20 environmental and animal welfare groups objected that the one-sided makeup of the council could violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires government boards to be balanced in terms of points of view and not improperly influenced by special interests.” Most board members belong to hunting clubs or the National Rifle Association (NRA), and one member co-owns a private hunting reserve with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. The Trump administration officially lifted a ban on importing elephant parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia on March 1.

    March 21, 2018, Politico: Zinke had a security detail during his two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey. Ryan and Lola Zinke’s two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey to celebrate their 25-year wedding anniversary also included a security detail, according to records obtained by Politico. Besides these bare facts, the public still does not know important details about this arrangement including “exactly how many security personnel accompanied the couple, who paid for them, how much they cost or whether they traveled with Zinke and his wife, Lola, for the entire trip,” Politico reported.

    March 26, 2018, Wash. Post: Zinke filled a new outdoor recreation advisory panel with members who could benefit from DOI decisions. At the urging of industry representatives, Zinke established the “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee last November and appointed “officials representing companies with National Park Service contracts, such as those in the hospitality sector, as well as those from the manufacturing, fishing, boating and all-terrain-vehicle industries,” according to The Washington Post, which obtained records about the committee via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Two of Zinke’s nominees to the panel were flagged by Interior staffers as having potential conflicts of interest because their companies hold some of the National Park Service’s largest concessions contracts, but they were appointed anyway.  

    March 27, 2018, Politico: Florida’s offshore drilling exemption may have been intended to benefit Gov. Rick Scott’s Senate campaign. On January 4, 2018, Zinke announced a controversial proposal to allow offshore drilling in many new coastal areas, including off the coast of Florida. Five days later, Zinke exempted Florida from the expanded drilling plan after a supposedly spur-of-the-moment encounter in the Tallahassee airport with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. But records reviewed by Politico in March “showed that top officials from the offices of both Scott and the Interior secretary were in regular contact for several days leading up to the sudden announcement, contradicting the supposed spontaneous event that portrayed Scott as protecting Florida’s environment.” According to The Washington Post, “The whole episode seems to have been designed to demonstrate Mr. Scott’s power and influence, by having him appear to summon the interior secretary to his state and bring him to heel in an afternoon.” Scott announced his Senate candidacy on April 9, 2018. The next day, CNN reported the U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Zinke’s Florida announcement violated the Hatch Act.

    March 28, 2018, Talking Points Memo: Zinke’s mass reassignment of career Interior employees may have violated federal anti-discrimination laws. Last July, Zinke initiated the reassignment of 35 Senior Executive Service members at DOI, of which 27 were ultimately transferred. Many were told to “either accept a new placement on the other side of the country or in a role unrelated to their background, or leave the agency,” according to Talking Points Memo. The DOI’s inspector general concluded the reassignments occurred “without a written plan or clear criteria, and without consulting with the departmental leadership,” which created the perception that staff were reassigned for “political or punitive reasons.” Because a third of those reassigned are Native American, DOI may have violated federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as its own Indian Preference rules, as TPM later reported. Zinke has reportedly told senior staff that diversity is not important. After a congressional hearing in March, he was also accused of racial insensitivity for responding “Oh, konnichiwa” to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) after she shared the experience of two of her grandfathers who were held in internment camps during World War II.

    April 6, 2018, Reveal: National Park Service deletes climate change from months-delayed report on sea-level rise. “National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge,” according to an investigation conducted by The Center for Investigative Reporting and published on its Reveal website. DOI oversees the National Park Service. Cat Hawkins, the head of the National Park Service’s climate change response program, made the deletions, in possible violation of Interior rules prohibiting political appointees from influencing scientific and scholarly activities. The report was also delayed for 10 months, which hindered park managers’ ability to access the latest research about how to mitigate the effects of extreme weather and sea-level rise on their parks. Zinke told the House Committee on Natural Resources in March, “I didn’t change a paragraph — a comma — in any document and I never would.” DOI’s inspector general is investigating the matter.

    April 16, 2018, HuffPost: Oil industry rep uses perch on DOI advisory group to push “wish list” of regulatory rollbacks. Under Zinke, advisory groups at DOI have been packed with industry representatives who want looser regulations. Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), a lobbying group that represents 300 oil and gas companies, chairs one such group, which is tasked with recommending how Zinke should manage federal lands for fossil fuel development. The group’s recommendations, which included regulatory rollbacks that had been on WEA’s wish list for years, was initially drafted by Tripp Parks, WEA’s head of government affairs. According to HuffPost, “A document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that Parks created the draft recommendations one day before Sgamma circulated them to committee members overseeing the working group.” The Sierra Club’s legal director told HuffPost, “It’s a very clear instance of regulatory capture.”

