Ryan Zinke | Media Matters for America

Ryan Zinke

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  • Ryan Zinke cozied up to right-wing media until the bitter end

    The departing interior secretary mimicked Trump's media strategy, including an allegiance to Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's long litany of scandals caught up with him on December 15, when President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that Zinke would be leaving his post at the end of the year. According to reporting by The Washington Post, White House officials told Zinke that he had to resign or he’d be fired.

    Throughout his 21 months at the helm of the Interior Department, Zinke hewed closely to Trump's media playbook. Like his boss, Zinke heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing outlets, giving interviews to them far more often than to mainstream outlets. Also like Trump, Zinke lashed out at journalists and news organizations that reported on his ethics problems, making false claims and calling them "fake news."

    Zinke's Fox fixation

    During his first year in office, Zinke appeared on Fox News four times more often than on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. As Media Matters reported earlier this year, he gave 13 interviews to Fox and just one interview each to CNN, MSNBC, and CBS.

    Zinke's preference for Fox also extended to business networks: He gave seven interviews during his first year to the Fox Business Channel and just one to its chief competitor, CNBC.

    And all of the interviews Zinke gave to major TV outlets other than Fox or Fox Business happened before July 2017, when his ethical problems and scandals started getting significant media coverage. After that, Zinke retreated completely to the warm embrace of Fox for his national TV appearances. Zinke was especially partial to Trump's favorite show, Fox & Friends, where the embattled secretary of the interior received a consistently friendly reception and no hard questioning. (Fox & Friends was recently revealed to have been exceedingly accomodating to another Trump cabinet official, former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.)

    Rumors swirled after November’s midterm elections that Zinke would soon resign to avoid tough questioning and investigations of his many scandals from Democrats poised to take control of the House. Politico reported on November 8 that Zinke had already begun exploring other potential career opportunities, including trying to shop himself to Fox News: "Two [knowledgeable people] said Zinke has reached out to Fox to inquire about working at the conservative news channel as a contributor."

    Zinke denied the claims that he had approached Fox about a job, but he didn't distance himself from the network. When Fox News launched a new streaming service for "superfans," Fox Nation, in late November, Zinke appeared on it twice during its first week. He visited Mount Rushmore with Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade, and he sat for an interview with conservative commentator David Webb. He also gave an interview to Kilmeade on November 21 for Fox News Talk's Brian Kilmeade Radio Show.

    Zinke was back on regular old Fox News again on November 29, when Fox News @ Night host Shannon Bream gave him a friendly platform to attack his critics and dismiss the ethics investigations that have dogged him during his tenure at the Interior Department.

    Fox still frequently had Zinke’s back even when he wasn’t on the air; the network reported on his scandals less often and in less depth than CNN and MSNBC did. For example, Fox gave lighter coverage to a controversy over expensive travel Zinke made on the taxpayers' dime, and almost no coverage to a huge Puerto Rican contract given to the tiny firm of Whitefish Energy, which had with multiple ties to Zinke. 

    Zinke's interviews with other right-wing outlets

    Fox is far from the only right-wing media outlet that Zinke ran to when he wanted to get his talking points out. He gave interviews to nationally syndicated right-wing talk radio programs, such as his May 2017 appearance on The Hugh Hewitt Show, and to conservative talk radio programs in his home state, such as Montana Talks, where he appeared in October and November of this year. In June, he gave an interview to the conservative Washington Examiner.

    Zinke also made at least three appearances on Breitbart News radio shows this year, including interviews in May, August, and November. In the August appearance, Zinke claimed that “environmental terrorist groups” were responsible for major wildfires in the West because they had tried to block some logging on public lands. The Washington Post debunked that claim, noting that "fire scientists and forestry experts have said climate change is the main factor behind the problem." In the November appearance, Zinke denied that he's done anything wrong that would warrant the many investigations and scandals surrounding him. "The allegations against me are outrageous, they’re false. Everyone knows they’re false," he said.

    In late November, Zinke also gave another interview to David Webb -- this time for his Sirius XM radio program rather than his Fox Nation show.

    Zinke's attacks on the mainstream media

    Not only did Zinke generally avoid talking to mainstream outlets; he and his press office at the Department of Interior attacked those outlets.

    After Politico published an investigative story into an ethically questionable land deal Zinke had discussed with the chairman of Halliburton, Zinke went on the conservative talk radio show Voices of Montana and called the story's reporter "nefarious," saying, "This is exactly what's wrong with the press, and the president has it right. It's fake news. It's knowing, it's willing, to willingly promulgate fake news.” But the story was credible enough that the Interior Department's inspector general started an official investigation into Zinke's involvement in the deal and referred one of its probes to the Justice Department for further investigation.

    On October 16, The Hill reported that the Interior Department's acting inspector general, who had been overseeing a number of investigations into Zinke's actions, was going to be replaced by a political appointee, citing as its source an internal email written by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Two days later, the Interior Department denied the report, and though Carson had been the source of the allegedly inaccurate information, Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift used the occasion to attack journalists: "This is a classic example of the media jumping to conclusions and reporting before all facts are known," she wrote in an official statement. It wasn't Swift's first attack on the media. In January, Swift disparaged a HuffPost article about Zinke failing to disclose owning shares in a gun company as "typical fake news" from the outlet.

    After Politico published its article in early November reporting that Zinke was shopping around for jobs as he prepared to leave the Trump administration, Zinke went on the Montana Talks radio show to bash the journalists who wrote the story and to criticize the media in general. From The Hill, which reported on the interview:

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took to a conservative talk show to slam reporting on his ethics scandals as “B.S.”

    “They're very angry, and truth doesn’t matter to these people anymore,” Zinke said of mainstream journalists, saying that President Trump “nearly [got] assaulted” by CNN’s Jim Acosta.

    “You know, it comes from the same liberal reporters that have lost their ability to tell the truth,” he continued.

    Zinke went on to say that some media organizations “have nothing better to do, the entire organizations are about attacking Zinke … so what happens is, they invent a story, they try to sell it, and it goes all the way up to the Washington Post, the New York Times, there’s truth to it. It’s just a series of allegations.”

    Despite his fiery denials, Zinke was indeed on his way out the door just a few weeks later.

  • No wonder Scott Pruitt loved Fox & Friends

    Does Ryan Zinke favor the Fox News show for the same reason? 

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt had a cozy relationship with Fox News and with President Donald Trump's favorite show on the network, Fox & Friends, as Media Matters documented over the last year. Now, thanks to The Daily Beast, we learn that the relationship was even cozier than we thought.

    In a November 27 article, Daily Beast reporter Maxwell Tani broke the news that Pruitt and his team got to choose the topics that would be addressed during his appearances on Fox & Friends, were fed questions in advance, and, in at least one instance, got to approve part of the show's script.

    Now it makes all the more sense that Pruitt heavily favored Fox News over other networks. A Media Matters analysis of his first year in office found that he appeared on Fox more than twice as often as he appeared on other major cable and broadcast networks combined.

    And Pruitt appeared on Fox & Friends more than on any other Fox show:

    “In multiple interviews on Fox & Friends, Pruitt was essentially allowed to dictate the terms for the interview and avoid any difficult questions,” The Daily Beast reported. For example, Fox producers and Pruitt's team had extensive back-and-forth ahead of a May 2017 interview. When the interview happened, instead of asking Pruitt tough questions about his many scandals or his controversial rollbacks of environmental protections, the hosts queued him up to spout propaganda about his work on the Superfund toxic-waste cleanup program:

    Fox & Friends also spent very little time discussing Pruitt's many scandals, even while other news outlets were covering them heavily.

    Ryan Zinke has a heavy preference for Fox & Friends, too

    Other members of Trump's cabinet and White House share his affinity for Fox News, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, another key figure executing Trump's agenda of dismantling environmental protections. Zinke has actually favored Fox News more heavily than Pruitt did, especially after news reports began coming out about Zinke's own ethical scandals.

    Zinke also prefers Fox & Friends, having appeared on it three times more often than any other Fox program during his first 13 months in office:

    Politico reported earlier this month that Zinke has even been trying to get himself a gig on Fox News.

