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  • 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.

  • Facebook has a climate-denial problem

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Facebook, well-known as a breeding ground for misinformation, has a particular problem with disseminating false and misleading messages about climate change science. The platform spreads climate-denying videos and other posts, hosts climate-denying ads, and officially partners with climate-denying media outlets and organizations.

    Climate-denier videos get millions of views on Facebook

    A recent video promoting false arguments against climate change science got more than 5 million views on Facebook, The Guardian's Dana Nuccitelli reported last week.

    The video -- posted in June by The Daily Signal, an arm of the right-wing Heritage Foundation -- is titled "Why Climate Change Is Fake News." It features Marc Morano, a longtime spokesperson and blogger for the climate-denial cause, who outlines three things that "the left gets wrong about climate change." Nuccitelli points out that all three are common and easily debunked myths.

    Nuccitelli notes that Facebook's viewership numbers are likely inflated, but the video has still reached a lot of people:

    Fortunately, the exposure to Morano’s misinformation video is not as bad as it seems at first blush. Although Facebook implies the video has been viewed over 5m times, a “view” is counted after just three seconds, and videos on the site play automatically.

    Nevertheless, the video has been shared over 75,000 times, so it has certainly reached a wide audience. Facebook needs to come to terms with the fact that there is an objective reality. Even if Marc Morano sincerely believes humans aren’t causing global warming, that belief is false, and by continuing to host his myth-filled video, Facebook is misinforming tens of thousands, perhaps even millions of its users.

    As of this writing, the Daily Signal video has now been "viewed" 6.3 million times and shared 102,000 times.

    Other denier videos get traction on Facebook as well. For example, one titled "GLOBAL WARMING IS THE BIGGEST FRAUD IN HISTORY," which features a rant by a climate-denying retired businessman, has gotten at least 2 million views by Facebook's count.

    Facebook is partnering with climate-denying organizations

    In an interview with Recode published on July 18, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook shouldn't remove content just because it's wrong. Using the example of Holocaust denial, he said it's “deeply offensive,” but “I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

    Zuckerberg tried to clarify his views two days later, writing, "Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed."

    Joe Romm at ThinkProgress pointed out that Zuckerberg's approach is a major problem when it comes to climate denial, a particularly pernicious form of disinformation.

    One of Facebook's official fact-checking partners, the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, has at times been dismissive of climate science and the need for climate action. A piece from July 2017, headlined "Dadaist Science," cast doubt on research that found a scientific consensus around the human causes of climate change. A piece from June 2017 criticized arguments being made on behalf of the Paris climate agreement. A long feature in the magazine from 2014 lauded climate-denying scientist Richard Lindzen.

    As Romm put it, "How can Facebook stop climate misinformation when its ‘fact-checkers’ are deniers?"

    Meanwhile, Facebook is partnering with the Heritage Foundation to determine whether the platform displays liberal bias -- a persistent but blatantly false claim made by conservatives. Heritage gets funding from the Kochs and other fossil fuel interests, and it has a long history of spreading climate denial. It brought us the "Why Climate Change Is Fake News" video mentioned above.

    And the Facebook Watch initiative, in which Facebook partners with media companies to produce original videos, has teamed up with Fox News, despite the network's long history of climate denial. Last month, when Facebook Watch debuted a slate of news shows from eight news publishers, Fox got more than twice as many slots per week as any other outlet.

    Facebook hosts climate-denying ads

    Late last year, a climate-denier blogger tried to buy ads linking to his site on five social-media platforms and found that Facebook was the only one that ran them with no pushback or questions asked.

    Leo Goldstein writes a blog at DefyCCC.com that focuses on what he calls "climate realism." The CCC in the URL stands for "cult of climate change." He also writes periodically for WattsUpWithThat, a more well-known climate-denial blog. He claims that climate change is a "pseudo-scientific fraud" and that "real scientists are against climate alarmism."

    Goldstein attempted to buy ads linking to his DefyCCC site. "In November and December 2017, I experimented with distributing the climate realism message using advertising options on Google and some other platforms," Goldstein wrote in a December 31 post on WattsUpWithThat. In a follow-up post the next day, Goldstein described the outcome of his experiment. The short version: Twitter refused to run his ads. Google ran some of his ads for a period of time. Facebook ran his ads with no pushback.

