CNN’s Fareed Zakaria: Lack Of Support For Donald Trump In Top States For Solar Jobs May Explain Why He Is “So Stuck On Coal”
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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.”
With National Media Undercovering These Stories, It's Just A Matter Of Time Until It Happens To Another Community
In 2016, major environmental crises that disproportionately affect people of color -- such as the Flint water crisis and the fight over the location of the Dakota Access Pipeline -- were undercovered by the national media for long periods, despite being reported by local and state media early on. The national media’s failure to spotlight these environmental issues as they arise effectively shuts the people in danger out of the national conversation, resulting in delayed political action and worsening conditions.
In early 2016, Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in the majority black city of Flint over the dangerous levels of lead in the drinking water -- more than a year after concerns about the water were initially raised. While some local and state media aggressively covered the story from the beginning, national media outlets were almost universally late to the story, and even when their coverage picked up, it was often relegated to a subplot of the presidential campaign. One notable exception was MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who provided far more Flint coverage prior to Snyder's state of emergency declaration than every other network combined. Flint resident Connor Coyne explained that when national media did cover the story, they failed to provide the full context of the tragedy by ignoring the many elements that triggered it. In particular, national outlets did not highlight the role of state-appointed “emergency managers” who made arbitrary decisions based on budgetary concerns, including the catastrophic decision to draw Flint’s water from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron (via the Detroit water system).
This crisis, despite media’s waning attention, continues to affect Flint residents every day, meaning serious hardships for a population that's more than 50 percent black, with 40.1 percent living under the poverty line. Additionally, according to media reports, approximately 1,000 undocumented immigrants continued to drink poisoned water for considerably longer time than the rest of the population due in part to a lack of information about the crisis available in their language. Even after news broke, a lack of proper identification barred them from getting adequate filtration systems or bottled water.
At Standing Rock, ND, like in Flint, an ongoing environmental crisis failed to get media attention until it began to escalate beyond the people of color it disproportionately affected. Since June, Native water protectors and their allies have protested against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), an oil pipeline which would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation’s primary water source. Several tribes came together to demand that the pipeline be rejected, as it had been when the (mostly white) residents of Bismarck, ND, raised similar concerns. The tribes’ calls for another route option for the pipeline went “criminally undercovered” by the national press until September, when security forces and protesters started clashing violently. CNN’s Brian Stelter wondered whether election coverage had crowded out stories about Standing Rock, saying, “It received sort of on-and-off attention from the national media,” and, oftentimes, coverage “seemed to fall off the national news media’s radar.” Coverage of this story was mostly driven by the social media accounts of activists on the ground, online outlets, and public media, while cable news networks combined spent less than an hour in the week between October 26 and November 3 covering the escalating violence of law enforcement against the demonstrators. Amy Goodman, a veteran journalist who consistently covered the events at Standing Rock, even at the risk of going to prison, told Al Jazeera that the lack of coverage of the issues at Standing Rock went “in lockstep with a lack of coverage of climate change. Add to it a group of people who are marginalised by the corporate media, native Americans, and you have a combination that vanishes them.”
The reality reflected by these stories is that people of color are often disproportionately affected by environmental hazards, and their stories are often disproportionately ignored.
In a future in which the Environmental Protection Agency could be led by Scott Pruitt -- a denier of climate science who has opposed efforts to reduce air and water pollution and combat climate change -- these disparities will only get worse. More so than ever, media have a responsibility to prioritize coverage of climate crises and amplify the voices of those affected the most, which hasn't happened in the past.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has reported that more than three-quarters of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. African-Americans are also particularly at risk from climate impacts like rising sea levels, food insecurity, and heat-related deaths, and the black community is three times more likely than whites to die from asthma-related causes. Similarly, Latinos are 60 percent more likely than whites to go to the hospital for asthma and 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than white people. New Hispanic immigrants are particularly "vulnerable to changes in climate" due to "low wages, unstable work, language barriers, and inadequate housing," all of which are "critical obstacles to managing climate risk."