    If Fox & Friends fed Pruitt questions in advance and let him set the terms for his interviews, the show's producers could be doing the same for other Trump appointees and surrogates. Fox News told The Daily Beast, “This is not standard practice whatsoever and the matter is being addressed internally with those involved.” And Fox later said that it was disciplining employees over the incidents, but the network would not say who was being disciplined or what that discipline involved, The Associated Press reported.

    As Media Matters' John Whitehouse points out, “there is absolutely no reason to trust any internal investigation or disciplinary process at Fox News.” Past instances of journalistic malpractice at Fox have gone unpunished, and questionable practices have gone unchanged.

  • A timeline of scandals and ethical shortfalls at Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department

    Journalists have uncovered a long list of the interior secretary’s questionable actions and controversies

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER & TED MACDONALD



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This post was updated on November 6, 2018, to incorporate additional news reports.

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s ethically questionable behavior has triggered at least 17 government investigations into his conduct. Journalists took the lead in documenting many of Zinke's ethical lapses. The following is an overview of original reporting on scandals and controversies at the Department of Interior (DOI) under Zinke:

    July 26, 2017, Anchorage Daily News: Zinke threatened to pull support for projects in Alaska after Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted “no” on Obamacare repeal. On July 26, Zinke called Alaska’s two senators, Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R), to inform them that Murkowski’s vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act jeopardized administration support for projects in Alaska, including expanding oil drilling. Sullivan called Zinke’s message “troubling,” and Murkowski told E&E News, “It was a difficult call.” The DOI’s inspector general opened an investigation into the incident, then dropped it in late August after the senators refused to discuss it with investigators. The Government Accountability Office also opened an investigation, but then dropped it in June 2018 because DOI did not cooperate, Politico reported. "Interior did not provide us with any information on the substance of the telephone calls. In light of this, we lack the requisite facts on which to base a legal opinion," Thomas Armstrong, GAO's general counsel, wrote to two House Democrats who requested the investiation last year.

    September 28, 2017, Politico/Wash. Post: Zinke gave a speech to a hockey team owned by a campaign donor, then chartered a $12,000 flight home. Zinke traveled to Las Vegas on June 26 to give a motivational speech to a hockey team at the behest of team owner Bill Foley. After the speech, Zinke flew on a charter flight that cost taxpayers over $12,000 to an airport near his Montana home, aboard a plane owned by oil and gas executives. An inspector general report released on April 16, 2018, found that Zinke and his aides failed to relay important details about the trip to ethics officers, including Foley’s role as one of Zinke’s largest campaign contributors and the fact that the speech was unrelated to Zinke’s work as interior secretary. According to Politico, Foley donated $7,800 to Zinke’s 2014 congressional campaign, while employees and political action committees associated with his financial services company donated another $166,860. The inspector general also found that the $12,000 charter flight “could have been avoided.”

    October 5, 2017, Politico: Zinke’s participation in a Republican fundraiser in the Virgin Islands raised ethics concerns. During what DOI labeled an official trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Zinke attended a fundraiser for the Virgin Islands Republican Party in March 2017. Donors paid up to $5,000 per couple for a picture with him. After concerns were raised, the Virgin Islands Republican Party reimbursed taxpayers for the trip.

    November 20, 2017, Politico: Zinke’s wife used Interior staff and resources to coordinate her travel with her husband’s. Lola Zinke relied on DOI staff to ensure her travel arrangements allowed her to accompany the interior secretary during some of his official events and trips, including ones to California, Alaska, Norway, and Greenland. “While the department says Lola Zinke paid her own way, the records show Interior used staff time to coordinate some of her activities while traveling with her husband,” Politico reported. One ethics expert called that “an ethically gray area.” Some ethics watchdogs are also concerned that Lola Zinke is using her access to high-level events to further her own political career; until recently, she served as campaign chair for a Republican Senate candidate, and she worked on the Trump campaign and transition teams. The DOI’s inspector general tried to investigate whether these actions and other travel arrangements by Ryan Zinke constituted an abuse or misuse of government resources, but the investigation was stymied “by absent or incomplete documentation for several pertinent trips and a review process that failed to include proper documentation and accountability,” according to a memo released on November 15.

    December 7, 2017, Politico: Zinke spent $14,000 on helicopter rides so he could attend a swearing-in and ride horses with Vice President Mike Pence. Zinke put taxpayers on the hook for a pair of helicopter trips that blurred the line between his professional and personal obligations. On June 21, he attended the swearing-in of his congressional replacement, Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), then took an $8,000 helicopter ride to an emergency management exercise in West Virginia. On July 7, Zinke took a $6,250 round-trip helicopter flight from Washington, D.C., to Yorktown, VA, to guarantee he was back in time to go horseback riding with Pence and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). The inspector general’s office declined to confirm an investigation into these specific helicopter rides, but spokesperson Nancy DiPaolo told CNN on December 8, “We are taking a comprehensive look at the secretary’s travel since he took office.”

    December 29, 2017, Newsweek: Zinke spent almost $40,000 in wildfire preparedness funds for a helicopter tour of Nevada. On July 30, days after firefighters managed to largely contain the Whittier Fire in California, Zinke used nearly $40,000 from wildfire preparedness funds to pay for a helicopter tour of Nevada that did not include any visits to fire zones. DOI initially told Newsweek the tour was “in full compliance of all federal regulations.” But after Newsweek provided Interior officials with documentation showing the tour was paid for with funds “earmarked for such uses as worker pay and to purchase equipment,” DOI admitted the helicopter tour “was charged to the account in error” and said it would pay for the ride from “a more appropriate account.”

    January 22, 2018, HuffPost: Zinke failed to disclose his shares in a firearms company and signed orders that could have benefitted the firearms industry. As nominee for interior secretary, Zinke neglected to inform the Office of Government Ethics that he retained 1,000 shares in PROOF Research, a rifle and weapons-parts manufacturer founded in Zinke’s hometown. Cabinet appointees are required to disclose all assets worth $1,000 or more. Although there is some dispute about the value of Zinke’s shares, HuffPost notes that Zinke’s long relationship with the company may have resulted in the company getting special access at Interior. Zinke provided consulting services to PROOF from 2011 to 2012. As interior secretary, he met with PROOF CEO Larry Murphy and a company lobbyist about a month after he was confirmed. Zinke also enacted policy changes -- such as rescinding the ban on lead ammunition and expanding hunting access at wildlife refuges -- that could benefit the firearms industry.

    February 1, 2018, Politico: Interior appeared to cave to pressure from MGM to stonewall a casino proposal backed by two Native American tribes. The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes received indications from Interior officials in May 2017 that the department would clear the way for the tribes to build a casino in Connecticut, about 12 miles from MGM Resorts International’s nearly $1 billion casino complex in Massachusetts. But MGM launched an aggressive lobbying campaign to convince Interior’s political appointees to change course, including outreach to Zinke via multiple meetings and phone calls with two Nevada Republican lawmakers closely allied with MGM. MGM lobbyists were invited by Zinke for a social visit two weeks before the agency was to decide on the tribes’ request. MGM lobbyists also met with Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whose former firm also lobbies for MGM. Bernhardt signed an ethics agreement barring him from “participating in matters involving his former employer,” according to ThinkProgress. On September 15, DOI informed the tribes that it would delay its decision, even though federal law requires it to decide yes or no within 45 days. Records obtained by Politico show that “career staffers were circulating what they labeled ‘approval’ letters just 48 hours before their political bosses reversed course and refused to either OK or reject the tribes’ application.” The DOI’s inspector general has opened an investigation into the incident.

