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  • Don’t believe right-wing media when they say the Green New Deal would cost $93 trillion

    Politico calls the analysis "bogus," PolitiFact calls it "false," and even its lead author won't defend it

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing media outlets have repeatedly asserted that the Green New Deal would come with the absurd price tag of "$93 trillion" or "$94 trillion," uncritically repeating claims from a back-of-the-envelope, deeply flawed analysis produced by the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. Politico recently determined that the $93 trillion figure was "bogus," and quoted the lead author of the AAF analysis, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, admitting that he had no idea how much it would cost to implement the Green New Deal.

    American Action Forum has ties to the fossil fuel industry

    The American Action Forum, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and its 501(c)(4) “sister organization,” the American Action Network (AAN), have been funded by a who’s who of the polluter syndicate.

    AAN has received at least $250,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association for the oil industry that has donated to groups in the Koch network. And AAN has received at least $35,000 from the American Natural Gas Alliance, a pro-fracking gas industry trade group. Dow Chemical has given at least $250,000. AAN has also been funded by other Koch-connected groups such as Americans for Job Security, Donors Trust, and the Wellspring Committee. It's gotten money from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS too. AAN has in turn donated millions to AAF.

    Though some information about its funding has been made public, AAN has generally refused to disclose its donors. In 2014, MSNBC called AAN a "dark money power player," noting that it had been running numerous attack ads against Democratic candidates. FactCheck.org noted that same year that AAN has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting Republican candidates. In 2018, a watchdog group filed suit against AAN for violating campaign finance laws and abusing its nonprofit status.

    AAF's Green New Deal cost analysis is problematic from top to bottom

    Considering the think tank’s connections to the fossil fuel industry, it’s not surprising that the American Action Forum’s report found the Green New Deal untenable. What is surprising is how flippant Holtz-Eakin, president of AAF and former head of the Congressional Budget Office, was about the rigor of the analysis he co-authored. When challenged about the accuracy of the report’s claim that the Green New Deal would cost some $93 trillion over 10 years, Holtz-Eakin told Politico, “Is it billions or trillions? Any precision past that is illusory.”

    The Green New Deal resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) on February 7 is just a broad, 14-page outline of goals with no policy specifics, so determining a price tag was a fanciful exercise. AAF's claims of a $92.9 trillion total cost, or $653,000 per household, have no basis in reality. As Politico reporter Zack Colman put it:

    When they set out to put a price tag on the Green New Deal last month, Holtz-Eakin and his associates had no real policy or plan to evaluate, so they made one up to perform back-of-the-envelope calculations.

    And the AAF study does not distinguish between government and private-sector spending, nor does it attempt to quantify the benefits of reducing pollution or other policies. For example, Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Jacobson estimated that eliminating the electricity sector’s carbon emissions would avoid $265 billion in annual U.S. damages beginning in 2050.

    Colman also pointed out that more than $80 trillion of the alleged $93 trillion total cost would come from implementing a jobs guarantee and universal health care -- policy ideas that have no direct relation to greening the economy, even though they are in the Green New Deal resolution.

    Politico declared that the $93 trillion figure is "bogus" -- or, in an earlier version of the article published behind a firewall, "essentially vapor."

    The fact-checking project PolitiFact also found the $93 trillion figure to be untrustworthy, calling it "only about as strong as a clothespin in high wind." It noted that "the [AAF] report itself is full of assumptions, qualifiers and caveats," and when a fact-checker reached out to Holtz-Eakin, the AAF president "made it clear to us that the report aims to provide very rough estimates on a plan that’s only partially developed." PolitiFact rated as "false" this claim from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA): "At $93 trillion, the Green New Deal would cost more than the entire recorded spending of the U.S. since the Constitution went into effect in 1789."

    Other journalists have also pointed out major problems with the AAF analysis. Paul Blest at Splinter noted that AAF used cost estimates for a universal jobs program ("$6.8 trillion to $44.6 trillion") and universal health care ("$36 trillion") that are vastly higher than estimates produced by other think tanks. AAF also failed to account for how much money programs like universal health care could save. According to Blest:

    [AAF's] ballpark estimate on a federal jobs guarantee has a range of $38 trillion. The centrist Brookings Institution’s estimate last year, by the way, put the high end on a job guarantee at $543 billion a year, or $5.4 trillion over 10 years.

    On Medicare for All, too, the AAF’s number is substantially higher than previous estimates. The libertarian Mercatus Center’s estimate set out to prove last year that Medicare for All would bankrupt the country, and inadvertently found that Medicare for All would eventually save about $2 trillion in national health expenditures. Even Mercatus, however, put the cost of Medicare for All at $32.6 trillion over 10 years.

    The ClimateDenierRoundup column at Daily Kos pointed out another problem with AAF's jobs-program estimates:

    The jobs price tag is wrong because it’s double counting: many of those jobs would be created by the other parts of the GND. Improving energy efficiency and building a clean energy economy will create a lot of jobs, which are counted in the GND’s green policy price tag tally. But then AAF simply counts those jobs again in the jobs guarantee portion, as though none of those promised jobs would be used to put the green in the Green New Deal.

    Green New Deal sponsor Markey called out major flaws in the report too, starting with the basic premise: "Putting a price on a resolution of principles, not policies, is just Big Oil misinformation." Markey pointed out that AAF calculated the cost of "policies that aren't even in the resolution," such as eliminating air travel:

    Markey also noted that AAF did not provide any support for its cost estimate for a low-carbon electricity grid.

    As The New York Times recently put it, "For now it’s impossible to pin down dollar figures on the plan." FactCheck.org agreed, writing that "the experts we spoke to said it’s not possible to put a specific price tag on the Green New Deal."

    Perhaps most egregiously, AAF’s analysis of the Green New Deal completely ignored the enormous cost of not fighting climate change. Just last year, climate disasters and extreme weather events cost the U.S. an estimated $91 billion. According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a 1.5 C rise in the global average temperature would cost $54 trillion. Things only get more expensive (and catastrophic) from there. According to Axios:

    • You think $54 trillion is a lot? That number comes from research that also says that a 2.0°C increase will cause $69 trillion of damage, and a 3.7°C increase will cause a stunning $551 trillion in damage.
    • $551 trillion is more than all the wealth currently existing in the world, which gives an indication of just how much richer humanity could become if we don't first destroy our planet.

    Current policies in place around the world have us on track for about 3.3 C of warming by 2100 if we don't dramatically change course.

    AAF's analysis also ignored the significant economic benefits that would come from taking addressing climate change. "Bold climate action could deliver at least US$26 trillion in economic benefits through to 2030, compared with business-as-usual," according to a recent report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

    Fox News and other right-wing outlets have been hyping the $93 trillion figure

    Right-wing media have been heavily citing the AAF report since its release on February 25 -- and they have often used the $93 trillion figure without noting that it's at the top end of a range AAF provided. Fox News has been particularly eager to amplify the huge estimate. Hosts and guests have cited price tags between $91 trillion and $94 trillion on Fox News shows including Fox & Friends, The Greg Gutfeld Show, and Watters’ World, and on Fox Business Network shows including Varney & Co., Trish Regan Primetime, Making Money with Charles Payne, and Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo. Sean Hannity has cited the AAF report at least three times on his Fox News show. He typified Fox's incurious reporting on AAF’s analysis during the March 5 episode of Hannity:

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): They are going to eliminate fossil fuels, gas, and oil. They're going to destroy the lifeblood of our economy. They're going to get rid of planes, mandate you rebuild your home. Who's paying for that? The estimates now are as high as $94 trillion in 10 years --that's their proposal.

