Less than 6 percent of episodes on the major Sunday shows discussed global warming, and some of them included climate deniers
Less than 6 percent of episodes of the five major Sunday morning news shows in 2018 featured any substantial mentions or discussions of climate change, according to a Media Matters analysis. And the number of times the shows addressed climate change was down from the previous year: They ran 13 percent fewer climate-focused segments in 2018 than they did in 2017, continuing the shows’ multi-year trend of neglecting climate change.
Media Matters analyzed climate change coverage and guest appearances on the five major Sunday morning shows: ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press.
The Sunday shows help set the media and political agenda for the week, but it's not only politicians, pundits, and other media figures who take their cues from them -- members of the public do too. The four broadcast Sunday shows attracted a combined audience of nearly 11 million viewers in the last quarter of 2018. Because of their wide viewership and political prestige, Sunday news shows play a crucial role in determining which issues and voices are included in the national dialogue.
In 2018, the five major Sunday shows aired a combined total of 256 episodes, and only 14 of them made significant mention of climate change -- less than 6 percent.
During the course of the year, there were only nine Sundays when at least one show aired a segment that focused on climate change. On the other 43 Sundays, or 83 percent of them, climate change was not substantively addressed.
The shows also neglected to cover climate change during six months of the year, including June, when a heat wave broke records across much of the U.S.; August, when the Mendocino Complex became the largest fire in California’s history; and September, when Hurricane Florence devastated parts of North Carolina.
The total number of segments addressing climate change was down from 2017: The shows aired 27 segments in 2018 compared to 31 segments the year prior, a decline of 13 percent. Face the Nation and Meet the Press aired eight climate-related segments each in 2018, followed by Fox News Sunday with five, and This Week and State of the Union with three each. (Not all of the segments were good; some featured climate deniers making false statements. More on that below.)
When the Sunday shows did air climate-focused segments, the discussions were dominated by white men and unrepresentative of America's population.
Of the 34 guests featured during climate-focused segments in 2018, just six were people of color, or 18 percent. This is a slight improvement from 2017, when only four out of 35 guests on climate segments were people of color, or 11 percent.
The guests of color who participated in climate change discussions in 2018 were:
ABC’s This Week was the only Sunday show that did not host a guest of color during one of its climate-focused segments.
The underrepresentation of communities of color in the Sunday shows' climate discussions becomes apparent when you consider that non-white and/or Hispanic/Latino people constitute 39 percent of the U.S. population according to census data. People of color should also have more of a voice on the shows because they tend to bring different perspectives: They are more concerned about climate change than whites and more likely to say they feel its impacts, according to a 2015 survey and other polls. A 2015 poll of African Americans found that 60 percent ranked global warming as a serious issue, and 67 percent said that actions should be taken to reduce the threat of global warming. And a 2017 survey found that 78 percent of Latinos were worried about global warming, compared to 56 percent of non-Latinos.
Just 12 of 34 guests who joined in the Sunday news shows' climate discussions in 2018 were women, or 35 percent. Meet the Press led the way this year with six women, State of the Union followed with three, Fox News Sunday had two, and This Week had one. Face the Nation failed to feature a woman during any of its climate-related segments.
This represents a slight increase from 2017 when women were nine of the 35 guests, or 26 percent.
Despite the fact that women constitute roughly 51 percent of the population, the trend of males dominating Sunday show guest slots continues, whether they're discussing climate change or any other topic. Again, this leads to a loss of valuable perspective: Polls indicate that American women are more worried about climate change than men. According to a 2015 survey, 69 percent of women in the U.S. are concerned that climate change will affect them personally, compared to only 48 percent of men. And a December 2018 poll found that 71 percent of American women say there's enough evidence of climate change to warrant action, compared to just 61 percent of men.
When Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan asked NASA Deputy Associate Administrator Steven Clarke about the National Climate Assessment on November 25, it was the first time in almost three years that a scientist had been included in a discussion about climate change on a Sunday show. The last time it had happened was December 2015, also on Face the Nation. But the discussion between Brennan and Clarke on climate change was brief; most of Clarke's time on the show was spent talking about NASA’s latest mission to Mars.
The next month, during a Meet the Press episode dedicated to climate change on December 30, NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel joined a wide-ranging panel discussion about climate challenges and potential solutions.