Leading environmental justice scholar Robert D. Bullard has found that “government is disproportionately slower to respond to disasters when communities of color are involved.” But media have the power to pressure governments into action with investigative journalism. According to a Poynter analysis on media’s failure to cover Flint, “a well-placed FOIA,” a “well-trained reporter covering local health or the environment,” or “an aggressive news organization” that could have “invested in independent water testing” could have been decisive in forcing authorities to act much sooner. Providing incomplete, late, and inconsistent coverage of environmental crises of this type, which disproportionately harm people of color, has real life consequences. And as Aura Bogado -- who covers justice for Grist -- told Media Matters, the self-reflection media must undertake is not limited to their coverage decisions; the diversity of their newsrooms may be a factor as well:
“When it comes to reporting on environmental crises, which disproportionately burden people of color, we’re somehow supposed to rely on all-white (or nearly all-white) newsrooms to report stories about communities they know very little about. That doesn’t mean that white reporters can’t properly write stories about people of color – but it’s rare.”
Media have many opportunities -- and the obligation -- to correct course. Media have a role to play in identifying at-risk communities, launching early reporting on environmental challenges that affect these communities, and holding local authorities accountable before crises reach Flint’s or Standing Rock’s magnitude.
While the dangers in Flint and Standing Rock eventually became major stories this year, they were not the only ones worthy of attention, and there are other environmental crises hurting communities of color that still need the support of media to amplify a harsh reality. Media could apply the lessons left by scant coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline and Flint to empower these communities and bring attention to the many other ongoing situations of disproportionate impact that desperately need attention -- and change. As Bullard suggests, every instance of environmental injustice is unique, but media coverage should be driven by the question of “how to provide equal protection to disenfranchised communities and make sure their voices are heard.”
Illustration by Dayanita Ramesh
Donald Trump and the presidential election dominated news coverage in 2016. But talking heads still found plenty of time to make jaw-dropping comments about climate change, energy, and the environment. This year’s list of ridiculous claims includes a dangerous conspiracy theory about Hurricane Matthew, over-the-top worship of fracking and coal, and absurd victim-blaming around the Flint water crisis. Here is our list of the 15 most ridiculous things that media figures said about climate, energy, and environmental issues in 2016.
1. Rush Limbaugh And Matt Drudge Peddled A Reckless Conspiracy Theory Downplaying The Threat From Hurricane Matthew. Shortly before Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the U.S., Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge concocted a conspiracy theory that the federal government was overstating the hurricane’s severity in order to manufacture concern about climate change. On The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh accused the National Hurricane Center of "playing games" with hurricane forecasting and added, “It's in the interest of the left to have destructive hurricanes because then they can blame it on climate change, which they can desperately continue trying to sell.”
Limbaugh doubled down on this theory the next day, telling his audience, “There’s politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes.”
Drudge, the curator of the widely read Drudge Report website, promoted the conspiracy as well, suggesting that federal officials were exaggerating the danger posed by Hurricane Matthew “to make [an] exaggerated point on climate.”
Drudge also used his website to persuade Southeast residents not to take the storm seriously, with a banner “STORM FIZZLE? MATTHEW LOOKS RAGGED!” and additional headlines “IT’S A 4?” and “RESIDENTS NOT TAKING SERIOUSLY...”.
Climate scientist Michael Mann explained that people "could die because of the misinformation that folks like Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge are putting out there," and two actual hurricane experts provided a point-by-point rebuttal of Drudge’s claims. But that did nothing to dissuade Drudge, who refused to give up on the conspiracy theory.
2. Fox News Blamed The Flint Water Crisis On Climate Change Policies, "PC Stuff,” And Even Flint Residents Themselves. National media outlets largely ignored the water crisis in Flint, MI, as it unfolded over almost two years, but when the story did finally make national headlines, Fox News pundits were quick to pin the blame on anyone and anything other than the Republican governor of Michigan.
