Throughout February, Sinclair Broadcast Group aired negative coverage of renewable energy and related technologies in its national segments on local TV newscasts, on its National Desk daily news program, and on its weekend program Full Measure. This followed Sinclair’s efforts to push pro-fossil fuel propaganda, citing the growing threat of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which finally came to fruition.
Earlier this year, two Sinclair national segments, which aired on dozens of Sinclair-owned or operated TV stations in a majority of states, advocated for increased production of fossil fuels in the United States. These segments pushed the myth that the U.S. had previously achieved “energy independence” during the Trump administration by increasing fossil fuel production, and falsely claimed the Biden administration had reduced production. The reality is that production increased last year after declining during Trump’s last year in office. Now, Sinclair is using its misinformation machine to drag renewable energy and related technologies through the tar sands.
Sinclair repeatedly promoted commentary from climate deniers and the fossil fuel industry to undermine renewable energy initiatives
On February 10, Sinclair national correspondent Scott Thuman aired criticism from Ben Lieberman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) claiming a shift to renewable energy will make the U.S. dependent on China for the minerals required for renewable technologies. The segment also suggested that the U.S. isn’t producing any of these minerals on its own, with Lieberman saying: “If you do think [electric vehicles] are a good idea, if you do think wind energy is a good idea, you better start thinking about mining as also being a good idea. Because you can’t have one without the other.”
What Thuman failed to disclose is that the CEI is heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry and has worked to advance climate denial and oil interests -- giving Lieberman a vested interest in downplaying the viability of renewable energy. Furthermore, the Biden administration recently unveiled “major investments in domestic production of key critical minerals and materials” for clean energy technology to decrease the U.S.’s reliance on Chinese exports of these rare-earth elements. This investment included $35 million to Nevada-based mining company MP Materials, which mines rare-earth elements in the region, to increase its ability to process these minerals for use in the U.S.
Next, on February 13, Full Measure host Sharyl Attkisson exaggerated the pollution created by the production, manufacturing, and long-term disposal of renewable energy technologies, such as solar panels and wind turbine blades that have reached their end of service. During her report, Attkisson questioned the scientific consensus that human activity is changing the climate for the worse by emitting greenhouse gasses, quipping that “green energy has become a key strategy for those who insist man is both hurting and capable of fixing the world’s climate.”
Attkisson also relied heavily on Steven Koonin, a man she introduced as undersecretary for science in the Energy Department under the Obama administration, to portray renewable energy as heavily polluting.
But Attkisson hid from her audience that Koonin was the chief scientist at BP (formerly known as British Petroleum) for five years and is an anti-climate science activist. During April 2017, Koonin urged the Trump administration to undermine public confidence in climate change by creating “a ‘Red Team/Blue Team’ process for climate science,” pretending that the matter was open for debate. And in 2021, Koonin published a book on climate change that actual climate experts (Koonin has no expertise in this area) blasted for its low scientific credibility.
The Full Measure segment not only downplayed the serious pollution issues (besides greenhouse gasses) of fossil fuel extraction and transportation in favor of highlighting pollution issues from the mining of rare-earth minerals -- it also failed to mention there are more environmentally friendly ways of obtaining these minerals. A February 22 fact sheet from the White House explained various projects in progress to extract these minerals in a manner that creates less pollution:
Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables (BHE Renewables) will announce that this spring, they will break ground on a new demonstration facility in Imperial County, California, to test the commercial viability of their sustainable lithium extraction process from geothermal brine as part of a multibillion-dollar investment in sustainable lithium production over the next five years.
Redwood Materials will discuss a pilot, in partnership with Ford and Volvo, for collection and recycling of end-of-life lithium-ion batteries at its Nevada based facilities to extract lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite.
Secretary Granholm will discuss DOE’s first-of-its-kind $140 million demonstration project funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) to recover rare earth elements and critical minerals from coal ash and other mine waste, reducing the need for new mining.
On February 15, Thuman returned with a segment that relied on Mike Sommers, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API), for commentary. During the report, Sommers suggested that renewable energy was not reliable enough, and that “you're going to need natural gas to back it up. The wind isn't always blowing, the sun isn't always shining.”
But the idea that renewable energy isn’t reliable enough to form the backbone of an energy grid is a myth handily debunked by this December column published by the Yale School of the Environment, which showed that Germany -- with its heavily renewable electric grid -- had far better grid reliability than the U.S. And, as shown by the Texas deep freeze in early 2021, natural gas power plants are not reliable in all situations either. Additionally, the American Petroleum Institute has funded organizations that oppose efforts to fight global warming and worked to sow doubt about climate change.
Sinclair bizarrely attacked Biden for promoting electric vehicles
On the February 8 evening edition of Sinclair’s The National Desk, which airs on 65 Sinclair stations around the country, the show’s anchor and one of its correspondents bizarrely criticized President Joe Biden for promoting investment in building new electric vehicle charging stations while gasoline prices are high. Anchor Meagan O’Halloran complained, “Instead of offering any solutions to alleviate the pain at the pump and rising energy costs, the president today doubling down on his commitment to expand electric vehicle use here in the U.S.” Correspondent Ryan Smith echoed this complaint, accusing Biden of “failing to address climbing energy costs, instead pushing his plan to get more drivers to go green.”
What this inane criticism ignored is that technologies which reduce our dependence on oil, like electric vehicles, are among the best solutions for the pain Americans feel at the gas pump. A 2020 Consumer Reports study found that electric vehicle owners who do most of their charging at home can save up to $1,000 a year on fueling costs. The study based its cost savings analysis on a $3.02-per-gallon price over the next decade, which is significantly lower than current average gasoline prices of $3.61 per gallon, meaning electric vehicle owners should expect to enjoy much greater short-term savings.
Additionally, the Biden administration has released oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to lower gas prices multiple times -- though it remains an open question whether that actually helps. The president has also urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate “anti-consumer” behavior among oil and gas companies that may be driving prices higher. (In fact, oil drillers in the U.S. refused to accelerate production last year amid soaring profits.)
Sinclair pushed conservative claims that climate and renewable energy infrastructure spending is a “bait-and-switch”
During a February 1 report on infrastructure spending, Thuman spent part of his segment pushing misleading conservative claims of a “bait-and-switch” in Biden’s signature bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The objection is that the Biden administration is prioritizing spending on climate-resilient transportation projects, electric vehicle charging stations, and renewable energy over expanding traditional transportation infrastructure, such as new roads and highways.
But, prior to the bill’s November passage in Congress, other news organizations clearly reported that the legislation contained major funding for both renewable energy projects and more traditional infrastructure. The Associated Press reported in August that the Senate’s version of the bill “includes more than $150 billion to boost clean energy and promote ‘climate resilience’ by making schools, ports and other structures better able to withstand extreme weather events such as storms and wildfires.” And a June New York Times article explained that the bill “does provide funding for public transit, passenger and freight rail, electric buses and charging stations for electric vehicles, all designed to try to reduce pollution from passenger vehicles and trucks.”