    June 13, 2018, Wash. Post: DOI canceled a study of the health effects of mountaintop-removal coal mining with little justification, the department’s inspector general found. After DOI last August halted a major public health study being conducted by the National Academies of Science on the impacts of surface coal mining on nearby residents, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) sent two letters to Zinke requesting information about the stoppage. Grijalva received no answer, so he requested an investigation by the DOI’s inspector general, which then found that “Departmental officials were unable to provide specific criteria used for their determination whether to allow or cease certain grants and cooperative agreements.” Records obtained by Pacific Standard show that before DOI stopped the study, Deputy Assistant Secretary Katharine MacGregor “had no fewer than six meetings with the most powerful mining players in the country. In both April and May of 2017, she met with the National Mining Association. In March and June, meanwhile, she met with Arch Coal, a long-time practitioner of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.”

    June 19, 2018, Politico: Zinke and the chairman of Halliburton could both benefit from a proposed real-estate deal in Montana. A foundation created by Zinke is helping to pave the way for a large commercial development that is backed by David Lesar, the chairman of energy-services giant Halliburton. According to Politico, the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation -- established by Zinke and currently run by his wife Lola -- agreed to allow 95 Karrow LLC, the Lesar-backed entity, to build a parking lot on land that had been donated to the foundation for creation of a park. The Zinkes also personally own land that's adjacent to the proposed development, potentially making that land much more valuable if the proposed development deal were to go through. The deal raises ethical concerns because Halliburton’s business could be substantially affected by decisions made by DOI. Zinke met with Lesar and the project’s other developers at Interior headquarters last year, Politico reported on June 21. Lesar and Zinke have had a relationship for years -- Lesar and his wife donated $10,400 to Zinke’s first House campaign in 2014. On June 18, DOI's deputy inspector general confirmed that her office had opened an investigation into whether Zinke violated conflict-of-interest laws.

    June 26, 2018, Reuters: Zinke’s promotion of Trump's campaign slogan may have violated the Hatch Act. During a meeting of the Western Governors Association on June 26, Zinke tweeted a photo of one of his socks, which was emblazoned with Trump’s face and his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” Zinke deleted that tweet and then posted a follow-up tweet that crossed out “Make America Great Again” yet still showed Trump’s face -- and then he deleted that one too. Those tweets may have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits some forms of political activity by federal employees, Reuters reported. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced in March that because Trump has confirmed his candidacy for reelection, federal employees are prohibited while on duty from wearing or displaying items with the phrase “Make America Great Again” or non-official pictures of Trump. On July 9, CNN reported that the Office of Special Counsel opened a case file on whether Zinke’s tweet violated the Hatch Act.

    July 6, 2018, HuffPost: Former NRA lobbyist working for Zinke may have committed multiple ethics violations. Benjamin Cassidy, a former NRA lobbyist who joined the Interior Department in October 2017, may have violated ethics rules by attending at least two meetings with Zinke that involved issues Cassidy had recently lobbied on. Cassidy attended a February 2018 meeting on “international conservation,” a discussion that most likely focused on issues such as hunting and animal trophy imports. While still employed with the NRA in 2017, Cassidy lobbied Congress on legislation dealing with animal trophy imports. Cassidy, whose official title is senior deputy director for intergovernmental and external affairs, should have signed Trump’s ethics pledge that bars former lobbyists in the executive branch from participating for two years in any matters on which they lobbied in the two years before starting an administration job. Another potential ethics violation occurred in March, when Cassidy attended a pair of private receptions Interior held for members of the International Wildlife Conservation Council, which includes an NRA employee and a former NRA board member, HuffPost reported on July 16. Cassidy served as the council members’ primary contact during their visit to Washington, D.C., for the receptions. Although it is not clear if Cassidy played a role in selecting members of the council, member Cameron Hanes thanked Cassidy as well as Zinke for including him. Cassidy “appears to be in violation of the prohibition on working on matters on which you’ve lobbied,” an ethics expert told HuffPost.

    July 20, 2018, CNN: Zinke kept meetings off of public calendar. Zinke's publicly released schedule omitted or obscured the details of about a dozen meetings. CNN compared email conversations between Zinke and his scheduler (made available through FOIA requests) to the calendars that the Interior Department released and found numerous discrepancies between the two. Zinke had previously undisclosed meetings with lobbyists, lawmakers, and interest groups. For example, CNN found that in May 2017, a meeting listed on his schedule with Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) also included three executives from Delaware North, a contractor who does business with national parks. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, has called for an investigation.