On Fox & Friends, host Heather Nauert and guest Mark Aesch suggested that “misplaced priorities,” including climate change and “PC stuff,” allowed the water crisis to happen:
And on The Kelly File, Fox News digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt placed blame on Flint residents themselves, saying that the "people of Flint should have been protesting in the streets" after noticing that their water was poisoned. Stirewalt also blamed Flint parents for giving their children contaminated water, declaring: "If you were pouring water into a cup for your child and it stunk and it smelled like sulfur and it was rotten, would you give that to your child? No, you'd revolt, you'd march in the street." In addition to being offensive, Stirewalt’s comments were premised on a falsehood; Flint residents did in fact repeatedly protest throughout the year to demand safe drinking water for their families.
3. CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Claimed Trump EPA Nominee Scott Pruitt “Hasn’t Denied Global Warming.” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, is a climate science denier who has refused to accept the clear consensus of the scientific community that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are primarily responsible for global warming. Yet according to CNN New Day anchor Alisyn Camerota, Pruitt simply “sees nuance” and “hasn’t denied global warming.” Camerota falsely claimed that Pruitt only disputes climate “predictions” and “forecasts,” when in fact he has also denied that global warming is human-caused, and even Camerota's premise that climate models are unreliable is incorrect. As Camerota wrongly absolved Pruitt of climate denial, CNN’s on-screen text read: “Climate Change Denier Scott Pruitt To Lead EPA.” Co-anchor Chris Cuomo also pushed back on Camerota, stating that Pruitt “says it’s ‘far from settled.’ That means he’s not accepting the science.”
Camerota badly butchered climate science, but it's noteworthy she was even discussing the issue given CNN’s spotty track record. In April, a Media Matters analysis found that CNN aired almost five times as much oil industry advertising as climate change-related coverage in the one-week periods following the announcements that 2015 was the hottest year on record and February 2016 was the most abnormally hot month on record. And in one segment later in the year where CNN did cover climate change, CNN Newsroom host Carol Costello speculated, “Are we just talking about this and people's eyes are glazing over?”
4. MSNBC's Mike Barnicle: ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson "Is A Huge Green Guy.” Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is the chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies. Exxon is currently under investigation in several states for possibly violating state laws by deceiving shareholders and the public about climate change, while Tillerson himself has misinformed about climate science and mocked renewable energy. Yet according to Mike Barnicle, a regular on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “Rex Tillerson is a huge green guy.” And alas, no, we don't think he was comparing Tillerson to the Jolly Green Giant or the Incredible Hulk.
5. Disregarding Everything Trump Has Said And Done On The Subject, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough Claimed “I Just Know” Trump Believes In Climate Science. On Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough defended Trump after it was announced he had selected Pruitt, a climate science denier, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Scarborough -- who along with co-host Mika Brzezinski has repeatedly carried water for Trump -- insisted, “I just know” that Trump “has to believe” in climate science.
Scarborough’s comments followed a wave of TV coverage about how Trump had supposedly “reversed course” on climate change, which was based on a New York Times interview in which Trump said he has an “open mind” about the Paris climate agreement and that “there is some connectivity” between human activities and climate change. But few of these reports addressed any of the substantive reasons that such a reversal was highly unlikely, such as his transition team’s plan to abandon the Obama administration’s landmark climate policy, indications that he will dismantle NASA’s climate research program, and his appointment of fossil fuel industry allies as transition team advisers -- not to mention the full context of Trump’s remarks to the Times.
6. Trump Adviser Stephen Moore: Being Against Fracking “Is Like Being Against A Cure For Cancer.” While discussing his new book Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy on C-SPAN2's Book TV, conservative economist and Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore stated that opposing fracking “is like being against a cure for cancer” because it is “one of the great seismic technological breakthroughs” that is “giving us huge amounts of energy at very low prices.” Never mind that many of the chemicals involved in fracking have actually been linked to cancer.
7. Stephen Moore: “We Have The Cleanest Coal In The World.” Moore’s preposterous praise for fossil fuels wasn’t just confined to fracking. On Fox Business’ Varney & Co., he declared that the U.S. has “the cleanest coal in the world.” That statement is quite difficult to square with the fact that “Coal combustion contributes to four of the top five leading causes of death in the U.S.—heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases—according to Physicians for Social Responsibility,” as Climate Nexus has noted.