    February 21, 2018, Mother Jones: Scientists resigned in protest after their agency violated ethical guidelines to give Zinke sensitive oil and gas research ahead of its public release. The head of the U.S. Geological Survey’s energy and minerals program, Murray Hitzman, resigned in protest on Dec. 17, 2017, after his agency bowed to pressure to provide Zinke with sensitive data about oil and gas deposits in Alaska before it was released publicly. The deputy associate director of the energy and minerals program also left the agency in part over pressure to violate ethical guidelines. Although DOI asserted its authority to see any scientific research the department produces, “numerous current and former Interior officials, however, say the department’s position raises serious ethical issues—particularly when it comes to energy and mineral assessments, which contain valuable economic data that have the potential to move markets,” Mother Jones reported. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), the ranking member of the House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, asked DOI’s inspector general to investigate whether department officials committed any ethical violations in requesting the data.

    March 9, 2018, AP: Interior planned to spend nearly $139,000 to upgrade Zinke’s office doors. Interior officials approved a contract to renovate “three sets of double doors in the secretary’s office, including two doors that open onto a corner balcony with a spectacular view of the Washington Monument and the National Mall,” The Associated Press reported. Though Zinke scoffed at questions about the excessive price of the renovations during a Senate hearing on March 13, two days later he told the House Committee on Natural Resources that he negotiated the price down to $75,000. Despite this, House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) sent Zinke a letter on March 22 asking for a briefing “on the need to replace the doors” and asking for “details on the acquisition process, bidding and receipts,” according to Reuters.

    March 11, 2018, USA Today: Zinke’s trip to Pennsylvania to announce $56 million in grants during a close campaign may have violated the Hatch Act. Toward the end of a tight campaign for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone, Zinke went to nearby East Bethlehem to announce $56 million in grants to clean up abandoned mining sites in the area. The entire event “had the feel of a hastily arranged news conference/town hall meeting/political opportunity,” according to the local Observer-Reporter. Saccone was among the politicians present, while his challenger did not attend. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is weighing a request to investigate whether Zinke’s trip was designed to benefit Saccone politically.

    March 15, 2018, AP: Zinke stacks wildlife-trade advisory board with trophy hunters. Zinke appointed trophy hunters, including some with direct ties to the Trump family, to the International Wildlife Conservation Council, an advisory board tasked with rewriting federal rules to allow the importation of body parts from slain African elephants, lions, and rhinos. The Associated Press reported, “A coalition of more than 20 environmental and animal welfare groups objected that the one-sided makeup of the council could violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires government boards to be balanced in terms of points of view and not improperly influenced by special interests.” Most board members belong to hunting clubs or the National Rifle Association (NRA), and one member co-owns a private hunting reserve with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. The Trump administration officially lifted a ban on importing elephant parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia on March 1.

    March 21, 2018, Politico: Zinke had a security detail during his two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey. Ryan and Lola Zinke’s two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey to celebrate their 25-year wedding anniversary also included a security detail, according to records obtained by Politico. Besides these bare facts, the public still does not know important details about this arrangement including “exactly how many security personnel accompanied the couple, who paid for them, how much they cost or whether they traveled with Zinke and his wife, Lola, for the entire trip,” Politico reported.

    March 26, 2018, Wash. Post: Zinke filled a new outdoor recreation advisory panel with members who could benefit from DOI decisions. At the urging of industry representatives, Zinke established the “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee last November and appointed “officials representing companies with National Park Service contracts, such as those in the hospitality sector, as well as those from the manufacturing, fishing, boating and all-terrain-vehicle industries,” according to The Washington Post, which obtained records about the committee via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Two of Zinke’s nominees to the panel were flagged by Interior staffers as having potential conflicts of interest because their companies hold some of the National Park Service’s largest concessions contracts, but they were appointed anyway.  

    March 27, 2018, Politico: Florida’s offshore drilling exemption may have been intended to benefit Gov. Rick Scott’s Senate campaign. On January 4, 2018, Zinke announced a controversial proposal to allow offshore drilling in many new coastal areas, including off the coast of Florida. Five days later, Zinke exempted Florida from the expanded drilling plan after a supposedly spur-of-the-moment encounter in the Tallahassee airport with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. But records reviewed by Politico in March “showed that top officials from the offices of both Scott and the Interior secretary were in regular contact for several days leading up to the sudden announcement, contradicting the supposed spontaneous event that portrayed Scott as protecting Florida’s environment.” According to The Washington Post, “The whole episode seems to have been designed to demonstrate Mr. Scott’s power and influence, by having him appear to summon the interior secretary to his state and bring him to heel in an afternoon.” Scott announced his Senate candidacy on April 9, 2018. The next day, CNN reported the U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Zinke’s Florida announcement violated the Hatch Act.

    March 28, 2018, Talking Points Memo: Zinke’s mass reassignment of career Interior employees may have violated federal anti-discrimination laws. Last July, Zinke initiated the reassignment of 35 Senior Executive Service members at DOI, of which 27 were ultimately transferred. Many were told to “either accept a new placement on the other side of the country or in a role unrelated to their background, or leave the agency,” according to Talking Points Memo. The DOI’s inspector general concluded the reassignments occurred “without a written plan or clear criteria, and without consulting with the departmental leadership,” which created the perception that staff were reassigned for “political or punitive reasons.” Because a third of those reassigned are Native American, DOI may have violated federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as its own Indian Preference rules, as TPM later reported. Zinke has reportedly told senior staff that diversity is not important. After a congressional hearing in March, he was also accused of racial insensitivity for responding “Oh, konnichiwa” to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) after she shared the experience of two of her grandfathers who were held in internment camps during World War II.

    April 6, 2018, Reveal: National Park Service deletes climate change from months-delayed report on sea-level rise. “National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge,” according to an investigation conducted by The Center for Investigative Reporting and published on its Reveal website. DOI oversees the National Park Service. Cat Hawkins, the head of the National Park Service’s climate change response program, made the deletions, in possible violation of Interior rules prohibiting political appointees from influencing scientific and scholarly activities. The report was also delayed for 10 months, which hindered park managers’ ability to access the latest research about how to mitigate the effects of extreme weather and sea-level rise on their parks. Zinke told the House Committee on Natural Resources in March, “I didn’t change a paragraph — a comma — in any document and I never would.” DOI’s inspector general is investigating the matter.

    April 16, 2018, HuffPost: Oil industry rep uses perch on DOI advisory group to push “wish list” of regulatory rollbacks. Under Zinke, advisory groups at DOI have been packed with industry representatives who want looser regulations. Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), a lobbying group that represents 300 oil and gas companies, chairs one such group, which is tasked with recommending how Zinke should manage federal lands for fossil fuel development. The group’s recommendations, which included regulatory rollbacks that had been on WEA’s wish list for years, was initially drafted by Tripp Parks, WEA’s head of government affairs. According to HuffPost, “A document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that Parks created the draft recommendations one day before Sgamma circulated them to committee members overseeing the working group.” The Sierra Club’s legal director told HuffPost, “It’s a very clear instance of regulatory capture.”

    June 13, 2018, Wash. Post: DOI canceled a study of the health effects of mountaintop-removal coal mining with little justification, the department’s inspector general found. After DOI last August halted a major public health study being conducted by the National Academies of Science on the impacts of surface coal mining on nearby residents, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) sent two letters to Zinke requesting information about the stoppage. Grijalva received no answer, so he requested an investigation by the DOI’s inspector general, which then found that “Departmental officials were unable to provide specific criteria used for their determination whether to allow or cease certain grants and cooperative agreements.” Records obtained by Pacific Standard show that before DOI stopped the study, Deputy Assistant Secretary Katharine MacGregor “had no fewer than six meetings with the most powerful mining players in the country. In both April and May of 2017, she met with the National Mining Association. In March and June, meanwhile, she met with Arch Coal, a long-time practitioner of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.”

    June 19, 2018, Politico: Zinke and the chairman of Halliburton could both benefit from a proposed real-estate deal in Montana. A foundation created by Zinke is helping to pave the way for a large commercial development that is backed by David Lesar, the chairman of energy-services giant Halliburton. According to Politico, the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation -- established by Zinke and currently run by his wife Lola -- agreed to allow 95 Karrow LLC, the Lesar-backed entity, to build a parking lot on land that had been donated to the foundation for creation of a park. The Zinkes also personally own land that's adjacent to the proposed development, potentially making that land much more valuable if the proposed development deal were to go through. The deal raises ethical concerns because Halliburton’s business could be substantially affected by decisions made by DOI. Zinke met with Lesar and the project’s other developers at Interior headquarters last year, Politico reported on June 21. Lesar and Zinke have had a relationship for years -- Lesar and his wife donated $10,400 to Zinke’s first House campaign in 2014. On June 18, DOI's deputy inspector general confirmed that her office had opened an investigation into whether Zinke violated conflict-of-interest laws.