    "Facebook has been acting squeaky clean," Goldstein wrote. "None of my messages have been banned for content." Facebook is the only platform that gave him no problems, he reported.

    Since then, Goldstein has continued to place ads on Facebook, often under the banner of the Science For Humans and Freedom Institute. One ad he ran on Facebook in July claimed, "CO2 is the gas of life, not a pollutant. Climate alarmism is a dangerous cult":

    Facebook's advertising policies prohibit "deceptive, false, or misleading content," but the company has still allowed Goldstein to purchase space for ads like this.

    Zuckerberg talks the talk about climate change, but doesn't walk the walk

    Zuckerberg has expressed concern about climate change, arguing last year that the U.S. should not pull out of the Paris climate agreement and noting that rising temperatures are melting the glaciers at Glacier National Park.

    But he is not using the immense power of his platform to halt misinformation about climate change. To the contrary, Facebook is enabling and disseminating climate denial on multiple fronts. In addition to the problems outlined above, the platform helps bogus climate stories to spread -- like a hugely popular climate-denial story from YourNewsWire, a fake news site that Facebook refuses to ban even though fact-checkers have debunked its stories at least 80 times. And one of Facebook's most high-profile scandals involved handing user data over to Cambridge Analytica, a shady political consultancy that has close ties to fossil fuel companies and climate deniers.

    Media Matters named Zuckerberg as its misinformer of the year in 2017 for leading a company that is spreading misinformation far and wide. In the first half of 2018, he and Facebook have not changed their ways. Rather, Facebook is currently bending over backward to cater to conservatives who falsely claim that they're discriminated against on the platform, when in fact right-leaning Facebook pages get more interactions than left-leaning ones.

    Combating fake news is key to combating climate change. As an editorial in the journal Nature Communications argued last year, "Successfully inoculating society against fake news is arguably essential" if major climate initiatives are to succeed. Facebook could be a big part of the solution. But by kowtowing to conservatives, prioritizing profits over accuracy, and maintaining open-door policies toward misinformation, Facebook is entrenching itself as a major part of the problem.

  • 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.”

  • How should media cover Andrew Wheeler? Take a lesson from coverage of Scott Pruitt

    Pruitt's silly scandals got more attention than his weighty misdeeds and regulatory rollbacks

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Andrew Wheeler, new acting chief of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has gotten a soft reception from the media during his first couple of weeks on the job. The honeymoon phase needs to end now.

    Wheeler is benefiting from comparisons to his disgraced predecessor, Scott Pruitt, who was flamboyantly corrupt and unprecedentedly adversarial toward the press. Wheeler keeps a lower profile than Pruitt and has given interviews to mainstream journalists instead of insulting them, so his different style has generated positive pieces and headlines.

    But being more sober and civil than Pruitt is a very low bar to jump over. Wheeler doesn't deserve praise for clearing it.

    Wheeler received glowing press just for saying he would listen to EPA employees. “When it comes to leadership, you can’t lead unless you listen,” he said during his first address to agency staff on July 11. That quote was featured in the headlines and introductions of stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post by reporters who had done some of the most aggressive coverage of Pruitt's scandals and regulatory rollbacks.

    But, as Mother Jones reporter Rebecca Leber pointed out, Pruitt had used the exact same line during his first address to agency staff in February 2017: “You can’t lead unless you listen.”

    This is a stark example of how journalists have been quick to paint Wheeler as a departure from Pruitt even when he's doing exactly what Pruitt did.

    The media need to stop focusing on the minor stylistic differences between Wheeler and Pruitt and start homing in on substance. The new EPA chief has already implemented his first major rollback of an environmental protection. Wheeler, a former lobbyist for a coal company, signed a final rule that will make it easier for power plants to dump toxic coal ash in ways that could pollute groundwater. And Wheeler has pledged to carry forward the rest of Pruitt's agenda.

    What media got wrong in covering Pruitt

    So how should the media be covering Wheeler? To help answer that question, take a look back at how they covered Pruitt.

