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Discredited economic pundit and former Trump campaign adviser Stephen Moore has been employing his longstanding practice of misrepresenting jobs data to hail President Donald Trump for a non-existent resurgence of coal mining jobs.
Employment in the coal industry has been mired in a decades-long decline due to advances in mining technology, increased automation, a shift toward mountaintop removal, and competition from natural gas and renewables. Not surprisingly, numerous experts and industry observers have called Trump’s promise to put coal miners “back to work” by unraveling environmental protections an empty one. From the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:
But according to Trump’s former economic adviser Stephen Moore, coal mining’s implausible comeback is already here. Since Trump issued his executive order to roll back Obama-era environmental protections and begin “withdrawing and rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan” regulating coal-fired power plants, Moore has misrepresented jobs data to claim Trump is already bringing back lost coal mining jobs.
Buried in an otherwise humdrum jobs report for March was the jaw-dropping pronouncement by the Labor Department that mining jobs in America were up by 11,000 in March. Since the low point in October 2016 and following years of painful layoffs in the mining industry, the mining sector has added 35,000 jobs.
What a turnaround. It comes at a time when liberals have been saying that Donald Trump has been lying to the American people when he has said that he can bring coal jobs back. Well, so far he has.
Coal mining, another big revitalization promise from Trump, is an even weaker story. The latest jobs numbers for the mining industry overall look promising, with employment steadily increasing and 11,000 new jobs created in March. On closer inspection, though, most of these jobs are in the category of “support services.”
In other words, these aren’t the coal jobs that Trump promised to bring back. These are mostly jobs related to fracking, such as those required to install and maintain equipment needed to drill for oil and natural gas, says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. When oil prices rise, which has been happening in recent months, fracking activity increases too.
Nonetheless, Moore doubled down on his misleading claim following the BLS’ April jobs report, writing in a May 9 Breitbart op-ed, “Well, coal is back. The latest jobs report says that 8,000 more mining jobs were added in April. That brings the grand total to more than 40,000 new mining jobs since the election of Donald J. Trump. Does this sound like an industry in decline?”
Moore once again ignored that the vast majority of those jobs were created in categories other than “coal mining.” Had Moore bothered to look at the actual coal mining jobs category, he would know that figure had only grown by approximately 200 and it has barely moved since Election Day.
Even if there were an uptick in coal mining jobs, Vox makes clear that Trump “couldn’t take credit” for that increase since it’s still too early to see any impact from the Trump administration’s policies.
This sort of misleading economic analysis has long been Moore’s calling card and illustrates why The Kansas City Star decided to stop publishing Moore’s op-eds in 2014 after a similar series of statistical games (though Moore’s divorced-from-reality economic analysis is still good enough for CNN). Moore’s false pronouncements of a Trump-inspired coal comeback are just more of the same.
Conservative outlets are highlighting a pro-fracking group’s attempt to convince Google, which recently promised to alter its search algorithm to demote fake news, to also tweak it to purge or demote websites critical of fracking.
On May 8, Texans for Natural Gas, an industry group funded by Texas energy companies, published an open letter addressed to Google titled “ANTI-FRACKING ACTIVISM IS FAKE NEWS.” The letter, which was highlighted in the industry-funded outlets The Daily Caller and The Daily Signal, referred to Google’s recent move to alter its search algorithm to “demote misleading, false, and offensive articles online” before claiming, “We believe many of the most prominent anti-fracking websites have content that is misleading, false, or offensive – if not all three. As a result, we urge you to consider purging or demoting these websites from your algorithm, which in turn will encourage a more honest public discussion about hydraulic fracturing, and oil and natural gas development in general.”
The pro-fracking group claimed that environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Earthworks, and others were “peddling fake news” about the link between fracking and drinking water contamination. The letter cited an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study to support its claims, saying that the EPA study “found no evidence of widespread water contamination.” The group subsequently urged Google to examine other sites that contradict the findings of the EPA report, stating, “There are certainly other environmental groups that have made similarly false claims about fracking and groundwater risks, despite the conclusions of the EPA and other scientific experts.”
Yet for all the grandstanding the letter makes about rooting out “misleading” information online, it is full of misleading statements. Though the group claimed that the EPA study “found no evidence of widespread water contamination” from fracking, it neglected to mention that the EPA subsequently removed that sentence from the report on the advice of its Science Advisory Board because the findings of the report did not support that conclusion. Additionally, according to Cleveland.com, a study conducted by Stanford researchers in 2016 “found that common practices in the industry may have widespread impacts on drinking water.”