    July 23, 2018, Wash. Post: Zinke and aides rejected evidence that supported creation of national monuments and sought out evidence that didn't -- and then tried to conceal strategy from the public. Zinke’s team selectively tailored a review of national monuments last year to dismiss the benefits of monuments and emphasize the value of activities such as logging and energy development on public lands, according to thousands of pages of email correspondence inadvertently released by the Interior Department’s FOIA office. The DOI retracted the documents the next day and released redacted versions. In the first version, for instance, draft economic reports on monuments under scrutiny included information on the Interior Department’s “ability to estimate the value of energy and/or minerals forgone as a result of the designations,” but that information was redacted from the second batch of emails. In another instance, officials marked this statement about an Oregon national monument as eligible for redaction: “Previous timber sale planning and development in the [expansion area] can be immediately resumed.” The review came in response to an executive order from Trump last year that instructed Zinke to scrutinize 27 national monuments established over a period of 21 years. It led Trump to dramatically shrink two national monuments in Utah.

    Ted MacDonald contributed to this post.

  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appeared on Fox News four times more than on the other major TV networks combined

    Like other Trump officials, Zinke heavily favors the president's favorite network

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appeared on Fox News four times more often than on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined, Media Matters has found. And for the last nine-plus months, as Zinke has been increasingly dogged by scandals, he has not given interviews to any major channels other than Fox networks.

    In exhibiting a clear preference for Fox News during his 13-plus months in office, Zinke is following the same pattern as many of President Donald Trump’s other cabinet officials and top aides, including Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.

    Zinke has gotten soft treatment on Fox News. During his interviews, the network's hosts and journalists rarely asked about his scandals. Instead of confronting him with tough questions, they let him peddle Trump administration talking points and trumpet brand-burnishing policies such as “Bring Your Dog to Work Day.” 

    Zinke appeared on Fox News 13 times and other major networks three times since he took office

    Zinke gave 13 interviews to Fox News and one each to CNN, MSNBC, and CBS. From March 1, 2017, when Zinke was sworn in, to April 17, 2018, Zinke appeared on Fox News 13 times. He granted only one on-air interview apiece to the other major cable news networks, CNN and MSNBC. On broadcast TV, Zinke appeared only on CBS; he gave no interviews to ABC or NBC.

    Zinke appeared most often on Fox & Friends, a show that shapes Trump’s decision-making. Here are all of Zinke's appearances on Fox News during his time as interior secretary:

    Fox & Friends’ interviews with Zinke were good examples of how he was treated across the network. When the hosts were not feting him for his Navy Seal service or lauding him for enacting Trump's deregulatory agenda, they allowed Zinke’s statements on policy to go unchallenged. Zinke's September 20 appearance on Fox & Friends stands out for its breeziness. Host Brian Kilmeade accompanied Zinke on a tour of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and neglected to ask the secretary about a controversial recommendation Zinke had made just days earlier to shrink four national monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.

    Here are Zinke's appearances on major networks other than Fox:

    On cable business news networks, Zinke appeared on Fox Business seven times and CNBC once

    Zinke’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network, which he has appeared on seven times, compared to once on rival CNBC. Fox Business, like Fox News, regularly echoes Trump administration talking points and attacks the administration's perceived enemies. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs even has the ear of the president, who has invited Dobbs to participate in senior-level meetings via phone.

    Here are Zinke's appearances on Fox Business programs:

    Zinke's sole appearance on CNBC was on Squawk Box on June 29, 2017

    Zinke appeared only on Fox News and Fox Business after becoming embroiled in scandals

    Zinke started getting a notable amount of bad press last summer after an article published on July 26 revealed that he tried to strong-arm Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) into voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Since then, Zinke, like Pruitt and others in Trump's cabinet, has been at the center of numerous scandals involving excessive travel expenses, favors for donors, and undisclosed financial ties to companies that could benefit from his agency’s decisions.

    All of the TV interviews Zinke did with networks other than Fox or Fox Business happened prior to July 26, 2017, after which point his controversies began generating significant media attention.

    Once scandals cropped up, Zinke retreated fully to his safe space. For more than nine months now, Zinke has not granted a single interview to any major TV network other than Fox News or Fox Business.

    Fox News covered a key Zinke travel scandal less than CNN and MSNBC

    On September 28, The Washington Post and Politico reported that Zinke spent more than $12,000 of taxpayer funds to charter a flight from Las Vegas to near his Montana home on a plane owned by oil and gas executives. Commercial flights between the airports run daily and cost as little as $300, the Post reported. Zinke's jaunt was widely reported across cable news the week after the story broke, but more widely on MSNBC and CNN than on Fox.

