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  • The top 6 tricks Scott Pruitt uses to outfox the media

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt might just be the most ruthlessly effective member of the Trump administration -- much to the ire of environmental activists, who recently launched a #BootPruitt campaign. One of Pruitt's trademark strategies is trying to tightly control media coverage of himself and his agency, a way to tamp down criticism of his industry-friendly agenda and extreme rollbacks of environmental protections.

    Pruitt has lost control of the media narrative in the past week, as numerous outlets have reported on his snowballing ethics scandals. But if he keeps his job -- there are reports that President Trump still has his back -- you can expect him to double down on his media machinations.

    Here are the key ways Pruitt manipulates and hampers the press:

    1. Pruitt goes to right-wing news outlets to push his messages out

    During his first year as head of the EPA, Pruitt appeared on Fox News, Trump's favorite network, 16 times -- more than twice as often as he appeared on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. Fox hosts and interviewers tend to lob softballs at him and gloss over his numerous controversies and scandals.

    Pruitt gives interviews to other conservative outlets, too, from Breitbart News Daily to The Rush Limbaugh Show to the Christian Broadcasting Network. Last month, Pruitt went on conservative talk-radio shows to spread misleading talking points as he attempted to defend his extravagant travel spending.

    And when Pruitt announced a plan in March to severely restrict the kinds of scientific data that can be used in policymaking -- a change decried by scientists, environmentalists, and public health advocates -- he gave an exclusive interview to conservative news site The Daily Caller about it. The resulting article painted the shift in a positive light, of course.

    2. Pruitt gives interviews to generalists instead of environmental reporters

    Pruitt grants some interviews to mainstream news outlets, but when he does it's often with political reporters or generalists instead of reporters on the environmental beat who would know the right tough questions to ask.

    For instance, in February, Pruitt appeared on The New York Times' podcast The Daily. The interview was largely light and fluffy, letting Pruitt spout his talking points with little pushback, including a false claim that Congress would have to change the law in order for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. After the interview, it fell to Times environmental reporter Coral Davenport to point out that the Supreme Court had already granted authority to the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Too bad she wasn't the one who conducted the interview. The following week, when another Times environmental reporter, Lisa Friedman, asked for a comment from Pruitt for a piece on his views on climate science, an EPA spokesperson instead referred her to the interview with The Daily.

    The EPA administrator sat for another soft interview with a Washington Post political reporter that was published in the Post's political newsletter The Daily 202. The resulting piece quoted Pruitt defending his enforcement record -- “I don't hang with polluters; I prosecute them" -- and praising Trump for his "tremendous ideas."

    Contrast that with what happened when Pruitt gave a rare interview to two Post reporters, Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin, who've been doggedly covering his agency. They produced a substantive article on how Pruitt has been shifting the EPA to serve the interests of regulated companies; quotes from Pruitt in the piece are interspersed with quotes from experts and with reporting on Pruitt's moves to roll back environmental protections and enforcement.

    3. Pruitt's EPA withholds basic information from the press and the public

    Under Pruitt, the EPA has become extraordinarily secretive.

    Unlike previous EPA administrators, Pruitt has refused to publicly release his full schedule in anything close to real time. The EPA has barred reporters from attending events where Pruitt speaks, even threatening to call the police to remove them. Most recently, on April 3, the EPA blocked numerous journalists from attending his announcement about the loosening of auto fuel economy standards, enabling Pruitt to avoid hard questions.

    It's so hard to get information out of the agency that the Society of Environmental Journalists sent the EPA public affairs office a letter in January asking for such fundamental things as open press briefings, responses to reporters' inquiries, and distribution of press releases to everyone who requests them.

    As New York Times reporter Friedman said in October, "Covering the EPA is like covering the CIA. It is so secretive. It is so difficult even to get basic information.”

    It's no surprise, then, that Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the agency have soared under Pruitt.

    4. Pruitt's EPA sends reporters articles by climate deniers instead of useful information

    Over the last month, the EPA has sent out at least four "press releases" that did nothing more than promote articles or opinion pieces by right-wing figures that painted Pruitt in a positive light, as ThinkProgress reported.

    The most eye-popping press release was headlined "The Hill: Scott Pruitt is leading the EPA toward greatness." It pointed to a fawning opinion piece co-written by the head of the Heartland Institute, a notorious climate-denial think tank.

    But perhaps the most vexing to reporters was a press release that promoted the aforementioned Daily Caller article on Pruitt restricting the EPA’s use of scientific data. The agency sent it out in lieu of an informative press release and otherwise refused to answer reporters' questions about the action. This prompted the National Association of Science Writers to send a letter of protest to the head of the EPA press office, calling on her to "take steps immediately to prevent this unprofessional and unethical behavior from occurring again." The Society of Environmental Journalists followed up with a similar letter of its own.

    5. Pruitt repeats disingenuous, misleading talking points

    Unlike his boss, Pruitt is disciplined and on-message. In interviews, he turns again and again to the same tightly scripted talking points, many of which are misleading.

    Like this one: "We've seen an 18 percent reduction in our CO2 footprint from 2000 to 2014. We're at pre-1994 levels," Pruitt told Fox News Sunday in June, while defending Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. It's one of Pruitt's favorite lines. He's repeated it ad nauseum during his 13 months at the EPA.

    When he spouts this statistic, Pruitt is essentially bragging that the U.S. has already done a lot to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. That might sound good on the surface, but Pruitt's claim is misleading -- he ignores the fact that emissions went down in part because of Obama-era policies that Pruitt and others in the Trump administration are now undoing. It's also just a really weird thing to boast about if you're a climate denier like Pruitt.