    Many other right-wing media outlets have also uncritically amplified AAF's enormous estimate, including The Daily Caller, The Daily Wire, and the Washington Free Beacon

    Some Republican politicians such as Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso have also latched onto the $93 trillion estimate and publicized it through mainstream and right-wing media. Barrasso issued a press release with the figure, wrote an opinion piece about it for USA Today, and made an appearance on Fox News to promote it. During Barrasso’s interview on Fox's America's Newsroom, co-host Sandra Smith falsely claimed that “the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office” was behind the $93 trillion figure and Barrasso failed to correct her error. (Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt also falsely credited the report to the CBO.) From the February 28 episode of America’s Newsroom:

    SANDRA SMITH (HOST): The Green New Deal, all the rage on the left. But a new study finds that it comes with a staggering price tag: the plan estimated to cost is as much as $93 trillion. That breaks down to $600,000 per household. Those are some big numbers. Joining us now, Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming who chairs the Committee on the Environment and Public Works. Been hearing you talk a lot about this, sir, and this price tag. It is a lofty one. This is the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that did a study on this and came up with those numbers: $93 trillion, $600,000 per household. What do you think?

    SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Well, this Green New Deal is a big green bomb that will blow a hole in our strong economy. It will destroy the energy independence we now have from foreign countries. It will destroy what we’ve been doing to actually lower emissions. The cost to families -- electricity alone would go up by about $3,600 per family, per year. This is something, Sandra, that we cannot as a nation afford. The economy can't afford it. Our nation can’t survive it.

    Some Fox News personalities and Republican politicians, including President Donald Trump, have cited an even larger unsubstantiated figure for Green New Deal costs: $100 trillion. As Dave Anderson recently reported for the Energy and Policy Institute, that number originated from a flippant Twitter thread by a Manhattan Institute senior fellow. The Manhattan Institute has been funded by ExxonMobil, and the chair of its board is also the CEO of a hedge fund that is the top shareholder in Peabody Energy, a major coal company. The $100 trillion figure was mentioned by Fox host Charles Payne during an interview with EPA chief Andrew Wheeler on March 4 on Your World with Neil Cavuto, and it was also cited on other Fox programs and right-wing sites like Townhall.

    Right-wing echo chamber amplifies misinformation by design

    The spread of the $93 trillion figure is a textbook example of how the right-wing media sphere disseminates misinformation to stymie climate action (and the spread of the $100 trillion figure too, for that matter). Conservative media outlets have been freaking out about the Green New Deal since even before the resolution was unveiled. AAF rushed out a quickie estimate of its potential costs that even its lead author won't robustly defend. Surely the think tank knew that its ready-made, sky-high number would be quickly picked up and regurgitated by conservative commentators, writers, and politicians -- and it was. It is not likely to matter that AAF's report has been called out as “bogus” and poked full of holes. You can expect right-wing media to keep on promoting it.

  • Sunday show coverage of climate change was up in February, thanks to the Green New Deal

    Unfortunately, much of the discussion was superficial, and some of it included climate deniers

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Sunday morning political shows discussed climate change much more in February than they did in January. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who is calling on the programs to give climate change more attention, released a scorecard on the shows' February performance:

    It indicates a notable increase in climate coverage compared with the first month of the year, when none of the shows aired substantive segments on climate change and altogether they made just four passing mentions of the topic. 

    Most of the coverage in February focused on the Green New Deal resolution that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced on February 7. While it was encouraging to see more media attention on climate policy ideas, the discussions tended to be narrowly focused on the potential political ramifications for Democrats and Republicans instead of whether the Green New Deal contains worthy ideas for addressing climate change.

    On a more discouraging note, some of the Sunday show discussions about the Green New Deal included climate deniers -- most notably right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, who appeared on Fox News Sunday on February 17. During a wide-ranging conversation, Limbaugh called climate change a "hoax" after host Chris Wallace brought up the Green New Deal. Limbaugh went on, "There's no evidence for it. Climate change is nothing but a bunch of computer models that attempt to tell us what's going to happen in 50 years or 30." Wallace did not push back against Limbaugh's outright climate denial. This was the lowlight of February's climate coverage.

    Other people who have denied or downplayed the climate threat were also asked about the Green New Deal on the Sunday shows. On the February 10 edition of Fox News Sunday, Wallace raised the topic with National Review Editor Rich Lowry and with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. And on February 10 on ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos brought up the Green New Deal with former New Jersey governor and ABC contributor Chris Christie. None of them expressed climate denial in these conversations, but Lowry used the opportunity to criticize the Green New Deal as "socialist" and "radical" and Mulvaney expressed delight that the plan is dividing Democrats.

    More insightful climate coverage included a segment on the February 24 episode of CBS’ Face the Nation during which Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democratic presidential hopeful, called for action to fight the climate emergency. Additionally, a panel discussion on the February 10 episode of NBC’s Meet the Press included MSNBC host Katy Tur offering a vivid reminder that climate change could kill millions of people and cause billions of dollars in economic damages. (Actually, it could cause trillions in damages.)

    But the highlight of the month's climate coverage came from a panel discussion on NBC’s Meet the Press on February 24, when Heather McGhee, former president and current senior fellow at the liberal policy group Demos, injected a passionate call for climate action into what was otherwise shaping up to be a typical, insubstantial conversation about Green New Deal politics. The panel was discussing the tactics behind a viral video that showed Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) condescending to young activists from the Sunrise Movement who were pressing her to support the Green New Deal. McGhee reminded the others of the big picture and the urgent need for action:

    Dianne Feinstein has been great. And she has been in office and not had the urgency that is required. This is an emergency in this country. It's an emergency on this planet. There's no higher responsibility of anyone who has any kind of political power right now than to try to stop a global catastrophe that's not happening in three generations, it's happening now.

    McGhee came close to tears during her comments, as she noted afterward on Twitter:

    She then followed up by writing a piece invoking her infant son and explaining that “we need more emotion and more urgency in the fight for the future.”

    In 2018, the Sunday shows hardly covered climate change at all, and when they did, those discussions too often featured climate deniers. Now -- after the release late last year of landmark climate reports from the United Nations and the U.S. government and the introduction this year of the Green New Deal resolution -- the programs are addressing climate change more often, and at least some of the coverage is constructive. We hope to be seeing a lot more.

  • The comparison of Sunrise Movement to Project Veritas is ridiculous

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Editing a longer video to feature newsworthy bits is a far cry from engaging in James O'Keefe-style deception. 