    June 26, 2018, Reuters: Zinke’s promotion of Trump's campaign slogan may have violated the Hatch Act. During a meeting of the Western Governors Association on June 26, Zinke tweeted a photo of one of his socks, which was emblazoned with Trump’s face and his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” Zinke deleted that tweet and then posted a follow-up tweet that crossed out “Make America Great Again” yet still showed Trump’s face -- and then he deleted that one too. Those tweets may have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits some forms of political activity by federal employees, Reuters reported. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced in March that because Trump has confirmed his candidacy for reelection, federal employees are prohibited while on duty from wearing or displaying items with the phrase “Make America Great Again” or non-official pictures of Trump. On July 9, CNN reported that the Office of Special Counsel opened a case file on whether Zinke’s tweet violated the Hatch Act.

    July 6, 2018, HuffPost: Former NRA lobbyist working for Zinke may have committed multiple ethics violations. Benjamin Cassidy, a former NRA lobbyist who joined the Interior Department in October 2017, may have violated ethics rules by attending at least two meetings with Zinke that involved issues Cassidy had recently lobbied on. Cassidy attended a February 2018 meeting on “international conservation,” a discussion that most likely focused on issues such as hunting and animal trophy imports. While still employed with the NRA in 2017, Cassidy lobbied Congress on legislation dealing with animal trophy imports. Cassidy, whose official title is senior deputy director for intergovernmental and external affairs, should have signed Trump’s ethics pledge that bars former lobbyists in the executive branch from participating for two years in any matters on which they lobbied in the two years before starting an administration job. Another potential ethics violation occurred in March, when Cassidy attended a pair of private receptions Interior held for members of the International Wildlife Conservation Council, which includes an NRA employee and a former NRA board member, HuffPost reported on July 16. Cassidy served as the council members’ primary contact during their visit to Washington, D.C., for the receptions. Although it is not clear if Cassidy played a role in selecting members of the council, member Cameron Hanes thanked Cassidy as well as Zinke for including him. Cassidy “appears to be in violation of the prohibition on working on matters on which you’ve lobbied,” an ethics expert told HuffPost.

    July 20, 2018, CNN: Zinke kept meetings off of public calendar. Zinke's publicly released schedule omitted or obscured the details of about a dozen meetings. CNN compared email conversations between Zinke and his scheduler (made available through FOIA requests) to the calendars that the Interior Department released and found numerous discrepancies between the two. Zinke had previously undisclosed meetings with lobbyists, lawmakers, and interest groups. For example, CNN found that in May 2017, a meeting listed on his schedule with Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) also included three executives from Delaware North, a contractor who does business with national parks. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, called for an investigation. In September, CNN followed up on this reporting and found that nearly 50 meetings in May and June 2018 were vaguely described, making it difficult for the public to determine what he was doing and who he was meeting with. And in October, CNN reported that his calendar omissions actually dated to his very first day in office, and that some of the newly discovered omissions included meetings with representatives from energy companies whose activities DOI regulates.

    July 23, 2018, Wash. Post: Zinke and aides rejected evidence that supported creation of national monuments and sought out evidence that didn't -- and then tried to conceal strategy from the public. Zinke’s team selectively tailored a review of national monuments last year to dismiss the benefits of monuments and emphasize the value of activities such as logging and energy development on public lands, according to thousands of pages of email correspondence inadvertently released by the Interior Department’s FOIA office. The DOI retracted the documents the next day and released redacted versions. In the first version, for instance, draft economic reports on monuments under scrutiny included information on the Interior Department’s “ability to estimate the value of energy and/or minerals forgone as a result of the designations,” but that information was redacted from the second batch of emails. In another instance, officials marked this statement about an Oregon national monument as eligible for redaction: “Previous timber sale planning and development in the [expansion area] can be immediately resumed.” The review came in response to an executive order from Trump last year that instructed Zinke to scrutinize 27 national monuments established over a period of 21 years. It led Trump to dramatically shrink two national monuments in Utah.

    October 16, 2018, The Hill: Zinke replaces DOI deputy inspector general with Republican political operative. The Hill reported that DOI Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall was being replaced by Suzanne Israel Tufts, a political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) who had previously worked as a lawyer and liaison for the Trump campaign. Tufts will now be acting deputy inspector general. Kendall, who oversaw DOI’s watchdog investigations and audits team for 10 years, only learned that she was being replaced when a colleague showed her an email sent by HUD Secretary Ben Carson to his agency’s staffers. The move is seen as highly unusual, particularly as Zinke has been the subject of 14 government investigations into his conduct as secretary, including half a dozen that are ongoing. Michael Bromwich, a former inspector general for the DOJ, tweeted, “Politicizing the oversight function is dangerous, especially in the absence of any Congressional oversight. Changing IGs in the midst of multiple serious investigations of the agency's head should raise alarm bells everywhere.” And Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, stated, “This stinks to high heaven. Secretary Zinke and the Interior Department are awash in wave after wave of scandal and corruption, and they decide now is the perfect time to get rid of the current IG."

    October 16, 2018, The Hill: DOI was reportedly poised to replace deputy inspector general with Republican political operative, then reversed course after outcry. The Hill reported on October 16 that DOI Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall was being replaced by Suzanne Israel Tufts, a political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) who had previously worked as a lawyer and liaison for the Trump campaign. Tufts would become acting deputy inspector general, according to The Hill. Kendall has overseen DOI’s watchdog investigations and audits team for 10 years, and has been running investigations into a number of Zinke's questionable activities. She first learned that she was to be replaced when a colleague showed her an email sent by HUD Secretary Ben Carson to his agency’s staffers. The reported personnel shift prompted a public outcry. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said, “This stinks to high heaven. Secretary Zinke and the Interior Department are awash in wave after wave of scandal and corruption, and they decide now is the perfect time to get rid of the current IG." Two days later, on October 18, DOI told CBS that the shift was not happening and reports about it were "false." On October 19, CBS reported that Tufts resigned from her position at HUD.

    October 18, 2018, Wash. Post: Zinke’s travel arrangements raised red flags among DOI ethics officials. A report by DOI’s Office of Inspector General detailed how Zinke’s travel practices violated department policy. The DOI's solicitor office approved Zinke’s wife Lola to travel with him in government vehicles for free. Although DOI policy prohibited this practice, Zinke changed the policy this summer. And in order to further legitimize her taxpayer-funded travel, Zinke asked DOI staffers to research how his wife could get a volunteer job with the department. The report also found that a DOI security detail accompanied Zinke and his wife on a vacation to Turkey and Greece last year, at a cost of $25,000. Although this was determined not to be in violation of policy, the report did note the significant cost to taxpayers. An Interior spokesperson denied any wrongdoing on Zinke's part, stating that he “follows all relevant laws and regulations and that all of his travel was reviewed and approved by career ethics officials and solicitors prior to travel.”

    October 30, 2018, Wash. Post: Interior watchdog refers Zinke investigation to Justice Department. DOI's acting inspector general has referred one of its probes into Zinke’s behavior to the Justice Department, and prosecutors will now determine if it warrants a criminal investigation. According to The Washington Post, individuals close to the matter did not specify which investigation was referred. The Office of Inspector General is currently conducting at least three probes into Zinke’s conduct as interior secretary, including his role in a Montana real estate deal with the Halliburton chairman and his department’s decision to block a casino proposal backed by Native American tribes. Walter Shaub, Trump's former director of the Office of Government Ethics, told Politico that this is a major development: “What I can say is, Inspectors general don’t tend to refer matters to the Department of Justice unless they think that it’s likely there’s been a criminal violation.”

