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  • Koch-funded groups mount PR and media campaign to fight carbon pricing

    Worried about momentum for carbon taxes, climate deniers go on attack via right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters  

    A coalition of right-wing organizations is waging a multilayered attack to erode growing support for carbon pricing. Most of the groups involved have been funded by the Koch network or other fossil fuel interests.

    Several different carbon-pricing mechanisms -- variously backed by groups of progressives, Democrats, establishment Republicans, or business interests -- are being proposed at the state and national level. To counter these initiatives, the right-wing coalition is running a public relations campaign featuring industry-friendly arguments and climate denial. Their advocacy includes exerting direct pressure on lawmakers to oppose carbon-pricing initiatives and placing op-eds in right-wing and mainstream media publications.

    The basics of carbon pricing  

    A carbon price is a cost attached to emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, intended to reduce those emissions. According to the World Bank, there are two main ways to price carbon:

    An ETS [emissions trading system] — sometimes referred to as a cap-and-trade system — caps the total level of greenhouse gas emissions and allows those industries with low emissions to sell their extra allowances to larger emitters. By creating supply and demand for emissions allowances, an ETS establishes a market price for greenhouse gas emissions. The cap helps ensure that the required emission reductions will take place to keep the emitters (in aggregate) within their pre-allocated carbon budget.

    A carbon tax directly sets a price on carbon by defining a tax rate on greenhouse gas emissions or — more commonly — on the carbon content of fossil fuels. It is different from an ETS in that the emission reduction outcome of a carbon tax is not predefined but the carbon price is.

    Some 45 countries and 25 states, provinces, and other subnational regions have implemented some variation of carbon pricing, including California and the nine Northeastern states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

    Momentum is building for carbon-pricing policies

    Carbon pricing has almost no chance of being implemented on the national level anytime soon. The last serious push came early during the Obama administration when the U.S. House passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, but it died in the Senate in 2010.

    President Donald Trump opposes carbon pricing, as do the vast majority of Republican members of Congress. Nevertheless, the approach is gaining traction at the state level, and a growing number of business interests and establishment Republicans are promoting carbon-pricing proposals at the national level.

    • The Climate Leadership Council -- which is composed of a number of influential conservatives, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schulz, and major oil companies and other corporations -- is one of the most prominent organizations advocating for carbon pricing. It launched in 2017 with the release of a report, “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends.” Its proposal is known as the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan.
    • In June, a new political action committee, Americans for Carbon Dividends, was launched to build support for the Baker-Shultz plan. It is co-chaired by former Sens. Trent Lott (R-MS) and John Breaux (D-LA), who both represented oil states.
    • Other conservative groups that support carbon pricing include republicEn and R Street.
    • Conservative thinkers who have endorsed carbon pricing or called for it to be given serious consideration include Weekly Standard editor at large Bill Kristol, New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Cato Institute's Peter Van Doren, and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Aparna Mathur, among many others.
    • The nonpartisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates for a carbon fee and dividend proposal, has a conservative caucus and counts Shultz and former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) as members of its advisory board.
    • Six House Republicans recently exhibited openness to carbon taxes by voting against an anti-carbon-tax resolution. Two years ago, no Republicans voted against a similar resolution.
    • Two House Republicans are pushing a carbon-tax bill. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, introduced the Market Choice Act on July 23. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is the bill's co-sponsor.
    • A few congressional Democrats are also pushing carbon-pricing bills: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Cicilline (D-RI) have introduced the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, and Rep. John Larson (D-CT) has introduced the America Wins Act.
    • More than a dozen states have taken serious strides toward enacting a carbon price. Legislators in eight states have introduced carbon-pricing legislation in 2018 alone: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. In June, the Massachusetts Senate passed a carbon-pricing bill, which now goes before the state House. 
    • In January, nine states -- Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington -- formed the Carbon Costs Coalition, which is advocating for carbon pricing.
    • At the December 2017 One Planet summit held in France, two states -- California and Washington -- joined five Pacific Rim countries -- Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico -- in committing to implement carbon pricing.

    Although some of the more conservative, oil-industry-backed carbon-tax plans are opposed by progressives, and the more progressive plans are opposed by conservatives and the oil industry, they all have one foe in common -- the Koch-backed anti-carbon-pricing coalition.

    Alex Flint, the executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, a group of conservative leaders who support carbon pricing, said in April, “Those who oppose a carbon tax are rallying their defenses for a reason: they see supporters gaining momentum.”