    Sunrise Movement posted a video on February 22 showing a tense discussion between young climate activists and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The group's Bay Area chapter streamed the exchange live on Facebook; a shorter version was subsequently posted on Twitter to fit the platform's 140-second video limit; and the group also shared the link to the full Facebook video later that night. Despite the longer versions posted elsewhere, the Twitter video prompted ill-considered accusations that it had been deceptively edited to paint Feinstein in a bad light, with people baselessly comparing the incident to the malicious work of O'Keefe's Project Veritas.

    The activists, including middle and high school students, visited Feinstein to petition her to support the Green New Deal, a nonbinding resolution to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. within 10 years. Sunrise Movement shared footage on Twitter that showed Feinstein dismissing them and equating the pressure from young activists on climate action to “my way or the highway,” telling them she doesn’t “respond to that.”

    After the initial video went viral, several commentators pointed to the longer version of the encounter as evidence that Sunrise Movement had maliciously misrepresented the exchange. People like “Never Trump” conservative Tom Nichols invoked Project Veritas, the notorious conservative group headed by O’Keefe.

    Nichols was far from the only person to invoke O'Keefe.

    O'Keefe has made deceptive editing of footage and doctored videos synonymous with his and his project’s name. He and his group have a well-documented record of peddling misinformation and staging stunts that backfire. Notably, Veritas’ modus operandi relies on deception, as its staffers routinely lie about who they are with the intent of filming targets in embarrassing situations, whereas Sunrise Movement activists identified themselves transparently. In one incident, O'Keefe attempted to lure a CNN reporter onto a boat filled with "sexually explicit props."

    In contrast to O'Keefe's antics, there is no question that Feinstein knew exactly whom she was discussing policy with. And the longer and shorter versions of the Feinstein are clearly similar in tone and content.

    One can have a reasonable discussion about what policies are best suited to addressing climate change. But that discussion cannot happen without a shared understanding of just how bad the situation already is. Likening these climate activists to one of the worst smear merchants around is not just profoundly unfair; it makes suitable action on the climate crisis even harder to achieve.

  • Here's what you need to know about the climate denier who could head a new Trump climate panel

    William Happer argues that CO2 is good for us and climate scientists are like Nazis

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Media Matters / Melissa Joskow

    President Donald Trump may put climate-denying physicist William Happer at the head of a new Presidential Committee on Climate Security, according to a recent Washington Post article. The proposed panel would evaluate whether climate change poses a national security threat. (It does.) Happer, an emeritus professor at Princeton University and veteran of the George H.W. Bush administration, currently serves as Trump's deputy assistant for emerging technologies on the National Security Council.

    It’s not hard to understand why Trump would pick Happer to head his panel: He's a credentialed scientist who denies that carbon dioxide emissions are causing extensive global warming and has testified before Congress about the need for a government-mandated panel to review climate science, which he said is “far from 'settled.'” Though he's a physicist, Happer has never published any peer-reviewed research on climate change.

    Happer has multiple connections to the Koch brothers and fossil fuel companies. He served as adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, which was founded by Charles Koch, and has been affiliated with The Heartland Institute, a climate-denial group that has received funding from the Charles G. Koch Foundation. Happer was on the board of directors at the ExxonMobil-funded George Marshall Institute, and he co-founded its successor, the CO2 Coalition. He has also disclosed that Peabody Coal paid him to testify at a hearing of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

    A 2015 Greenpeace investigation exposed Happer’s willingness to work even more directly for fossil fuel companies. Corresponding over email with a Greenpeace staffer who was posing as an oil company consultant, Happer agreed to write about the alleged benefits of increased carbon emissions at the behest of a fictional Middle Eastern oil company and to not disclose the company's payment to his group, the CO2 Coalition.

    But Happer is no ordinary climate-denying, pay-for-play academic. His outrageous, false claims about climate science often include bizarre and inflammatory analogies. Here are a few of his most egregious comments.

    Happer compared climate scientists and activists to Nazis, fascists, and Salem witch trial judges

    Happer equated climate science with Nazi propaganda. In a 2009 interview with The Daily Princetonian, Happer asserted that climate scientists were spreading dehumanizing propaganda. He told the campus newspaper:

    This is George Orwell. This is the "Germans are the master race. The Jews are the scum of the earth." It’s that kind of propaganda.

    Happer compared the “demonization of carbon dioxide” to the demonization of Jews during the Holocaust. During a 2014 appearance on CNBC, Happer doubled down when he was asked about his 2009 comments to The Daily Princetonian:

    The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.

    He continued to make Nazi analogies, including one as recently as 2017. In an email cited in a Jezebel story, Happer wrote: 

    Demonization of CO2 and people like me who come to its defense is nothing to be proud of. It really differs little from the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the Soviet extermination of class enemies or ISIL slaughter of infidels.

    Happer said climate activism is like mass hysterias that have driven fascism, communism, and Prohibition. During a 2015 interview with Conversations That Matter, a webcast news show, Happer suggested that people concerned about climate change are in the grip of mass hysteria like those who drove the temperance movement in America and fascist and communist movements in Europe:

    It’s another one of these sort of mass hysterias that have gripped humanity since it began. In our country, in America, we had a sort of similar case of mass hysteria with Prohibition. There were a few cautious people who said, “Maybe, you know, Prohibition isn’t a good idea. You might increase organized crime, for example." Everything they said was right, and yet, you know, when the amendment for Prohibition was put to the vote, every state except one, Rhode Island, voted for Prohibition and not one of them intended to honor it. It was just what everybody else did. “How could you be in favor of demon rum?” You know, demon CO2. So these things happen. More sinister are these movements in Europe: the fascists, the communists. They were mass hysteria too.

    ...

    Any movement can be captured by thugs, and that’s what’s happened.

    Happer compared climate scientists to the judges who presided over the Salem witch trials. During a 2017 seminar given to chemistry students at UCLA, Happer referenced the Salem witch trials after a student asked him why he held views on climate change that are contrary to majority of the scientific community. According to the Daily Bruin, he said:

    At the Salem witch trials, every one of those judges had a Harvard degree. Scientific consensus is often wrong.

    Happer accused people of hyping climate change to "make a buck"

    Despite Happer's own well-documented financial ties to fossil fuel companies and interests, he has questioned the financial motives of people who are concerned about climate change. During a 2014 interview on Carolina Journal Radio, Happer explained that he thinks carbon began to be demonized as a pollutant because some people thought they could make money by doing so:

    I think it began to get legs in the '70s and '80s. There was an Academy of Science report in the '70s by [Jule] Charney, and then it got latched on by green politicians, Al Gore comes to mind, but there are many others. So people saw a way to make a buck in demonizing CO2, and that’s what’s happened.

    Happer argues that CO2 is not a pollutant, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary

    Happer’s long-espoused belief that increased CO2 in the atmosphere benefits humanity rather than harms it was neatly summarized in a 2012 opinion piece he published in The Wall Street Journal. He wrote:

    CO2 is not a pollutant. Life on earth flourished for hundreds of millions of years at much higher CO2 levels than we see today. Increasing CO2 levels will be a net benefit because cultivated plants grow better and are more resistant to drought at higher CO2 levels, and because warming and other supposedly harmful effects of CO2 have been greatly exaggerated.