    October 31, 2018, HuffPost: Zinke compared Robert E. Lee to Martin Luther King Jr. Speaking in Kentucky at a ceremony designating Camp Nelson as a new national monument to black Civil War soldiers, Zinke likened Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Martin Luther King Jr. Zinke referred to the placement of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., which is near both the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, the site of Lee’s former plantation. Zinke said, “I like to think that Lincoln doesn’t have his back to General Lee. He’s in front of him. There’s a difference. Similar to Martin Luther King doesn’t have his back to Lincoln. He’s in front of Lincoln as we march together to form a more perfect union. That’s a great story, and so is Camp Nelson.” Local Kentucky newspaper The Jessamine Journal posted the speech on Facebook. A year previously, in an interview with Breitbart, Zinke defended Confederate monuments and said none of them would be removed from federal land.

    November 5, 2018, Wash. Post: Zinke violated an ethics pledge by working on issues related to his family foundation's land holdings. In January 2017, after he was nominated to be interior secretary, Zinke pledged to step down as president of a foundation he created, the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation, and refrain from matters pertaining to it for one year. But according to The Washington Post, in August 2017 Zinke exchanged emails with a city planner in Whitefish, MT, and told him he could construct a disc-golf course on the foundation’s land. In earlier messages in the same email exchange, Zinke criticized a Politico article that linked his foundation to a property deal with the chairman of Halliburton. Additionally, his foundation’s 2018 annual report still showed that Zinke continued to serve as a foundation officer, though he later said that was in error.

  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appeared on Fox News four times more than on the other major TV networks combined

    Like other Trump officials, Zinke heavily favors the president's favorite network

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appeared on Fox News four times more often than on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined, Media Matters has found. And for the last nine-plus months, as Zinke has been increasingly dogged by scandals, he has not given interviews to any major channels other than Fox networks.

    In exhibiting a clear preference for Fox News during his 13-plus months in office, Zinke is following the same pattern as many of President Donald Trump’s other cabinet officials and top aides, including Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.

    Zinke has gotten soft treatment on Fox News. During his interviews, the network's hosts and journalists rarely asked about his scandals. Instead of confronting him with tough questions, they let him peddle Trump administration talking points and trumpet brand-burnishing policies such as “Bring Your Dog to Work Day.” 

    Zinke appeared on Fox News 13 times and other major networks three times since he took office

    Zinke gave 13 interviews to Fox News and one each to CNN, MSNBC, and CBS. From March 1, 2017, when Zinke was sworn in, to April 17, 2018, Zinke appeared on Fox News 13 times. He granted only one on-air interview apiece to the other major cable news networks, CNN and MSNBC. On broadcast TV, Zinke appeared only on CBS; he gave no interviews to ABC or NBC.

    Zinke appeared most often on Fox & Friends, a show that shapes Trump’s decision-making. Here are all of Zinke's appearances on Fox News during his time as interior secretary:

    Fox & Friends’ interviews with Zinke were good examples of how he was treated across the network. When the hosts were not feting him for his Navy Seal service or lauding him for enacting Trump's deregulatory agenda, they allowed Zinke’s statements on policy to go unchallenged. Zinke's September 20 appearance on Fox & Friends stands out for its breeziness. Host Brian Kilmeade accompanied Zinke on a tour of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and neglected to ask the secretary about a controversial recommendation Zinke had made just days earlier to shrink four national monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.

    Here are Zinke's appearances on major networks other than Fox:

    On cable business news networks, Zinke appeared on Fox Business seven times and CNBC once

    Zinke’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network, which he has appeared on seven times, compared to once on rival CNBC. Fox Business, like Fox News, regularly echoes Trump administration talking points and attacks the administration's perceived enemies. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs even has the ear of the president, who has invited Dobbs to participate in senior-level meetings via phone.

    Here are Zinke's appearances on Fox Business programs:

    Zinke's sole appearance on CNBC was on Squawk Box on June 29, 2017

    Zinke appeared only on Fox News and Fox Business after becoming embroiled in scandals

    Zinke started getting a notable amount of bad press last summer after an article published on July 26 revealed that he tried to strong-arm Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) into voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Since then, Zinke, like Pruitt and others in Trump's cabinet, has been at the center of numerous scandals involving excessive travel expenses, favors for donors, and undisclosed financial ties to companies that could benefit from his agency’s decisions.

    All of the TV interviews Zinke did with networks other than Fox or Fox Business happened prior to July 26, 2017, after which point his controversies began generating significant media attention.

    Once scandals cropped up, Zinke retreated fully to his safe space. For more than nine months now, Zinke has not granted a single interview to any major TV network other than Fox News or Fox Business.

    Fox News covered a key Zinke travel scandal less than CNN and MSNBC

    On September 28, The Washington Post and Politico reported that Zinke spent more than $12,000 of taxpayer funds to charter a flight from Las Vegas to near his Montana home on a plane owned by oil and gas executives. Commercial flights between the airports run daily and cost as little as $300, the Post reported. Zinke's jaunt was widely reported across cable news the week after the story broke, but more widely on MSNBC and CNN than on Fox.

    From September 28 to October 4, MSNBC ran 27 segments that mentioned Zinke’s travel, while CNN ran 23. The networks' hosts, correspondents, and guests usually brought up Zinke’s travel scandal during wider conversations that included mention of other cabinet members' extravagant travel.

    During the same period, Fox News ran 12 segments about Zinke’s travel -- roughly half as many as each of the other cable news networks. Most of Fox's mentions of Zinke's travel were news alerts restating basic facts from the Post article. When Fox News hosts and correspondents discussed the story on air, they usually downplayed or excused the scandal. For example, on America’s News Headquarters on September 29, White House Correspondent John Roberts said that Zinke was “taking The Washington Post to task” before airing Zinke’s defense for taking private flights. Later in the show, host Sandra Smith remarked, “Zinke makes a fair point,” and noted that he got approval for other controversial flights he took on government planes.

    On April 16, 2018, the Interior Department’s (DOI) inspector general released a report that found Zinke's $12,375 charter flight "could have been avoided." Zinke took the chartered flight so he would have time in his schedule to give a motivational speech to a hockey team owned by a major donor to Zinke's former congressional campaign. The speech did not mention Zinke's work at the Department of Interior. The inspector general’s report concluded, "If ethics officials had known Zinke’s speech would have no nexus to the DOI, they likely would not have approved this as an official event, thus eliminating the need for a chartered flight. Moreover, had ethics officials been made aware that the Golden Knights’ owner had been a donor to Zinke’s congressional campaign, it might have prompted further review and discussion."

    Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this report. Charts by Sarah Wasko.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ media to find Zinke’s on-air TV appearances from the date he was sworn in as secretary of the interior on March 1, 2017, to April 17, 2018: “Zinke OR Zinky OR Interior Secretary OR Secretary of the Interior OR Secretary of Interior.” We used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Zinke’s travel controversy from September 28 to October 4, 2017.

  • Fox News has ignored Whitefish’s $300 million no-bid contract to help restore power in Puerto Rico

    Meanwhile, CNN and MSNBC have each aired 15 segments on the contract

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    News reports have raised numerous questions about the $300 million contract that Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) awarded to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a relatively inexperienced then-two-person firm based in Montana, to rebuild power lines in Puerto Rico. Members of Congress from both parties have called for investigations into the contract. Mainstream media outlets, including MSNBC and CNN, have given the story widespread coverage, but as of midday on October 27, Fox News had yet to even mention the Whitefish contract.

    Reports detail controversial $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy, a two-person Montana firm, to help restore power in Puerto Rico

    E&E News first reported on Whitefish Energy Holdings’ contract with PREPA in stories on October 6 and October 9. E&E News revealed that PREPA decided not to take advantage of a mutual aid program among 1,100 electric companies that could have helped to quickly restore power on the island, where about 75 percent of residents still have no electricity. Instead, PREPA awarded a contract to the Montana-based firm, which at the time had only two full-time staffers. From the October 6 article:

    The American Public Power Association, based in Washington, confirmed today that the troubled Puerto Rico public utility that serves more than 3 million people on the island has decided not to request assistance from the group of 1,100 U.S. electricity companies standing ready to help.