That episode of Meet the Press also featured NBC News' Chief Environmental Affairs Correspondent Anne Thompson on its panel -- the first time a Sunday show has included an environmental journalist in a climate-focused discussion since Media Matters began tracking the guest lineups 2013.
Overall, the vast majority of Sunday show guests invited to discuss climate change were politicians, political operatives, or political journalists.
On the few occasions when the Sunday shows did address climate change in 2018, the discussions were often superficial and sometimes featured climate denial or other inaccurate statements, failing to give viewers the substantive, fact-based coverage they deserve.
For example, after the Trump administration tried to bury a major government report, the National Climate Assessment, by releasing it the day after Thanksgiving, all five major Sunday shows covered climate change on the same day for the first and only time all year, on November 25. But the quality of much of that coverage was bad. Some of the hosts, including Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd and State of the Union’s Dana Bash, invited climate deniers to discuss the report, allowed them to make false statements, and failed to offer any meaningful pushback. Others, such as This Week’s George Stephanopoulos, spent only a little time on the report.
When the shows did include people of color or women in their climate change discussions, that didn't necessarily mean the discussions were good. For example, when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Cuban-American, answered questions about climate change on Face the Nation, he suggested that policy solutions would destroy the economy or not be effective. And when Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute joined in a panel discussion about climate change on Meet the Press, she falsely claimed that the previous two years had been among the coldest on record -- comments so blatantly wrong that the fact-checking website PolitiFact dedicated a post to declaring them "false."
(In some cases, guests on Sunday shows brought up climate change unprompted, but hosts failed to engage or changed the subject. This happened during interviews on This Week with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). We excluded these instances from our analysis; instead, we only gave shows credit for airing climate segments when hosts brought up climate change themselves or engaged in discussions on the topic.)
Meet the Press took the unprecedented step of dedicating an entire episode to climate change on December 30, its last episode of 2018. It aired about a month after host Todd was widely criticized for allowing Pletka to make false claims on the air and then failing to push back against them.
Seemingly chastened, Todd opened the episode by saying, "We're not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not." The show featured five segments and seven guests, including outgoing Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), who had introduced legislation to price carbon earlier in the year, as well as outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), both of whom have made fighting climate change a signature issue.
This episode was the high point of an otherwise dreary year for climate coverage. Without it, Sunday shows would have only aired 22 climate-focused segments featuring 27 guests in 2018, down from 31 segments featuring 35 guests in 2017 -- and Meet the Press would have tied for the lowest number of segments in 2018.
A pair of major reports released in the latter part of the year put our current situation in stark relief. In October, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a study that found if global average temperatures rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, hundreds of millions of people would be at increased risk of climate change impacts such as flooding and extreme heat. In late November, the U.S. government put out the latest installment of the National Climate Assessment -- a 1,500-page, congressionally mandated document produced by some 300 scientists from 13 federal agencies -- that painted a dire picture of how climate change is already affecting the U.S. and how its catastrophic impacts will intensify in coming years.
Meet the Press’ climate-focused episode demonstrated that Sunday shows can give the topic the serious attention it deserves, with guests who are well-informed about the problem and potential solutions. But this kind of substantive coverage needs to be sustained and incorporated into all of the Sunday shows week after week. And the coverage must include a broader array of guests -- scientists and environmental journalists who can explain the nature of the challenge, and people of color and women who are on the frontlines of climate change and are pioneering solutions to the crisis.
Ted MacDonald contributed research to this report. Charts by Melissa Joskow.
This report analyzes coverage of climate change in 2018 on five Sunday morning news shows: ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS' Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press. To identify segments that discussed climate change, we searched for the following terms in Nexis: climate change, global warming, changing climate, climate warms, climate warming, warming climate, warmer climate, warming planet, warmer planet, warming globe, warmer globe, global temperatures, rising temperatures, hotter temperatures, climate science, climate scientist, paris climate, climate accord, paris accord, climate agreement, paris agreement, and climate deal. Our analysis included any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention of climate change (more than one paragraph of a news transcript or a definitive statement by a media figure). The study did not include instances in which a non-media figure brought up climate change without being prompted to do so by a media figure unless the media figure subsequently addressed climate change. We defined media figures as hosts, anchors, correspondents, and recurring guest panelists.