    A right-wing campaign against carbon pricing ramps up

    On July 19, the U.S. House voted 229 to 180 to approve a nonbinding resolution opposing a carbon tax, largely along party lines. Six Republicans voted against it, and seven Democrats voted for it. The anti-carbon-pricing coalition helped to make sure almost all Republicans were on the "yes" side.

    The measure had been introduced on April 26 by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), House majority whip and possible contender for House speaker, and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) -- both climate deniers. The “sense of the House” resolution declared that “a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States,” and it garnered 48 co-sponsors total. (Scalise had previously sponsored anti-carbon-tax measures in 2013 and 2016.)

    On the day the resolution was introduced, the leaders of more than 25 right-wing and industry lobbying groups released a letter calling on members of Congress to support it. "We oppose any carbon tax," the letter read (emphasis in original). On July 9, many of these same groups sent a follow-up letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) urging them to hold a vote on Scalise’s resolution. Groups sent one more letter to members of Congress on July 17, two days before the vote.

    The influential right-wing group Americans for Tax Reform, which signed onto all three letters, put out its own call for representatives to vote yes.

    Altogether, 51 groups signed at least one of the letters in favor of Scalise's resolution:

    At least 42 of the 51 groups (82 percent) have received money from the Koch network, a conglomerate of fossil fuel executives, donors, think tanks, and advocacy groups that work to advance the right-wing deregulatory and anti-environment objectives of the Koch brothers and their company, Koch Industries. Scalise is a recipient of Koch money too: In 2017 and 2018, KochPAC, a political action committee that represents Koch Industries, gave $105,000 to Scalise and to a PAC and leadership fund he runs.

    Koch Industries also weighed in directly in support of Scalise’s resolution by sending a letter to members of the House on July 16.

    The Koch brothers have waged a multimillion-dollar crusade to undermine acceptance of climate change and support for climate change solutions since the mid-2000s. Starting in 2008, the Kochs' main political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, cajoled hundreds of elected officials, including many congressional Republicans, into signing its influential “No Climate Tax" pledge. “The pledge marked a pivotal turn in the climate-change debate, cementing Republican opposition to addressing the environmental crisis,” Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker last year.

    Right-wing groups' arguments against carbon pricing often feature the Kochs' libertarian talking points or straight-up climate-change denial.

    For example, the American Energy Alliance makes vague free-market arguments in a piece on its website titled “ICYMI: There’s Nothing Conservative About a Carbon Tax”:

    Simply calling something “conservative” or “free-market” doesn’t make it so. The Climate Leadership Council’s carbon tax is an affront to the principles that conservatives have championed for decades. Most important, a carbon tax would destroy American jobs, encourage more wasteful spending from Washington, and burden consumers with higher energy costs. You’d be hard pressed to find a more damaging policy for American families.

    The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch-funded think tank that argued Scalise’s resolution understates the harm of carbon pricing, denied the well-established scientific consensus around human-caused climate change in its April 30 white paper, “Does a Carbon Tax Support Prosperity?”:

    There remain questionable fundamental issues about the way carbon dioxide affects the climate. Observed temperatures by sophisticated technologies greatly and consistently conflict with today’s widely accepted, although highly questionable, scientific consensus about the effects humans have on climate change.

    Conservative and right-wing media amplify the anti-carbon-tax campaign

    In the days after Scalise’s resolution was introduced, it was covered in the right-wing and conservative mediasphere and praised in op-eds by commentators from right-wing think tanks.

    • The Hill published an op-ed supporting the resolution, written by the authors of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's anti-carbon-tax white paper.
    • RealClearPolicy published an op-ed opposing carbon taxes in general, written by a researcher from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
    • The Washington Examiner ran an op-ed from a Heartland Institute senior fellow praising the resolution and contending that a carbon tax would be "disastrous."

    Conservative outlets continued to publish anti-carbon-pricing opinion pieces from Koch-funded think tanks up until the House voted on Scalise's resolution.

    • TribTalk, a publication of The Texas Tribune, published an op-ed denouncing carbon taxes that was co-written by an author of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s white paper and a senior economist at the Institute for Energy Research. The latter is a Koch-funded partner group of the American Energy Alliance.  
    • RealClearEnergy ran an op-ed by staffers from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and ALEC that incorporated many of the white paper’s talking points.
    • The Daily Signal published an opinion piece co-written by an analyst and an intern from the Heritage Foundation that promoted Scalise's resolution and denounced the Baker-Shultz plan.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed from Americans for Tax Reform’s director of strategic initiatives that endorsed the Scalise resolution.