    In a 2017 interview with journalist Andrew Revkin, Happer insisted that there's no reason for "climate hysteria." Revkin asked him if he sees CO2 emissions as "a non-problem" and Happer replied:

    Absolutely. Not only a non-problem. I see the CO2 as good, you know. Let me be clear. I don’t think it’s a problem at all, I think it’s a good thing.

    In a 2018 video for Prager University, a right-wing propaganda outlet, Happer attacked climate science models as unpredictable while minimizing the role CO2 plays in global warming.

    Happer has no business leading a climate change panel

    Despite what Happer says, the science is clear: Human-caused CO2 emissions are the primary driver of climate change, climate change is already having negative effects in the U.S. and around the world, and its catastrophic impacts will intensify in coming years. This has been confirmed by recent major reports from teams of respected scientists at the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and in the U.S. government.

    Happer’s eccentric and incorrect views on climate science should disqualify him from serving on the National Security Council, not to mention a White House panel on climate change. But as long as he provides Trump with cover to engage in climate denial and justify rollbacks of environmental protections, Happer will likely continue to have a loud voice in the Trump administration -- no matter how many ludicrous statements he utters.

  • Here are two big things that were wrong with climate change coverage in 2018  

    Major outlets reported too little on climate change driving extreme weather and too much on Trump, two analyses find

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Mainstream media are continuing two troubling trends in their coverage of climate change, a pair of new reports finds. In 2018, media outlets too often failed to connect extreme weather to climate change, according to an analysis from Public Citizen, a progressive consumer advocacy organization. And researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder found that when major outlets did cover climate change, their reporting was too focused on President Donald Trump.

    Public Citizen reviewed coverage of extreme weather events in 50 top U.S. newspapers, 32 online news sources, and major broadcast and cable television networks, analyzing how often that coverage made mention of climate change. Climate scientists have found that global warming is tied to more intense heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods, as well as aberrant weather events like polar vortexes. But Public Citizen found that many news stories neglected to explain this connection:

    On the whole, the proportion of [extreme weather] pieces that mentioned climate change was disappointingly low. There was no climate-related form of extreme weather that the media connected to climate change in more than 35 percent of pieces. That high-water mark comes from articles discussing record drought. Extreme heat fared similarly, with 34 percent of pieces mentioning climate change. For hurricanes, the rate was just 7 percent.

    Public Citizen’s report notes that coverage of climate change's role in extreme weather was better in 2018 than in 2017, but many outlets continued to miss the mark. 

    When it came to reporting on heat waves, newspapers and TV networks both showed improvement -- they mentioned climate change more often in their heat-wave stories in 2018 than in 2017 -- but not nearly enough. Thirty-three percent of newspaper articles about record or extreme heat connected it to climate change, up from 28 percent in 2017. Television news programs made the connection in 22 percent of their segments, compared to 10 percent in 2017. (A Media Matters analysis of broadcast coverage of a record-breaking heat wave in North America last summer found even worse performance.)

    Coverage of wildfires also improved slightly in 2018, according to Public Citizen’s report. Top newspapers mentioned climate change in 29 percent of wildfire stories last year, compared to 19 percent in 2017. The online news outlets mentioned climate change in 28 percent of wildfire stories in 2018, up from 22 in 2017. And television networks connected wildfires to climate change in 21 percent of their segments last year, compared to 8 percent in 2017. Again, Media Matters documented even worse performance from broadcast TV news in connecting climate change to wildfires that happened last summer and in early November.

    Similar patterns emerged in reporting on other extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, flooding, and hurricanes: There was slight improvement, but as Public Citizen sums it up, "major news outlets fell short." 

    Researchers at CU-Boulder's International Collective on Environment, Culture & Politics documented a different problem with climate coverage in the U.S.: an obsessive focus on Trump. The collective's Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO), which tracks media coverage in dozens of countries, produced a report summarizing its findings from 2018. In the U.S., MeCCO monitored five major newspapers and six major TV networks.

    According to the research group, “Throughout the year (as in 2017) there has been continued prominence of news from US outlets on climate change or global warming associated with Donald J. Trump.” It found that the word “Trump” was used an average of nearly 4.5 times in each story about climate change, just slightly less than 2017’s average of 4.7 times. In fact, Trump was mentioned more than twice as often as the words "science," "scientific," or "scientist(s)." The result of this Trump-centric reporting was that “media attention that would have focused on other climate-related events and issues instead was placed on Trump-related actions, leaving many other stories untold,” according to MeCCO’s analysis. (Media Matters reached similar conclusions about climate journalism’s overemphasis on Trump in 2017 and 2018.)

    There were some bright spots in climate coverage in 2018. Public Citizen highlighted an editorial collaboration in Florida called The Invading Sea -- involving the Miami Herald, The Palm Beach Post, the Sun-Sentinel, and public radio station WLRN -- that aims to increase awareness of sea-level rise and galvanize action to address it. The Public Citizen report also recognized great reporting by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press.

    Despite these positive developments, the two reports show that news outlets need to improve their climate journalism in 2019. They should stop chasing Trump's every tweet and instead provide sustained, substantive reporting that explains the nature of the climate challenge, connects extreme weather events to climate research, and amplifies solutions to climate-related problems.

  • Fox News dominated prime-time cable coverage of the Green New Deal

    Fox covered the plan far more than CNN and MSNBC, and often failed to even mention climate change

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD

    From February 7 to February 11, Fox News aired 34 segments on the Green New Deal on its prime-time shows, according to a Media Matters analysis. This was more than triple the combined number of segments aired by its cable news counterparts: MSNBC and CNN aired eight and three segments, respectively. Just 14 of Fox's segments on the Green New Deal mentioned climate change, less than half. By contrast, MSNBC and CNN did a better job of explaining that the Green New Deal is designed to address climate change; MSNBC discussed climate change in five of its eight segments, and CNN discussed it in two of its three segments.

    Fox aired far more prime-time Green New Deal segments than MSNBC or CNN

    From February 7, when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) released the Green New Deal resolution, through February 11, Fox News aired 34 segments discussing the Green New Deal on its weekday and weekend prime-time shows airing between 5 p.m. and midnight. February 7 and February 8 saw the most Fox coverage -- the network aired 19 prime-time segments on those two days. Tucker Carlson Tonight and Hannity led the Fox prime-time shows in the number of Green New Deal segments, airing seven and five segments, respectively.

    Across this same time period, MSNBC aired eight prime-time segments on the Green New Deal. Five of these aired on February 7, the day the resolution was introduced, including an interview with Ocasio-Cortez on MTP Daily and an interview with Markey on All In with Chris Hayes.  

    CNN, meanwhile, aired only three Green New Deal segments on its prime-time shows from February 7 to February 11. One segment came on the February 7 episode of Erin Burnett OutFront, which included an interview with Markey. Another segment aired on the February 9 episode of The Van Jones Show, and a third on CNN Newsroom on February 10.

