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  • Most major Colorado newspapers fail to mention climate change in editorials about fracking-related ballot initiative

    Only one of 12 editorials mentioned climate change in relation to Proposition 112. In light of the recent U.N. climate report, that’s very worrying

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Proposition 112 in Colorado would require new oil and gas wells to be farther away from occupied buildings, which would seriously limit fracking in the state. Media Matters analyzed 12 Colorado newspaper editorials expressing a position on Proposition 112, and only one of them mentioned climate change.

    Colorado's Proposition 112 would rein in oil and gas drilling and help fight climate change

    Proposition 112 would require that new oil and gas development projects, including fracking, be at least 2,500 feet away from occupied buildings and "vulnerable areas,” including schools, hospitals, parks, lakes, and rivers. The current minimum setback distance for wells is 500 feet. The initiative would not affect federal lands or Colorado's 55,000 currently active wells.

    Colorado Rising, the main advocacy group supporting this initiative, points to a growing body of research showing serious health and safety effects related to fracking, especially when residents live within a half-mile of wells. Protect Colorado, the chief opposition group, contends that the initiative would effectively ban new oil and gas development in the state, costing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic benefits.

    Spending on this initiative is incredibly lopsided. Opponents have raised over $31 million, most of it from oil and gas companies including Anadarko, Noble Energy, and PDC Energy. The Koch brothers' network is pitching in too; the Colorado chapter of the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity recently formed an issue committee to fight Proposition 112. On the other side, supporters of the initiative have raised only about $1.6 million, with the biggest donor being the Food and Water Watch Action Fund.

    Much of the debate around Proposition 112 has involved the health impacts of fracking and the economic influence of the oil and gas industry, but climate change is another critical issue. A scientific study in 2015 found that half of the world's gas reserves and a third of oil reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to prevent the average global temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. More recently, a major report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that 2 degrees of warming is too much and humanity would suffer greatly if the average temperature rises more than 1.5 degrees, further underlining the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

    Only one of 12 Colorado newspaper editorials on Proposition 112 mentioned climate change, and only two endorsed the measure

    Media Matters analyzed 12 newspaper editorials that took a position on Proposition 112, including the largest newspapers by circulation in Colorado. Only one of them made note of climate change.

    On September 29, Boulder’s Daily Camera published an editorial that placed Proposition 112 into the broader context of the climate crisis:

    In the bigger picture, Proposition 112 comes before voters amid ubiquitous signs of a climate change emergency. The last four years saw the hottest January-June periods ever recorded on Earth. Scientists have tied climate change to a greater number of large wildfires in the West and bigger and stronger hurricanes, among other environmental disasters. This week it was reported that the climate change-denying Trump administration itself assumes global temperatures will rise an apocalyptic 7 degrees by 2100. Job losses are always lamentable, but the transition toward green energy sources is a practical and moral imperative, and Proposition 112 would play a role in achieving such progress.

    Only two of the 12 editorials endorsed Proposition 112 -- those in the Daily Camera and The Aspen Times. The overwhelming newspaper editorial opposition to Proposition 112 does not reflect recent public polling in the state, which found that 52 percent of Colorado voters supported Proposition 112.

    The 10 editorials that opposed Proposition 112 and failed to mention climate change were published in these papers:

    Some of these editorials parroted industry talking points. For example, both The Pueblo Chieftain and Steamboat Pilot & Today argued that if Proposition 112 passed, over 147,500 jobs could be lost by 2030, and the state could lose more than $1 billion in tax revenue. These numbers are trumpeted by the opposition campaign and come from a report by the Common Sense Policy Roundtable (CSPR), a right-leaning, free-market think tank whose founders are tied to the oil and gas industry. In 2015, CSPR was found to have been working on behalf of Koch-backed groups and the fracking industry, and selectively editing studies in ways that would help promote fracking in Colorado.

    Of the 10 editorials that recommended a "no" vote on Proposition 112, four of them completely neglected to mention the health effects of fracking, which has been the main issue driving the "yes" campaign -- those in the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, The Pueblo Chieftain, and The Durango Herald.

    Media Matters also reviewed the Canon City Daily Record, the Lakewood Sentinel, the Longmont Times-Call, the Loveland Reporter-Herald, the Telluride Daily Planet, and the Vail Daily, but the editorial boards at these papers do not appear to have taken a position on Proposition 112.