    The association coordinates mutual aid disaster assistance for U.S. public power companies, which include the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). "The request for help was not activated," said group spokeswoman Meena Dayak. "We do have people who are ready to help."

    Nearly 90 percent of Puerto Rico's electricity customers remain without power. Instead of activating a mutual aid arrangement that might have speeded up recovery time, the utility turned to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small contractor based in Montana, to coordinate outside help. The utility has given no explanation for that decision.

    In the following days, Utility Dive, The Weather Channel, and Montana Public Radio also published stories on Whitefish’s questionable contract. On October 19, Whitefish put out a press release announcing that the contract was worth $300 million, which was followed by additional reports by The Associated Press and The Washington Post. The contract, which is nearly 300 times larger than Whitefish’s next-largest project and the largest restoration contract in Puerto Rico, granted Whitefish an initial payment of $3.7 million for “mobilization of personnel and equipment” and allows Whitefish to charge hourly rates for workers' time that NPR described as "eye-popping."

    A leaked copy of the contract also revealed that it bars government agencies from auditing or reviewing “cost and profit elements” of the deal and prevents PREPA from making "any claim against Contractor related to delayed completion of work."

    Whitefish Energy has connections to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Trump campaign donor

    The Post reported on October 23 that Whitefish Energy is based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, that Zinke and Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski know one another, and that Zinke’s son worked for the company during one summer. Post reporters wrote that “Zinke’s office said he had no role in Whitefish securing the contract for work in Puerto Rico” and “Techmanski also said Zinke was not involved,” but they also reported that Techmanski had reached out to Zinke’s office after procuring the contract.

    On October 24, Buzzfeed reported that Joe Colonnetta, the head of HBC Investments, one of Whitefish Energy’s major funding sources, had donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, but stated, “It’s unclear whether Colonnetta, who did not respond to a request for comment, has specific connections to Whitefish, or whether his stake in Whitefish Energy is simply a business investment.”

    The revelations about PREPA’s contract have attracted widespread media coverage, as have a Twitter spat between the company and the mayor of San Juan, and the connections between Whitefish and Zinke. In the wake of this press coverage, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for investigations into the contract.

    Yet Fox News has remained silent about the controversial contract, even as the other major cable news networks have covered it extensively.

    Fox News has yet to cover Whitefish story, while Fox Business hosted Whitefish spokesman to defend the contract

    Media Matters reviewed cable news coverage of the Whitefish story from October 6, the date of the initial report on Whitefish’s contract, to noon ET of October 27 and found that Fox News had not aired a single segment on the story.

    During that period, the Fox Business Network aired just two segments on the story. The network first mentioned the contract during a headline rundown on the October 25 episode of FBN:am, in which the hosts expressed surprise that a company of Whitefish’s size received such a large contract.

    The second segment was on the October 27 episode of Mornings with Maria. Guest host Megan McDowell, Fox News correspondent Lea Gabrielle, and Republican strategist and former Trump surrogate Erin Elmore interviewed Whitefish spokesman Ken Luce. The five-and-a-half-minute interview included softball questions such as: “What do you say to these investigations? Are they warranted?”, “When did the company hire you?”, “What are the facts that you think aren’t being reported?”, and “How well and how is Whitefish financed for this?”

    Fox Business has a track record of uncritically providing a platform for companies to respond to negative press coverage.

    CNN and MSNBC aired a combined 30 segments on the Whitefish contract

    Fox News’ lack of coverage stands in stark contrast to the other major cable networks’ extensive coverage of the controversial contract. Between October 6 and noon ET of October 27, CNN and MSNBC aired a combined 30 segments on the Whitefish story.

    MSNBC aired 15 segments on Whitefish’s contract with PREPA, including an interview with Luce on the October 27 episode of MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle that was much more hard-hitting than Fox Business' interview with Luce. Unlike the Fox Business hosts, anchor Ruhle asked Luce how Whitefish won the contract, as well as how Whitefish justifies contract provisions that bar government audits and that prohibit PREPA from making claims for delayed work, adding, “How does that serve the people of Puerto Rico and the American people?”

    MSNBC also aired a segment on the October 24 episode of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson that featured one of the authors of the October 23 Washington Post story, Aaron Davis, who explained, “Whitefish Energy … has never done anything quite on this scale, or even remotely close to this scale. And now they have, according to the company yesterday, 280 employees and subcontractors working in Puerto Rico. Now compare that to the day after Hurricane Irma came through Florida, and there were 16,000 utility workers who were at the border of Florida waiting to come in under a mutual aid agreement. We don’t think it could have been that many waiting on a boat ready to get into Puerto Rico, but there could have been, according to many people we talked to, thousands. And there wasn’t.”

    CNN also aired 15 segments that mentioned Whitefish's contract, including a report on the October 25 episode of CNN Newsroom in which correspondent Rene Marsh discussed the details of the contract and noted similarities between statements issued by Whitefish and Zinke’s office.

    CNN also ran an on-the-ground report by correspondent Bill Weir that first aired on the October 19 episode The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer -- and was aired on the network seven additional times -- that featured a brief interview in which Weir asked Techmanski how his company won the contract and who initiated the contact between Whitefish and PREPA.

    UPDATE: After the original timeframe of the study and publication, Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier aired a brief report on the Whitefish story on October 27 that focused on the White House and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's claims to have had "nothing to do with" Whitefish being awarded the contract to help rebuild the electrical grid in Puerto Rico. Fox News Tonight also aired a segment on the story late the same night.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of “Whitefish” or “white fish” in coverage (4 a.m. to midnight ET) on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and Fox Business Network from October 6, the date of the initial story on Whitefish’s contract, to noon of October 27. The interview that first aired on CNN’s Situation Room was subsequently aired seven more times and was counted as eight segments.

  • Four myths journalists should watch out for during Trump’s “Energy Week”

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The White House has declared this to be "Energy Week" and is pushing a theme of "energy dominance," with a particular emphasis on exports of natural gas. Three of President Trump's cabinet members are out in force this week trying to spread misleading or false messages about energy and exports through the media.

    "An energy-dominant America will export to markets around the world, increasing our global leadership and influence," Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt wrote in a joint op-ed published Monday in The Washington Times.

    Watch out for these myths:

    Myth #1: Natural gas exports are good for ordinary Americans and the overall U.S. economy

    "American companies can and already have exported U.S. [liquefied natural gas] to our international trading partners in Europe and Asia," Perry said at a White House briefing on Tuesday. "Unleashing our full energy potential in this country will lead to robust job growth and expansion in every sector of our economy."

    A White House press release claimed that natural gas exports from 2016 to 2040 could "increase workers earnings by $110 billion," citing 2016 research from the American Action Forum, a group that describes itself as promoting "center-right" policy.

    But studies from the Department of Energy (DOE) and others have found that increased exports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, would not help many Americans and in fact would hit most in the pocketbook by raising the prices they pay for natural gas, harming lower-income people especially. And higher natural gas prices could dampen domestic manufacturing.

    "In every case, greater LNG exports raise domestic prices and lower prices internationally," according to a 2015 report produced for the Department of Energy. DOE reports from 2014 and 2012 found the same thing.

    In 2014, a bipartisan group of 22 senators were concerned enough about gas exports hurting average Americans that they sent a letter to then-President Obama on the topic:

    Families and businesses depend on affordable and reliable supplies of natural gas. This winter many parts of the country faced tight supplies of propane and natural gas and families were left to face high energy bills.

    [...]

    Taking a longer-term view, the United States has benefited from rising supplies and lower prices for natural gas since 2008. Thanks in part to lower natural gas prices, America’s manufacturing sector has created more than 600,000 jobs since 2010. The Boston Consulting Group concluded that affordable natural gas prices could lead to 5 million more manufacturing jobs by the end of the decade. We must ensure that we do not squander what is clearly an American competitive advantage right now for American manufacturers and for the American economy.