    Does Pruitt actually think it's a good thing that the U.S. reduced carbon dioxide emissions? Does that mean he acknowledges that CO2 is a dangerous pollutant? Does he then think it would be good for the U.S. to continue reducing CO2 emissions? Is he aware that CO2 emissions are projected to rise this year?

    These are follow-up questions that an interviewer who's knowledgeable about climate change might ask, but so far we haven't seen any such pushback. No wonder Pruitt keeps repeating the line.

    6. Pruitt's EPA retaliates against journalists

    Under Pruitt, the EPA's press office has taken the unprecedented step of personally attacking reporters whose work the leadership dislikes. In September, the office issued a press release bashing Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker over a story he co-wrote. "Biesecker had the audacity to imply that agencies aren’t being responsive to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey," the release read. "Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." The EPA then dropped Biesecker from its email press list.

    The agency's press office has also attacked New York Times reporter Eric Lipton, who's done deep-dive investigative reporting into Pruitt's EPA. In August, the office put out a press release that accused him of reporting "false facts." In October, Liz Bowman, head of the EPA's Office of Public Affairs, gave a snarky reply after Lipton requested information on agency actions, accusing Lipton of having a "continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”

    The bottom line: Why Pruitt’s media manipulation matters

    When Pruitt gets more positive media coverage for himself and the EPA, or at least less negative coverage, it can sway public opinion in favor of his right-wing agenda and make it easier for him to continue eviscerating environmental protections. His successes then help him curry favor with oil companies, the Koch network, and other monied interests that could fund a future Pruitt campaign for senator, governor, or even president. After all, the EPA administrator is notoriously ambitious.

    If Pruitt does ascend higher, you can expect to see a lot more anti-regulatory fervor and a lot more media manipulation and maltreatment.

  • Another nail in the Uranium One coffin

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    A confidential informant interviewed by congressional staff last month who House Republicans had claimed would bolster their case that Russian interests had bribed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to approve the sale of the mining company Uranium One provided “no evidence of a quid pro quo” involving Clinton, according to a memo produced by Democratic staff and obtained by The Hill. The news is another huge setback to Fox News and other bastions of right-wing journalism, which have spent months defending President Donald Trump by citing the informant’s purported evidence as proof that, in the words of Sean Hannity, the “real collusion” was between Clinton and Russia, and that special counsel Robert Mueller should be investigated.

    We already knew Justice Department officials reportedly deemed the informant not credible, but now it seems he was unable to produce evidence supporting the key aspect of the case.

    As I explained last month:

    The so-called Uranium One scandal was launched in 2015 by a discredited author who was employed by then-Breitbart.com head Steve Bannon and funded by top Trump donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer. The theory posited that Clinton played a "central role" as secretary of state in approving the 2010 purchase of mining company Uranium One by the Russian State Atomic Nuclear Agency because Russians and people linked to the deal had given money to her husband and to the Clinton Foundation.

    The theory was transparent nonsense and fell apart immediately under scrutiny, not least because there was no evidence Hillary Clinton had actually intervened with the deal in any way.

    The informant entered the picture in October, when The Hill’s John Solomon reported about a “confidential U.S. witness” who was “working inside the Russian nuclear industry” during an FBI investigation of a Russian nuclear official. According to Solomon’s sources, the informant -- later revealed as William Douglas Campbell -- had told law enforcement that “nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation” at the same time a board Hillary Clinton sat on had approved the Uranium One deal.

    Solomon, whose prior efforts to lead three different media outlets into a digital renaissance had floundered, has reinvented himself by producing shoddy national security reporting that provided fodder to Trump’s allies, and his work quickly collapsed under scrutiny, with Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler noting that the “fatal flaw in this allegation is Hillary Clinton, by all accounts, did not participate in any discussions regarding the Uranium One sale.”

    But Fox News would seize upon Solomon’s reporting with vigor, devoting nearly 12 hours of coverage to the story over the next three weeks. The effort was led by Hannity, who repeatedly used the story to push for Mueller’s resignation as special counsel because Mueller was FBI director at the time the deal occurred:

    The story returned to the fore last month. News that Campbell was meeting with congressional investigators created new opportunities for Hannity and company to relentlessly hype Uranium One. Mueller's indictment last month of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities on alleged crimes stemming from Russian information warfare efforts on U.S. social media sites during the election bizarrely produced more opportunities to talk about the mining deal.

    And now it turns out -- according to Democratic staff -- that the Hannity crowd’s star witness had nothing to offer. Tune in tonight for his explanation of how this really proves just how dastardly Mueller and Clinton really are.

  • An anti-immigrant hate group lobbying director is now a senior adviser at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Robert Law, a senior policy adviser to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), previously worked as a lobbying director for the anti-immigrant organization Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). While at FAIR, Law denigrated Dreamers, argued that the United States should end birthright citizenship, and recommended that the government reduce the number of refugees and immigrants coming into the country. 

    Law quietly joined the agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in October after serving as FAIR’s director of government relations, according to his LinkedIn profile. Aside from his networking page, Law’s appointment does not appear to have been publicly announced. His name appears in ProPublica's Trump Town database of admistration appointees.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated FAIR as a hate group, writing: “One of the group’s main goals is upending the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended a decades-long, racist quota system that limited immigration mostly to northern Europeans.” FAIR was founded by John Tanton, who, the civil rights group wrote, “has white nationalist beliefs and has written that to maintain American culture, ‘a European-American majority’ is required.” Tanton remains on the group’s board of advisors. The Anti-Defamation League has also criticized FAIR, describing it as “an extreme anti-immigrant group.”

    FAIR’s staff appears regularly in media outlets despite its hate group designation. Other members of the Trump administration have connections to the group. For example, former FAIR executive director Julie Kirchner is the ombudsman for USCIS after previously working as an adviser for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at DHS.