    From September 28 to October 4, MSNBC ran 27 segments that mentioned Zinke’s travel, while CNN ran 23. The networks' hosts, correspondents, and guests usually brought up Zinke’s travel scandal during wider conversations that included mention of other cabinet members' extravagant travel.

    During the same period, Fox News ran 12 segments about Zinke’s travel -- roughly half as many as each of the other cable news networks. Most of Fox's mentions of Zinke's travel were news alerts restating basic facts from the Post article. When Fox News hosts and correspondents discussed the story on air, they usually downplayed or excused the scandal. For example, on America’s News Headquarters on September 29, White House Correspondent John Roberts said that Zinke was “taking The Washington Post to task” before airing Zinke’s defense for taking private flights. Later in the show, host Sandra Smith remarked, “Zinke makes a fair point,” and noted that he got approval for other controversial flights he took on government planes.

    On April 16, 2018, the Interior Department’s (DOI) inspector general released a report that found Zinke's $12,375 charter flight "could have been avoided." Zinke took the chartered flight so he would have time in his schedule to give a motivational speech to a hockey team owned by a major donor to Zinke's former congressional campaign. The speech did not mention Zinke's work at the Department of Interior. The inspector general’s report concluded, "If ethics officials had known Zinke’s speech would have no nexus to the DOI, they likely would not have approved this as an official event, thus eliminating the need for a chartered flight. Moreover, had ethics officials been made aware that the Golden Knights’ owner had been a donor to Zinke’s congressional campaign, it might have prompted further review and discussion."

    Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this report. Charts by Sarah Wasko.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ media to find Zinke’s on-air TV appearances from the date he was sworn in as secretary of the interior on March 1, 2017, to April 17, 2018: “Zinke OR Zinky OR Interior Secretary OR Secretary of the Interior OR Secretary of Interior.” We used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Zinke’s travel controversy from September 28 to October 4, 2017.

  • Don't believe the right-wing lie that auto fuel-economy standards make cars more dangerous

    WSJ and SFC also push false notion that strong fuel-economy standards kill people

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On the heels of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s announcement this month that his agency will weaken the 2012 vehicle fuel-economy standards set by the Obama administration, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed celebrating the rollback and arguing that President Barack Obama's standards would have led to more vehicle crash fatalities. Other news outlets, both right-wing and mainstream, have also published pieces pushing the message that ambitious fuel-economy rules kill people. But it’s an unsupported claim based on decades-old data. More recent research has found that strengthening the standards can actually improve road safety and save lives.

    WSJ and other outlets push outdated claim that efficient, lightweight cars lead to more fatalities

    On April 2, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt announced his intention to revise the Obama-era Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which would have required new cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. to get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. In doing so, he ignored demands from many states, environmental groups , and consumer protection organizations to keep the Obama-era standards in place.

    Two days later, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed titled “Coffee Won’t Kill You, But CAFE Might,” written by Sam Kazman, who's identified under the piece as "general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute." The Journal failed to note that the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has funders with an economic interest in fuel-economy rules: the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and auto companies like Ford and Volkswagen; the American Petroleum Institute and oil companies like ExxonMobil; and the Koch brothers

    "CAFE kills people by causing cars to be made smaller and lighter," Kazman asserted. To make this point, he relied on one study published in 1989 and another study from 2002 that analyzed 1993 data. Kazman wrote

    A 1989 Harvard-Brookings study estimated the death toll [from CAFE standards] at between 2,200 and 3,900 a year. Similarly, a 2002 National Academy of Sciences study estimated that CAFE had contributed to up to 2,600 fatalities in 1993. This was at a relatively lenient CAFE level of 27.5 miles per gallon. Under what the Obama administration had in store, CAFE would soon approach levels twice as stringent.

    After citing these outdated studies, Kazman tried to make the findings seem relevant today:

    Advocates of stringent standards claim that automotive technologies have advanced since that 1992 court ruling, making vehicle mass less significant. But the basic relationship between size and safety has not changed. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which closely monitors crashworthiness, still provides the same advice it has been giving for years: “Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer.”

    Other news outlets have also given industry-friendly voices a platform over the past two weeks to claim that CAFE standards boost fatalities, often citing the same outdated research and CEI staffers. These outlets include: the San Francisco Chronicle, which published an op-ed by CEI senior fellow Marlo Thomas; the Washington Examiner, The Epoch Times, and the Media Research Center, which published pieces by their own contributors; and conservative websites Townhall and CNSNews.com, which published versions of the same piece by Paul Driessen, a senior policy analyst at the oil industry-funded Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.