    Journalists at many outlets did excellent reporting on a wide range of Pruitt's scandals and regulatory moves, particularly the teams covering the EPA at The Washington Post and The New York Times. The problem was that only some of that good original reporting got amplified by other media outlets and ultimately seen by wide audiences, and too often it was the least important stories that got the most attention.

    Media Matters analyzed TV news coverage of Pruitt during a period in June in which a number of EPA regulatory rollbacks and Pruitt scandals were revealed.

    For each of the following stories, we looked at how much coverage major prime-time TV news programs devoted to it in the week after it was first reported:

    • Rollback: The EPA decided not to examine air, water, or ground contaminants when determining the health and safety risks of potentially toxic chemicals, as The New York Times reported on June 7.
    • Rollback: The EPA took the first step toward changing the way it calculates the economic costs and benefits of regulations, with an eye toward making regulations appear more expensive, as The Washington Post reported on June 7.
    • Rollback: The EPA put forth a detailed plan to scale back a major Obama-era regulation on water pollution, as The New York Times reported on June 14.
    • Substantive scandal: Pruitt had close ties with a coal baron and big GOP donor, Joseph Craft. Craft got Pruitt good basketball tickets, while Pruitt made policy moves that benefited Craft's company, as The New York Times reported on June 2.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt spent $1,560 on 12 customized fountain pens emblazoned with the EPA seal and Pruitt’s signature, as The Washington Post reported on June 1.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt had an EPA aide try to obtain a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel, as The Associated Press reported on June 4.
    • Silly scandal: Pruitt used his EPA security detail to help him find fancy lotion at Ritz-Carlton hotels, as The Washington Post reported on June 7.

    The first four stories -- the ones involving policy changes likely to lead to more pollution -- got markedly less attention on TV news than the scandals surrounding Pruitt's bizarre personal misbehavior.

    How the media can do better in covering Wheeler

    Pruitt getting the boot opens up an opportunity for journalists to do a better job covering the EPA, as Wheeler seems unlikely to suck up all the oxygen by making goofy moves like buying tactical pants” or using sirens to speed to his favorite restaurant.

    Last month, some reporters on the EPA beat expressed frustration that Pruitt’s scandals were serving as distractions:

    Now they’ll have more time to chase stories about serious ethics questions at EPA and, most importantly, the regulatory rollbacks that could make Americans sick and kill us.

    There will be plenty to cover, like:

    • Wheeler’s ties to industry: He, too, has a long-established, cozy relationship with a coal baron. And he has lobbied for natural gas, chemical, uranium, nuclear, and utility interests, so we could see him cultivating close ties to those industries.
    • Wheeler’s rollbacks that benefit industry: He has already made a major policy move that serves the interests of coal and utility companies, as mentioned above, and he’s poised to take heat off automakers by rolling back auto fuel-efficiency rules and trying to revoke California's authority to set tough standards for pollution from cars and trucks.
    • Wheeler’s ethically questionable decisions: He kept on two top EPA aides who have ethics problems, as HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman recently reported. Green groups are digging for more potential missteps.

    During Wheeler's reign at the EPA -- which could last years -- reporters will need to stop comparing him to his predecessor and instead bird-dog the agency's deregulatory moves and dig for the ethics and corruption stories that aren't as ridiculous and simple as those Pruitt routinely offered up. We're counting on journalists assigned to the national environment beat to do just that.

    But here's the potentially trickier part: After original reporting comes out on Wheeler's actions, other journalists and commentators and TV news producers will need to amplify those stories, writing articles and producing segments that will get the news in the public eye. Will they do it now that the EPA is no longer run by an absurd character with a proclivity for dramatic self-sabotage? 

    While Pruitt’s silly scandals were a distraction for some media outlets, they were a lure for others, drawing their eyes to an agency they might not cover often or in-depth. For instance, Vanity Fair -- not traditionally a source of EPA news -- published numerous pieces that highlighted Pruitt's scandals and also noted the more important fact that he'd been gutting regulations and suppressing science.

    We need Vanity Fair to keep it up during the Wheeler era, and we need NBC Nightly News and CNN's Situation Room and so many others to join in.

    Quiet deregulation and allegiance to industry are easy to ignore in the loud, lewd age of Trump, but everyday Americans who eat, drink, and breathe can't afford for the media to miss the most important stories about the EPA.