    In an email to Media Matters, a FAIR spokesperson criticized SPLC and categorically rejected the hate group designation, writing, in part, “There is an ongoing effort by organizations with opposing views on immigration to try to discredit groups like FAIR that seek enforcement of immigration laws and overall limits on U.S. immigration.”

    In a 2016 newsletter, FAIR stated that Law headed its "three-person Federal Government Relations department" and that his “passion for the immigration issue began a decade ago when he learned that Bank of America worked to help illegal immigrants get mortgages. Outraged, he marched down to the local branch and closed his account.”

    USCIS is an agency that, according to its mission statement, “administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.” The agency recently changed its mission statement to remove a passage noting that the United States is “a nation of immigrants.” USCIS did not respond to requests for comment from Media Matters about Law.

    Law co-authored FAIR’s November 2016 “Immigration Priorities for the 2017 Presidential Transition” report, which provided a blueprint of the nativist policies the group pushes. The report began by blaming “Illegal immigration and unchecked legal immigration” for much of the problems in the country:

    Illegal immigration and unchecked legal immigration are detrimental to the quality of life in the United States. The American family is increasingly bearing the costs of urban sprawl, environmental degradation, traffic congestion, increased crime, overburdened health care, overwhelmed public schools and debt-ridden state and municipal governments—all results of uncontrolled immigration. The fiscal costs of immigration, legal and illegal, have always been substantial, but with the recent economic downturn, these costs have become even more burdensome. The social, cultural and political costs are being felt more acutely as we receive immigrants in numbers too large to be successfully incorporated into our way of life and assimilated into our communities.

    The report recommended that the United States stop birthright citizenship, “end free health care for illegal aliens,” revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, “reduce the size of the refugee cohort admitted to the U.S. each year,” and “limit overall immigration,” among other proposals.

    Law frequently served up anti-immigrant rhetoric in the media during his time at FAIR as a opinion contributor for several months to The Hill. He criticized sanctuary citiesattacked so-called “chain migration”; and praised President Donald Trump for his efforts “to reverse the damage done by his predecessor and restore the rule of law” regarding immigration. Those columns also frequently used the anti-immigrant slur “illegal alien” to demean undocumented immigrants.

    Law has also been a harsh critic of DACA, claiming that the program’s creation was “Obama’s decision to unilaterally grant amnesty to a portion of the illegal alien population” and that it was “unconstitutional.”

    He also criticized politicians for employing the “brilliant marketing campaign painting a picture of Dreamers as a sympathetic group” and complained about Dreamers being marketed as “American in every way except on paper”:

    For decades, politicians such as Pelosi, Schumer, and authors of the current DREAM Act, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have orchestrated a brilliant marketing campaign painting a picture of Dreamers as a sympathetic group. You are undoubtedly familiar with the deceptive phrases they use ad nauseum: “brought here through no fault of their own;” “American in every way except on paper;” and “we can’t deport these children.” (The average beneficiary of DACA today is 25-years-old).

    What they are demanding, in essence, is immigration anarchy.

    During a FAIR podcast appearance last year, Law said granting “amnesty” to DACA recipients is “rewarding their parents for their lawless behavior. Their parents made a choice to bring them here and defy our immigration laws and just because you have children doesn’t mean that you have a human shield that exempts you from any form of enforcement.”

    Law has also gone after Republicans for purportedly not being sufficiently anti-immigrant, calling House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and John McCain (R-AZ) “pro-amnesty” and claiming that Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) is “eager to sell out the American people.”

    USCIS is headed by immigration lawyer L. Francis Cissna. His nomination was opposed by numerous immigration advocacy groups due to his record on immigration. Law, however, praised his future agency head and criticized Sen. Tillis for putting a hold (later removed) on the nomination.

  • David Brooks gets everything wrong about abortion after 20 weeks

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    After The New York Times published an op-ed by columnist David Brooks claiming Democrats need to support a 20-week abortion ban to remain electorally competitive, several media outlets and pro-choice groups wrote responses that called out Brooks’ inaccurate assumptions. These responses not only highlighted how 20-week bans are based on junk science, but also underscored how the reality of later abortions makes support for abortion access a winning issue for Democrats.

  • The 5 worst takes from coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    How media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 19, the annual March for Life was held in Washington D.C. In covering both the anti-abortion protest and the lead-up to it, some media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation.

  • Six fights on reproductive rights that the media should be prepared to report on in 2018

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    President Donald Trump’s first year in office was particularly damaging for abortion rights and reproductive health. Beyond the Trump administration’s multiple moves to curtail abortion access, anti-choice advocates were also successful on the state level, organizing large-scale protests in North Carolina and Kentucky and implementing a litany of anti-choice policies. Yet with the upcoming Supreme Court case on crisis pregnancy centers, the continuing controversy over abortion access for undocumented minors, a wave of state-level attacks, and Trump’s anti-choice judicial confirmations, 2018 may be an even more dangerous year. 

  • All the right-wing lies about Trump’s transgender military ban, debunked

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    Right-wing media figures have helped promote a series of myths about transgender service members in the U.S. military in response to President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would ban them from serving. These debunked myths include the claim that the cost of medically necessary health care for transgender service members would be in the billions, that allowing transgender members to serve would interfere with military readiness and cohesion, that a majority of transgender people are unable to be deployed due to their health care needs, and that being transgender is a mental illness that makes people unfit to be in the military.

  • Debunking right-wing media myths on DACA

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & MADELINE PELTZ

    Following President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would reverse the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), right-wing media rushed to praise Trump’s actions by stereotyping DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” as criminals and gang members. They also falsely claimed that the program constitutes a form of “amnesty,” that DACA recipients take jobs from native-born Americans, that the program is unconstitutional, and that President Barack Obama did not take any action to pass comprehensive immigration reform during his tenure.