Texans for Natural Gas also said in the letter that statements linking fracking to worsening climate change are further examples of a “false claim peddled by anti-fracking groups and environmentalist websites,” adding that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cited the U.S.’s increased use of natural gas as “an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.” But this claim ignores more recent studies, including one by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that found that methane emissions were actually "one-fifth higher than IPCC estimates,” as well as numerous studies that have concluded that methane leakage from natural gas production could negate the climate benefits of natural gas.
The term “fake news” has been wildly misused recently, and Texans for Natural Gas is only adding to the trend. If the group wants to cast itself as an ally in Google’s effort to root out misleading information, it would do well to provide an honest accounting of scientific research in its letter.
Columbia University Report Outlines Market Forces Killing The Coal Industry
A new Columbia University report adds to a wealth of research disproving the right-wing media myth that President Donald Trump can bring back coal jobs and revitalize coal communities by simply rolling back environmental protections enacted by previous administrations.
Conservative media outlets, political commentators, and Trump himself have repeatedly argued that undoing Obama-era environmental protections would reverse the decades-long decline in coal mining employment. But a new in-depth analysis published by researchers at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy throws cold water on this notion, concluding, “President Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations will not materially improve economic conditions in America’s coal communities.”
The report goes into great detail about the factors behind coal’s decline. It finds that the vast majority of the decrease in coal consumption was due to market factors unrelated to federal regulations and that it is “highly unlikely US coal mining employment will return to pre-2015 levels, let alone the industry’s historical highs.” From the April 2017 report (emphasis added):
We found that 49 percent of the decline in domestic US coal consumption was due to the drop in natural gas prices, 26 percent was due to lower than expected electricity demand, and 18 percent was due to growth in renewable energy. Environmental regulations contributed to the decline by accelerating coal power plant retirement, but these were a less significant factor. We also found that changes in the global coal market have played a far greater role in the decline of US production and employment than is generally understood. The recent collapse of Chinese coal demand, especially for metallurgical coal, depressed coal prices around the world and reduced the market for US exports. The decline in global coal prices was a particularly important factor in the recent wave of coal company bankruptcies and resulting threats to the healthcare and pension security of retired US coal miners and their dependents.
Second, the paper examines the prospects for a recovery of US coal production and employment by modeling the impact of President Trump’s executive order and assessing the global coal market outlook. We found that successfully removing President Obama’s environmental regulations has the potential to mitigate the recent decline in US coal consumption, but that will only occur if natural gas prices start to rise. If they remain at current levels, domestic consumption will continue to decline, particularly if renewable energy costs fall faster than expected. We similarly see little prospect of a sustainable recovery in global coal demand growth and seaborne coal prices. Combining our domestic and international market outlook, we believe it is highly unlikely US coal mining employment will return to pre-2015 levels, let alone the industry’s historical highs.
The report’s conclusion that undoing environmental protections will have little impact on coal mining employment aligns with what numerous experts and nonideological media analysts have reported. The researchers also found that the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which regulates emissions from coal-fired power plants and which Trump singled out with a March 28 executive order that rolled back environmental regulations, “played no direct role in the reduction of US coal consumption and production experienced over the past few years.” (The Obama administration announced the final version of the CPP in August 2015 but the rules were never actually implemented.)
The report does note that the decline in coal consumption could be mitigated “if natural gas prices increase going forward,” but the impact on jobs would not be as direct. As Robert W. Godby, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming, explained to The New York Times, even if coal mines stay open, they are “using more mechanization” and “not hiring people. … So even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs.”
Notably, the Columbia report offers policy recommendations “for how the federal government can support economic diversification in coal communities through infrastructure investment, abandoned mine land reclamation, tax credits, small business incubation, workforce training, and support for locally driven economic development initiatives.”
But perhaps just as importantly, the researchers offer the following recommendation for lawmakers: “Responsible policymakers should be honest about what’s going on in the US coal sector—including the causes of coal’s decline and unlikeliness of its resurgence—rather than offer false hope that the glory days can be revived.”
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Fox & Friends hosted Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and allowed him to uncritically push the falsehood that China and India have no obligations to cut their emissions until 2030 under the Paris climate agreement.
On the April 13 edition of Fox & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade asked Pruitt if the U.S. was “on the path to getting out of” the Paris agreement. Pruitt answered that he believed the U.S. needed to exit the agreement because “it’s a bad deal for America,” adding, “China and India had no obligations under the agreement until 2030” -- a false claim that right-wing media have repeatedly made.