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On the December 4 episode of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claimed that the United Nations would “like to take over the world” and it see[s] the perfect opportunity in global warming.” Dobbs then said, “There is great, great debate over whether there is that quote-unquote 'warming'" -- a claim that is, of course, objectively false. Dobbs has peddled inane theories about climate change in the past, calling human-caused global warming a “largely Democratic belief” and suggesting that the sun may be more responsible for global warming than humans.
On the November 25 episode of CNN’s State of the Union, CNN commentator and former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum praised the efforts of the Trump administration to try to bury the release of the National Climate Assessment, claiming that the scientists who wrote it are “driven by the money.” Despite this claim being completely false and widely mocked on social media, Santorum repeated it on CNN just two days later. Santorum failed to note, however, that he himself has received copious amounts of money from the fossil-fuel industry throughout his career.
CNN's Rick Santorum praises Trump administration trying to bury report on climate change: "A lot of these scientists are driven by the money" pic.twitter.com/ndwpkQHUxH
— Media Matters (@mmfa) November 25, 2018
Perhaps the leader in promoting absurd conspiracy theories, Infowars waded into the topic of climate change in the wake of Hurricane Lane hitting Hawaii in August. On the August 23 episode of Infowars’ War Room, host Owen Shroyer proposed the idea that John Kerry shot an energy beam from Antarctica that split the hurricane in two. He said, “Why is John Kerry going down to Antarctica just a week after the election to discuss climate change and then you have energy beams coming out of Antarctica splitting hurricanes? Yeah, what is John Kerry doing down there? That’s awfully suspicious to me.” Kerry later poked fun at the comments on Twitter.
On the September 14 episode of Fox Business Network's Varney & Co., Fox News commentator Tammy Bruce said that climate change is “great” for “the left” because people on the left can “blame everything on it.” She continued, “And this is of course the goal, is it's not even about the nature of the weather itself but the blaming of humanity, of the nature of what we're doing, that we're the problem. And of course that gives you an excuse then to control what people do, to control business, and to control industry.”
On October 9, gamergate supporter and writer Ian Miles Cheong tweeted, “Climate change is a hoax invented by neo-Marxists within the scientific community to destabilize the world economy and dismantle what they call ‘systems of oppression’ and what the rest of us call capitalism.” Cheong followed up with, “To clarify, I’m talking about man-made climate change and the fear mongering surrounding it.” (As if we needed further clarification on this tin-foil-hat take.)
I’m gonna get shit for this, but here goes.
Climate change is a hoax invented by neo-Marxists within the scientific community to destabilize the world economy and dismantle what they call “systems of oppression” and what the rest of us call capitalism.
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) October 9, 2018
A brutal winter storm in early January left at least 22 people dead on the East Coast, and Fox & Friends used that storm to praise its favorite viewer, President Donald Trump. On the January 7 episode of Fox & Friends Weekend, co-host Pete Hegseth said, “I think President Trump should take credit for solving global warming. Look at how cold it is, that is just another accomplishment that we need to put on the list. Global warming, done. President Trump eradicated it.”
Former Republican Rep. Allen West, a senior fellow at the right-wing Media Research Center, has an interesting theory about climate change. On October 4 West stated on CRTV, “God couldn't get the weather right, it's man-made climate change. I remember when people asked me about climate change, I said yeah, winter, spring, summer, and fall. They said no, man-made climate-- I said no, no -- so, you know, there's a creator that's got this under control. But what they're doing is they’re delegitimizing, they're undermining the sovereignty of the creator.”
On the February 13 episode of LevinTV Tonight on CRTV, Mark Levin laments that because climate change has been “pushed out as a scientific fact,” it's assumed that …“there’s something wrong with” those who dare question it. Levin also calls climate change a “no growth, anti-capitalism movement” that has been “exported to the United States like Marxism itself.” Levin has a history of making idiotic statements denying climate change.
What’s a list of ridiculous climate change claims without right-wing media’s most prolific offender, Rush Limbaugh? On the September 11 episode of The Rush Limbaugh Show, as Hurricane Florence was headed for the Carolinas, he claimed, “The forecast and the destruction potential doom and gloom is all to heighten the belief in climate change.”