    Ballot measures in Colorado and other states are among the most important climate-related votes this year

    If Proposition 112 is approved, it could have major implications not just for the oil and gas industry in Colorado but around the country, as industry executives are “fearful that it could encourage similar measures across the nation,” The New York Times recently reported. Ballot measures in Arizona, Nevada, Washington, and other states could have serious repercussions for fossil fuel companies and greenhouse gas emissions as well.

    In light of the recent U.N climate report and worsening weather disasters around the U.S., it’s worrying that an overwhelming majority of Colorado newspapers ignored climate change as they weighed in on an energy-related ballot initiative. They appear to have decided that short-term economic gains and industry support are more important than the long-term health of both Coloradans and the planet.

  • National right-wing media outlets bash renewable energy ballot initiative in Arizona

    The Daily Caller and Wash. Free Beacon push industry talking points on Proposition 127, which would require 50 percent renewable energy in Arizona by 2030

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    National right-wing media outlets The Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon have together published two dozen articles criticizing Proposition 127, a clean energy ballot initiative in Arizona. Most of the pieces condemn the chief funder of the "yes" campaign, Tom Steyer, while failing to even mention the chief funder of the "no" campaign, the electric utility company Pinnacle West. Key figures in the opposition campaign have promoted the Daily Caller and Free Beacon articles on social media.

    Proposition 127 would require electric utilities in Arizona to produce half of their energy from renewables

    The proposed constitutional amendment would mandate that electric utilities in Arizona generate 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030. Nuclear power would not count toward the target, nor would hydropower generated from facilities built before 1997. The 50 percent target would be a sizeable increase over Arizona’s current renewable portfolio standard, which requires 15 percent of electricity to come from renewables by 2025.

    The utility industry has spent heavily to try to defeat Proposition 127. Arizonans for Affordable Electricity is the main PAC opposing the initiative -- and all of its funding comes from Pinnacle West, the parent company of Arizona Public Service (APS), the largest electric utility in Arizona. Pinnacle West has steered more than $30 million to the PAC. Other utility interests are fighting the initiative too. The parent company of Tucson Electric Power has spent $50,000 on its own effort to oppose Proposition 127, and rural electric cooperatives have spent $417,000 on their own campaign.

    The PAC promoting Proposition 127, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, has raised less money, but still a substantial amount: $23.6 million. Nearly all of that has come from NextGen Climate Action, a PAC founded and supported by billionaire activist Tom Steyer. The League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club have contributed some money as well.

    The fight over Proposition 127 has now become the most expensive ballot initiative battle in state history.

    The Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon have together published 24 pieces criticizing Proposition 127 and parroting industry talking points

    Proposition 127 has generated a fair deal of media coverage at the national level. Both Bloomberg and The New Yorker recently reported in-depth on the ballot initiative fight, and The Atlantic included Proposition 127 in an article about out-of-state billionaires spending to support ballot initiatives.

    However, most of the national media attention has been coming from The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon -- right-wing outlets based in Washington, D.C. They have produced a steady stream of articles that are highly critical of the initiative, and often leave out key details regarding the funding and tactics of Arizonans for Affordable Electricity.

    Since March, these outlets have produced a combined 24 articles that criticized the ballot initiative -- 15 by The Daily Caller, nine by the Washington Free Beacon. Twenty-three of them made reference to Steyer in their headlines, and the only one that didn't still named Steyer in its first paragraph. But while the articles foregrounded the primary funder of the "yes" campaign, nearly all of them failed to mention that the main PAC behind the "no" campaign is being funded entirely by the parent company of APS. For example, a Daily Caller article from July was headlined “Tom Steyer One Step Closer to Dictating Arizona's Energy Industry.” It included a lengthy quote from Matthew Benson, spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, but the story made no mention of the PAC's funding sources, and it failed to mention APS’ own near complete control of Arizona’s energy industry.

    Another problematic example was a March 21 article in the Washington Free Beacon that carried the headline “Some Arizona Democrats Rebel Against Tom Steyer-Led Renewable Push.” The article pulled quotes from an Arizona Republic op-ed co-authored by Democratic state Sen. Robert Meza that urged voters to reject the ballot initiative. But the article failed to note that Pinnacle West has donated thousands of dollars to Meza over the course of his career, which makes the company Meza’s biggest donor, according to the watchdog group Energy and Policy Institute. Also, according to the institute, “Meza has received thousands of dollars in personal income for work he’s done for a number of groups that also receive major funding from APS.”