    Most of Fox’s segments on the Green New Deal either ignored climate change or mocked it

    The text of the Green New Deal resolution makes clear that it is intended to fight climate change. Ocasio-Cortez and Markey both emphasized the urgent need to combat the climate crisis at their February 7 press conference unveiling the resolution. And Ocasio-Cortez explained in an interview with NPR earlier that day that the Green New Deal is so ambitious because the climate crisis is such an enormous threat: "Even the solutions that we have considered big and bold are nowhere near the scale of the actual problem that climate change presents to us.”

    But the majority of Fox News segments on the Green New Deal didn't even mention climate change, often ignoring the entire reason that Ocasio-Cortez and Markey had proposed such a sweeping plan in the first place. In contrast, MSNBC and CNN discussed climate change in most of their segments on the Green New Deal.

    Fox News mentioned climate change in just 41 percent of its prime-time segments on the Green New Deal. Out of the 34 segments that Fox aired about the Green New Deal, only 14 included the words "climate" or "global warming." Most segments omitted the reasoning behind the resolution and merely discussed it out of context as an onerous, oppressive policy proposal. Two of the Fox segments that failed to mention climate change instead claimed that the Green New Deal was just a pretext for implementing a radical left-wing agenda -- a theme that was popular in right-wing media even before the resolution was released.

    Even in cases when Fox figures did bring up climate change during a segment on the Green New Deal, they often downplayed the issue. In six of Fox's 13 segments that mentioned climate change, a host or guest made a dismissive or skeptical remark about the problem. For example, the February 7 episode of The Ingraham Angle featured a well-informed guest who discussed the climate challenge, but host Laura Ingraham followed up her comments by saying, "Well, it's pretty cold right now in Minnesota, but that's just a snapshot. I mean it's been a brutal winter.”

    And on the February 7 episode of Hannity, host Sean Hannity simultaneously misstated activists’ claims about climate change and downplayed the climate threat, then made ludicrous claims about how the Green New Deal would bring about the downfall of America: “They claim that the world was going to end in 12 years because of climate change, which is, of course, is not true. Now, green energy, this new deal, will destroy America, our economy as we know it.”

    MSNBC mentioned climate change in more than half of its prime-time Green New Deal segments. Five out of MSNBC’s eight segments on the Green New Deal discussed the plan in the context of climate change, and two of these were the segments that featured interviews with the resolution's co-sponsors, Ocasio-Cortez and Markey. During his appearance on All In with Chris Hayes on February 7, Markey was particularly clear about the need to act now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change:

    SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA): By the year 2100, we're going to have lost tens of trillions of dollars to the damage which is going to be created by climate change to our country. And a stitch in time will save nine. If we invest now, we'll be able to avoid the worst, most catastrophic consequences. Otherwise the price that’s going to be paid is going to be in the tens of trillions in our country, and that will just be a footnote compared to the rest of the world.

    Another segment on All In with Chris Hayes deserves mention. Hayes described the need for a dramatic response to the climate crisis and explained why right-wing criticism of the Green New Deal is so off-base:

    CHRIS HAYES (HOST): As you watch the continued right-wing caterwauling about the Green New Deal, here's what to keep in mind, particularly as all kinds of denialists and cranks talk about what is and is not serious. The bar for entry into the conversation for seriousness in said conversation is some framework, some proposal to reduce U.S. carbon emissions from human sources by almost half -- 45 percent -- from 2010 levels by 2030. That's 11 years from now. Half of emissions. That's what the international panel on climate change says has to happen globally to avoid the worst effects of climate change. And those effects of climate change, they are happening, and they are getting more visible and more present every day.

    CNN discussed climate change in two of its three prime-time segments about the Green New Deal. While CNN ran fewer segments on the Green New Deal than the other cable news channels, it did a better job of foregrounding climate change in the segments that it did air.

    On the February 7 episode of Erin Burnett OutFront, CNN correspondent Miguel Marquez explained the reasoning of the Green New Deal's backers: "Viewing climate change as an existential threat to the entire world, fire, drought, rising sea levels, increasingly violent storms, famine, and mass migrations is what we face, they warn, if radical change isn't embraced now."

    And on the February 9 episode of The Van Jones Show, host Van Jones explained how Green New Deal supporters see climate change affecting the economy and inequality:

    VAN JONES (HOST): They point out the cost of inaction could mean we don't have a planet to live on. They also point out the program could be paid for by tax hikes on the super wealthy and cutting spending elsewhere. Their goal is not just to reduce carbon emissions but also to stimulate the job market, reduce inequality, and boost the economy in low-income areas that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

    Fox continues to lie, fearmonger, and relentlessly mock the Green New Deal

    Fox News spread misinformation about the Green New Deal before the resolution was introduced, and it has continued to do so since it was released. Fox has aired a number of segments that lied about what’s in the Green New Deal resolution, tried to paint the resolution as an instance of alleged Democratic extremism, and downplayed the serious need to tackle climate change. One example of this comes from Sean Hannity on the February 11 episode of Hannity.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): We'll start with New Jersey Sen. Spartacus, Cory Booker, comparing the Green New Deal to going to the moon and defeating the Nazis. And Booker is talking about Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's bizarre, horrific new piece of legislation. Let's see. That would plan the end of consumption of fossil fuels in 10 years. By the way, the planet is going to die in 12 years. What is the point? And, by the way, and seriously, don't write off Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and her grandiose and disastrous plans. She is merely just saying and acting on what Democrats really believe but try and hide from you. Look at all of those Democrats now coming out in support of this, this Green New Deal which calls for no more oil, no more gas, no more fossil fuels of any kind. Not even any nuclear energy. And it doesn't stop there. This bill that would eliminate airplanes, gas-powered automobiles and trucks, gas-powered ovens and stoves. By the way, if you like steak -- no more cows, too much flatulence. They emit CO2 emissions. No more cows. You better load up on the steak and put in a freezer.

    The resolution, of course, does not call for the elimination of airplanes, cows, or nuclear energy -- it doesn't mention these things at all. Hannity misrepresented lines from an informal FAQ document that has since been retracted. But Hannity continued to push these bombastic, false talking points even after it was reported that the FAQ did not represent the actual Green New Deal resolution.

    Another example comes from President Donald Trump himself on this same episode of Hannity. The show aired live footage of Trump speaking at a rally in El Paso, TX, where he said:

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Last week, they introduced a massive government takeover that would destroy our incredible economic gains. They introduced the so-called Green New Deal. It sounds like a high school term paper that got a low mark. It would shut down American energy, which I don't think the people in Texas are going to be happy with that. It would shut down a little thing called air travel. How do you take a train to Europe? You know, this crazy senator from Hawaii. They said, do you like it? Yes, I like it very much. Oh, really, how are we getting to Hawaii on a train? She didn't think about that one, but she's thinking about it. She will figure it out. They want to take away your car, reduce the value of your home, and put millions of Americans out of work, spend $100 trillion -- which, by the way, there's no such thing as a $100 trillion.