Pro-coal propaganda also found a home on Fox Business’ sister network, Fox News, where The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld asserted that “coal is a moral substance. Where coal reaches, people live longer, happier lives.”
8. Breitbart’s James Delingpole: Climate Change Is “The Greatest-Ever Conspiracy Against The Taxpayer.” In an article promoting a speech he gave to the World Taxpayers’ Associations in Berlin, Breitbart’s James Delingpole wrote: “Climate change is the biggest scam in the history of the world – a $1.5 trillion-a-year conspiracy against the taxpayer, every cent, penny and centime of which ends in the pockets of the wrong kind of people.” In the speech itself, Delingpole similarly claimed that “the global warming industry” is “a fraud; a sham; a conspiracy against the taxpayer.”
Breitbart, which was until recent months run by Trump’s chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon, has frequently denied climate change and viciously attacked climate scientists. Delingpole, in particular, has described climate scientists as “talentless lowlifes” and referred to climate advocates as “eco Nazis,” “eco fascists,” and “scum-sucking slime balls.” Bannon has criticized Pope Francis for succumbing to “hysteria” about climate change; The Washington Post has written about how Bannon influenced Trump’s views on the issue during his time at Breitbart.
9. Fox Report On Law Gas Prices: “Put The Tesla In The Garage And Break Out The Hummer.” Just 10 days after Trump was elected president, Fox News began giving him credit for low gas prices, the latest proof of the network’s blatant double standard when it comes to covering gas prices under Republican and Democratic presidents. But simply shilling for Trump was apparently not enough for Fox Business reporter Jeff Flock, who provided the slanted gas prices report on Fox News’ America’s News Headquarters. At the conclusion of the report, Flock also displayed a brazen lack of concern about climate change, declaring: “I would say put the Tesla in the garage and break out the Hummer.”
10. Wall Street Journal’s Mary Kissel Instructed Viewers To “Trust” A Climate Science-Denying Fossil Fuel Front Group. In a video interview posted on The Wall Street Journal’s website, Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel instructed viewers who are “confused about the science surrounding climate change” to “trust” Rod Nichols, chairman of a climate science-denying fossil fuel front group known as the CO2 Coalition. During the interview, Nichols denied that human activities such as burning oil and coal are responsible for recent global warming, claiming that “climate change has been going on for hundreds of millions of years,” “there is not going to be any catastrophic climate change,” and “CO2 will be good for the world.” Kissel asked Nichols, “Why don't we hear more viewpoints like the ones that your coalition represents,” and concluded that the CO2 Coalition’s research papers are “terrific.”
The Wall Street Journal has made a habit of “trusting” climate science deniers like Nichols -- or at least repeating their false claims about climate science. A recent Media Matters analysis of climate-related opinion pieces found that the Journal far outpaced other major newspapers in climate science misinformation, publishing 31 opinion pieces that featured climate denial or other scientifically inaccurate claims about climate change over a year-and-a-half period.
11. Fox Host Clayton Morris: Rubio's Climate Science Denial At Presidential Debate Was An "Articulate Moment.” During a Fox News discussion of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s performance at a CNN presidential debate, Fox and Friends co-host Clayton Morris described Rubio’s claim that the climate is “always” changing -- a common talking point among climate science deniers -- as “a really articulate moment.”
While Morris’ endorsement of Rubio’s climate denial as “articulate” is particularly striking, a 2015 Media Matters analysis found that media frequently failed to fact-check GOP presidential candidates’ climate change denial.
12. Fox Hosts Mocked Leonardo DiCaprio's Oscar Speech On Climate Change: "Focus On Something Else Other Than The Weather.” When actor Leonardo DiCaprio took home the Oscar for best actor for his role in The Revenant, the hosts of Fox News’ The Five and Fox and Friends mocked DiCaprio for devoting much of his acceptance speech to making the case for climate change action. On The Five, co-host Jesse Watters declared, “So the guy finally gets an Academy Award and he's talking about the weather. What's going on here?” Co-host Eric Bolling helpfully added, “Focus on something else other than the weather.”