    After Scalise’s resolution passed, anti-carbon-pricing groups took a brief victory lap before quickly turning their attention toward attacking Curbelo’s carbon-tax bill.

    • The Daily Caller wrote about Americans for Tax Reform’s press conference, highlighting opposition to Curbelo’s proposal: "Conservative and anti-tax groups from around the world joined together to speak against a carbon tax bill that has been introduced in Congress." 
    • Reason published an article contending that Curbelo’s bill could raise privacy concerns for businesses.
    • The Miami Herald published a letter to the editor attacking Curbelo’s legislation from the president of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a group that has sided with polluters in other fights over environmental issues.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed co-written by staffers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance that argued Curbelo's bill would be "a costly failure."
    • Forbes published a piece attacking carbon-pricing proponents written by an executive for Americans for Tax Reform.
    • CNSNews published an op-ed from a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute that bashed Curbelo's bill.
    • The Star Beacon, an Ohio newspaper, published an op-ed from the president of American Commitment condemning Curbelo’s bill.
    • The Washington Examiner published an opinion piece by an analyst from the Family Business Coalition that attacked progressives’ “delusional tax reform ideas,” including proposals for a carbon tax.

    Anti-carbon-pricing coalition enlists minority groups in its campaign

    The anti-carbon-pricing coalition is also trying to make it look like its effort has the support of minority communities -- a strategy the polluter lobby has used often. The National Black Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Leadership Fund, two Koch-funded minority groups with long histories of opposing climate solutions, were enlisted as signatories on the coalition's letters endorsing Scalise's anti-carbon-tax resolution.

    National Black Chamber President Harry C. Alford gave a quote to Scalise to support his resolution: “We can continue to reduce regulations and watch our economy rise with the recent tax reform. Bringing unnecessary hurdles before us like a carbon tax will preclude that growth and hurt our economy immensely.” Alford, a climate denier, has previously opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to impose smog restrictions on factories and power plants and to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants through the Clean Power Plan. The National Black Chamber of Commerce also led a disinformation campaign against rooftop solar in Florida in 2016.

    The Hispanic Leadership Fund participated in Americans for Tax Reform's press conference criticizing Curbelo's bill. In 2015, the fund joined with other Koch-aligned groups in asking a federal judge to vacate the Clean Power Plan. In 2009, it co-sponsored a Heartland Institute conference on climate change, which was based on the premise that “Global Warming is Not a Crisis.”

    The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is also part of the anti-carbon-tax effort. Its president wrote a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald opposing Curbelo’s legislation. In 2016, the group supported a utility-backed ballot measure designed to restrict consumer access to rooftop solar power in Florida.

    These efforts are especially harmful because minority and low-income communities suffer disproportionately from the burning of fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change and minorities are generally more concerned about climate change than white people. 

    Taking the fight to the states

    Curbelo’s bill won’t be passed into law by this Congress, and the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan and other national carbon-pricing proposals won’t get much if any traction this year either. But in a number of states, carbon-pricing measures are gathering more support and have more chance of being enacted. The right-wing, anti-carbon-pricing coalition wants to halt this trend, so it's at work on the state level too. Media Matters will examine these state-focused efforts in a forthcoming piece.

  • Spanish Language Networks Left Out Important Context Regarding Marco Rubio Running For Re-election

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    In their coverage of Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) announcement that he will seek re-election the two major Hispanic TV news networks, Univision and Telemundo, failed to report the senator’s dismal record on issues that matter to their Latino audiences -- issues local Florida papers, in contrast, rightly highlighted.

    On June 22, Rubio took to Fox News to announce his re-election bid, claiming the June 12 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando motivated his reentry into the Senate race. Previously, Rubio had declared he would be “leaving the Senate,” calling it dysfunctional. Florida papers criticized Rubio’s “thin record” and “absenteeism” from the Senate during his first term, as well as his recent votes against stricter gun safety legislation in the aftermath of the Orlando attack. The Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith called Rubio an “opportunist” and chided him for using his seat in the Senate to prepare for a “political comeback.” The Miami Herald editorial board wrote that Rubio was taking advantage of the Orlando tragedy to launch his re-election campaign and criticized him for “voting the straight NRA line this week by nixing all efforts to impose sensible control on firearms.”

    In contrast, coverage by the two major Hispanic TV news networks, Univision and Telemundo, failed to provide such context while reporting on Rubio’s decision to run. On the June 22 edition of Univision’s Noticiero Univision, coverage of Rubio’s bid spanned less than 30 seconds and consisted mainly of anchor Jorge Ramos reading from Rubio’s official statement. Telemundo’s Noticiero Telemundo also limited its coverage to Rubio’s basic talking points and the senator’s own justification for running.