    -----

    Methodology: Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for prime-time (5 p.m. through midnight) programs on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, as well as the broadcast network nightly news programs: ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour. We examined a week’s worth of coverage for the seven stories in the first bullet-pointed list above. We identified and reviewed all segments that were captured by searching for the words Pruitt, EPA, or Environmental Protection Agency within 50 words of cost, benefit, calculate, calculation, economic, chemical, health, safety, toxic, water, pollute, pollution, rollback, regulate, regulation, rule, policy, pen, jewelry, mattress, Trump Hotel, lotion, moisturizer, moisturizing, dry cleaning, security, scandal, ethics, or ethical.

    Chart by Melissa Joskow. Research assistance by Kevin Kalhoefer.

  • Major broadcast TV networks mentioned climate change just once during two weeks of heat-wave coverage

    ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 127 segments on the recent heat wave and only one noted that climate change is a driver of extreme heat

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Throughout the recent record-breaking heat wave that affected millions across the United States, major broadcast TV networks overwhelmingly failed to report on the links between climate change and extreme heat. Over a two-week period from late June to early July, ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 127 segments or weathercasts that discussed the heat wave, but only one segment, on CBS This Morning, mentioned climate change.

    The recent heat wave was record-breaking and deadly

    From the last week of June into the second week of July, an intense heat wave moved across the U.S., going from the eastern and central parts of the country to the West Coast. A large area of high atmospheric pressure helped to create a massive and powerful heat dome, which migrated from New England to southern California. The heat wave brought record-breaking temperatures -- during its first week, 227 U.S. records were broken for highest temperature for particular days, and during the second week, at least six locations in southern California alone saw record-breaking highs. The heat wave killed at least five people in the U.S. and up to 70 people in Quebec, Canada.

    Climate change is exacerbating both the frequency and intensity of heat waves

    There is overwhelming scientific evidence that human-induced climate change is exacerbating both the frequency and intensity of heat waves. Heat domes like the one that caused this recent heat wave are becoming more intense and more common, scientists have found. UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, who has studied extreme weather patterns in California, said recent heat in California was unusual. “The overall trend over decades to more intense and more frequent heat waves is definitely a signal of global warming,” he told The New York Times. And according to Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground, this recent heat wave was “the kind of thing you expect to see on a warming planet,” making it “easier to set a heat record.”

    Recent studies also reinforce this point. In March 2018, an analysis of heat wave patterns published in Nature Climate Change concluded that climate change will overtake natural variability as the main cause of heat waves in both the western U.S. and Great Lakes region by the 2030s. Nature Climate Change also published a study last summer that detailed how heat waves will occur more frequently in the future due to climate change. Camilo Mora, associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and lead author of the 2017 study, said, “Many people around the world are already paying the ultimate price of heat waves, and while models suggest that this is likely to continue to be bad, it could be much worse if emissions are not considerably reduced.”

    Broadcast networks almost completely ignored the links between climate change and heat waves

    Media Matters analyzed morning and nightly news coverage of the heat wave on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as on PBS NewsHour, over a 14-day period from June 27 through July 10, covering the entire duration of the heat wave.

    Neither ABC nor NBC mentioned that climate change influences heat waves. There were 32 segments or weathercasts on ABC and 59 segments or weathercasts on NBC that discussed the heat wave. None of them mentioned the link between climate change and extremely high temperatures.

    CBS aired one segment that discussed the connection between climate change and high heat. Out of 36 CBS segments that mentioned the heat wave, just one mentioned climate change. The July 3 episode of CBS This Morning featured a discussion with Lonnie Quinn, chief weathercaster for WCBS-TV in New York City, who stated that there is a “really good, strong understanding that there’s a correlation between climate change and extreme hot and extreme cold” and noted the significant increase since 1970 in the number of days above 100 degrees in Miami, FL, and Austin, TX. 

    PBS NewsHour aired two segments on the heat waves, one of which discussed climate change. In its July 7 NewsHour program, PBS devoted a segment to the heat wave and incorporated climate change into its reporting, noting, “Global temperatures reached extreme highs this past week, something scientists have been warning of as part of the effects of climate change.” The segment also noted that July is off to a record-breaking start in terms of high temperatures.