    Trump constantly lies, so it is no surprise that he would make false statements about trains to Europe, a $100 trillion price tag, and a Hawaii senator -- and no surprise that Fox would air his comments without correction.

    Another ridiculous example came from frequent Fox talking head Dan Bongino on the February 9 episode of Justice with Judge Jeanine:

    DAN BONGINO: Are there going to be cow assassination squads now? I mean, you are going to have to give your cow Beano to cure up their gastrointestinal issues? To prevent an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez death squad or something?

    More cow jokes came from right-wing commentator Mark Steyn on the February 7 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight:

    MARK STEYN: Well, the AOC plan strikingly pledges to get rid of most forms of transportation and, indeed, cows. So you can give up your Chevy Suburban and take your cow to work. The cow actually is more devastating to the environment than the Chevy Suburban. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's document actually says that she is committed to ridding America of flatulent cows and airplanes. I always take a flatulent cow on an airplane as my emotional support animal. It means that 20 minutes out of LAX, you've got the whole first class compartment all to yourself and nobody is in there. But the Europeans actually tried this and they basically -- the Irish were going to impose a tax of 13 euros per cow and the Danes were going to impose a tax of 80 euros per cow because apparently a Danish Holstein is six times as flatulent as an Irish Hereford. So in theory, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is on to something that you could, as the Europeans considered, actually have a flatulence offset regime. Obviously, you would need a secretary of flatulence in the Cabinet that you would actually -- Vermont, for example, has a lot of Holsteins there, the black and white cows that look like the governor of Virginia with only half his makeup on -- and you can take, you could take those, Vermont would be able to trade its flatulence to Washington, D.C., where it could hang like a giant cloud over Congress.

    These examples show that Fox News will go to great lengths to avoid having good-faith discussions about tackling climate change and instead paint any ambitious climate proposal as absurd and a sign of supposed Democratic extremism. That makes it especially unfortunate that Fox is the cable network that's covering the Green New Deal the most on its prime-time shows.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis and IQ Media search for mentions of "green new deal" in programs that aired on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC between 5 p.m. and midnight from February 7 to February 11. We then searched within those transcripts for mentions of “climate” or "global warming." We counted any segments that were devoted to the Green New Deal or made substantial mention of it. We did not count teasers, passing mentions, or rebroadcasts.

    Image and chart by Melissa Joskow of Media Matters.

  • Conservatives invoke murderous dictators to attack Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Just weeks after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) was sworn into office, some in the conservative media world are already likening her to some of history’s worst mass-murdering dictators to criticize her signature policy proposal, the Green New Deal.

    Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) unveiled a Green New Deal resolution on February 7 that lays out an ambitious goal of addressing the climate crisis and economic inequality. Right-wing media figures immediately misled their audiences on the aims of the resolution and began to issue ominous warnings about the effort. But some took their warnings to a greater extreme by likening Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats who back the Green New Deal to murderous tyrants such as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Zedong.

    Economist Ben Stein and Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens were among the first prominent conservatives to compare Ocasio-Cortez to dictators. Before the Green New Deal resolution was even released, Stein said in January: “We have a society in which there are an awful lot of people who have no idea that Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong all came to power promising the same kinds of things that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is promising. And it led to mass murder; it led to dictatorship; it led to genocide. These promises are old promises and they invariably lead to bad things.”

    Owens compared Ocasio-Cortez to Hitler in a February 4 tweet. (Owens has been widely criticized for recently saying, “If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that … he had dreams outside of Germany.”)

    Bill Bennett, a Fox News contributor and former Reagan administration secretary of education, criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s policy resolution on February 6, saying, “Look at the fine print. Look at what socialism has done. Socialism is as socialism has done. … Look at the real masters of socialism: Mao, Stalin -- 30, 40 million dead.” He further warned that “there should be no truck at all with this idea of socialism” and declared that young Americans who are sympathetic to socialism are ignorant.

    Two prominent conservative talk radio hosts piled on two days later. Hugh Hewitt, who is also an MSNBC contributor, likened Ocasio-Cortez to dictators who “end up murdering millions” of people to get their way. He also said of the Green New Deal: “It is not socialism; it is communism, it is fascism, it is despotism. It drains all freedom out of America.”

    While PragerU founder Dennis Prager didn’t name Ocasio-Cortez in his own dire warning about her Green New Deal, he did say that the resolution and other policies to address economic inequality “will lead to bloodshed, loss of liberty, loss of human rights”:

    DENNIS PRAGER (HOST): The vast majority of torture and mayhem of the 20th century was done in the name of equality. It started in the French Revolution, which immediately descended into slaughtering human beings. It is a very, very scary vision. OK, just know that.

    It sounds great. That's why it's so dangerous. Racism doesn't sound great, for good reason. It's disgusting.

    The pursuit of equality will lead to bloodshed, loss of liberty, loss of human rights, and the Green New Deal is an example. The death that will ensue in the United States of America, the mayhem, the suffering, if the government takes over all health -- the problem is these people need a cause. That's what it is. There is a soullessness to the Elizabeth Warrens of the world. They need meaning. They need a crusade. They can't leave well enough alone. That's a big part of leftism. This country is too free, too kind, too affluent. They need to screw it up. If they screw it up, they have purpose.

    Liberals are not leftists, but liberals are naive and weak, because they don't confront the evil that leftism will bring about. That they mean well is of such little consequence -- do you know how much evil has been done by people who think they're good? Nearly all of it. OK? Just want you to know.

    Later that afternoon on Fox Business’ The Evening Edit, former Republican gubernatorial candidate for California John Cox warned about Ocasio-Cortez’s comments on the Green New Deal: “You got to worry about it. You know, if we don't study history, Liz, we're doomed to repeat it. And if you look at what has gone on in -- you report very well what's going on in Venezuela. Chavez and Maduro promised the socialist paradise, and you go back to the Soviet Union and Stalin and Lenin; it was always promised that government would be able to provide these things, and it's never been able to be successful.”

    On Monday, radio host Michael Savage discussed the Green New Deal and labelled Ocasio-Cortez a “psycho,” saying, “This is a Stalinist in a skirt; this is a Hitler in high heels.”

    San Diego radio host Carl DeMaio said, “The Democrat Party is more and more like the Nazi Party of Germany every single day,” citing in part Ocasio-Cortez’s alleged plan for the “takeover of private sector industries by the government” -- an apparent right-wing description of the Green New Deal.

    On February 12, Hewitt again referred to totalitarianism while discussing the Green New Deal and declared that Ocasio-Cortez is going “full 1984” and rewriting history by removing an inaccurate FAQ document from her website, saying: “That’s what happens in totalitarian states.”

    The absurd comparisons of Ocasio-Cortez to dictators are nothing new for the right; for example, conservatives also compared former President Barack Obama to Hitler and his policies to those of Nazi Germany countless times. And given the conservative media obsession with Ocasio-Cortez, the attacks are likely to continue throughout her career in elected office -- which has barely begun.