What the Fox & Friends hosts failed to point out was that 2030 is the year by which China and India must meet their emissions reduction goals -- a target that clearly would require earlier action. In order to meet their emissions targets, India is aiming to get 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, a proposal that one climate expert called "nothing less than gargantuan." Similarly, China plans to increase its share of non-fossil fuel energy from 11.2 percent to 20 percent above the 2005 level and "lower its emissions per unit of GDP within the range of 60 to 65 percent below the 2005 level by 2030." China is also set to roll out a national cap-and-trade program this year to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions.
From the April 13 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
BRIAN KILMEADE: All right, let’s also talk about the Paris agreement. Are we on the path to getting out of that?
SCOTT PRUITT: Well, Paris is something that we need to really look at closely because it’s something we need to exit in my opinion. It's a bad deal for America. It was an America second, third, or fourth kind of approach. China and India had no obligations under the agreement until 2030. We front-loaded all of our costs.
STEVE DOOCY (HOST): What's your biggest objection to the Paris agreement?
PRUITT: That. That America was put last. That the previous administration went into Paris and said that China and India had no obligations until 2030, and America was going to cost itself jobs as it relates to the obligations there. People who say that it's not enforceable -- every meeting I’ve had with my counterparts from Germany, Canada, and others, the first question they ask me is, “What are you going to do to comply with Paris?” And so what that means is contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe and China and India. They are polluting far more than we are. We’re at pre-1994 levels with respect to our CO2 emissions.
KILMEADE: So is it you tell them, “Listen, we’re not going to do that.”
PRUITT: That’s exactly right.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney allowed a coal mining company CEO who previously said President Donald Trump couldn’t bring back coal jobs to walk back those comments, while Varney himself pushed the myth that environmental protections are to blame for the loss of jobs in the coal industry.
A March 27 article in The Guardian reported that Robert Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, the largest privately owned coal company in the United States, acknowledged that technological advances and competition from renewable energies and natural gas are responsible for the coal industry’s decline. Murray warned that Trump should “temper” his expectations for a return of coal mining jobs because he “can’t bring them back.” Trump has repeatedly promised that he will reinvigorate the industry by rolling back regulations.
A week after Murray spoke with The Guardian, Varney allowed the CEO to walk back his comments. On the April 3 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., Varney repeated Murray’s quote from the news report and asked, “Why can’t the president bring back coal mining jobs if he gets rid of these damaging climate restrictions?” Murray replied, “Well, he can. It’s the degree to which he brings them back. I was asked when I was quoted, ‘Can he bring them back to where they were?’” Murray added that Trump could bring back “at least half” of the 63,000 coal jobs that he said were lost due to environmental protections.
Numerous experts have debunked the claim that Trump can bring back tens of thousands of coal jobs. As an energy economist at the University of Wyoming told The New York Times, even if coal mines stay open, they are “using more mechanization” and “not hiring people. … So even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs.”
Murray’s comments come at a time when coal mining is vastly overshadowed by employment in the renewable energy sector. The Associated Press reported that “coal mining now accounts for fewer than 70,000 U.S. jobs. By contrast, renewable energy — including wind, solar and biofuels — now accounts for more than 650,000 U.S. jobs.” And a recent analysis by the Sierra Club found that “only six states have more jobs in coal and gas than clean energy -- and the growth of clean energy suggests that won’t be the case for long.”
A Media Matters review of Nexis transcripts found that over the years, Murray has been a frequent guest on Fox Business, where he has repeatedly pushed the lie that coal mining job losses were due solely to environmental regulations. On the rare occasions when Fox Business hosts asked Murray about the impact of technology or natural gas on the coal industry, Murray downplayed the significance of those factors or pivoted back to attacking environmental regulations.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of Fox Business from the last five years using Robert Murray and coal, Robert Murray and (automat! o technolog!), and Robert Murray and natural gas.
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NRA And Trump Stab Hunters In The Back To Serve Oil And Gas Interests
The National Rifle Association’s top lobbyist, Chris Cox, bragged about attending a White House ceremony where President Donald Trump signed legislation repealing an Obama-era regulation favored by conservation and hunting groups that gave citizens a greater say in corporations’ plans to mine, log, and drill on federally managed public lands.
During the March 28 edition of NRATV’s news show Stinchfield, Cox said he was “honored” to be invited to the White House to represent the NRA, and claimed that repealing this “last-minute Obama" regulation would be good for “sportsmen's access” as well as good for “business interest.” Host Grant Stinchfield praised the president’s invitation as “another sign that we have a friend in the White House”:
GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): So first off before we get to the [Neil] Gorsuch confirmation, you were at the White House yesterday. This just seems to me -- they invite you there as another sign that we have a friend in the White House, the NRA does.