    Broadcast TV news has a track record of neglecting climate change in its reporting on extreme weather

    In 2017, news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC severely undercovered climate change’s real-life impacts on people and climate change’s effects on extreme weather events, Media Matters found in its latest annual study of broadcast coverage. Over a two-week period during the height of hurricane season in 2017, neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes.

    But there are positive trends in broadcast coverage. PBS continues to set the standard for quality news coverage of climate change, as it has in the past. And local meteorologists are increasingly incorporating discussions of climate change into their segments and forecasts. For example, on July 4 in Kansas City -- where there were two suspected heat-related deaths -- NBC affiliate KSHB discussed that climate change is expected to increase the number of extremely hot days in the future, using a dynamic map from climate science nonprofit Climate Central to make the point.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis, iQ media, and SnapStream for national news broadcasts that included a segment about the heat wave, using the search terms (heat OR "heat wave" OR "heat waves" OR heatwave OR heatwaves OR temperature OR temperatures OR hot). A second search adding the term AND (“climate change” OR “global warming”) was used to identify any segments on the heat wave that mentioned climate change. We did not count teasers or rebroadcasts. Our analysis covered early morning news shows (ABC's America This Morning, CBS Morning News, and NBC's Early Today), morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), and nightly news programs (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour) from June 27 through July 10.

  • New EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media and climate-denier blogs

    But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?

    On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”

    Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing media

    Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.

    After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.

    Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."

    Pruitt attacked and stymied mainstream media outlets

    Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.

    One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning. 

    Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.

    Wheeler liked tweets from right-wing media figures, defended Milo Yiannopoulos

    Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.

    Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:

    He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:

    Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)

    He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.

    He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.

    He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.

    Wheeler has "liked" tweets from frequent Fox News guests Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA, including this one:

    According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.

    Wheeler tweeted links to climate-denier blog posts

    While EPA watchers have predicted that Wheeler is likely to differ from Pruitt in his demeanor, Wheeler has displayed the same attitude as Pruitt toward climate change.

    In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."

    Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.

    In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:

    On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures. 

    And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”

    This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.

    Wheeler gives interviews and quotes primarily to mainstream outlets

    Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.

    Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:

    During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.

    From 1995 to 2008, when Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), he gave at least four more video interviews to E&E News. He was also quoted in a Washington Post article in 2008.

    Right-wing media are already leaping to Wheeler's defense

    Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.

    The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."

    What's next for Wheeler and the EPA press office?

    It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.

    In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.

    Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?

    In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."

    But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."

    Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.

  • 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.

  • On TV networks across the nation, meteorologists made a colorful statement about the impacts of climate change

    Weather forecasters used ties, necklaces, and mugs to educate viewers about global warming

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    If you happened to watch your local weather forecast last week, you might have noticed a striking pattern being featured. On June 21, the first day of summer, meteorologists across the country and around the world took part in the #MetsUnite campaign to raise awareness of climate change by featuring a distinctive “warming stripes” pattern in their broadcasts.

    On air and on social media, meteorologists donned ties and necklaces and showed off coffee mugs featuring the red, white, and blue stripes. The pattern, created by climate scientist Ed Hawkins, uses a color scale to illustrate rising global temperatures driven by climate change from 1850 to 2017. From left to right, each stripe represents a year with blue stripes indicating cooler average temperatures and red stripes indicating warmer ones, making for a clear visual representation of our recent record warming.

    Ed Hawkins

    The #MetsUnite campaign was started by meteorologist Jeff Berardelli of CBS affiliate WPEC in West Palm Beach, FL, who was inspired after seeing Hawkins’ image. “It struck me as an opportunity to communicate climate change in the simplest way possible,” Berardelli told The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. “In the past few years, it seems the impacts of climate change have accelerated. … And most climate scientists agree we have literally no time to spare to turn the ship around. When we look back, we will view 2015 to 2017 as the turning point years; the years when climate change ‘got real.’”

    Berardelli discussed the campaign during his broadcast on June 21 and connected global warming to West Palm Beach, saying, “Here locally, our temperatures have been shooting upwards. In fact, days above normal, back in 1970 we were at about 30; now our days above normal are over 60, so more than double.”

