During the third Republican presidential debate, candidates invoked the “Green New Deal” and the “Keystone pipeline” — both staples of Fox News’ misleading coverage of climate and energy issues — in response to the moderators' questions around the Venezuelan regime and the rising cost of living in the U.S.
Similarly, Fox has made the canceled Keystone pipeline a symbol of Biden’s energy policy, which the network has blamed for rising gas prices, and falsely claimed constructing the pipeline would make the U.S. energy-independent or less vulnerable to the global crude oil market.
The moderators' handling of these right-wing media canards was mixed – and it suggests legacy media need to be better prepared to counter these false right-wing media narratives as the election season moves into full swing.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis mischaracterized Biden’s climate agenda as the Green New Deal
After regularly attacking the Green New Deal since its introduction in 2019, Fox News spread the bad will it had engendered against the proposal to other climate policies, using the name to label and attack any and all climate action. This included a failed Senate coronavirus relief vote in March of 2020, the modest climate plan President Joe Biden announced in July 2020, the American Jobs Plan introduced in April 2021, and, more recently, the Inflation Reduction Act.
During the November 8 debate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis followed suit:
KRISTEN WELKER (MODERATOR): Many Venezuelan immigrants are settling right here in Florida. Former President Trump and President Biden have taken different approaches to Nicolas Maduro's regime with little result. Former President Trump put economic pressure on Venezuela and backed one of Maduro's rivals. President Biden temporarily eased sanctions to encourage electoral reforms. Gov. Desantis, do you see the political situation in Venezuela as a threat to the United States? And what would your approach be?
GOV. RON DESANTIS: We should never rely on Venezuela for oil like Biden has had to go beg. I am going to unleash all of America's energy potential. On day one I'm taking all the Biden regulations, the Green New Deal, ripping it up, and throwing it in the trash can where it belongs. We're going to lower your gas prices. We're going to create jobs. We’re going to lower energy costs. But we're also going to be more energy independent and secure. … That is good for America's national security. Biden's Green New Deal, that's good for Venezuela. It's good for Russia, it's good for Iran, and it's good for China.
Welker failed to challenge DeSantis on his inaccurate characterization of Biden’s climate plan. That plan is mostly encapsulated in the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocated a historic $369 billion in climate and energy provisions. Since its passage, 272 clean energy projects have been announced in the United States, representing $278 billion in new investment and creating 170,606 new jobs, according to Climate Power. (Notably, the majority of IRA credits and loans are benefiting red congressional districts, per an analysis by Politico.)
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said he’d “sign the XL Keystone Pipeline”
For years, Fox News hosts, anchors, and guests have touted the Keystone XL pipeline as a solution to domestic high gas prices and global energy insecurity, despite multiple fact checks to the contrary.
LESTER HOLT (MODERATOR): This is a question that will go to all of you. An Iowa voter recently told NBC News, ‘How I am going to make sure my pantry's stocked without breaking the bank?’ You've all said the best way to deal with rising prices is to cut government spending, but that would take time to play out, and Americans are struggling right now. Sen. Scott, I'll start with you. What would you do the moment you take office to help Americans manage the cost of living? So we're talking about short-term here.
SEN. TIM SCOTT: My mother was a single mother who raised me and my brother in a very challenging economic situation. The first thing I can tell you is that when your gas prices are 40% higher right now than they were just a little over two years ago, that's not a problem for my momma — that was a crisis. The first thing I would do as president of the United States is I would sign the XL Keystone pipeline and start seeing resources flow. Second thing I would do is make sure there is certainty and predictability so that those folks who have the leases in our country would have the certainty and predictability to go ahead and become energy independent.
Moderator Lester Holt did follow up and challenged Scott on the idea that the pipeline would have any impact on current gas prices, noting, “Your time is up. But let me follow up. The idea of pumping gas, of turning on pipelines, that doesn't make gas cheaper that day.”
Indeed, not only was the pipeline only 8% complete when Biden revoked its permits, but the company building the pipeline officially abandoned the project in June of 2021, so there’s no project to “sign.” And even if the project weren’t dead, as proposed it would have threatened the drinking water of indigenous communities whose land the pipeline would cross, and it would have had enormous implications for the climate; renowned climate scientists James Hansen called the project “game over” for the climate.
Both DeSantis and Scott made misleading claims about gas prices and energy independence that reflect Fox News coverage
DeSantis suggested his plan would lower gas prices and make the U.S. more energy independent while Scott, in addition to falsely suggesting that the Keystone XL pipeline would lower gas prices, also claimed that more drilling was needed to make the U.S. energy independent.
None of the moderators challenged candidates' claims around energy independence or the idea that U.S. gas prices can be decoupled from the global market (another staple of Fox News’ energy coverage). The price consumers pay at the pump is determined by the cost of oil, which is tied to the global market and therefore inherently vulnerable to global disruptions, so the idea of achieving energy independence through fossil fuels is a fallacy.
Further, one definition of “energy independence” is exporting more energy than a country imports, and the U.S. has been a total net exporter of energy since 2019. According to the U.S. Energy Information Association, in 2022, U.S. total energy exports were the highest on record, and domestic oil production hit an all-time high last month.
Four years after Fox started pushing its misleading “Green New Deal” and “Keystone XL Pipeline” narratives, the misinformation persists, illustrating the network’s role in shaping the debate around energy and climate issues and the necessity of its media counterparts challenging Fox’s misinformation.