  • How nativist groups are taking down DACA

    Conservative and mainstream media have facilitated nativist groups’ influence in the immigration debate

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    The “nativist lobby,” which consists of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and NumbersUSA, has consistently opposed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows undocumented immigrants to live, work, and go to school in the United States without fear of deportation and it has used both right-wing and mainstream media outlets to rally support for its message. The Trump administration’s lack of support for the program and a threat by 10 Republican states’ officials to sue the federal government if it doesn’t rescind DACA by September has now aligned with the nativists' demands, meaning protection for over 800,000 undocumented immigrants could soon come to an end. 

  • Myths and facts to know ahead of Rick Perry's study on the electrical grid and renewable energy

    There are lots of reasons to be skeptical of the forthcoming study from the Department of Energy

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Energy Secretary Rick Perry has ordered his department to produce a study on whether the ongoing shift toward renewable energy is affecting the reliability of the electrical grid. A number of experts, clean-energy advocates, and politicians on both sides of the aisle believe the study is intended to be biased in favor of the coal and nuclear industries, which have been struggling in recent years.

    As journalists prepare to report on the study, which is expected to be released this month, there are some critical factors to consider:

    • The study leader worked for Koch-funded groups and has demonstrated bias against renewable energy;

    • wind and solar power are not major factors leading to the shuttering of coal and nuclear plants, according to energy experts and reports; and

    • numerous studies and grid experts have concluded that the electrical grid can incorporate increasing amounts of renewable energy and become more secure as a result, not less.

    Perry orders grid study that's widely viewed as intended to bolster the coal industry

    On April 14, Perry put out a memo calling for the Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct a 60-day study "to explore critical issues central to protecting the long-term reliability of the electric grid." The study is intended to assess "how certain policies are affecting, and potentially putting at risk, energy security and reliability," according to the memo. Though Perry’s memo didn't mention wind, solar, or renewable energy by name, it was widely understood to be referring to policies that have supported the development of renewable energy.

    Here's how Bloomberg explained it:

    U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry is ordering a study of the U.S. electric grid, with an eye to examining whether policies that favor wind and solar energy are accelerating the retirement of coal and nuclear plants critical to ensuring steady, reliable power supplies.

    [...]

    Perry highlights concerns about the “erosion” of resources providing “baseload power” -- consistent, reliable electricity generated even when the sun isn’t shining and the winds aren’t blowing.

    [...]

    Perry’s effort suggests that the administration may be looking for other ways to keep coal plants online.

    As Jacques Leslie, a contributing opinion writer at the Los Angeles Times, put it in April, "Perry has already decided what the study should find: Its purpose is to buttress the Trump administration’s pro-fossil fuel policies."

    Chris Tomlinson, a business columnist for the Houston Chronicle, recently described the forthcoming study as "clearly a fait accompli," writing that "Perry ordered his own review of the grid to reach conclusions that suit the administration." Tomlinson explained: "Perry is looking for an excuse to override competitive electricity markets and force utilities to buy power from coal and nuclear plants."

    In late June, Perry gave his critics more ammunition with remarks he made at the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual conference, The Hill reported. While discussing the study, he said that "politically driven policies, driven primarily by a hostility to coal,” threaten “the reliability and the stability of the greatest electricity grid in the world." The Hill further reported that Perry told the conference he “doesn’t intend to give preference to renewable power, something he accused the Obama administration of doing.” Perry said, “I recognize the markets have had a role in the evolution of our energy mix. But no reasonable person can deny the thumb, or even the whole hand, if you will, has been put on the scale in favor of certain political outcomes.”

    In addition to a long record of fossil-fuel boosterism, Perry has a history of denying that climate change is caused by humans burning fossil fuels, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus. Perry reiterated this denial during a June 19 appearance on CNBC's Squawk Box, blaming climate change primarily on "the ocean waters and this environment that we live in” instead of carbon dioxide emitted through human activity.

    Study leader worked for Koch-funded groups and has demonstrated bias against renewable energy

    Perry selected Travis Fisher to lead the study, a political appointee who serves as a senior advisor in the DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. Fisher has a record of skepticism toward clean energy and favoritism toward fossil fuels, as documented by the Energy and Policy Institute, a nonprofit watchdog.

    Before joining the Trump administration, Fisher worked as an economist at the Institute for Energy Research and the American Energy Alliance, groups that are run by a former Koch Industries lobbyist and that received $3 million in donations from Koch-funded organizations in 2015. The Institute for Energy Research also received $50,000 from coal company Peabody Energy in 2015 and has been funded by ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute.

    While working at the Institute for Energy Research in 2015, Fisher wrote a report that argued wind and solar power threaten the reliability of the grid:

    The single greatest emerging threat to reliable electricity in the U.S. does not come from natural disturbances or human attacks. Rather, the host of bad policies now coming from the federal government—and, unfortunately, from many state governments—is creating far greater and more predictable problems with grid reliability.

    [...]

    Subsidies and mandates that force increased amounts of unreliable sources of electricity on the grid, such as wind and solar power, and undermine the normal operation of reliable power plants [...] create a much less reliable grid and increase the chances of a major blackout.

    Despite issuing these warnings, Fisher's 2015 report did not cite any examples of clean energy policies leading to blackouts.

    Fisher also wrote an op-ed in 2014 that argued wind and solar are "unreliable sources of power" and policies that promote them "undermine our electric system."

    Fisher isn't the only person involved with the study who has a biased background. Perry's memo calling for the study was addressed to his chief of staff, Brian McCormack, who until recently worked for the Edison Electric Institute, the primary trade group for the electric utility industry and an opponent of net-metering policies that encourage rooftop solar power. While at EEI, McCormack played a key role in fighting policies that promote renewable energy.