    Altogether, more than 100 meteorologists around the world took part in the campaign, with many of them making impassioned calls for accepting and addressing the reality of global warming.

    On Minnesota CBS affiliate WCCO, meteorologist Mike Augustyniak emphasized humans’ centrality to global warming, stating, “[Today is] a day where meteorologists across the U.S. are uniting as real scientists to say that climate change is real, it’s happening now, it’s us, we’re causing it, and if we act now, we can actually do something to reverse this.”

    One of the strongest segments came from another South Florida station, which is not surprising given that rising sea levels in the region have driven home the reality of climate change for residents and politicians. On NBC affiliate WTVJ, meteorologist John Morales interviewed Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) about the need for Republicans to embrace the science behind climate change and take action to address it. Morales then concluded the segment by stating, “We will continue to enhance the message that we need to act on climate. Climate change is real, it’s us, and it’s serious.”

    And on NBC affiliate KRNV in Reno, NV, meteorologist Cassie Wilson talked about how the city has been experiencing an increasing number of hotter-than-normal days in recent years, and can expect still more thanks to "the buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere":

    Even as a large number of meteorologists are making strong statements on climate change, members of Congress are attempting to stymie a program that helps meteorologists communicate about climate science during their broadcasts. On the same day that the #MetsUnite campaign took place, four GOP senators attacked the Climate Matters program, which has received some funding from the National Science Foundation. The senators, including Ted Cruz (R-TX) and James Inhofe (R-OK), sent a letter to the National Science Foundation’s inspector general calling for an investigation into the agency's grant-making process. 

    TV meteorologists are well-positioned to help Americans understand how climate change affects their local communities, climate communications experts say, and the Climate Matters program, which was launched in 2012, is helping them do so. In 2010, only about half of broadcast meteorologists in the U.S. accepted that climate change is happening, according to polling by George Mason University. By 2017, the percentage had risen to 95. And there was a 15-fold increase in TV weather forecasters' segments discussing climate change between 2012 and 2017. In 2018, thanks in part to the #MetsUnite campaign, we're likely to see the number of climate segments keep increasing.

  • Media failed on climate and extreme weather coverage last year. Will they do better in 2018?

    Al Roker gives us reason to be a bit optimistic

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Everyone knows that the U.S. got gobsmacked by hurricanes last year. But if you rely on mainstream media for your news, you might not know that climate change had anything to do with it.

    In 2017, the major broadcast TV news programs mentioned climate change only two times total during their coverage of the record-breaking hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. The climate-hurricane link came up once on CBS, once on NBC, and not at all during ABC's coverage of the storms, Media Matters found. All in all, major TV news programs, radio news programs, and newspapers mentioned climate change in just 4 percent of their stories about last year’s big hurricanes, according to research by Public Citizen. Many major media outlets also neglected to weave climate change into their reporting on 2017's heat waves and wildfires

    Will coverage in 2018 be any better?

    Al Roker has given us reason to feel slightly optimistic. Last week, Roker, the weather forecaster on NBC's Today show, demonstrated one good way to put an extreme weather event into proper context. While discussing the devastating flooding that recently hit Ellicott City, MD, he explained that heavy downpours have become more common in recent decades thanks to climate change, using a map and data from the research group Climate Central:

    As we roll into summer -- the start of the season for hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, and heat waves -- that's just the kind of connect-the-dots reporting we need.

    The New York Times helped set the scene with its recent map-heavy feature on places in the U.S. that have been hit repeatedly by extreme weather. "Climate change is making some kinds of disasters more frequent," the piece explained, and "scientists also contend that climate change is expected to lead to stronger, wetter hurricanes."

    But it's one thing to report on how climate change worsens weather disasters in general, as the Times did in that piece. It's another thing to report on climate change while covering a specific storm or wildfire, as Roker did -- and many journalists still seem to be squeamish about it. They shouldn't be; science has their back. In addition to what we know about the general links between climate change and extreme weather, there's a growing area of climate research, called attribution science, that measures the extent to which climate change has made individual weather events more intense or destructive.