    The networks’ failure to point out that Rubio’s record includes missing votes and hearings, as well as inaction on gun legislation, flip-flops on immigration, lies about undocumented immigrants, and opposition to women’s reproductive rights -- all issues that disproportionately affect the Hispanic community.

  • "Do Your Job": Editorials Implore Senate GOP To Rise Above "Obstruction" And Act On Merrick Garland

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS & TYLER CHERRY

    Newspaper editorials roundly urged Senate Republicans to stop obstructing the nomination process of Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court vacancy. The editorials chastised "obstructionist" senators for their "stupendous show of political malfeasance" and warned that the obstruction is "out of sync with the nation's best interests," among other criticisms.

  • Newspaper Editorial Boards Overwhelmingly Urge Senate To "Do Your Job" And Vote On Obama's SCOTUS Nominee

    ››› ››› KATE SARNA

    Newspaper editorial boards are overwhelmingly urging GOP Senate leadership to hold hearings and vote on President Obama's Supreme Court nomination to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. A vast number of the boards have called GOP pledges to block a nomination "outrageous," "irresponsible," obstructionism rooted in "partisan self-interest" which "deeply damages the operation of the Judiciary Branch" and "represents an act of disrespect to Justice Scalia."

  • How The Florida Governor's Office Manipulated Media By Altering The Findings Of An Investigation Into Planned Parenthood

    ››› ››› RACHEL LARRIS

    The Florida agency tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood clinics in that state found no evidence that they were mishandling fetal remains, but Gov. Rick Scott's office altered the agency's statements to remove language that exonerated Planned Parenthood, and added new language that made the organization look guilty of wrongdoing. Several media outlets unwittingly quoted the statements before the misleading edits were discovered.

  • Miami Herald Papers Rarely Mention Medicaid Expansion's Relevance To The Hispanic Community

    ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, sister papers both published by the Miami Herald Media Company, barely mentioned the importance of Medicaid expansion to the Hispanic community in their coverage of the issue following the end of Florida's congressional session despite Medicaid expansion being a prominent campaign issue. Studies have shown that Medicaid expansion in Florida, an issue polling has found important to Hispanics, would have a significant beneficial impact on the Hispanic community.

  • Top Journalists Speak Out On Lack Of Female Editors

    Panel On Gender Gap In Journalism Draws Large Crowd At Editors Conference

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The downward trend of female leaders in U.S. newsrooms took center stage at the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) conference in Chicago, with editors calling for better efforts to put women in top editing roles and grooming younger female journalists to eventually take the top spot.

    The concerns about the decreasing numbers of female editors were heightened in May when New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson was fired. Last week, the influential Nieman Reports -- a publication from Harvard University's Nieman Foundation For Journalism -- devoted an entire article to the subject, headlined, "Where are the Women?"

    The Nieman report, by reporter Anna Griffin, stated:

    The results of this gender disparity in leadership are especially pernicious in journalism. To best serve the public as watchdogs and truth-tellers, news organizations need a broad array of voices and perspectives. To thrive financially, they must appeal to an equally broad array of potential viewers, listeners, and readers. Plus, content analyses and anecdotal evidence suggest that a newsroom leader's gender can have a subtle but important influence on everything from what stories get covered and how, to who gets promoted and why.

    Specifically, Griffin cited ASNE data released earlier this year that women serve as top editors in just three of the nation's 25 largest papers, eight of the 25 largest papers with circulations under 100,000, and three of the top 25 under 50,000. Abramson left the Times after the census was completed; her departure means that now none of the top ten daily papers have a woman at the helm and only two of the top 25.

    Griffin also noted a 2014 Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) survey that said women comprise just 31 percent of TV news directors and 20 percent of general managers, "despite making up more than 40 percent of the TV workforce. The same survey found that women accounted for just 23 percent of radio news directors and 18 percent of general managers."

    Such data did not sit well with attendees at the ASNE conference, both men and women, who called for improvements.

    "You can look at the numbers, there aren't enough women [editors]," said Joyce Terhaar, editor of The Sacramento Bee. "But there aren't enough women in newsrooms."

    Anders Gyllenhaal, Washington bureau chief for McClatchy, pointed out that 13 of his company's 29 newspapers are run by women. Still, he said the industry as a whole needs improvements, specifically grooming women better for the top roles.

    "It's something you have to look at when you are choosing other editors," he said. "Clearly, there are not enough women editors in the high-profile positions and in the largest papers."