Sean Hannity, never one to shy away from denying climate change, did it again in 2018 when discussing a winter storm. On the March 6 episode of his radio program, The Sean Hannity Show, Hannity said, “They do lie to us repeatedly about global warming.” He continued: “They just call it global whatever -- climate change, because this way, it's generic. And if it's hot or too hot, they can say it's climate change. If it's cold, or too cold, they can say it's climate change. But it didn't work out when they said ‘global cooling’ or ‘global warming,’ so they had to fix it.”
Stephen Moore, a CNN commentator and self-described “economist,” is part of CNN's recent climate-denier problem. On the November 26 edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront, Moore tried to discredit the National Climate Assessment by saying, “We have created a climate change industrial complex in this country, with billions and billions and billions of dollars at stake. A lot of people are getting really, really, really rich off the climate change issue.” Moore repeated these claims the next day, again on Burnett’s show. Like Santorum, Moore has been the beneficiary of money from fossil fuel companies, which have funded some of the groups he's worked for.
On the November 29 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, commentator Mark Steyn said that climate change “is actually a form of class war.” He continued: “In macro terms it’s a way of the developed world denying the developing world any chance to live the kind of lives that people in the developed world live.” He also stated, “It’s an elite thing. Nobody takes it seriously.” Although Steyn has been attacking the climate consensus for at least the last decade, he has no actual background in climate science.
In June 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen gave now-famous testimony to the Senate in which he described humans’ contributions to global warming. On the 30th anniversary of that landmark testimony, Breitbart writer and notorious climate denier James Delingpole penned an article lambasting it, claiming that Hansen used “dirty tricks” to help launch the “great global warming scare.” Delingpole wrote: “But – like the scare itself – the claims were dishonest, hysterical, misleading, unscientific, needlessly alarmist, and cynically stage-managed.” Some of the “dirty tricks” that Delingpole mentioned include the committee chairman scheduling the testimony on the hottest day in June and opening all of the windows in the room. Delingpole, of course, didn’t mention that the evidence of human-induced global warming existed long before Hansen’s testimony. He also predictably failed to note the incredible accuracy of Hansen’s global warming claims.
Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas criticized the National Climate Assessment in an opinion piece that was published in a number of papers and websites, including the Chicago Tribune. Thomas claimed that climate change is not “settled science” and criticized “scare tactics by leftists who want even more government control over our lives.” To back up his claims, Thomas cited Climate Depot, a website dedicated to denying global warming, and quoted its founder, the industry-funded fraudster Marc Morano. He also cited Patrick Michaels, a climate denier who has received funding from various fossil fuel companies. Finally, Thomas misattributed a quote that called the report a “pile of crap,” saying it came from Princeton oceanographer John P. Dunne when in fact it came from John Dunn of the climate-denier group Heartland Institute. It speaks volumes that a number of newspapers chose to publish Thomas’ column despite its multiple inaccuracies (though some later corrected the quote attribution).
On April 25, Coulter tweeted: “I'm fine with pretending to believe in global warming if we can save our language, culture & borders. #MacronCode.” Coulter, a virulent racist who has long supported Trump’s dehumanizing immigration policies, has made ridiculous claims about climate change before, and once stated that global warming deniers are considered equivalent to Holocaust deniers. Her April tweet, sent on the day that French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the U.S. Congress, points to a disturbing trend in which some white nationalists take climate change seriously only because the changing climate will lead to the northward migration of refugees from the Global South.
I'm fine with pretending to believe in global warming if we can save our language, culture & borders. #MacronCode
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) April 25, 2018
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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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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.
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:
“Ending the NV Energy stranglehold on the retail market would empower consumers and providers by promoting competition and choice. Vote “yes” on Question 3.”https://t.co/O8mA4byhke
— Las Vegas RJ (@reviewjournal) October 18, 2018
Additionally, the Review-Journal sent the editorial out as a “Breaking News” alert to its readers:
Sheldon Adelson's newspaper sent out a "Breaking News" alert to its readers this morning that the newspaper he owns is endorsing a ballot initiative he funded. I kid you not. Breaking. News. pic.twitter.com/uZOPRAwbCS
— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) October 18, 2018
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.
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.
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.
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