That wasn’t the only time in 2016 that DiCaprio was caught in Fox News’ crosshairs for having the nerve to talk about climate change. Later in the year, The Five aired footage from an event in which President Obama criticized congressional climate deniers and DiCaprio said, “The scientific consensus is in, and the argument is now over. If you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in facts, or in science, or empirical truths, and therefore in my humble opinion should not be allowed to hold public office.” The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld then responded by likening criticism of climate science deniers to religious extremism, saying: “You have to wonder about a belief system that doesn't want any challenges, that doesn't want any of their theories to be questioned. This -- what he is talking about is radical Islam of science. He is actually turning science into a religion.”
13. Fox’s Meghan McCain: "The Liberal Hysteria Over Climate Change Was So Overblown That Now People Have A Hard Time Even Believing It.” Rather than criticize conservatives or Republicans who frequently deny climate science, Fox News host Meghan Mccain blamed liberals for public confusion about climate change, declaring on Fox News' Outnumbered that “the liberal hysteria over climate change was so overblown that now people have a hard time even believing it and believing that it's something that's justified.” McCain, who also mocked Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for campaigning on the issue with Al Gore, added, “I do think there are signs we should look at, but if Al Gore, if you take his word for it, there's a big flood that's going to come in and wipe us all away in five minutes.”
14. Fox’s Steve Doocy: Obama’s Monument Designation Was Done To “Appease Environmental Terrorists.” On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy declared that President Obama’s designation of the first marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean was “done to appease environmental terrorists.” Not so shockingly, Doocy and his co-hosts did not comment when their guest, Deadliest Catch’s Keith Colburn, acknowledged that "increased water temperatures" from climate change are impacting fisheries across the United States.
15. Fox Hosts Flipped Out About Portland Public Schools Decision To Stop Teaching Climate Denial To Children. In May, the Portland Public Schools board unanimously approved a resolution “aimed at eliminating doubt of climate change and its causes in schools.” But while climate science denial may no longer be taught in Portland public schools, it still has a place on Fox News, as the hosts of Outnumbered demonstrated in their flippant response to the resolution.
Co-host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery said the Portland schools decision is “so anti-scientific,” adding, “There are still scientists, believe it or not, out there who say, ‘No, we still have to look at the data.’ And it's impossible to predict how the climate is going to change over hundreds or thousands of years.” Co-host Jesse Waters remarked, “So getting out of the ice age, how did the Earth warm up after the ice age? There were no humans there with cars and factories.” He also stated, “It gets hot, it gets cold, this spring has been freezing. It's not getting warmer, it seems like it's getting colder. Am I wrong?”
But Fox News pundits aren’t just defenders of teaching climate science denial; they’re also partially to blame for it, according to researchers at Southern Methodist University (SMU). Last year, the SMU researchers released a study that found some children's textbooks that depict the reality of human-caused climate change with uncertainty are influenced by a climate science knowledge gap that finds its roots partly in conservative media misinformation. In particular, the SMU researchers pointed to previous research that showed Fox has disproportionately interviewed climate science deniers and that its viewers are more likely to be climate science deniers themselves.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final report on the drinking water impacts of hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) has provoked howls from The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, which blasted EPA analysts as “science deniers” pushing “fake news.” But the editorial’s deeply flawed reasoning is the latest evidence that the Journal is in denial when it comes to scientific findings that conflict with its pro-fossil fuel agenda, whether they relate to fracking or climate change.
In the December 18 editorial, the Journal misrepresented the changes the EPA made to its draft version of the report, which was released in June 2015:
After being barraged by plaintiff attorneys and Hollywood celebrities, the EPA in its final report substituted its determination of no “widespread, systemic impact” with the hypothetical that fracking “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances” and that “impacts can range in frequency and severity” depending on the circumstances.