  • Major Sunday shows discuss climate change and Green New Deal, but through narrow lens of political horse race

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    All five major Sunday morning political shows touched on the Green New Deal on February 10 -- the first time in 2019 that any of the programs have addressed climate change with more than a passing mention. But most of the discussion was superficial and narrowly focused on whether the Green New Deal will cause intra-party fighting among Democrats or end up benefiting Republicans, not on whether its policy ideas are good approaches for fighting climate change.

    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a Green New Deal resolution on Thursday, outlining an aggressive plan for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. within a decade.

    NBC's Meet the Press featured a conversation about the Green New Deal with a panel of guests. Host Chuck Todd kicked it off by briefly outlining the plan's big goals and then asking Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, “Is this a healthy debate [for the Democratic Party] that's happening right now?" In a follow-up comment to David Brody, chief political analyst for the Christian Broadcasting Network, Todd said, “Obviously the president's team sees a reelection opening." The panel discussion on the show largely focused on which party could benefit from consideration of the Green New Deal. Only MSNBC host Katy Tur talked about the dire climate impacts the Green New Deal is designed to mitigate:

    The U.N. said we have 12 years before complete disaster. You talk to the representative of the Marshall Islands, and he's calling it what could amount to genocide if we allow things to go as they are. The reports aren't just, "Hey, it's going to get bad." The reports are, "People will die. Millions and million, and millions of people will die." And I think that there is an appetite among voters out there, especially Democratic voters and potentially swing voters, to say, "Hey, let's do something about this now because it's, it’s going to affect our future." And there's real economic damage that can happen as well. Billions of dollars in economic damage from crops to deaths, to losing oceanfront homes and businesses in, over the next century.

    On CNN's State of the Union, host Jake Tapper brought up the Green New Deal twice. His interview with Peter Buttigieg, Democratic presidential hopeful and mayor of South Bend, IN, included a substantive exchange on the plan and on climate impacts. Tapper briefly mentioned the Green New Deal’s broad aims, questioned Buttigieg about how it could affect his constituents and industry in the Midwest, and asked if he endorsed it. Buttigieg affirmed his support for the general framework of the Green New Deal, specifically “the idea that we need to race toward that goal and that we should do it in a way that enhances the economic justice and the level of economic opportunity in our country.” Buttigieg also noted that action is needed because extreme weather is already hurting Americans. Later in the show, during an interview with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tapper noted that Murphy was a Green New Deal co-sponsor before saying, “Independent senator Angus King of Maine as well as Obama's former energy secretary Ernest Moniz say they don't think that this plan is realistic.” Murphy responded, “It's absolutely realistic and I frankly think we need to set our sights high.” Murphy emphasized the reason why bold steps are required: "Global warming is an existential threat to the planet."

    Fox News Sunday included two segments that discussed the Green New Deal, but host Chris Wallace seemed less interested in how it would address climate change and more interested in whether it could be labeled “socialist.” During a discussion with a panel of guests, Wallace listed some of the plan’s policy goals before asking former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), “Couldn't you call it socialist?” In a follow-up question to Edwards, Wallace lumped the Green New Deal in with other progressive policy proposals such as free college tuition and a guaranteed jobs plan, asking her again, “Couldn't you argue that's pretty radical and possibly socialist?” During a separate interview with Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Wallace asked if President Donald Trump views the Green New Deal as “the view of a wing of the [Democratic] party or does he think that's the prevailing opinion of Democratic leaders?”

    Both ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos and CBS' Face the Nation just made passing mentions of the Green New Deal. This Week host Stephanopoulos directed a comment about Trump’s sarcastic tweet about the Green New Deal to ABC News contributor Chris Christie, but Christie didn't address the topic. Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan didn’t bring up the Green New Deal herself, but one of her guests, National Review Senior Editor Jonah Goldberg, referenced it in passing to claim that it could harm the Democrats politically.

    Sunday’s Green New Deal coverage did not include any guests who voiced climate denial, which is an improvement over the last time all of the major shows covered climate change, on November 25, after release of the National Climate Assessment. But this time around, none of the shows hosted guests with particular expertise in climate change to discuss the plan, like climate scientists or environmental journalists. This is an unfortunate, long-running trend: The Sunday shows rarely feature climate experts.

    The Green New Deal is sparking Sunday show discussion of climate policy, which we've seen very little of in recent years. (And it’s freaking out conservatives and right-wing media figures.) But the coverage needs to get better. Media outlets have a responsibility to move discussions of climate-related issues like the Green New Deal beyond superficial horse-race coverage and into real substance. That means acknowledging that the Green New Deal is not merely a political ploy; it is an effort backed by a broad array of environmental groups, environmental justice organizations, and unions, as well as high-profile Democratic politicians, to comprehensively address the climate crisis. Sunday shows should be fostering discussion of whether the Green New Deal is the right approach to deal with climate change, not whether it will help one side or another score quick political points.

  • Polluter-backed misinformers are trying to kill carbon-pricing plans in the states

    After tanking a carbon fee initiative in Washington state in 2018, fossil fuel interests are focused on other states in 2019

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A carbon fee ballot initiative failed in Washington state last year, but that won't deter activists and lawmakers from pushing carbon pricing measures in other states in 2019. Unfortunately, polluter interests, which waged a $31 million misinformation campaign to defeat the Washington state initiative, are already ramping up efforts to kill like-minded measures around the country, even though carbon pricing enjoys broad and bipartisan support.

    To curb the heat-trapping pollution that causes climate change, policymakers in at least seven states are seriously considering ways to price carbon. Oregon and Vermont are two states where carbon-pricing proposals are on the table in 2019 and have a better chance of passing than in previous years because of favorable outcomes in the 2018 midterm elections.

    But a constellation of hostile companies and groups are preparing to thwart any efforts to put a price on carbon pollution using a well-worn playbook of fearmongering and pushing misinformation that has proved successful in the past. From major oil companies to conservative trade associations to Koch-backed think tanks, the polluter syndicate uses its money and influence to try to keep Americans hooked on fossil fuels. 

    In Oregon, Koch-linked groups fight "cap and invest"

    Climate advocates in Oregon are optimistic about passing cap-and-trade legislation this year -- specifically a Clean Energy Jobs bill that they describe as "cap and invest." A version of the bill failed to pass the legislature in early 2018, but Democratic leaders reintroduced it in late January and are making it a priority for 2019. It would cap total carbon emissions, require the state’s largest polluters to purchase emissions permits, and invest the money that's raised in transitioning the state away from fossil fuels.

    Voters in the 2018 midterms gave Oregon Democrats supermajorities in the state House and Senate, and delivered incumbent Gov. Kate Brown (D) a six-point re-election victory. Brown's campaign platform called for a Clean Energy Jobs bill, and she has expressed support for the new version.

    Anti-climate-action groups opposed the Clean Energy Jobs bill last year and are ramping up for an intense lobbying campaign against it this year. If the measure passes the legislature, they could try to put it on the ballot and give voters a chance to overturn it. 

    In the last year, one high-profile group opposing cap and trade has been Priority Oregon, a 501(c)(4) dark money group. Although Priority Oregon refuses to disclose its donors, it has acknowledged that its members include the Taxpayers Association of Oregon. In 2017, the Taxpayers Association of Oregon worked with the Koch-funded Institute for Free Speech (formerly the Center for Competitive Politics) to fight a campaign finance reform measure passed by voters in Multnomah County, which encompasses Portland.