CHRIS COX: Well they invited the National Rifle Association there and I was honored to represent our members all across the country. The president was signing a number of different bills into law through the Congressional Review Act. All of these last-minute Obama regulations that they put through, they’re taking a look at all of those. We saw one recently with the Social Security Administration where we were able to fix that. What this one yesterday, the one of particular interest to us, was the Bureau of Land Management, BLM. They manage almost 250 million acres, that’s about the size of Texas and Oklahoma combined -- a little bigger than Texas and Oklahoma combined. So whether it's sportsmen’s access or business interest, removing that power out of D.C., putting it back to the states is good for sportsmen, it's good for America. So I was honored to be over there and it's a nice change because we know Hillary Clinton wouldn't have been doing that.
The repeal invalidated the Bureau of Land Management’s Planning 2.0 rule, which was created to “increase public involvement and incorporate the most current data and technology to decide whether and where drilling, mining and logging will happen on public land.” Rolling it back would also prevent the agency from creating similar regulations in the future because it was repealed under the Congressional Review Act.
In February, 19 sportsmen and conservation groups, including Oregon Hunters Association, the Wildlife Management Institute, and Pheasants Forever, wrote a letter to the Natural Resources Committee opposing efforts to repeal the Planning 2.0 rule, saying the rule both increased “federal agency transparency” and incorporated “best practices in land-use planning” while also maintaining the “cooperating agency role of .... local governments.” When the rule was enacted in 2016, the Montana Wildlife Association called the regulation “a boon to Montana hunters,” explaining that “Planning 2.0 will allow sportsmen (and every citizen) to have a bigger role in deciding how they want to see their favorite spots to hunt and fish managed.”
This is not the first time the National Rifle Association has sided with corporate interests over hunters and conservationists. According to a 2014 Mother Jones feature, oil and gas companies are some of the biggest donors to the NRA, donating between $1.3 million and $5.6 million in 2012. Following large donations, the NRA has repeatedly “teamed up” with these companies to lobby for anti-conservation legislation in Congress. From Mother Jones:
The NRA calls itself "the number-one hunter's organization in America." But two new reports published by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the Gun Truth Project and Corporate Accountability International show that, following contributions from oil and gas companies, the NRA lent its support to legislation that would open up more federal public lands to fossil-fuel extraction, compromising the wilderness that many hunters value.
In 2012, six oil and gas companies contributed a total of between $1.3 million and $5.6 million to the NRA, according to CAP. (The companies are Clayton Williams Energy, J.L. Davis Gas Consulting, Kamps Propane, Barrett Brothers Oil and Gas, Saulsbury Energy Services, and KS Industries.)
Despite these concerns from parts of its longtime constituency, the NRA teamed up with oil and gas interests—including the American Petroleum Institute and the National Mining Association—to lobby for the bill. The NRA explained its position with an appeal to hunters and a dig at conservationists. McCarthy's bill, it said, "will make public hunting lands not suitable for wilderness designation available to millions of Americans that are unfairly closed out from them now…protecting the ability of the American people to access lands that belong, not to the government, or to extremist environmental groups, but to the people."
Discredited economic pundit and former Trump campaign adviser Stephen Moore -- who currently serves as the “chief economist” at the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation -- bombarded CNN viewers with debunked right-wing media talking points about the American economy last night. Moore’s prominent role as CNN’s new “senior economics analyst” hinders the network’s credibility, undermining its ability to cover the economy in an honest and accountable way.
During a February 28 panel discussion analyzing President Donald Trump’s speech before a joint session of Congress, Moore sparred with fellow panelists in an attempt to defend Trump’s reckless budgetary, economic, and fiscal policies. Across a spectrum of issues relating to economic growth, job creation, taxes, and regulations, Moore pushed tired and disproven myths pulled directly from right-wing media.
When pressed on how Trump could increase spending while cutting taxes for corporations and high income earners without ballooning the deficit, Moore regurgitated the absurd fallacy that tax cuts would pay for themselves by stoking economic growth to at least 3.5 percent annually. Economist Marc Goldwein of the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget dismissed the 3.5 percent growth target as “pie in the sky” and “pretty much impossible” during the presidential campaign. There is a mountain of evidence from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the Brookings Institution, and elsewhere demonstrating that tax cuts don’t generate new revenue through economic growth. Furthermore, economists across the political spectrum view Trump’s proposed restrictions on immigration and international trade as a detriment to economic growth regardless of tax policy shifts.
Moore’s assertion that the economy can achieve 3.5 percent annual growth isn’t just wrong on the arithmetic, it’s also arbitrary. Former presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) were chided by economists and experts for floating similar targets, and the fixation on getting economic growth above 3 percent was a core of Fox News’ misinformation campaign against the Obama administration. (Last October, Moore told Fox Business viewers that stronger-than-expected economic growth in the prior quarter was “still pretty lousy” simply because it was measured at 2.9 percent instead of 3.)