  • Miami Herald Outshines Other Top Florida Papers On Medicaid Expansion Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    The Miami Herald's coverage of the Florida Medicaid debate was significantly more comprehensive than the other four top circulating Florida newspapers, including multiple mentions of the benefits of expansion and the negative impacts the lack of expansion would have on the state and Floridians. However, similar to other top Florida papers, the Herald also largely missed out on discussing the coverage gap, which if not closed could leave hundreds of thousands of Floridians without affordable health coverage.

    The Medicaid expansion in Florida, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, would extend the low income health care program to 763,890 people and create an estimated 70,000 new jobs, but the state's failure to expand Medicaid will have major negative economic and health related impacts on the state.

    According to a Media Matters analysis of Medicaid expansion mentions from January 1, 2014 through March 4, 2014, the Herald discussed key benefits of expansion or the negative effects associated with not expanding Medicaid 11 times, including 5 mentions of the impact lack of expansion would have on Florida health systems. The next closest paper, the Tampa Bay Times, only had 4 mentions of the benefits of expanding or the negative effects of the failure to expand (click to expand):

    This updated analysis mimics the findings of a previous Media Matters analysis of the top four highest circulating papers' coverage of Medicaid issues.

    While no single article in the Herald covers all of the topics, the paper offers the most comprehensive analysis of the pros and cons of Medicaid expansion. The paper's focus on these key issues is important as Miami-Dade County has one of the highest uninsured rates in the country at nearly 40 percent of the population.

    A January 3 article from The Herald's provides a clear example of what the paper did correctly in reporting the Medicaid debate. Instead of publishing a "he said/she said" back and forth between Florida's politicians or just mentioning the expansion with little context, the article discussed the cost sharing ratio of Medicaid expansion and also provided informative quotes that detailed a baseline number of potential eligible enrollees under expansion:

    Though the federal government has promised to pay 100 percent of the cost [of the Medicaid expansion] for the first three years and 90 percent thereafter -- about $50 billion over 10 years -- Florida has not expanded Medicaid eligibility to include those persons and families earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which was about $15,300 a year for an individual and $31,300 a year for a family of four in 2013.

    [Democratic] Rep. [Lori] Berman vowed that her party would make Medicaid expansion a Florida legislative priority in 2014.

    She said the effort will include reminders to voters of the stakes involved and the House's Republican leaders responsible for refusing to hear a Senate plan that would have expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013.

    "We need to make sure the people of Florida understand,'' she said, "you've got somewhere in the neighborhood of 840,000 to 1 million people who would be covered'' if Medicaid eligibility were expanded.

    Also present in the Herald's reporting is information and analysis on Medicaid expansion's impact on doctors and health systems in the state, which could see funding cuts due to the Florida's reluctance to expand the program.

  • Mainstream Media's Fixation With Anti-Immigrant Commentator Mark Krikorian

    ››› ››› SOLANGE UWIMANA & HILARY TONE

    Now that the Obama administration and Congress are engaged in a debate over immigration policy, a Media Matters review of major news outlets has found that when it comes to immigration coverage, anti-immigrant commentator Mark Krikorian continues to be the media's preferred conservative voice. Krikorian heads the Center for Immigration Studies, a group associated with notorious nativist John Tanton and whose research has been called into question -- but these facts are routinely ignored in coverage of his remarks.

  • STUDY: TV Media Covered Biden's Smile Nearly Twice As Much As Climate Change

    ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL, JILL FITZSIMMONS & MAX GREENBERG

    Climate change was almost entirely absent from the political discourse this election season, receiving less than an hour of TV coverage over three months from the major cable and broadcast networks excluding MSNBC. By contrast, those outlets devoted nearly twice as much coverage to Vice President Joe Biden's demeanor during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan. When climate change was addressed, print and TV media outlets often failed to note the scientific consensus or speak to scientists.

  • Media ignore Sessions' double standard on confirmation timing

    ››› ››› TOM ALLISON

    Several print outlets quoted Sen. Jeff Sessions' call to delay Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing, citing her lengthy judicial record, but did not note that Sessions reportedly urged fast action on Justice Samuel Alito's confirmation process, saying, "You don't have to read everything he's written."

  • Miami Herald uncritically repeated RNC attack on Obama over military spending

    ››› ››› TOM ALLISON

    A Miami Herald article uncritically repeated a claim by the Republican National Committee that Sen. Barack Obama "vot[ed] against $120 billion for the war last year." In fact, Obama has repeatedly voted to provide funds for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and said he voted against a troop funding bill in May 2007 because it did not include a timeline for withdrawal.