    This week, a trade group of domestic manufacturers, the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, wrote a letter to Perry and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arguing that aggressive natural gas exportation “poses a significant long-term threat” to energy-intensive industries. The group asked the Department of Energy not to approve LNG exports to nations the U.S. does not have free-trade agreements with, The Washington Post reported.

    A 2012 report commissioned by the DOE projected that LNG exports would not increase the number of jobs in the country:

    LNG exports are not likely to affect the overall level of employment in the U.S. There will be some shifts in the number of workers across industries, with those industries associated with natural gas production and exports attracting workers away from other industries.

    That report also projected that gas companies would be the big winners from increased exports and wage earners, while people relying on government assistance would be among the losers:

    How increased LNG exports will affect different socioeconomic groups will depend on their income sources. Like other trade measures, LNG exports will cause shifts in industrial output and employment and in sources of income. Overall, both total labor compensation and income from investment are projected to decline, and income to owners of natural gas resources will increase. Different socioeconomic groups depend on different sources of income, though through retirement savings an increasingly large number of workers share in the benefits of higher income to natural resource companies whose shares they own. Nevertheless, impacts will not be positive for all groups in the economy. Households with income solely from wages or government transfers, in particular, might not participate in these benefits.

    Myth #2: Natural gas exports are good for the climate

    Even as Trump and members of his administration downplay and deny climate change, they also make the claim that natural gas is climate-friendly. Perry did so while talking to journalists on Monday, The Hill reported: "He said the fact that the U.S. has been a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions — mostly due to cheap natural gas replacing coal for electricity — shows that the country can cut emissions without Paris or similar policies."

    Fred H. Hutchison, executive director of two LNG advocacy groups, elaborated on that argument in an op-ed in The Hill on Monday that praised Trump's pro-export agenda: "Low-priced U.S. natural gas, spurred by the shale energy revolution, has led to massive domestic fuel-switching and thus big reductions in conventional air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. ... Through LNG exports, these benefits can accrue to other nations — such as China, India and Korea — all of which now rely heavily on coal for power and industrial uses."

    But there is substantial research indicating that natural gas is not better for the climate than coal when one takes into consideration leaks from gas drilling and transportation infrastructure. Last year, Joe Romm of ThinkProgress rounded up more than a dozen studies that "undermine the climate case for fracked gas," including groundbreaking research by scientist Robert Howarth and his colleagues at Cornell. As Howarth said last year, "Methane leaking throughout the natural gas industry makes use of gas for power generation a disastrous strategy for slowing climate change." And a 2014 analysis of the impact of a coal-to-gas transition in the U.S. electricity sector by nonprofit science group Climate Central found that “even with modest leak rates and a fairly aggressive transition, we could still end up with little or no climate benefits by 2030.”

    When natural gas is processed and shipped overseas, the climate impact is even bigger, as climate policy analyst James Bradbury of the World Resources Institute testified before Congress in 2013. Bradbury explained why in a blog post:

    In order to send natural gas overseas, you must liquefy it, transport it, and then re-gasify it. This is an extremely energy- and emissions-intensive process. According to the National Energy Technology Lab’s 2012 Natural Gas Technology Assessment, liquefaction, transport, and gasification would add roughly 15 percent to U.S. natural gas production’s life cycle GHG emissions ... These additional emissions more than double the total upstream GHG emissions from U.S. natural gas systems.

    A new report from Carbon Action Tracker, a consortium of scientific research organizations, finds that natural gas and LNG systems are not just bad for the climate, they're bad for companies and investors that should be planning ahead for doing business in a warming world. Even though the U.S. intends to drop out of the Paris climate agreement, all of the countries the U.S would ship gas to are still party to the agreement and are working to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions. Using more natural gas runs contrary to that goal and would delay the transition to a carbon-free power system.

    "Betting on growth of natural gas is an unwise move and will lead to a lock-in of expensive infrastructure that will need to be shut down early," said Bill Hare from Climate Analytics, one of the groups in the Carbon Action Tracker consortium.

    From the report:

    Massive investments in gas extraction, new pipelines and LNG ports—in addition to what is already existing and often underutilised—will divert financial resources from investments into a decarbonised power sector, and lead to the creation of stranded assets in the coming decades, constituting a major obstacle for the full decarbonisation of the electricity sector.

    Myth #3: Natural gas exports have been blocked until now

    In their Washington Times op-ed, Perry, Zinke, and Pruitt wrote, "Becoming energy dominant means that we are getting government out of the way so that we can share our energy wealth with developing nations. For years, Washington stood in the way of our energy dominance. That changes now."

    Perry reiterated this idea during a speech on Tuesday at the 2017 Energy Information Administration conference, according to Oil and Gas Investor:

    Perry said he watched during past eight years as policymaking was driven by political agendas.

    “Previous leaders have said they were for American energy independence,” he said.

    However, those leaders “didn’t want to drill for it, didn’t want to mine it, didn’t want to transport it and didn’t want to sell it.”

    But that's a false frame. The U.S. oil and gas sector has been thriving for years. As The Washington Post reported in February, "Since 2010, the United States has been in an oil-and-gas boom. In 2015, domestic production was at near-record levels, and we now produce more petroleum products than any other country in the world."

    LNG exports specifically have also been growing in recent years. As Amy Harder reported in Axios, "The Obama administration approved roughly two dozen natural-gas export applications to countries the U.S. doesn't have free-trade agreements with, according to Energy Department data. The Obama administration also rejiggered the federal review process in 2014 to make it go faster for most companies waiting for approval."

    The process was moving so fast that 16 environmental groups warned in 2014 about a "disastrous rush to export fracked gas," saying they were "disturbed" by government plans to "build liquefied natural gas export terminals along U.S. coastlines that would ship large amounts of fracked gas around the world."

    "Trump will try to approve applications faster," Harder reported, but "Trump's latest move doesn't make any concrete changes that would indicate the process will move any faster."

    Myth #4: The U.S. can achieve "energy dominance"

    Trump and his cabinet members keep repeating the phrase "energy dominance." In a speech on Wednesday, Trump said, “We’re becoming more and more energy dominant. I don’t want to be energy free; we want to be energy dominant in terms of the world.”

    But energy analysts are dubious. As E&E News reported earlier this month, "Academics and energy experts struggled to define what actualizing 'energy dominance' would look like and cautioned that such a brusque policy stance could destabilize America's position on the global stage."

    Energy policy researcher and analyst Daniel Raimi wrote a skeptical piece this week in The Conversation:

    When people use the word “dominant,” they might think of the 2017 NBA Golden State Warriors, or Roger Federer in his heyday at Wimbledon.

    “Dominance” suggests the United States could bend geopolitical adversaries to its will by wielding energy as some type of bargaining chip or weapon. But the buying and selling of oil, gas and other forms of U.S.-produced energy are directed by market forces, not government policy. For example, a large share of recently increased crude oil exports from the U.S. has effectively gone to Venezuela, hardly a close ally.

    [...]

    And even if it were desirable, “dominance” of global energy markets in today’s world is simply unrealistic. There is no Roger Federer of energy.

    Consider the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), maybe the closest thing to the Golden State Warriors of the energy world, which has struggled mightily in recent years to exert some control over consistently low oil prices. U.S. oil and natural gas producers, while reemergent as major players, do not have OPEC’s market power, let alone that of John D. Rockefeller in the late 1800s and early 1900s or the Texas Railroad Commission from the 1930s through the 1960s

    [....]

    And why is it unrealistic to expect U.S. producers to exert this type of power? The answer lies in the enormous scale of the global energy system, which is many times larger than in the heyday of Rockefeller or other effective market managers.

    Peter Shulman, an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University and an energy historian, said it's not clear that being an energy exporter makes a country secure. E&E News summarized his view: "The negative connotation associated with 'dominance' could further alienate foreign allies, many of which are already reeling from the United States' shift away from climate action. It could also create tension with U.S. trading partners, he said."

    Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute, pointed out to The Washington Post that the phrase as it's being used leaves out something important: “Notably missing from most of this ‘energy dominance’ talk is renewable energy sources.”