After falsely claiming that Trump could stoke economic growth by following a tax cut strategy supposedly modeled after former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, Moore pushed the misleading notion that regulatory burdens are holding the economy back. This claim, popularized by the right-wing editorial board of The Wall Street Journal (a former employer of Moore’s), is also not backed up by the facts.
After being rebuffed on regulations, Moore tried another right-wing media myth: that it has been “15 years since the average American worker has had a pay raise.” Fox News has spent years blaming President Barack Obama for supposedly stagnant median incomes in the United States, always neglecting to mention that the stagnation began under President George W. Bush and was driven into free fall by the recession Obama inherited. Median incomes are lower than they were 15 years ago thanks to two Bush-era recessions but had gradually improved during Obama’s final years in office -- a fact absent from right-wing coverage of the subject.
Moore concluded his embarrassing performance by recycling false right-wing media talking points blaming environmental protections for declining employment in the coal industry. The fallacy that protecting the environment is killing jobs in the energy sector is so unsubstantiated that even conservative Forbes columnist Tim Worstall has rebuffed it. A recent study from the Brookings Institution concluded that the overwhelming reason for declining employment in the mining and manufacturing industries is automation, a trend that “has been eating coal jobs over a long period of time -- [since] years before concerns about climate change” stiffened environmental protections. Right-wing pundits, including Moore, love to exaggerate the threat of automation while opposing the minimum wage. They rarely mention that machines, not burdensome regulations, are driving well-paid blue collar mining jobs into extinction.
Steve Moore’s short tenure at CNN thus far has been a disaster for the network, which decided to hire arguably the world’s worst economist away from Fox News on January 30. Moore’s unflinching partisan agenda colors all of his commentary and can be easily dismantled by any analyst with a basic competency in economics.
Watch the full segment from the February 28 edition of CNN Tonight here:
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Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), took part in a contentious hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on January 18. The hearing largely focused on Pruitt’s deep ties to polluting energy companies and track record of opposing the EPA’s clean air and water safeguards. Here are eight key moments from the hearing that are worthy of media attention.
1. Pruitt doubled down on climate science denial, despite affirming that climate change is not a “hoax.”
Coming into the hearing, Pruitt was on the record as a climate science denier who has refused to accept the consensus among climate scientists and the world’s leading scientific institutions that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are the main cause of global warming. Pruitt was given multiple opportunities during the hearing to clarify his views on climate science -- and he responded by doubling down on his climate science denial.
In his opening remarks, Pruitt stated: “Science tells us that the climate is changing, and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.”
Later in the hearing, Pruitt admitted that he does not believe climate change is a “hoax,” as Trump has claimed, but that doesn’t mean that he suddenly made an about-face and aligned his view with that of the world’s leading climate scientists. In response to a question from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who cited the 97 percent of climate scientists who say global warming is caused by human activities, Pruitt again asserted that “the ability to measure with precision the degree of human activity’s impact on the climate is subject to more debate on whether the climate is changing or whether human activity contributes to it.”
Finally, in response to further questioning from Sanders, Pruitt made the astounding proclamation that his personal opinion on the subject is “immaterial” to serving as the EPA administrator.
2. Pruitt misled about the basis of his opposition to EPA safeguards against dangerous mercury pollution from power plants.
Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin, and mercury pollution, which largely comes from coal- and oil-fired power plants, is particularly dangerous for children and expecting mothers. In 2011, the Obama administration issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to cut mercury pollution by requiring power plants to install proven and widely available pollution control technology. Pruitt responded by issuing a series of lawsuits to block the EPA’s mercury safeguards, including one lawsuit that is ongoing.
During the hearing, Pruitt defended his lawsuits against the EPA’s mercury standards, despite acknowledging that mercury should be regulated by the EPA. At one point, following pointed questions by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Pruitt claimed that “there was no argument that we made from a state perspective that mercury is not a hazardous pollutant under Section 112 [of the Clean Air Act]. Our argument focused upon the cost-benefit analysis that the EPA failed to do.” In fact, Pruitt’s 2012 lawsuit against the EPA’s mercury standards did cite Section 112 and asserted that “the record does not support EPA’s findings that mercury … pose[s] public health hazards,” as Environmental Defense Fund’s Jeremy Symons pointed out.