    Republican and Democratic politicians warn that the study is likely to be biased and lack credibility

    • Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, whose home state of Iowa has a robust wind power industry, sent a letter to Perry in May expressing serious doubts about the study. “I’m concerned that a hastily developed study, which appears to pre-determine that variable, renewable sources such as wind have undermined grid reliability, will not be viewed as credible, relevant or worthy of valuable taxpayer resources," he wrote. "In fact, at least one similar study has already been conducted by the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. It's my understanding that study took two years to complete."

    • Seven Democratic members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sent a letter to Perry in May saying, “This Study appears to be a thinly-disguised attempt to promote less economic electric generation technologies, such as coal and nuclear, at the expense of cost-competitive wind and solar power. … The Study, as you have framed it, appears to be intended to blame wind and solar power for the financial difficulties facing coal and nuclear electric generators and to suggest that renewable energy resources threaten the reliability of the grid."

    Coal groups support the review; clean energy industry groups are skeptical

    Industry trade groups appear to believe the study is likely to lean in favor of coal, as reflected in the coal lobby’s support for the inquiry and clean energy groups’ questions about how it's being conducted.  

    • A top coal lobbying group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, met twice with DOE officials to discuss the study "and came away hopeful about its results," The Hill reported in late June. “What DOE is doing is long overdue, and we’re very pleased with this right now,” said Paul Bailey, the group's president and CEO. “It looks like it will support the need for having a fleet of coal plants in the U.S.”

    • Luke Popovich, vice president for external relations at the National Association of Mining, wrote an op-ed for USA Today in May titled "Energy Department is right to study impact of U.S. power grid regulations." He praised Perry's call for the study, writing, "This is sensible policy."

    • Clean energy industry trade groups are worried that their perspectives will be left out of the study. In an April letter sent to Perry, three trade groups -- Advanced Energy Economy, the American Wind Energy Association, and the Solar Energy Industries Association -- pointed out that "solar and wind power, energy efficiency, energy storage, and advanced grid technologies ... have already been integrated smoothly into the electric power system in large and increasing amounts, as demonstrated in countless studies."

      The groups asked that the study be conducted through an inclusive, public process: "In light of the importance of this inquiry, we encourage you to follow standard practice and conduct the study in an open and transparent manner. When agencies prepare reports with policy recommendations that could affect entire industries and the millions of employees that work in them, such as the proposed one, it is customary for them to seek comments on a draft prior to the study being finalized."

    • The American Petroleum Institute, which represents producers of natural gas as well as oil, is also skeptical of the forthcoming study because it appears likely to promote coal and nuclear plants at the expense of gas. "Baseload is kind of a historical term. It's not really relevant to how electricity is produced today," Erica Bowman, chief economist at API, told the Houston Chronicle. "What you need is dispatchability ... and [coal and nuclear] are far slower when you compare them to a lot of the technology natural gas plants have."

      Writes the Chronicle, "That position places the oil and gas lobbying giants firmly on the side of the renewable energy industry, which has expressed concern Perry's study is nothing more than an attempt to prop up the coal sector."

    Renewable energy is not to blame for driving coal and nuclear plants out of business, according to reports and experts

    Perry called for the study to look into whether renewable energy threatens so-called "baseload" power plants. Wind and solar power are intermittent or variable, flowing into the grid when the wind blows and the sun shines, not 24/7. Perry expressed concern that government policies that encourage the development of renewable energy are leading to the closure of baseload plants that produce power around the clock, most of which are powered by coal and nuclear. Perry wrote in his memo that "federal subsidies that boost one form of energy at the expense of others ... create acute and chronic problems for maintaining adequate baseload generation," implying that subsidies for wind and solar are hurting the coal and nuclear industries.

    But in fact, cheap natural gas is the main factor pushing coal and nuclear plants toward closure, not solar and wind, as many experts have noted.

    • A new report by Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm, reiterates that point. "Analysis Group finds it is market forces – primarily low-cost natural gas and flat demand for electricity – that are causing some coal and nuclear power plants to retire, and not state and federal policies supporting renewable energy development," says a press release from Advanced Energy Economy and the American Wind Energy Association. The two trade associations commissioned the report "in order to independently answer questions asked by Energy Secretary Rick Perry about the reliability and market rules of the U.S. electric power grid."

    • A recent report by the free-market think tank R Street refutes the idea that coal and nuclear are needed to maintain a reliable grid. “Concern over baseload retirements often masks an underlying preference for certain fuel types, namely coal and nuclear. Criticism of baseload retirements often ignores that nonbaseload resources can meet baseload demand reliably … and that new dependable resources have replaced retiring generators,” the report concludes.

    • Ben Fowke, president and CEO of large utility company Xcel Energy, told The Wall Street Journal in July that wind and solar are not responsible for the closure of coal and nuclear plants.

    Utility and grid experts say the grid can incorporate more renewables and be more secure as a result

    • For a period on February 12 of this year, wind provided a record 52.1 percent of the electricity to the grid in the Southwest Power Pool's service region, which spans 14 states. Bruce Rew, vice president of operations for the Southwest Power Pool, said, "Ten years ago, we thought hitting even a 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability. Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50 percent wind penetration. It's not even our ceiling."

    • Colette Honorable, an outgoing commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said in late June that large amounts of renewable energy have been successfully integrated into regional grids around the U.S. and have “absolutely not” harmed grid reliability. “I have seen no problems with reliability,” she said during remarks at the the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual conference. “Bring on more renewables.”