    Consider the research that's been done on Hurricane Harvey, which dumped more than 60 inches of rain on the Houston area this past August. Just four months after the storm, two groups of scientists published attribution studies about it: One study estimated that climate change made Harvey's rainfall 15 percent heavier than it would have been otherwise, while another offered a best estimate of 38 percent.

    Broadcast TV news programs did not report on this research when it came out, but they should have. And the next time a major hurricane looms or makes landfall, media outlets should make note of these and other studies that attribute hurricane intensity to climate change. Scientists can't make these types of attribution analyses in real time (at least not yet), but their research on past storms can help put current and future storms in context.

    Of course, in order to incorporate climate change into hurricane reporting, journalists have to be reporting on hurricanes in the first place. They failed miserably at this basic task when it came to Hurricane Maria and its devastation of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Maria got markedly less media coverage than hurricanes Harvey and Irma, according to analyses by FiveThirtyEight and researchers from the MIT Media Lab. The weekend after Maria made landfall, the five major Sunday morning political talk shows cumulatively spent less than a minute on the storm. And just last week, when a major new study estimated that Maria led to approximately 5,000 deaths in Puerto Rico, as opposed to the government's official death count of 64, cable news gave 16 times more coverage to Roseanne Barr's racist tweet and her canceled TV show than to the study.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Hurricane Maria overwhelmingly harmed people of color -- Puerto Rico's population is 99 percent Latino and the U.S. Virgin Islands' population is 98 percent Black or African-American -- so it's hard not to see race as a factor in the undercoverage of the storm. The authors of the MIT Media analysis attributed the lack of coverage to a “cultural gap” and suggested that more minorities working in media might have alleviated the problem. Not only are minorities less likely to be employed in newsrooms; they're also less likely to be included in media discussions of climate change.

    The lack of reporting on Maria sets a scary precedent, as climate disasters are expected to hurt minority and low-income communities more than whiter, wealthier ones. Unless mainstream media step up their game, the people hurt the most by climate change will be covered the least.

    Ultimately, we need the media to help all people understand that climate change is not some distant phenomenon that might affect their grandkids or people in faraway parts of the world. Only 45 percent of Americans believe climate change will pose a serious threat to them during their lifetimes, according to a recent Gallup poll. That means the majority of Americans still don't get it.

    When journalists report on the science that connects climate change to harsher storms and more extreme weather events, they help people understand climate change at a more visceral level. It's happening here, now, today, to all of us. That's the story that needs to be told.

  • Sunday shows ignore Puerto Rico amid new study that nearly 5,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Following a new study estimating that almost 5,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, Sunday news shows completely ignored the devastation and death toll that is 72 times higher than the government’s official number of 64.

    Written up by the Washington Post, a May 29 Harvard University study “estimates that at least 4,645 deaths can be linked to the hurricane and its immediate aftermath,” and noted that “health-care disruption for the elderly and the loss of basic utility services for the chronically ill had significant impact.”

    If the Harvard study is accurate, Maria will be the second deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. Thousands are still waiting for power. It is already estimated to and have caused $90 billion in damages in Puerto Rico alone. The devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands from Hurricanes Irma and Maria has caused billions more in damage. And 2018 Hurricane season is officially underway as of June 1.  

    Despite this less than a week old study, the major Sunday political talk shows -- which include CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday -- were all silent on the subject.

    MSNBC’s AM Joy and CNN’s Reliable Sources both noted the discrepancy between coverage of Hurricane Maria’s devastation, and Roseanne Barr’s racist and anti-Semitic tweets that resulted in her eponymous show being canceled.

    CNN’s New Day Sunday highlighted the Harvard study’s reported death toll and noted Puerto Rico is “still recovering” and that “11,000 residents still do not have power” as the country enters the official 2018 hurricane season.

    The media has routinely ignored the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria, dating back to just one week after the storm made landfall when these Sunday shows covered the devastation for less than a minute. Cable news quickly turned away from Puerto Rico following the hurricane as well. The day the Harvard study was released, cable news gave it 30 minutes of coverage that was drowned out by ten hours spent on Roseanne.

  • Study finds that Hurricane Maria killed thousands more than the government claims. Media need to do better for Puerto Rico.