The EPA now asserts that “significant data gaps and uncertainties” prevent it from “calculating or estimating the national frequency of impacts.”
In reality, all of the findings the Journal pointed to in the final version of the report were also present in the draft version. The draft version stated that “there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources,” identified “factors affecting the frequency or severity” of those impacts, and acknowledged that "data limitations" prevent the agency from having "any certainty" of how often fracking has actually impacted drinking water.
The one change the Journal correctly identified was that in the final version of the report, the EPA rescinded its draft conclusion that there was no evidence fracking has “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.” But contrary to the Journal’s claim that the EPA disavowed that finding because the agency had been “barraged by plaintiff attorneys and Hollywood celebrities,” it was actually changed after the EPA’s scientific advisory board, which evaluates the agency’s “use of science,” pointed out that the draft conclusion wasn’t supported elsewhere in the report:
The [Science Advisory Board] has concerns regarding the clarity and adequacy of support for several major findings presented within the draft Assessment Report that seek to draw national-level conclusions regarding the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.
Of particular concern in this regard is the high level conclusion statement on page ES-6 that “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” The SAB finds that the EPA did not support quantitatively its conclusion about lack of evidence for widespread, systemic impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, and did not clearly describe the system(s) of interest (e.g., groundwater, surface water), the scale of impacts (i.e., local or regional), nor the definitions of “systemic” and “widespread.” The SAB observes that the statement has been interpreted by readers and members of the public in many different ways. The SAB concludes that if the EPA retains this conclusion, the EPA should provide quantitative analysis that supports its conclusion that hydraulic fracturing has not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.
EPA Deputy Administrator Tom Burke recently confirmed that the EPA chose to remove the “no widespread, systematic impacts” language after receiving feedback from the science advisory board, and “Burke said the EPA opted to remove the phrase because it ‘could not be quantitatively supported’ and it ‘showed that sentence did not clearly communicate the findings of the report,’" as American Public Media reported.
The Journal further claimed that “the EPA’s faulty construction of a monitoring well caused contamination” in Pavillion, WY, citing that situation as an example of how “any technology has the potential to inflict some damage” if mismanaged. However, that claim – which has been pushed by a fossil fuel industry front group – has been debunked by experts at Stanford University, as the Casper Star-Tribune reported:
Industry critics once argued samples from the EPA’s groundwater monitoring wells should be discounted because of faulty construction. But the compounds found in those monitoring wells are more commonly associated with fracking—not the cements used to encase a well, [Stanford researchers Dominic DiGiulio and Robert Jackson] say.
The Journal concluded its editorial by asserting that it is “ironic” that liberals who “denounce anyone who cites uncertainties about carbon’s climate impact as ‘deniers’” are now “justifying their opposition to fracking based on scientific uncertainties.” As quite possibly the most frequent purveyor of climate science misinformation in the entire media landscape, the Journal has rightly received substantial criticism for its climate denial. The difference, of course, is that there is near-universal scientific consensus that carbon pollution is warming the planet, whereas both the draft and final versions of the EPA report show that no such consensus yet exists about the impacts fracking has had on drinking water resources.
Such false equivalency only goes to show that the Journal editorial board is in denial about both climate change and fracking.
Mainstream Outlets Tout Support Of Gates, Rice, And Baker, But Ignore Their Stakes In Exxon
After President-elect Donald Trump announced ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his pick for secretary of state, morning news shows and newspapers noted that prominent figures including James Baker III, Robert M. Gates, and Condoleezza Rice have expressed support for Tillerson, with some mentioning that such support adds credibility to the pick. But those outlets failed to disclose that all three figures have considerable financial ties through their businesses to Tillerson, ExxonMobil, and the oil company’s Russian business ventures.
As has become its custom, USA Today provided its readers with another dose of false balance about the science of climate change on December 11. This time, the newspaper paired an editorial criticizing President-elect Donald Trump’s environmental cabinet nominations with an op-ed praising Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee Scott Pruitt while falsely disputing that human activities are driving global warming and that climate models are able to predict future warming.