    Maximilian Auffhammer, an environmental economist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, was particularly dismissive. "Frankly, I have to chuckle when I hear it, because it just doesn't make any sense," he told E&E News. "The word dominance is not generally used in a good context, and it always means there's a big person on the playground shoving around a smaller person."

  • Right-wing media continue to push myth that Trump can get a better deal than Paris

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    via flickr creative commons user neurotic_buddha

    Within hours of President Donald Trump’s announcement that he intends to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and negotiate a better deal, other world leaders made it clear that renegotiation is not an option. But right-wing media and the administration are continuing to push the fanciful notion that Trump can negotiate a more favorable pact.

    Trump claims Paris was a bad deal and he can get a better one

    When Trump made his announcement on June 1 -- a move cheered by many in conservative media -- he said he intended to renegotiate:

    [T]he United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord … but but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an -- really entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we're getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that's fair. And if we can, that's great. And if we can't, that's fine.

    The White House talking points about the decision stress the idea that the Paris accord was a bad deal for the U.S. -- bad in all caps, lest you miss the point:

    The Paris Accord is a BAD deal for Americans. … The deal was negotiated BADLY.

    Right-wing media push bad-deal/good-deal frame

    This frame -- that Paris is a bad deal and Trump can get a good deal -- had been pushed by right-wing media in the days leading up to his decision, and the claim continued to make the rounds after the announcement was made, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

    On May 30, David Bossie -- a former deputy campaign manager for Trump and a Fox News contributor who is being considered for a role in the White House -- went on Fox News Radio and called for the Trump administration to renegotiate the Paris deal:

    My recommendation is: You get out of Paris, you get out of the Paris treaty, you get out right now, and then you let Scott Pruitt, your EPA administrator, who is very good and a great negotiator, go out and negotiate new deals, deals that are good for America and the rest of the world combined.

    On June 1, before Trump made his announcement, Stuart Varney of Fox Business' Varney & Co. argued that former President Obama did a terrible job negotiating the Paris deal and Trump could do much better:

    The Obama team gave virtually everything away -- our money and our jobs -- and received only vague promises of future good behavior. In my opinion, it was a lousy deal. So maybe our president will do the same as he did with NAFTA -- that is, threaten to withdraw, then negotiate a better deal. … He did, after all, write the book The Art of the Deal.

    And Fox Business tweeted out the point too:

    During Trump's speech, Breitbart's Curt Schilling tweeted out his approval of the president's plan to renegotiate the deal:

    Nobody wants to renegotiate with the U.S.

    But other world leaders are not interested in sitting down at the table with the U.S. again, as they quickly made clear.

    Shortly after Trump's announcement, the leaders of France, Italy, and Germany issued a joint statement refuting the notion that the Paris deal is up for renegotiation:

    We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies.

    And a group of ministers from 24 nations -- known as the High Ambition Coalition, which pushed to make the Paris agreement as strong as possible -- also threw cold water on the idea of renegotiating:

    Our commitment to the Paris Agreement is unshakeable. We have every reason to fight for its full implementation.

    “Apparently the White House has no understanding of how an international treaty works," said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who led the negotiation process leading up to the Paris agreement. "There is no such thing as withdrawing and then negotiating.”

    And the current secretariat of the UNFCCC also put out a statement saying that the agreement "cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single Party."

    Bloomberg summed up the situation in headline: "Everyone But Donald Trump Is Standing By the Paris Climate Agreement."

    Right-wing media still insist Trump can negotiate a better deal

    Even after world leaders made their opposition to renegotiation crystal clear, right-wing media continued to push the myth that the president could get a new and improved deal.

    "One of the [things] I'm looking forward to, and I've seen some of: Donald Trump's ability to renegotiate a better deal and better positioning for the United States of America," said Eboni Williams, a co-host of The Fox News Specialists, on June 2.

    "If the Paris accord was actually meant to save the environment, the globalists would be happy to renegotiate the deal with President Trump," wrote Kit Daniels at Infowars on June 3.

    Administration officials also went on Fox News to keep pushing the "better deal" idea.

    Vice President Mike Pence said on Fox & Friends on June 2, "You also heard [Trump] leave the door open to renegotiating a better arrangement, to maybe re-entering the Paris accord under new terms and new conditions. … In withdrawing from the Paris accord, and in offering to renegotiate it in a way that is more fair, more equitable to our economy and every economy in the world, again you see President Donald Trump is being leader of the free world." Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt did not push back on that assertion.

    And Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke went on Fox News' America's Newsroom on June 2 to defend Trump's move: "It was a bad deal. I think the president has said he’s going to renegotiate it, offer to renegotiate it. … If we're going to sit down, let's make sure the agreement has shared burden." Fox host Bill Hemmer neglected to point out that other countries have said they will not sit down to renegotiate the deal with the Trump administration.

    Informed commentators mock renegotiation claims

    New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza, speaking on The New Yorker's "Politics and More" podcast on June 2, slapped down the renegotiation idea: "When Trump says, 'I'm going to negotiate a better deal,' well that's a lie, that's just not possible."

    Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who played a key role in negotiating the Paris agreement, was even more forceful on this point during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press on June 4:

    When Donald Trump says, well, we're going to negotiate a better deal, you know, he's going to go out and find a better deal? That's like O.J. Simpson saying he's going to go out and find the real killer. Everybody knows he isn't going to do that.

    The U.S. already had a favorable deal

    Even if other countries were willing to sit back down at the table, it's highly unlikely the U.S. would get a better deal. That's because the U.S. already got a favorable deal when the Paris agreement was negotiated in 2015.

    The Paris deal "is more fair to the U.S. than previous agreements because it includes all the major economies of the world, not just the rich countries, so both developed countries and developing countries have skin in the game," Jody Freeman, director of Harvard Law School's Environmental Law and Policy Program, told The Washington Post after Trump made his announcement.

    "Paris already gives countries tremendous flexibility, and no penalties," Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental law at Columbia and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told the Post.

    The Obama administration had wanted to take part in the agreement, but it knew that a climate treaty couldn't get ratified by the U.S. Senate. So the entire global community bent over backward to accommodate the U.S. political system -- crafting a nonbinding accord that's looser than a treaty and making action pledges voluntary with no enforcement mechanisms. 

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel said before the negotiations that a good agreement would be “binding,” but she and other like-minded leaders gave in to the U.S. on this point.

    As The Guardian reported just after the Paris negotiations took place in December 2015, "Under US insistence, the 31-page agreement was explicitly crafted to exclude emissions reductions targets and finance from the legally binding parts of the deal. … The other exclusion zone was any clause in the agreement that would expose the US to liability and compensation claims for causing climate change."

    Ultimately, many world leaders and climate advocates thought the U.S. got too good of deal -- so good that the resulting agreement was disappointingly weak.

    From The Guardian: "The US – and European – position was a huge disappointment for the low-lying and small island states, which argued they needed recognition that their countries could pay the ultimate price for climate change in terms of land loss and migration."

    “The United States has hindered ambition," Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S., said in December 2015. "Using the world’s atmosphere and the suffering of the vulnerable as a guide, the United States is failing -- by a long shot -- to do what climate science and justice demand. This holds true for the United States' greenhouse gas reduction pledge, its provision of funds for developing countries to take climate action and its obstruction of progress on loss and damage.”

    Despite the United States' successful effort to water down the Paris agreement, other countries, both rich and poor, still stepped up to the plate with meaningful action pledges. As The Economist noted just after Trump made his announcement, "All [of the Paris agreement's] signatories—which is to say, every country except Syria, Nicaragua and now America—have undertaken to reduce emissions against business-as-usual targets." This despite the fact that many of those countries have contributed very little to the problem of climate change, while the U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in history, as The New York Times pointed out.

    So now other countries are moving forward without the U.S. The Europeans are planning to work more closely with China and India. The leaders of France and India have announced that they're going to cooperate jointly on fighting climate change. Instead of getting a better deal, the U.S. is cut out of the dealmaking.