The Conservative Media's Faux Outrage Over The EPA Mine Spill

Dobbs Chyron EPA Spill

If it seems like conservative media are relishing the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accidentally spilled toxic wastewater into the Animas River in Colorado while attempting to treat pollution from an abandoned gold mine, it's because they are. Many of the media figures who are most ferociously criticizing the EPA over the spill have a long history of opposing EPA efforts to reduce pollution, which suggests that they are conjuring up faux outrage about this pollution in an attempt to weaken the EPA and prevent it from fulfilling its mandate to protect Americans' air and water.

The Washington Times laid out this anti-EPA strategy quite clearly in an Aug. 10 article. The Times promoted the allegation from “critics” that the mine spill “threaten[s] the credibility of the Environmental Protection Agency at a crucial moment” and provides “ammunition” for opponents of the EPA's clean air and water protections, including the Clean Power Plan. The “critics” quoted in the article included Dan Kish, a senior vice president at the oil industry-funded Institute for Energy Research, and Michael McKenna, the president of MWR Strategies, a lobbying firm that represents polluting fossil fuel interests such as Koch Industries and Southern Company.

This is just the latest attempt by The Washington Times to use industry-funded “critics” to undermine the Clean Power Plan, which would address climate change by placing the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It follows two other Times articles that cherry-picked statements from fossil fuel industry-funded individuals and organizations to allege that the EPA climate plan “faces opposition from black [and] Hispanic leaders.”

Then there's The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which revealed a newfound concern for pollution in an Aug. 11 editorial that lamented the “fiasco” in Colorado it blamed on “the green police.” The Journal's stated worries about the “ecological ramifications” of the mine spill are hard to take seriously when they come from one of the most persistent critics of federal efforts to clean up pollution -- dating back to the Journal's claims about acid rain and ozone depletion in the 1970's and 1980's.

In the years since, the Journal's editorial page has consistently sided with polluting industries against EPA air and water protections. When the Supreme Court recently ruled against the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards on procedural grounds, jeopardizing a safeguard that reduces toxic air pollution linked to cancer, heart attacks, and premature death, the Journal called it “a welcome rebuke to EPA arrogance.” When the EPA moved to reduce pollution by increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, the Journal declared that automakers were being held as “hostages” to the EPA's “crushing” rule. And when the EPA moved to protect waterways that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans, the Journal described it as an “amphibious attack” by the “Washington water police.”

Now the Journal is urging states to “refuse to comply” with the EPA's Clean Power Plan, so that power plants can continue to spew unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air, threatening public health and exacerbating climate change.

Fox News has also been all over the EPA's mishandling of the Colorado mine spill, including comparing it to the BP Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez oil spills. But Fox pundits vigorously defended BP in the wake of the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and even claimed coverage of the Exxon Valdez spill was proof that “the press is horrible to business.” They've also characterized the EPA's Clean Water Rule as a power grab, claimed that EPA officials are “job terrorists” for seeking to reduce smog, and enlisted fossil fuel industry allies to attack the EPA's carbon pollution standards.

For these conservative media outlets, pollution is only a problem when they can blame the EPA for it.