    The money Priority Oregon has received from both known and unknown sources allowed it to pay for a series of misleading ads during the 2018 legislative session that alleged cap-and-trade legislation would increase Oregonians' energy bills. These ads ignored the assistance the Clean Energy Jobs bill would provide to individuals and industries affected by potential price increases for electricity or natural gas. Priority Oregon also weighed in on the 2018 governor’s race, running multiple attack ads against Brown. 

    Various other Koch-financed or -affiliated groups are also trying to stymie cap-and-trade legislation in Oregon.

    Oregon Business & Industry, which bills itself as “Oregon's largest and most influential comprehensive business association,” is affiliated with two organizations that are deeply intertwined with the Koch network: the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In 2017, Oregon Business & Industry released an anti-cap-and-trade study it commissioned, which was heavily criticized for a number of methodological flaws by clean energy advocacy group Renew Oregon.

    The Oregon Farm Bureau, a trade association whose advocacy arm has taken Koch money, also publicly opposes cap-and-trade legislation. It has fought other environmental protections in the past, including the so-called Waters of the U.S. rule, a federal regulation intended to conserve waterways.

    Another opponent is the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, a Koch-connected, libertarian think tank that has promoted climate change denial and argued that the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are unnecessary. The institute came out against the idea of cap and trade as far back as 2008. In February 2018, the group's president and CEO argued against the Clean Energy Jobs bill in testimony before the state legislature. 

    These groups have been able to push their messaging out through mainstream media and the business press.

    In Vermont, the heating oil lobby and right-wing think tanks fight carbon fee

    Environmental advocates in Vermont are hopeful about the state legislature enacting a carbon price on gasoline, natural gas, and heating oil in 2019, according to Tom Hughes, campaign director for Energy Independent Vermont, a coalition of pro-carbon-fee environmental organizations, business groups, low-income advocates, and others. Last year, the legislature dedicated money for a study of carbon pricing options and other ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont. The study, conducted by nonprofit research group Resources for the Future and released in January of this year, found that a carbon price combined with other climate policies could lower emissions without hurting the economy or low-income people.

    Thanks to the 2018 elections, the state legislature is now more likely to act. “There are more climate champions in the Vermont State House in 2019 than ever before,” Hughes told Media Matters. According to Vermont Conservation Voters, “pro-environment candidates won 28 out of 33 hotly contested seats in the 2018 elections,” helping Democrats and Progressives gain a veto-proof majority in the legislature. They'll need it, as Republican Gov. Phil Scott is opposed to carbon fee legislation, even though he supports incentives for electric vehicles and a multistate initiative to curb transportation emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

    Any carbon fee bill will also face stiff opposition from Koch-backed groups allied with the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

    The Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, a heating industry trade group, has broad reach in the state, where it claims that its members service three out of four homes. Many of those homes use heating oil -- about 51 percent of Vermont households, according to the state government. The association, which is aggressively opposed to a carbon fee, has been using its influence to scare its members and customers about what it says would be the adverse economic impacts of pricing carbon, like higher heating oil costs -- despite the fact that the Resources for the Future study found that low-income people could be shielded from overall higher costs.

    The association operates a website called Stop the Taxes that fearmongers about the effects a carbon fee would have on Vermonters. The Vermont Fuel Dealers Association also included several anti-carbon-fee messages in its weekly email newsletters in 2018. For example, the April 20 issue took swipes at Ben & Jerry's, which has supported carbon pricing:

    The Vermont Carbon Tax will NOT pass in 2018, despite a media blitz by several famous Burlington businesses. There was very little debate about the tax proposal, which is designed to raise the cost of oil and gas in order to subsidize electricity. Most outside the statehouse recognize that taking money from poor Vermonters to lower the light bill at the ice cream factory isn’t a path to economic prosperity. It certainly isn’t a “solution” to climate change either.

    The Ethan Allen Institute is another Vermont-based organization opposed to carbon pricing. The institute, which has a history of climate denial, has been funded for years by groups in the Koch network such as the State Policy Network, Donors Capital Fund, and the Cato Institute. In February 2018, the Ethan Allen Institute published a study attacking a carbon fee proposal being considered by the legislature at the time. The institute has also teamed up with the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, publishing an anti-carbon-tax blog post written by the association's executive director.

    The anti-carbon-fee forces are getting a publicity boost from True North Reports, a Vermont-based right-wing policy organization that publicly presents itself as a news site. Backed by a Vermont megadonor who has funded conservative and right-wing causes, True North Reports has also been affiliated with the Koch network since it launched in 2010 with then-news director Rob Roper, former FreedomWorks state director and current Ethan Allen Institute president. True North Reports' current managing editor, Bruce Parker, has Koch ties too. He was previously a reporter and editor for Watchdog.org, a product of the Koch-backed Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Parker has also written for right-wing and conservative media outlets such as FoxNews.com, The Daily Caller, The Washington Times, and Human Events. True North Reports has also been directly involved in partisan politics, donating $7,500 to Republican candidates in 2016 and $10,000 to the Vermont Republican Party in 2018.

    True North Reports has repeatedly criticized carbon fees on its website and on its television show, which airs on a local public access channel. In another demonstration of collaboration between Vermont’s anti-environmental groups, True North Reports hosted a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute in September 2018 to discuss the findings of the institute’s latest anti-carbon-fee report published earlier that month.

    Carbon pricing momentum elsewhere will draw attacks too

    The polluter interests attacking carbon pricing proposals differ from state to state. Oregon and Vermont have unique coalitions of groups trying to stop their respective cap-and-trade and carbon fee plans. In Washington state last year, it was big oil companies that spent millions to kill a carbon fee initiative.

    But what's consistent is that there will be significant pushback against any efforts to price carbon from companies and groups that have financial interests in the continued burning of fossil fuels. We can expect to see this vocal opposition in other states that are considering carbon pricing plans this year, including Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.

    There's also a well-coordinated coalition of right-wing groups opposing carbon pricing on the national level, as Media Matters reported last year. Expect it to be particularly active in 2019 because there's modest momentum behind the idea of carbon taxes. A bipartisan group of U.S. House members has reintroduced a carbon pricing bill that it first floated late last year. Dozens of renowned economists, including a number of Republican heavy hitters, recently endorsed carbon taxation in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, as did a recently retired GOP representative. Carbon pricing could also become part of Green New Deal legislation, though it was not explicitly included in the Green New Deal resolution recently introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA).

    It's worth pointing out that many fossil fuel defenders and right-wing ideologues, who are now freaking out over the prospect of a broad Green New Deal, remain as opposed as ever to moderate, incrementalist carbon tax proposals. This polluter lobby draws little distinction between so-called “radical” plans like the Green New Deal and corporate-friendly carbon tax plans like that of the Climate Leadership Council, which has backing from establishment Republicans and Fortune 500 companies. They will fight bitterly against them all.