    Latest research undermines claim that CAFE has increased road fatalities

    The National Academy of Sciences revised its view in 2015. The arguments from Kazman and others hinge on a 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which analyzed deaths in 1993 -- a 16-year-old study based on 25-year-old data. Basing their claims on such dated information is highly questionable; automotive safety technology and design have advanced substantially in the past quarter century.

    Also, the 2002 NAS study included an appendix with a dissent by two of the report’s authors who argued, “The relationship between fuel economy and highway safety is complex, ambiguous, poorly understood, and not measurable by any known means at the present time.” As such, the two wrote, the study's conclusions on safety were “overly simplistic and at least partially incorrect.”

    Kazman and his fellow CAFE critics also ignored how the government adjusted rules to improve safety after the 2002 study was released, and they neglected to mention a more recent 2015 National Research Council study. The 2002 NAS study recommended tying fuel-economy goals to vehicle attributes such as weight, and the federal government implemented these recommendations in 2009. By 2015, researchers concluded that these changes had yielded appreciable benefits to highway safety.

    As a February 12, 2018, Bloomberg article explained:

    The [2002 NAS] study recommended several changes to the efficiency regulations, including basing fuel economy on an attribute such as vehicle weight. That would mitigate an incentive for automakers to sell smaller, fuel-sipping cars to offset sales of gas-guzzling trucks.

    That change was made in 2009, when NHTSA [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] began tying fuel economy targets to a vehicle’s "footprint," the area between an automobile’s four wheels.

    In 2015, the academy released a new study that concluded the change to a footprint measurement had satisfied many of its safety concerns.

    From a press release describing the 2015 study conducted by the National Research Council, the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences: “Manufacturers are likely to make cars lighter in their efforts to improve fuel economy. The most current studies support the argument that making vehicles lighter, while keeping their footprints constant, will have a beneficial effect on safety for society as a whole, especially if the greatest weight reductions come from the heaviest vehicles, the report says.” Still, researchers recommended that NHTSA monitor and mitigate safety risks as automakers transition to lighter cars.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety supported Obama's CAFE rules. Kazman also cited the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as he tried to argue that Obama-era fuel-economy rules were dangerous. But a spokesperson for the institute, Russ Rader, said that it supported the Obama plan. "The Obama-era changes to the rules, essentially using a sliding scale for fuel economy improvements by vehicle footprint, addressed safety concerns that IIHS raised in the past," Rader told Bloomberg in February. 

    A 2017 study found that CAFE standards can cut down on deaths. Research released last year found that fuel-economy standards could actually decrease fatalities. The 2017 study on pre-Obama CAFE standards, conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, concluded that "on net CAFE reduced fatalities.” The Washington Post summed it up with this headline: "Scientists just debunked one of the biggest arguments against fuel economy standards for cars." The Post article explains how lighter cars might lead to fewer deaths:

    Say you observe a crash between two SUVs, both around the same size. If you downsize one of those vehicles to a Smart car, the chance of its passengers being injured or killed may increase. On the other hand, if you downsize both vehicles, the overall risk of fatality might actually become smaller than it was to begin with.

    The researchers argue that, in the past, critics have only examined the effects of reducing an individual vehicle’s weight and not the standards’ overall effects on all vehicles in circulation — an important distinction.

    […]

    “I think one of the findings of this study is that these [safety] concerns have been drummed up as the reason to get rid of this standard,” [study coauthor Kevin] Roth said. “We’re essentially showing that these concerns are probably overblown.”

    Another coauthor of the study said that the safety benefits on their own are a good argument for maintaining fuel-economy standards, even without considering environmental benefits.

    Because the science underpinning vehicle efficiency and safety is complex, industry-aligned organizations such as CEI are able to cherry-pick and manipulate specific data to meet their predetermined conclusions. For those who want to obtain a comprehensive understanding of vehicle efficiency standards and their myriad benefits, there are many useful resources, including a 2012 report jointly produced by the EPA and NHTSA, which details how the agencies took safety into account as they formulated the CAFE standards that the Trump administration intends to roll back.

  • How Scott Pruitt's EPA is attacking journalists and stifling the media

    EPA takes up Trump’s war on the press by insulting media outlets, withholding information, and flouting public records requests

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This post was updated on 5/23/18 to incorporate additional news reports.

    Since Scott Pruitt took the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency in early 2017, the EPA has consistently refused to release basic information, blocked reporters from attending agency events, and attacked journalists and outlets whose coverage it didn't like. This antagonistic stance toward the media mirrors President Donald Trump’s unprecedented war against the press, which Media Matters has chronicled.