    Additionally, many of the articles painted Steyer as a carpetbagger from California aiming to interfere in Arizona’s affairs, but they failed to note that dozens of Arizona-based groups have endorsed Proposition 127.

    Arizonans for Affordable Electricity and other opponents of Proposition 127 have promoted the Daily Caller and Free Beacon articles

    The campaign opposing the ballot initiative has seized on the articles in The Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon and amplified them via social media. The official Twitter account of Arizonans for Affordable Energy sent at least three tweets that linked to articles in these outlets. A member of APS’ government affairs team tweeted out two of the articles -- one about Proposition 127, and another about a similar Steyer-backed initiative in Michigan. Vince Leach, a Republican state representative in Arizona, tweeted a Daily Caller article about how the initiative campaign is bankrolled by Steyer. Earlier this year, Leach worked with APS to draft a bill that would nullify the effects of the ballot initiative should it pass; the bill was signed into law in March. Leach has also received campaign contributions from APS as well as from Veridus, a PR and lobbying firm that is leading APS’ campaign against Proposition 127.

    The Wall Street Journal also criticized Proposition 127, using numbers from an APS-funded study

    The Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon are not the only right-leaning national media outlets opposed to the renewable energy ballot initiative. On October 19, the notoriously conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board came out against the initiative. Its editorial cited research claiming that Proposition 127 would kill jobs and cut billions of dollars off of Arizona’s GDP over the coming decades. The editorial did not, however, note that the research it cited was financed entirely by APS. The research was also based on the assumption that Palo Verde, the nation’s largest nuclear plant, would be forced to close down should the initiative pass. But other research found that Palo Verde could be expected to remain open, and a former Republican head of Arizona's energy regulatory agency called the idea that Proposition 127 would force Palo Verde to close “utterly ridiculous and perhaps the greatest of all the lies that A.P.S. has told during this process.”

    The Washington Examiner, another conservative news publication based in Washington, D.C., also published an op-ed in September opposing the initiative. And the Heartland Institute, a fossil-fuel-funded climate-denial group, ran an anti-Proposition 127 blog post in September.

    APS is used to getting what it wants in Arizona

    A recent report by the Arizona Advocacy Network, a progressive organization that works on civic engagement and clean elections, outlined ways that APS and its parent company have used their massive financial power to sway legislators and regulators. "As of July 2018 Pinnacle West’s PAC donated $860,000 (2018 election cycle) to legislators and groups that are fighting clean energy in Arizona," the report notes. And in 2014 and 2016, Pinnacle West spent $7 million to elect friendly candidates to the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities. APS is also reported to influence campaigns through the spending of dark money, which it doesn't have to report publicly.

    Proposition 127 is currently trailing in polls, so APS may get what it wants yet again. According to a poll conducted by Suffolk University in early October, nearly 47 percent of voters said they would vote no on Proposition 127, while less than 34 percent would vote yes. About one-fifth of voters were undecided.

  • Sheldon Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review-Journal endorses Adelson-backed ballot initiative, fails to disclose ownership in editorial

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A Nevada newspaper owned by Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson published an editorial endorsing an Adelson-funded ballot initiative campaign -- and failed to disclose the connection.

    The Las Vegas Review-Journal ran an editorial on October 18 officially endorsing Nevada’s Energy Choice Initiative, or Question 3, a ballot initiative that would end utility NV Energy’s monopoly on electricity generation in Nevada and open up the state’s electricity market to competition. The editorial board failed to mention that the newspaper is owned by casino magnate and GOP campaign contributor Adelson, whose company, Las Vegas Sands Corp., has contributed millions of dollars to the PAC supporting Question 3.

    Adelson's newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is now promoting his pet political cause

    The Review-Journal endorsement of Question 3 argued that it would benefit Nevada’s consumers. But the editorial did not disclose that the newspaper is owned by Adelson, Question 3's biggest backer.

    The Review-Journal now has this editorial pinned to the top of its Twitter feed:

    Additionally, the Review-Journal sent the editorial out as a “Breaking News” alert to its readers:

    The editorial board’s position should not come as a surprise, as the paper has given favorable treatment to Adelson ever since he bought it.