Moreover, Pruitt’s ongoing lawsuit against the EPA is based on a “rigged” cost-benefit analysis that “considers all of [the regulations’] costs, but only some of their benefits,” as the Union of Concerned Scientists has noted. The lawsuit claims that that EPA’s calculation of the financial benefits of the safeguards cannot include indirect benefits, such as reduced smog and sulfur dioxide, that would also be reduced by the pollution control technology used to cut mercury pollution -- even though the EPA accounted for indirect costs, such as higher electricity prices (in addition to direct costs like the expense of installing pollution controls).
3. Pruitt refused to rule out blocking California’s clean car rules and other state-level pollution limits.
First, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) noted that “the EPA has historically recognized California’s authority to issue new motor vehicle pollution standards that go above and beyond federal standards,” and she asked Pruitt whether he would commit to “recognizing California’s authority to issue its own new motor vehicle air pollution standards.” Pruitt replied that he would “review” the issue but refused to commit to upholding California’s right to set stronger pollution standards.
Later, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) returned to this topic, noting that Pruitt wouldn’t commit to supporting the right of California, Massachusetts, and other states “to do what is best for global warming in their own states,” adding, “When you say ‘review,’ I hear undo.” Markey concluded that Pruitt has a “double standard” in which he says states like Oklahoma that agree with “the oil and gas industry perspective” have “a right to do what they want to do,” while states like California and Massachusetts may not have the right to “increase their protection for the environment” and reduce carbon pollution.
4. Pruitt confirmed that he equates the interests of the oil industry with those of the people of Oklahoma.
In 2014, The New York Times reported that Pruitt sent a letter to the EPA on state government stationery that accused federal regulators of overestimating industry air pollution, and that the letter was secretly almost entirely written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of the biggest oil and gas companies in Oklahoma. At the time, Pruitt responded to the controversy by declaring, “That’s actually called representative government in my view of the world.” During the hearing, Pruitt again confirmed that he equates representing the people of Oklahoma with representing the oil industry.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) mentioned the letter, asking Pruitt if he would acknowledge that he “presented a private oil company’s position, rather than a position developed by the people of Oklahoma.” Pruitt replied that he “disagree[d]” with Merkley’s conclusion and asserted that the letter was “representing the interests of the state of Oklahoma” because it “was representing the interest of an industry in the state of Oklahoma, not a company.” Pruitt cited the fact that the oil industry is “a very important industry to our state” as justification for equating the industry’s position with that of the state.
5. Pruitt claimed he didn’t solicit fossil fuel contributions for the Republican Attorneys General Association.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) drilled down on Pruitt’s extensive financial ties to fossil fuel companies, including Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Murray Energy, and Devon Energy. At one point, Whitehouse asked Pruitt if he had ever solicited funds from those companies for the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), to which Pruitt answered, “I have not asked them for money on behalf of RAGA.”
While it’s possible Pruitt’s claim is true, a document uncovered by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) shows that RAGA gave call sheets to Republican attorneys general to solicit funds from corporations, as CMD’s Nick Surgey noted. So the exchange is an important area for reporter follow-up, as the Natural Resources Defense Council’s John Walke explained.
6. Pruitt refused to recuse himself from his ongoing litigation against the EPA, setting up an apparent conflict of interest.
Sen. Markey asked Pruitt if he would recuse himself as EPA administrator from the lawsuits that he has brought against the EPA to overturn the agency’s clean air and water safeguards, adding that if Pruitt refused, “people are going to think that it’s not just the fox guarding the henhouse, it’s the fox destroying the henhouse.” Pruitt answered that he would recuse himself only “as directed by EPA ethics counsel.” Markey noted that Pruitt’s continued involvement in those lawsuits would create a “fundamental conflict of interest.”
Later in the hearing, Sen. Harris pressed Pruitt on whether he has “discretion” to recuse himself from the cases, independent of what the ethics counsel says. After initially dodging the question, Pruitt acknowledged, “Clearly there’s a discretion to recuse.”
7. Pruitt inflated his environmental credentials by misrepresenting two poultry industry cases.
In addition to criticizing Pruitt’s efforts to overturn clean air and water protections, opponents of Pruitt’s nomination have pointed out the lack of evidence that he has taken any proactive steps to protect Oklahoma’s environment during his time as attorney general. For example, Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project noted in a New York Times op-ed, “During his six-year tenure, [Pruitt’s] office issued more than 700 news releases announcing enforcement actions, speeches and public appearances, and challenges to federal regulations. My organization could not find any describing actions by Mr. Pruitt to enforce environmental laws or penalize polluters.”
When the question of Pruitt’s environmental credentials arose during the hearing, Pruitt grossly exaggerated his record of holding polluters accountable by misrepresenting two poultry industry cases.