    Seeking a reset after a year of the agency’s attacks and obfuscation, the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) sent a letter to the EPA’s press office in January in the hopes of improving journalists’ access to EPA information and "begin[ning] a conversation about journalists’ basic needs." The letter made five requests, which the group summarized on its website:

    1. Respond to inquiries in a meaningful and timely manner, arranging interviews with subject matter experts.
    1. Distribute all press releases and advisories, to all who request them, not just to a select audience.
    1. Hold open press briefings on significant news. Invite all regular beat reporters to in-person briefings held at EPA headquarters; provide web conferencing and teleconference access for all interested reporters outside the Washington area.
    1. Reinstate the practice of publishing a weekly list of the EPA administrator’s scheduled public appearances.
    1. Resume the practice of publishing an up-to-date calendar of all the EPA administrator’s meetings — not just public events.

    The EPA failed to respond to SEJ’s letter -- or to a follow-up inquiry -- so the group released the letter publicly in March. SEJ sent the EPA another letter on March 30 calling on the agency to “answer reporters' questions directly, rather than referring them to published articles by their favored media," as summarized on the SEJ website.

    Here are more than 20 examples of Pruitt's EPA assailing the press or frustrating journalists' efforts to cover the agency's actions.

    EPA withholds Pruitt’s schedule from the press. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who headed the agency under President Barack Obama from 2013 to early 2017, shared her schedule on the EPA website every day, but Pruitt, like many other members of Trump's cabinet, withholds basic information about his activities. According to Politico, the EPA has refused “to provide schedules or advisories of his upcoming meetings, confirm his attendance at specific events, or say what city he plans to be in on a given day." As a result, news outlets and watchdog groups have filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and lawsuits to obtain his calendars. When the EPA has eventually responded and released information about Pruitt's schedule, it has generally been bare-bones, partially redacted, or months late.

    EPA spokesperson: “Pruitt does not want open press." While coordinating logistics for a roundtable discussion Pruitt held at the University of North Dakota with the state's senior senator, John Hoeven (R), and governor, Doug Burgum (R), EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox asked that reporters not be permitted to attend, E&E News reported. Hoeven had wanted to include media, but Wilcox wrote to Burgum’s staffers that “most importantly Pruitt does not want open press." After being informed that reporters had already been invited to the last 15 minutes of the event, Wilcox insisted, “We can't have anything open."

    EPA spokesperson called police on North Dakota reporters trying to cover Pruitt event. EPA spokesperson Wilcox threatened to call the police on two reporters from the Grand Forks Herald who were attempting to cover Pruitt’s August 9 visit to the University of North Dakota. The Herald reported that after Wilcox made his threat, “A UND Police officer then arrived to insist the building and its grounds were private property before demanding the reporters move away from the center's front door. … The EERC is not private property and is owned by UND."

    EPA asked radio host not to take listener calls during interview with Pruitt. During his August 9 visit to North Dakota, Pruitt sat for a joint interview with Gov. Burgum, conducted by local talk radio host Scott Hennen. Hennen normally takes listener calls during his show, but documents obtained by E&E News show that EPA spokesperson Wilcox asked him not to during the Pruitt interview, and Hennen acquiesced.

    EPA terminated funding for a nonprofit newspaper after it reported that Trump's budget cuts would hurt the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay Journal, a nonprofit newspaper that covers environmental issues in the Chesapeake Bay region and reaches approximately 100,000 readers, has been partially funded by the EPA since 1991. Last June, the paper reported that Trump's proposed budget would slash funding for Chesapeake Bay programs and harm restoration efforts. In August, the EPA abruptly canceled a previously approved $325,000 grant to the paper due to a “shift in priorities." The Bay Journal requested records pertaining to the termination, which EPA failed to produce, so the paper sued. Under pressure from Maryland's Democratic senators, the EPA restored the Bay Journal’s funding in March.  

    EPA attacked NY Times reporters in press release over pesticide story. On August 18, The New York Times published a story detailing how the EPA disregarded the advice of agency scientists by refusing to ban a harmful pesticide after Pruitt met with farming industry executives and told them he was listening to their pleas. Three days later, the EPA issued a press release attacking the story and accusing the reporters, Eric Lipton and Roni Caryn Rabin, of reporting "false facts" and omitting "inconvenient facts." Though the EPA did not dispute any of the story’s specific factual claims, the press release also stated that "the New York Times never lets the truth get in the way of a good story."