    Adelson purchased the Review-Journal, the largest newspaper in Nevada, in December 2015 for $140 million. Soon after he bought the paper, Politico reported that “stories involving new owner Sheldon Adelson are being reviewed, changed or killed almost daily.” When Adelson lost an attempt to have a judge removed from a lawsuit against Las Vegas Sands, the paper's leaders told its journalists that they must monitor the judge, and when the journalists protested, they were told that the directive came from above, according to The New York Times. Adelson is also a major supporter of President Donald Trump, and the Review-Journal was one of the first major newspapers to endorse him for president in 2016.

    Question 3, which would transform Nevada’s energy market, is largely funded by Adelson's Las Vegas Sands

    Utility NV Energy currently serves about 90 percent of Nevada with electricity. According to Ballotpedia, Question 3 would require the state legislature to pass laws establishing “an open, competitive retail electric energy market”; prohibit the state from granting electrical-generation monopolies; and declare that a person or entity in Nevada has a “right to choose the provider of its electric utility service.”

    The issue of competitive markets arose in 2014 when data company Switch and several other large companies, including Las Vegas Sands, explored opportunities to stop buying electricity from NV Energy and instead purchase it on the open market. Switch was allowed to leave NV Energy’s monopoly in 2016 after agreeing to pay a $27 million exit fee determined by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. Las Vegas Sands refused to pay a similar $24 million exit fee, and so remained a customer of NV Energy. Both companies helped form the Energy Choice Initiative campaign in 2016, leading to Question 3 first appearing on the ballot and passing with over 72 percent of the vote. Because Nevada law stipulates that constitutional amendments need to be approved in successive even-numbered election years, Question 3 is appearing on the ballot again in 2018.

    This year, Las Vegas Sands and Switch have both bankrolled the Energy Choice Initiative. As of October 12, the Yes on 3 campaign had raised more than $32.9 million, with Las Vegas Sands donating over $20 million and Switch giving close to $11 million. On the opposing side, NV Energy has largely bankrolled the No on 3 campaign, donating about $63 million in 2018. NV Energy is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which is controlled by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

    Claims that Question 3 would lead to the expansion of clean energy in Nevada are dubious

    Las Vegas Sands and the Yes on 3 campaign argue that Question 3 would expand Nevada’s clean energy options. However, in a July 2018 report examining the potential impacts of Question 3, the nonprofit Guinn Center found, “There is no correlation between restructuring electricity markets and increased renewables. And Question 3 does not explicitly require that more renewables are integrated onto the grid.” The study concluded, “The type of retail market model in a given state matters less than policy choices, such as a state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).”

    When there was an effort last year to increase Nevada's RPS, Las Vegas Sands opposed it. The company testified in opposition to AB 206, a Nevada bill that would have made the state's RPS more ambitious by requiring utilities to produce 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040. The bill was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R).

    Nevada voters will decide on Question 3 on November 6.

  • Pointed debate question on climate change draws out starkly different views from Oregon governor candidates

    Democrat Brown: Climate change is "the biggest challenge that we face." Republican Buehler: "I’m against Gov. Brown’s cap-and-trade plan"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    During the final Oregon gubernatorial debate on October 9, the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Kate Brown, and her opponent, Republican state Rep. Knute Buehler, had two opportunities to address climate change. Panelist Steve Duin, a columnist at The Oregonian, asked a pointed question about climate change, and a voter asked a question by video about clean energy, which also prompted discussion of the climate threat.

    Media Matters is tracking debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races and encouraging moderators to ask candidates questions about climate change. See our scorecard.

    From the October 9 Oregon governor debate:

    STEVE DUIN (PANELIST): Rep. Buehler, you’ve made leadership an issue in the campaign, and I’m searching for some on climate change. You’re anti-coal, but pro-fracking. You’ve dismissed a carbon tax as an attempt to generate a $1.4 billion slush fund for green energy profiteers. When the threat of climate change has never been more urgent, why the milquetoast argument that Oregon has done or paid enough to address the problem?