    • Ed Smeloff -- managing director at the nonprofit Vote Solar, who previously worked at SunPower Corp., the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District -- wrote an op-ed for The Hill in June arguing that renewable energy and clean technology "can make the electric grid more resilient and reliable," not less. "DOE studies have already shown that much more renewable energy can reliably be added to the grid. If the federal government calls for policies that protect 'baseload' resources from market forces, the results will be higher electric bills, slower domestic economic growth and, critically, a less secure electric power system," he wrote.

    • Don Furman, director of the Fix the Grid Coalition and a former executive at the utility PacifiCorp, told Media Matters by email, “A reliable, carbon-free grid based on renewable energy is not only possible, it is economically feasible. It will take time for an orderly transition, and we will need policies to help people impacted by the move away from coal. But we absolutely can do it, starting now.”

    • According to Axios, Fowke, CEO of Xcel Energy, said on May 24 at the annual conference of the American Wind Energy Association, "I don't think 5 or 10 years ago I'd be comfortable telling you we could not sacrifice reliability when we're going to have 35% of our energy come from wind. I'm telling you, I'm very comfortable with that today."

    • David Hochschild, a commissioner with the California Energy Commission, the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency, and David Olsen, a member of the California Independent System Operator Board of Governors, which runs the state’s electric grid, argued in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle that clean energy makes the grid more stable:

    In California, which has installed more clean energy than any other state, there have been no threats to the reliability of the electric grid caused by renewables. Instead, the three biggest threats to our grid over the last 20 years came from market manipulation (Enron et al, during the 2001 energy crisis), a nuclear plant failure (San Onofre, 2012) and the largest natural gas leak in history (Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, 2015). Rather than create these emergencies, renewable energy was part of the solution and continued to operate reliably and prevented these events from becoming worse.

    […]

    In August 2011, when a heat wave in Texas shut down 20 natural gas plants, it was wind power that kept the electric grid operator from having to black out areas of the state. In Iowa, wind power now provides 37 percent of the state’s electricity with no reduction in reliability.

    Numerous studies, including ones from DOE, have found that the grid can incorporate more clean energy and improve reliability in the process

    In 2016, renewable energy sources provided 15 percent of U.S. electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration. Nearly 6 percent came from wind energy and about 1 percent came from solar energy. Many studies have concluded that the grid can handle considerably higher percentages.

    In fact, a leaked early draft of the very study Perry has commissioned reached the conclusion that the electrical grid is now more reliable than it was in the past even though it is handling more wind and solar power. According to Bloomberg, a draft written by career staff at the Department of Energy concluded, "The power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards." But the draft report is currently being reviewed by department leaders and is expected to read somewhat differently by the time it is officially released. "Those statements as written are not in the current draft," a DOE spokesperson told Bloomberg.

    Previous studies reached conclusions similar to those of DOE career staff:

    • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is funded and overseen by the Department of Energy, found that the grid could handle 80 percent renewable power by 2050. The lab assessed the question of grid reliability in a four-volume 2012 study: "The central conclusion of the analysis is that renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the United States." This study, whose authors described it as "the most comprehensive analysis of high-penetration renewable electricity of the continental United States to date," is the one Grassley said had taken two years to complete.

    • Other studies from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory also found that the grid can accommodate much more renewable energy than it does now. The Solar Energy Industries Association summarized them in a recent briefing paper:

    Multiple studies from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have shown that the existing grid can handle high penetrations of renewable energy without compromising reliability and performance. In their Western Wind and Solar Integration Study and Eastern Renewable Generation Integration Study NREL finds that both the existing western and eastern electric grids can accommodate upwards of 30% of solar and wind power without requiring extensive infrastructure investments.
    [...]
    Phase three of the [western grid] study demonstrated that reliability of the western grid can be maintained at high renewable penetration rates in the face of large system disturbance (such as the loss of a fossil plant).
    • A 2016 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado, Boulder, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that “widespread distribution of renewables would help address the intermittency problem by covering a wider swath of land and taking advantage of weather conditions over a larger area,” as Climate Nexus explained.

    • The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a not-for-profit regulatory authority, released a report last month that found the U.S. power grid has been successfully incorporating renewable energy. Midwest Energy News summarized the report: "NERC’s own findings suggest that — for now, at least — the nation’s power system has been largely successful in adapting to new technologies, shifting policies and fickle market forces."

    • Studies by grid operators have found that reliability can be maintained with higher proportions of renewables. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, "The authorities responsible for operating the nation’s power grid — regional transmission organizations and independent system operators — have all published or participated in studies evaluating how increased renewable energy supplies would affect the electricity system. These studies have overwhelmingly shown that higher levels of renewable energy can be achieved regionally without affecting the reliability of electricity supplies."

      The Solar Energy Industries Association summarized some of these studies:

    The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which manages the largest amount of solar resources in the country, finds that the state will have no issues in maintaining reliability in hitting its 33% renewables target by 2020. PJM, which operates much of the eastern grid in the U.S., found in a 2014 study that they would not encounter reliability issues with 30% of their energy coming from solar and wind.
    In a separate study, CAISO found that solar photovoltaic power plants, when equipped with commercially available inverter technology, can offer “electric reliability services similar, or in some cases superior to, conventional power plants." Likewise, Concentrating Solar Power plants (CSP), which produce electricity by using the sun to heat boilers and push turbines, are easily paired with thermal energy storage and provide a host of grid benefits that allow them to function similar to any fossil fuel plant.
    • Studies by independent groups have also found that much more renewable energy can be accommodated on the grid. A new study by The Brattle Group, an economic consulting firm, found that “no single technology or fuel type is needed to keep the lights on” around the clock. According to a press release from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which commissioned the study, "The nation’s electricity grid operators are increasingly turning to more flexible resources and low-cost renewable energy options like wind and solar, rendering outdated the notion that 'baseload' generating plants are required to reliably power America’s homes and businesses."