This marks at least the third time that USA Today has published climate science misinformation on its opinion pages since September, when a Media Matters study found 12 percent of USA Today’s climate-related opinion pieces over an 18-month period contained scientifically inaccurate claims.
The December 11 USA Today editorial, which the newspaper describes as “our view,” stated that there is “a disconnect” between Trump’s seemingly open-minded words about climate change and “Trump's actions in putting forth a slate of climate change skeptics for key administration jobs.” It also referred to Pruitt, who is currently the attorney general of Oklahoma, as Trump’s “most troubling” cabinet nominee. Alongside the editorial, USA Today published an op-ed, which the newspaper refers to as an “opposing view,” by Hoover Institution research fellow David R. Henderson, who declared that Pruitt is “the right choice” to lead the EPA.
There is no harm in USA Today providing two different perspectives about a major cabinet nominee. But it becomes a significant problem when one of those perspectives is based on egregious falsehoods about the science of man-made climate change.
In his op-ed, Henderson repeated the myth that Pruitt is not a climate change “denier,” asserting that Pruitt is instead a “skeptic” of climate change. But the term “skeptic,” which USA Today also used in its editorial, should not apply to Pruitt, a politician who has refused to accept the consensus of the world’s leading scientific institutions that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are the main cause of global warming. As the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has explained, true skepticism "promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason," which is different from "political efforts to undermine climate science by those who deny reality but do not engage in scientific research or consider evidence that their deeply held opinions are wrong."
While Henderson’s description of Pruitt is a problem in and of itself, his reasoning for it is far worse because it is premised on distorting climate science. To back up his description of Pruitt as a so-called “skeptic,” Henderson peddled the twin falsehoods that scientists are unsure of “mankind’s effect on the climate” and that climate models “are simply not well enough developed” to confidently predict future global warming. From the op-ed:
Critics have called him a climate change denier. He’s not. He’s a climate change skeptic. There’s a big difference.
It makes no sense to deny that the climate is changing. The climate is always changing. The real issue is what mankind’s effect on the climate is. Specifically, can we be sure that, say, a 20 parts per million increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would cause a discernible increase in the Earth’s temperature? We can’t. Some climate models that were created some years ago predicted a temperature that is substantially higher than the actual temperature we observe. The models are simply not well enough developed to give us much confidence.
Although I have never met the man, Scott Pruitt seems to understand this.
Contrary to Henderson’s claim that the role of “mankind” in climate change is unclear, NASA says, “Most climate scientists agree the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the 'greenhouse effect.’” And the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has similarly stated, "It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” The IPCC defines "extremely likely" as having 95-100 percent probability, which is on par with the level of certainty scientists have that cigarettes are deadly.
It’s unclear why Henderson chose to discuss a hypothetical 20 parts per million (ppm) increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; atmospheric CO2 levels have increased by that amount in just the last eight years. Former NASA scientist James Hansen has argued that atmospheric CO2 will need to be reduced to 350 ppm to maintain a hospitable climate for human civilization, while Pennsylvania State climate scientist Michael Mann has said that CO2 concentrations must be kept below 405 ppm to avoid the dangerous threshold of two degrees Celsius of warming since the pre-industrial period. When the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere recently surpassed 400 ppm, a wide array of scientists explained why it was a “troubling milestone.”
Henderson’s attack on the reliability of climate models is also inaccurate. As The Guardian’s Dana Nuccitelli has noted, the 2014 IPCC report showed that “observed global surface temperature changes have been within the range of climate model simulations,” and a 2015 study that accounts for the discrepancy between air and sea surface temperatures “shows that the models were even more accurate than previously thought.”
Finally, Henderson’s claim that the “climate is always changing” is a favorite trope of climate science deniers, even though it is a logical fallacy to suggest that natural changes to the climate in the past mean that the current changes to the climate cannot be explained by human activities.
Simply put, USA Today’s climate denial problem isn’t going away, and it’s high time the newspaper do something about it.