First, noted anti-environment Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) invited Pruitt to explain “why you have become such a hero of the [Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission] people.” Pruitt replied by touting an agreement he reached with the state of Arkansas related to chicken manure pollution, declaring, “I actually reached out to my Democratic colleague Dustin McDaniel, the attorney general of the state of Arkansas, and we were able to negotiate an agreement that had phosphorous levels set at 0.037, scientifically driven and enforced on both sides of the border for the first time in history.”
But Pruitt’s agreement with Arkansas “didn’t take any steps to reduce pollution, but actually only proposes another unnecessary study and attempts to suspend compliance” for another three years of pollution, as Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) explained during the hearing. Indeed, as the Environmental Working Group noted, “Instead of fighting to enforce his state’s own water quality standards for phosphorus, [Pruitt] stalled. Pruitt’s 2013 amendment to the earlier agreement gave poultry polluters three more years to meet the goals established in 2003, plus an opening to weaken the standard by commissioning further study of the problem.”
Later, Sen. Harris asked Pruitt if he could “name a few instances in which you have filed a lawsuit in your independent capacity as attorney general against a corporate entity for violating state or federal pollution laws.” Pruitt responded by citing a lawsuit against the Mahard Egg Farm, which he described as involving “the clean-up of a large hen operation that affected water quality.”
However, parties on both sides of the lawsuit told ThinkProgress that the Mahard case “began years before he took office.” ThinkProgress further noted that while “Pruitt did technically file the case on behalf of Oklahoma, it was both filed and settled on the same day” after years of extensive negotiations that did not involve Pruitt, and it quoted Mahard’s lawyer as saying, “Nothing against AG Pruitt, but it was really a DOJ, EPA-driven process.”
8. Pruitt passed the buck on addressing Oklahoma’s fracking-induced earthquakes.
Citing Oklahoma’s “record-breaking number of earthquakes” that scientists attribute to the process of fracking for oil and gas, Sen. Sanders asked Pruitt if he could cite “any opinion that you wrote, any enforcement actions you took against the companies that were injecting waste-fracking water.” Pruitt replied that he was “very concerned” about the issue, but that “the corporation commission in Oklahoma is vested with the jurisdiction and they’ve actually acted on that.”
However, although the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is responsible for regulating wastewater injection, experts told The Atlantic that “there were a number of legal questions on which Pruitt could have engaged” (emphasis original). Those include issuing a legal opinion on whether the commission could stop wastewater from coming from other states or join Pawnee residents in a class-action lawsuit against oil companies that they say are liable for the earthquakes. The Atlantic added that “while it is true that Pruitt does not regulate oil and gas extraction in Oklahoma, other attorneys general have involved themselves in difficult fracking cases.”
Sanders concluded: “Your state is having a record-breaking number of earthquakes. You’ve acknowledged that you are concerned. If that’s the type of EPA administrator you will be, you’re not going to get my vote.”
Kevin Kalhoefer contributed to this report.
Secretary of state nominee and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 11. Tillerson is already under fire for making the seemingly false claim that Exxon has not lobbied against sanctions on Russia and other nations that would affect Exxon’s business dealings, but here are five other climate change-related takeaways that reporters should keep in mind in their coverage of the hearing and Tillerson nomination going forward.
1. Tillerson distorted climate change science … again.
As researchers at Harvard and MIT have documented, Tillerson has falsely claimed in the past that the temperature record “really hadn’t changed” over the previous decade and repeatedly made scientifically inaccurate claims “seeking to sow doubt about the reliability of climate models.”
Tillerson again wrongly cast doubt on climate models during the confirmation hearing. When asked by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) whether climate change is caused by human activities, Tillerson replied that the “increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect,” but that “our ability to predict that effect is very limited.”
In reality, “climate models have proven themselves reliable in predicting long-term global surface temperature changes,” as The Guardian’s Dana Nuccitelli has noted. Indeed, in remarks to Mashable responding to Tillerson’s comments, Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann similarly said, "Climate models have proven extremely skillful in predicting the warming that has already been observed.” And David Titley, the former head of the Navy's climate change task force, explained, “The ability of climate scientists to predict the future is significantly more skillful than many other professions (economics, intelligence, political science) who try and predict the future."
As Texas Tech University climate researcher Katherine Hayhoe told Mashable, climate projections of emissions scenarios are “based on physics and chemistry, the fundamentals of which have been understood” since the 1850s.
2. Tillerson disputed the Pentagon’s determination that climate change is a significant national security threat.
When Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) asked Tillerson whether he sees climate change as a national security threat, Tillerson answered, “I don’t see it as the imminent national security threat that perhaps others do.”