    KNUTE BUEHLER (R): Well, Steve, I reject a lot of the premises of your question, as you can imagine. I certainly believe in climate change. It’s why I was one of the few Republicans to vote to transition Oregon away from coal-based electricity to renewable energy sources. It’s why I’ve spoken out frequently against the Trump’s administration policies, specifically with regards to withdrawing the United States from the climate accords. I’m against Gov. Brown’s cap-and-trade plan, or, probably a better description of it is a $1.4 billion sales tax on energy. And I’m against that because it’s going to hit hard-working Oregonians -- Oregonians who are struggling to pay the bills right now -- with a sales tax that they can’t afford. And importantly, those dollars won’t go to schools, they won’t go to providing health care; they’re going to go to a complex tax-credit scheme for green energy companies. And we’ve already had problems with that in the past, something called the “business energy tax credit scheme,” where hundreds of millions of dollars were misallocated to the extent that people have gone to jail for corruption. I don’t want to repeat that again.

    DUIN: Gov. Brown?

    KATE BROWN (D): The League of Oregon Conservation Voters agrees with you. My opponent has a lifetime ranking of an F based on his three years’ voting record in the Oregon legislature. I’ve continued to make steady, incremental progress on tackling global climate change, from reducing the carbon intensity of our fuels; from transitioning off of coal; from investing in EV rebates and public transit, which my opponent voted against; and we worked hard last session to reduce carbon emissions. We weren’t able to successfully complete the legislation, but we are working collaboratively with utilities, with the business community, and with the ag sector to make sure that we reduce carbon emissions in such a way that it doesn’t exacerbate already existing economic disparities in our low-income communities and our rural communities.

    TRACY BARRY (MODERATOR): Our first video question comes from Ron Pernick of Portland. He works in the clean energy field. I just want to remind you guys that you’re both going to have a full minute to respond to this question, and Rep. Buehler, you’ll take the lead on this one right after we hear it. So here’s the question.

    [BEGIN VIDEO]

    PERNICK: Gov. Brown, Rep. Buehler, solar and wind are now the most cost-competitive sources of new energy, and energy storage is rapidly declining in costs. Our neighbors to the south, California, and Hawaii to the west, have both enacted 100 percent renewable energy targets by 2045. As governor, what will you do to ensure Oregon’s leadership in a clean energy future?

    [END VIDEO]

    BARRY: OK, I’m going to jump back in because I know you couldn’t hear that at the beginning. Ron’s question was, “Solar and wind are now the most cost-competitive sources of new energy, and energy storage is rapidly declining in cost.” And then he went on to mention “our neighbors to the south, California, to the west, Hawaii, have both enacted renewable energy targets by 2045. As governor, what will you do to ensure Oregon’s leadership in a clean energy future?” Representative, we’ll let you start.

    BUEHLER: It’s a very important question, an issue of vital concern. I certainly believe in global climate change. I’m trained as a scientist, and the data is overwhelming. It’s why I was one of the few Republicans to vote for transitioning Oregon’s electrical generation capacity from coal-based to renewables, breaking with my party and even business interests. It’s why I have spoken out against the Trump administration policies with regards to environmental issues -- specifically United States withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. That’s the kind of leadership that Oregonians want to see on these important issues, and I think it’s important that we keep that balance though, the balance of improving the environment, but also taking into consideration there are hardworking Oregonians that are just struggling to get by everyday, to pay the bills at the end of the month. And, unfortunately, under Gov. Brown, we’ve driven up the cost of living in this state, the high cost of health care, of housing, and now, with energy costs, we have to be very, very careful that we don’t challenge people too much with regards to these issues.  

    BARRY: Gov. Brown?

    BROWN: As Oregonians, we’re all feeling the impacts of global climate change. In the Rogue Valley alone, this summer, they had roughly eight weeks of smog, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival had to cancel 26 outdoor productions. So we’re feeling it. We need to continue to tackle this with every single tool in our toolbox because it is the biggest challenge that we face. And future generations will judge us, not on the fact of global climate change, but what we do to tackle it. So I’ve led to reduce the carbon intensity of our carbon fuels. Number two: We brought “Coal to Clean,” the first in the nation to transition away from coal-generated electricity and double our renewable energy portfolio by 2040. Lastly, invested in a transportation package, investing in EV vehicles and public transit. But, most importantly, this isn’t enough. And we need to move forward, and I believe that we can move forward and reduce carbon emissions and create clean energy jobs by 5,000 if we move forward on the clean energy job bill.