    EPA attacked AP reporter in press release over toxic-site story. On September 2, The Associated Press published a story on toxic sites flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which Washington Post media critic Eric Wemple later declared to be "factually sound." But the EPA issued a press release criticizing the story and attacking the credibility of the AP and Michael Biesecker, one of the reporters who wrote it. "Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story," the agency’s release read. The press release also included a statement from EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman that accused the AP of attempting to “mislead Americans” by “cherry-picking facts.” To bolster its attack on Biesecker and the AP, the release cited a Breitbart News article. 

    EPA dropped AP reporter from its email list and criticized him for not opening positive emails about Pruitt. The EPA had been unhappy with AP reporter Biesecker even before he published his story about toxic site flooding after Harvey. When The Washington Post's Wemple asked the EPA about its ongoing conflict with Biesecker, an agency official said that the EPA had removed Biesecker from its master email list, explaining, “We don’t think he’s a trustworthy reporter.” An EPA official also told the Post that the agency monitored which journalists opened its emailed press releases: “We are able to see who opens our emails,” the official said. “Michael [Biesecker] very rarely opens a positive story about [EPA Administrator] Scott Pruitt. He only opens stories where he tries to create problems.”

    EPA warned employees against leaking to the press. The EPA required employees to attend training sessions that warned them of the dangers of leaking sensitive information to the media, The Associated Press reported. During the mandatory training, employees were given a fact sheet that detailed how leaks have harmed America in the past and warned, "Enemies of the United States are relentless in their pursuit of information which they can exploit to harm US interests."

    EPA spokesperson misled NY Times reporter. In a talk at Yale, New York Times climate reporter Lisa Friedman recounted an instance in October when an EPA spokesperson gave her inaccurate information. Per the Yale Daily News, Friedman "said a spokesman for the EPA disputed the claim that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt planned to announce the decision [to roll back the Clean Power Plan] in Kentucky with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The spokesman told her that 'it was not accurate' to say that Pruitt was going to make such an announcement.” Friedman then told the audience, “Except for it was absolutely accurate, and Fox News was invited.” Friedman also said, “Covering the EPA is like covering the CIA. It is so secretive. It is so difficult even to get basic information.”

    EPA accused NY Times reporter of being “biased” and “writing elitist click bait.” When Times reporter Lipton sent detailed questions to the EPA about the agency loosening regulations on toxic chemicals, EPA spokesperson Bowman refused to answer his queries. Instead, she sent a caustic comment by email: “No matter how much information we give you, you would never write a fair piece. The only thing inappropriate and biased is your continued fixation on writing elitist click bait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.” Lipton quoted her comment in his article.

    EPA refused to confirm basic facts to NY Times reporter, then accused him of stealing from other news outlets. The Washington Post's Wemple reported further details on Lipton's back-and-forth with the EPA about his story on toxic chemical regulations. Lipton asked EPA spokesperson Bowman to confirm reports that Michael Dourson, Trump's nominee to head the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, began working at the EPA before being confirmed by the Senate. Bowman referred Lipton to stories published by USA Today and E&E News, which Lipton took as confirmation. Then EPA spokesperson Wilcox jumped into email chain, interjecting, “If you want to steal work from other outlets and pretend like it’s your own reporting that is your decision.” After Lipton explained to both spokespersons that basic fact-checking is critical to avoiding “Fake News,” Wilcox, ccing USA Today’s and E&E News’ reporters, replied to Lipton, “Adding the two outlets who you want to steal their work from to this email.”

    EPA had police remove reporter from Pruitt event in Iowa. Ethan Stoetzer, a journalist with InsideSources Iowa, never received a response after trying repeatedly to contact the EPA to RSVP for a December 1 event where Pruitt would be speaking at a cattle company headquarters in Iowa. The event was invite-only, but media were permitted to attend. According to his reporting, Stoetzer showed up to the event site and was initially allowed to enter the press booth. But then he “was approached by a Story County Sheriff’s Deputy, as well as several staff members of both the EPA and Couser Cattle Company, who did not give their names when asked, and was told that he had to leave the premises.” He reported that other members of the media who had not RSVP’d were allowed to remain at the event. EPA spokesperson Wilcox did not reply to repeated questions about why Stoetzer was forced off the premises.

    EPA hired Republican opposition-research firm to conduct "war room"-style media monitoring. The EPA awarded a no-bid contract worth $120,000 to an opposition-research firm, Definers Corp, that not only has deep connections to the Republican establishment, but is also tied to a research group that had been “looking for information that could undermine employees who had criticized the E.P.A.,” as The New York Times reported. Under the contract, Definers would provide the EPA with “‘war room’-style media monitoring, analysis, and advice," Mother Jones reported. The controversial contract was rescinded after media reports led to political outcry.