Among the “others” who disagree with Tillerson is the Pentagon, which has called climate change a “security risk” and said that considering the effects of climate change is essential to meeting the Defense Department’s “primary responsibility” to “protect national security interests around the world.” A 2014 Defense Department report similarly stated that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” and a bipartisan group of defense experts and former military leaders recently sent a briefing book to President-elect Donald Trump containing recommendations for addressing these risks.
For its part, the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change calls climate change a “global threat.”
3. Tillerson refused to discuss the “ExxonKnew” scandal.
Tillerson refused to answer questions from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) about media investigations documenting that Exxon’s own scientists had confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterward. Tillerson declared that he was “in no position to speak on [Exxon’s] behalf," and that “the question would have to be put to ExxonMobil." Kaine explained that he wasn't asking Tillerson to respond on behalf of Exxon, but rather to confirm or deny the accuracy of the allegations against the company, which he ran until the end of December. When Kaine asked Tillerson whether he was unable or unwilling to answer Kaine’s questions, Tillerson replied: “A little of both."
The media reports on Exxon, published in the fall of 2015 by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times, prompted attorneys general in New York, California, and Massachusetts to each launch investigations of Exxon that are still ongoing. As InsideClimate News noted, “If Tillerson spoke about this under oath at this hearing, it conceivably could complicate matters for lawyers at the company he led.”
4. Tillerson declined to endorse the Paris climate agreement.
Under Tillerson’s leadership, Exxon issued several statements in support of the Paris climate agreement, which committed countries around the world to cutting emissions, with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees Celsius. However, Tillerson declined to explicitly endorse the Paris agreement during his confirmation hearing.
When initially asked about the agreement by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tillerson did not address the agreement specifically, but he did say that it’s “important that the United States maintain a seat at the table on the conversations around how to address the threats of climate change, which do require a global response.” But when asked about the agreement by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) later in the hearing, Tillerson left open the possibility of renegotiating -- or even withdrawing from -- the agreement, as InsideClimate News noted:
In case you missed it, Tillerson answered questions about whether the United States would remain in the Paris climate accord in a such a non-committal way that he left open the possibility for the Trump administration to ditch the agreement or pull out of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as some of the President's team have recommended.
Tillerson suggested that the "America First" motto that Trump ran on would be the main criterion in assessing participation in the global climate accord.
Responding to a question from Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey about staying in the accord, Tillerson said that Trump would conduct a thorough review of global and bilateral accords on climate and that he would make his views known to the new president, who has vowed to 'cancel' the agreement and who has most recently called climate change a 'hoax' invented by the Chinese to hobble American business. Tillerson did not say what his views or recommendations would be.
Tillerson then continued: "I also know that the president as part of his priority in campaigning was to put America first. So there's important considerations as we commit to such accords and as those accords are executed over time, are there any elements of that put America at a disadvantage?"
Markey then asked if it should be a priority of the U.S. to work with other countries to find solutions to that problem.
Tillerson answered: "It's important for America to remain engaged in those discussions so we are at the table expressing a view and understanding what the impacts may be on the American people and American competitiveness."
Trump has said that he would “renegotiate” or “cancel” the Paris agreement. He’s also claimed since the election that he has an “open mind” about the agreement, but internal documents from Trump’s transition team “show the new administration plans to stop defending the Clean Power Plan,” which is the linchpin of the United States’ emissions reduction commitments under the Paris agreement.
Some reporters are interpreting Tillerson’s reference to a “seat at the table” as support for the Paris agreement, but his broad phrasing could also apply to seeking to rewrite the terms of the deal -- or withdrawing from it altogether. Later in the hearing, Tillerson added that he believes it’s important to have a “seat at the table” in order to “judge the level of commitment of the other 189 or so countries around the table and again adjust our own course accordingly.”
5. Tillerson did not address climate change, oil, or even Exxon itself in his opening remarks.
In their initial coverage of the Tillerson nomination, several major media outlets uncritically portrayed Tillerson as an advocate for action to combat climate change, despite his -- and Exxon’s -- troubling track record on the issue. But when Tillerson was given the opportunity to outline his vision and priorities for the State Department during his opening statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he did not once mention climate change, lending credence to the contention of Tillerson’s critics that his and Exxon’s professed support for climate action “was all P.R.”
Tillerson’s opening statement also neglected to mention oil or even Exxon itself, where Tillerson has worked for the last 41 years. That glaring omission hints at a lack of concern for crucial questions about whether Tillerson’s oil industry experience prepares him to serve as America’s top diplomat, or whether, as The New Yorker’s Steve Coll put it, he will be willing and able to “embrace a vision of America’s place in the world that promotes ideals for their own sake, emphatically privileging national interests over private ones.”