    Harvard study finds actual death toll is at least 72 times higher than the official count

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & KATIE SULLIVAN

    On May 29, The Washington Post reported on a new Harvard study concluding that “at least 4,645 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria and its devastation across Puerto Rico last year,” which is approximately 72 times higher than the government’s official death toll of 64. 

    According to the Post article, the Harvard study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that “health-care disruption for the elderly and the loss of basic utility services for the chronically ill had significant impacts” across the island, including “some communities [that] were entirely cut off for weeks amid road closures and communications failures.” A BuzzFeed write-up of the same study explained that, while at least “4,645 more people died in the final months of 2017” than in previous years, researchers adjusted their estimate up to 5,740 hurricane-related deaths to account for “people who lived alone and died as a result of the storm” and were thus not reported in the study’s survey. 

    If Harvard’s death toll estimate is accurate, Hurricane Maria was the second deadliest hurricane in U.S. history and the deadliest in 117 years.

    And yet, even as U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico continued to die in 2017, media quickly dropped their focus on the crisis. The first Sunday after the storm, the five major political talk shows cumulatively dedicated less than one minute to coverage. And the overall coverage of the crisis sharply declined after President Donald Trump visited the U.S. territory on October 3; a Media Matters study found that prime-time cable news coverage of Puerto Rico’s recovery plummeted after that date. 

    As the mismanaged recovery continued, media largely talked about the ongoing crisis only when a major scandal was reported, and even then the coverage was negligible and quickly faded. 

    Media should publicize the results of the Harvard study and the woefully inaccurate official death toll, demanding an explanation for how the government hid the magnitude of the casualties. And as the next hurricane season approaches, we need to pay attention to the people who live in Puerto Rico and demand accountability from the government.

  • Politico details Pruitt's seeming quid pro quo relationship with MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt met with lawyers seeking to prioritize the cleanup of a water district in Orange County, CA, at the behest of MSNBC personality and radio host Hugh Hewitt, one of Pruitt’s staunchest media defenders, according to a Politico story published May 7. The lawyers worked for the same firm, Larson O'Brien, as Hewitt. “Six weeks after that meeting, ... the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address,” Politico reported. Media Matters has noted Hewitt’s full-throated defense of Pruitt amid a litany of scandals and controversies, including his exorbitant travel and ethically dubious condo lease, on MSNBC and his radio show, which Pruitt has appeared on at least a dozen times, according to Hewitt. The story also noted that Hewitt’s son James works in the EPA’s press shop. The Washington Post had reported in April that Pruitt used an obscure provision in a water-safety law to hire James, among others.

    From Politico:

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt placed a polluted California area on his personal priority list of Superfund sites targeted for “immediate and intense” action after conservative radio and television host Hugh Hewitt brokered a meeting between him and lawyers for the water district that was seeking federal help to clean up the polluted Orange County site.

    [...]

    In many cases, the people whose advice Pruitt is heeding could be useful supporters for him in a future race for U.S. senator or president. They include GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who — as POLITICO reported in March — persuaded Pruitt last year to take a meeting with an Israeli water purification company called Water-Gen that later won a research deal with the EPA.

    Hewitt, a resident of Orange County whose son James works in EPA’s press office, emailed Pruitt in September to set up a meeting between the administrator and the law firm Larson O’Brien, which employs Hewitt and represents the Orange County Water District. Pruitt had been planning to meet with the lawyers in California a month earlier, but cancelled the trip to undergo knee surgery.

    “I’ll join if the Administrator would like me too or can catch up later at a dinner,” Hewitt wrote in his Sept. 18 message. Hewitt added that the issues surrounding the Superfund site were “Greek to me but a big deal in my home county.”

    Pruitt’s aides responded within minutes and quickly confirmed an Oct. 18 meeting for the lawyers and a project director.

    Six weeks after that meeting, on Dec. 8, the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address. A month later, Pruitt proposed listing the site on EPA’s National Priorities List, a move that could make it eligible for long-term federal cleanup funding from the federal government if the responsible polluters cannot be identified and forced to pay for its remediation.

    Since then, Hewitt has been a robust defender of Pruitt, dismissing his recent controversies as “nonsense scandals” on MSNBC in early April and saying his detractors were “just trying to stop the deregulation effort.”

  • 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.