    EPA misled press about Pruitt's travel, then stonewalled. After journalists reported in February 2018 on Pruitt’s exorbitant travel expenses, EPA Node Menu spokesperson Wilcox initially told Politico that Pruitt had received a blanket waiver to travel first or business class. But a spokesperson for the General Services Administration, which oversees rules about officials' travel, told Politico that it does not issue blanket waivers. Wilcox then changed his story and said that Pruitt submits a request for a waiver for each trip. Refusing to answer further questions about Pruitt’s travel, Wilcox directed reporters to use FOIA to request additional information, "a process that can take months or years," Politico noted.

    EPA to reporters: You'll have to wait a year for responses to your FOIA requests. The EPA has been slow in responding to FOIA requests about Pruitt's office from media organizations and other groups, according to an analysis by the Project on Government Oversight. The agency had closed only about 17 percent of records requests related to Pruitt’s activities as of February, Politico reported. This aligns with the anecdotal stories of journalists who, when not ignored by the EPA, were informed that it would take a year to receive responses to their records requests. CNBC reported in February on a lawsuit filed against EPA alleging the agency "has systematically refused to document 'essential activities' under Pruitt, and higher-ups are creating a culture in which career employees are discouraged from creating written records."

    EPA tried to prevent news outlets from covering Pruitt’s announcement of vehicle efficiency rollbacks. After granting Fox News permission to cover Pruitt’s announcement that the agency would be revising Obama-era vehicle emissions and mileage standards, EPA officials tried to stop other television networks from reporting on the event. As CNN reported on April 3, “EPA had attempted to allow television camera access to Fox News without informing the other four networks: CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS. Fox alerted the networks and a pool was established allowing networks equal access to the event.” EPA public affairs officials also made little effort to inform other journalists about the event. According to CNN, “There were several journalists [at the event], including from The New York Times, Bloomberg and ABC News, according to one reporter in attendance, who added that it sounded like many of the reporters were notified of the event individually just before it took place and ran over. EPA did not send a wide notice of the event to the agency press list.”

    Pruitt has used multiple email addresses, which could hamper fulfillment of FOIA requests by media outlets and others. After learning that Pruitt uses three secret EPA email addresses in addition to his official email address, Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Carper (D-DE) asked the EPA’s inspector general on April 10 to investigate if Pruitt “may be withholding information from the public in violation of valid FOIA requests.” On May 2, the inspector general said his office plans to open an investigation into whether the EPA is violating the Federal Records Act.

    EPA press office engaged in “questionable activities” that may have violated federal rules, Sierra Club alleged in a lawsuit. Via a Twitter thread posted on April 20, Sierra Club attorney Elena Saxonhouse announced that her group had sued the EPA for failing to provide public records related to the activities of the agency’s Office of Public Affairs. Saxonhouse alleged that the office had engaged in a number of “questionable activities,” which included “creating a right-wing media echo chamber for Pruitt,” “contracting with a firm whose stated goal is to take down Democrats,” and reportedly working to secretly place anti-Paris climate accord op-eds in newspapers, among other things. Sierra Club requested the records to determine if these actions violated rules barring the use of agency money for "self-aggrandizement," "purely partisan" communications, and "covert propaganda." The EPA was recently forced to turn over more than 24,000 pages of documents to the Sierra Club after losing a previous FOIA lawsuit to the organization.

    Pruitt aides have slowed FOIA releases so they can increase vetting of records requests related to his actions. “Top aides to Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency are screening public records requests related to the embattled administrator, slowing the flow of information released under the Freedom of Information Act — at times beyond what the law allows,” Politico reported on May 6. Based on internal emails obtained by the outlet, the EPA’s political appointees also reprimanded career officials who released public records without letting Pruitt’s aides screen them first. Although other administrations have also requested that political aides be allowed to screen certain releases before they are made public, a FOIA expert quoted by Politico said, “This does look like the most burdensome review process that I've seen documented."

    EPA blocked AP, CNN, E&E News, and Politico from attending a summit on water contaminants and had an AP reporter physically removed from the building. “The Environmental Protection Agency temporarily barred journalists and the public from a national summit Tuesday addressing toxic chemicals contamination in drinking water, a week after top agency officials' effort to delay publication of a study on those chemicals came to light,” Politico reported on May 22. When an AP reporter asked to speak with public affairs personnel to learn why the outlet was barred from the event, “the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building,” AP reported. Although the EPA relented after news of the incident spread and allowed the press to cover the second half of the event on May 22, the agency still blocked reporters from covering the subsequent day of the summit on May 23.