      The Brattle study also reviewed "a number of other studies of grid operations and planning across the country," the Natural Resources Defense Council noted. "These studies uniformly highlight the increasing value of system flexibility. For example, an analysis of the California electricity system from Astrape Consulting found that as flexibility increases, reliability improves and both production costs and emissions decrease. An analysis of New Mexico grid operations reached a similar conclusion, finding that future blackouts are more likely to be driven by a lack of system operational flexibility."

      An earlier study by The Brattle Group, published in 2015, presented case studies on Colorado and Texas and determined that "integrating variable renewable energy at penetration levels of 10-20% on average and at times above 50% — i.e., high relative to the current levels in most of the United States — is possible. … While infrastructure changes will likely be necessary in the longer term, the shorter-term integration challenges in many cases can be addressed with modest operational changes." The study was commissioned by the Advanced Energy Economy Institute, the educational affiliate of the trade group Advanced Energy Economy.

      A 2014 study by the International Energy Agency found, in the words of the Solar Energy Industries Association, that "most countries can achieve high grid reliability at renewable penetration rates of 25 – 40%."

    Climate Nexus has rounded up additional studies with similar findings.

    Grid operators have the technology and know-how to improve reliability while incorporating more renewables

    Experts point to many strategies and technologies that can be used to handle an increasing proportion of clean energy on the grid.

    The Washington Post noted a couple of them:

    Perry’s memo did not mention energy storage, which as it proliferates, is expected to help integrate more renewable energy onto the grid. For instance, batteries could store some of the energy generated by large solar arrays during the day, deploying that energy at night, effectively making solar into something a lot more like a "baseload" power source.

    [...]

    More and more, electricity markets are purchasing the lack of electricity use as a commodity, as “demand response” options, in which companies lower their energy use at times of peak demand to reduce burdens on the grid, proliferate.

    Mike Jacobs, a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, listed more approaches grid operators could use in a blog post: "Coordination of demand response, electric vehicle charging, and simple upgrades such as thermostats and efficient lighting reduce the stress on the grid, directly and immediately improving reliability. The utility industry has great potential to improve this sort of interaction with consumers, as well as the game-changing possibilities of battery energy storage."

    The nonprofit group Climate Nexus outlined a number of additional strategies:

    Grid operators have an array of tools to deal with variability. Among these tools are accurate weather forecasting, sophisticated controls for renewable generators, flexible balancing of other resources like natural gas, utility-scale energy storage, and transmission lines to move power to areas of high demand. Changes in the wholesale market that allow for better scheduling of power plants and sharing of reserve margins across wide geographical areas could also reduce curtailment.

    Climate Nexus also noted, "The challenges renewables pose to the national power grid are minor compared to the larger systemic problems of aging infrastructure, susceptibility to weather-related outages and an overreliance on fossil fuels."

    And the group pointed out that incorporating more renewable energy into the U.S. electrical system provides numerous other benefits as well, including human health protections, job growth, electricity cost savings, and a more stable climate.

  • EPA reportedly helped Paris agreement opponents place op-eds in newspapers

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER & LISA HYMAS

    President Donald Trump has decided to exit the Paris climate agreement, according to Axios. The news site also reported that the Scott Pruitt-led Environmental Protection Agency has been “quietly working” with opponents of the agreement to help them place op-eds in newspapers. Media Matters identified a number of anti-Paris agreement op-eds that have been published in papers around the U.S. in recent weeks, spreading misinformation about the expected economic impacts of the agreement, the commitment of developing countries to cutting emissions, and climate science in general.

  • The Hill is a dumping ground for anti-net neutrality pieces backed by undisclosed telecom money

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI



    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    Writers backed by telecommunications money who are looking to attack current net neutrality rules have found an easy venue to place op-eds and hide their funding: the editorial page of The Hill.

    In 2015, the FCC enacted net neutrality rules that protect consumers by prohibiting “internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use.” In a gift to the telecom industry, Republican chairman Ajit Pai last month unveiled his plans to undo those open-internet rules.

    The telecom industry has heavily funded organizations that seek to turn public and lawmaker opinions against those Obama-era rules. The sector’s lead trade and lobbying groups include NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, CTIA, and Broadband for America.

    The Hill, a D.C.-based outlet that caters to Capitol Hill, has become a favorite dumping ground for telecom-backed opinion pieces that benefit their corporate funders. Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack told Media Matters in a May 26 email that “oped writers sign official forms that require them to disclose any such funding and/or conflict of interests.” After Media Matters sent him a list of op-eds that had undisclosed conflicts of interest, Cusack said the publication would look into the matter. A follow-up question on the status of that review has not been answered as of posting.

    Media Matters has documented other instances in which the media have failed to disclose conflicts of interest in the debate over net neutrality rules.

    Here are eight recent examples of The Hill running anti-net neutrality pieces without disclosing the telecom financing behind the writers. (Funding searches were conducted through the Center for Public Integrity's Nonprofit Network tool.) 

    Harold Ford Jr., honorary chairman of Broadband for America, wrote a May 24 opinion piece praising Pai for trying “to repeal burdensome public utility regulations.” Broadband for America is backed by telecommunications companies like AT&T and associations such as CTIA and NCTA. Ford’s limited liability company received $345,000 in consulting fees from Broadband for America for the fiscal year ending in June 2015, according to the group’s IRS 990 form.  

    Theodore Bolema and Michael Horney, who work for the Free State Foundation, wrote a May 15 opinion piece pushing for “light touch regulation of broadband.” The piece positively cited CTIA. Free State Foundation has received funding from NCTA and CTIA.

    Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, wrote a May 10 opinion piece headlined “American innovation is the winner as the FCC tackles net neutrality” that specifically praised telecom companies. Citizens Against Government Waste has received funds from NCTA.

    Paige Agostin, a senior policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity, wrote a May 5 opinion piece praising Pai for issuing “a welcome response to an all-too-typical exercise in regulatory overreach.” Americans for Prosperity has received funds from NCTA.

    Thomas M. Lenard, a senior fellow and president emeritus at the Technology Policy Institute, wrote an April 28 opinion piece which praised Pai and defended internet service providers against concerns over content blocking. Lenard’s group states on its website that its supporters include AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and NCTA. The group has received funds from NCTA and CTIA, according to its 990 forms.

    Jonathon Paul Hauenschild, director of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Task Force on Communications & Technology, wrote an April 28 piece attacking the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules. ALEC has received funding from NCTA and CTIA.     

    Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), wrote an April 27 opinion piece praising Pai for helping to eliminate “harmful regulation." IPI has received funds from NCTA and MyWireless.org (now ACTwireless), which is a project of CTIA.

    Doug Brake, a senior telecommunications policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), wrote an April 27 opinion piece praising Pai for “moving in the right direction” with his net neutrality plans. The ITIF has received funding from NCTA and CTIA.

  • Meet The Anti-Abortion Group The NY Times Can’t Seem To Quit

    Human Coalition’s Founder Calls It “One Of The Larger” Anti-Abortion Groups That “No One Has Ever Heard Of”

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    Since January, The New York Times has published two op-eds by the anti-choice organization Human Coalition denouncing abortion access and care. Using big data and internet marketing strategies, Human Coalition targets “abortion-determined women” and tries to redirect them to crisis pregnancy centers. Here's what media need to know about Human Coalition, an organization designed to mislead people online. Given the organization's objectives and history, media should think twice before giving the group an uncritical platform. 

  • Media Headlines Parrot Trump's False Claim That GOP Health Care Bill Covers Pre-Existing Conditions

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Multiple news outlets' headlines parroted President Donald Trump’s false claim that the current proposed Republican health care bill includes protections for people with pre-existing conditions, when in fact the bill would end the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) prohibition on insurance companies charging people with pre-existing conditions higher premiums. The incorrect headlines continue media outlets’ unfortunate pattern of parroting false claims from Trump.

    In a pre-recorded interview on April 29 with CBS’ Face the Nation, Trump discussed the current version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the House Republican bill that would dismantle the ACA, which was amended in order to gain support from the conservative House Freedom Caucus. During his discussion of the effort with CBS’ John Dickerson, Trump incorrectly claimed that “pre-existing conditions are in the bill,” and that “we've set up a pool for the pre-existing conditions so that the premiums can be allowed to fall.” From a transcript of the interview:

    JOHN DICKERSON: Well, this is why I wanted to ask you. You said to Tucker, "We will take care of our people, or I am not signing it." You said you were going to negotiate.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, that's what I just said.

    JOHN DICKERSON: So tell me what in the bill you've been negotiating to get--

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But let me--

    JOHN DICKERSON: --in that helps your supporters. I'm just trying to get the details of how your people--

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let me just tell you.

    JOHN DICKERSON: --will be helped.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I just watched another network than yours, and they were saying, "Pre-existing is not covered." Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, "Has to be."

    [...]

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This bill is much different than it was a little while ago, okay? This bill has evolved. And we didn't have a failure on the bill. You know, it was reported like a failure. Now, the one thing I wouldn't have done again is put a timeline. That's why on the second iteration, I didn't put a timeline.

    But we have now pre-existing conditions in the bill. We have -- we've set up a pool for the pre-existing conditions so that the premiums can be allowed to fall. We're taking across all of the borders or the lines so that insurance companies can compete--

    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer later clarified to The Associated Press that Trump was indeed referring to the current version of the bill. According to the AP, Spicer said that “under the current version people with pre-existing conditions who maintain coverage will not be impacted,” and that “waivers would change how states could treat those who don't maintain insurance and they could find ways to ‘incentivize people to obtain coverage before they fall ill.’”

    According to Vox health care reporter Sarah Kliff, the latest version of the bill “would give states authority to let insurers charge sick people higher premiums.” Kliff added that the bill “caves to conservatives’ demand … to deregulate the insurance industry and let health plans once again use pre-existing conditions to set premium prices” by having “waivers that states can use to let health insurers charge sick patients higher premiums, a practice outlawed under current law.” Kliff also noted that, in his reference to pools, "It sounds like Trump may be confusing preexisting conditions with high risk pools."

    But multiple outlets’ headlines did not point this out, instead highlighting Trump’s claim without noting it was false or misleading.

    Politico:

    CNN:

    CBS News:

    The Hill:

    Fox News:

    The latest error is yet another example of media outlets publishing inaccurate headlines about Trump’s false statements since his election. These have included Trump’s false claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, his false claim that media underreport terrorist attacks, and his baseless claim that Obama “is behind” numerous leaks in his administration and numerous protests against him.

    Getting the headlines right is critical: The Washington Post reported on a study in 2014 finding “roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week.” As such, outlets need to accurately report these stories so consumers who do not read past the headline have a correct understanding of what happened.

  • Punditry On Syrian Airstrikes Is Encouraging Trump To Escalate Tensions With North Korea

    Similar Media Support Helped Enable Iraq War

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After President Donald Trump launched airstrikes against Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in that country, media figures from across the political spectrum praised his “beautiful” attack, with many also linking the action to the growing threat that another country -- North Korea -- poses to the United States. Effusive media support of military conflict was a key precursor to the Iraq War; the danger of such uncritically hawkish commentary has multiplied under Trump, who sources policy ideas -- and defenses for his conduct -- directly from media.