Energy Truth: October 2012

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6 posts from October 2012


NH: Big Oil’s Role in Manchester Publicity Stunt Missed

Last week in Manchester, New Hampshire, an organization called “Americans for Prosperity” (AFP) held an event at a local gas station offering local citizens a fill-up for just $1.84 cents a gallon in an attempt to highlight the change in gas prices over the course of the Obama administration. In a story about the event, a spokesperson from AFP claimed the promotional price was matched to the per gallon price prior to President Obama taking office - a point refuted by a New Hampshire Union Leader story that noted the per gallon price 5 months before President Obama took office reached $4.12.

However, the Union-Leader’s coverage of the AFP event failed to note one reason why the group would be able to afford such a publicity stunt: AFP is itself funded by Big Oil interests. After carrying out high-profile, multi-million dollar efforts aimed at organizing tea party activists and attacking President Obama’s policies, there was considerable speculation about AFP’s funding sources. Though the organization is not required to disclose its financiers, billionaire oil baron brothers Charles and David Koch confirmed speculation that they were responsible for founding the organization. In 2010, David Koch acknowledged this fact, noting at a 2009 conference that “my brother Charles and I provided the funds to start the Americans for Prosperity.” 

Between them, the Koch Brothers operate an oil conglomerate, control refineries in three states, and run 4,000 miles of pipelines. And, while prices have been rising at the pump, Koch Industries stands as the second largest private company in America with 2011 revenues reaching over $100 billion. Its no wonder, then, that AFP would have access to gasoline at low prices for political events - their billionaire benefactors are making millions by refining and selling oil every month.

With Big Oil’s lobbying arm - the American Petroleum Institute - also pumping thousands into AFP, Americans deserve to know who’s behind the politically-motivated activities of this Big Oil-backed organization. As it turns out, the very people offering cheap gas as a publicity stunt this election are the same ones who’ve been raking in the profits when prices rise at the pump. 


Swing States = Wind Jobs

Tuesday’s presidential debate - the second of the election cycle - focused extensively on energy and environmental issues and highlighted several clear contrasts between the candidates. One of these in particular might play an exceptionally important role in the swing states that could determine the winner - and in the future one growing clean energy industry has in the United States.

During the debate, Governor Mitt Romney was taken to task for his refusal to support the Wind Production Tax Credit (PTC). Set to expire at the end of the year, the Wind PTC supports more than 70,000 jobs all across the country. Its been a critically important driver of clean energy and job growth, helping our country reach 50 GW of installed wind capacity that is providing up to 20% of the electricity in states like Iowa and South Dakota. But, now that the PTC’s future is threatened by a Congress that is sitting on its hands, hundreds of Americans working in the wind industry have already been laid off amid uncertainty surrounding the extension of this vital policy.

In July, Romney broke ranks with many in his own party by announcing his opposition to the extension of the Wind PTC and the jobs it creates, garnering outrage from many Republicans who recognized the threat to jobs in their states. After all, more than 80% of wind projects are in Republican-controlled Congressional districts.

Nearly 37,000 American jobs could be lost if the Wind PTC is not renewed -- and many of the states with the most wind jobs on the line are those most hotly-contested this election. There, Romney’s stance against wind jobs could come at a political cost. And - for the thousands and thousands of Americans - it could come at a cost to their livelihoods and their families.

Here is a rundown of the importance of the wind industry in several key states:

1) Colorado is now a leader in wind energy with the sixth highest percentage of power generated by wind in the country, powering the equivalent of half a million homes. Wind power operations, maintenance, construction, and many other supporting roles support up to 5,000 jobs for Coloradans at more than a dozen facilities, while more than $700 million has been invested in the wind economy. And Colorado wind power will prevent the emission of 3.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions from almost 700,000 passenger vehicles. However, uncertainty about the Wind PTC has already been blamed for layoffs at wind turbine factories in the state including hundreds at a plant operated by Vestas, threatening to derail a true clean energy success story. (More)

2) In Ohio the wind industry grew by 950% in 2011, making Ohio the state with the fastest growth in wind installations in the nation. Nearly 6,000 Ohioans currently work in wind jobs at over 50 facilities, where billions of dollars have been invested in the state’s clean energy economy. According to a study by the National Renewable Energy Lab, wind could provide more than 95% of the state’s electricity if growth in the sector isn’t stopped. (More)

3) Pennsylvania’s wind economy currently supports up to 4,000 jobs at more than 20 facilities. Gamesa, a global leader in the wind industry, invested more than $175 million in Pennsylvania to employ 800 workers in the state. But, uncertainty about the Wind PTC, that company has already announced more than 160 layoffs. (More)

Yet while wind employs thousands and thousands across these critical states and has consequently garnered significant public support in opinion polls, news coverage of clean energy often neglects the groundswell of popularity for these growing American industries. Instead, the attacks of politicians and the dirty energy industry are often highlighted. A recent study prepared by Media Matters found that selected Pennsylvania newspapers never covered the popularity of clean energy in stories about energy issues.

The dearth of coverage has perhaps encouraged Romney to take an otherwise unpopular stand. Still, wind energy continues to support families in critical election swing states - and if Romney really cares about American jobs, he’d reevaluate his opposition to the Wind PTC - policy that puts thousands of Americans to work while keeping our air and water clean.


NV: Big Oil-Backed Attack Ads Bring Big Oil Talking Points to Senate Race

Last week, Dean Heller’s campaign launched a new attack ad in the Nevada Senate race blasting clean energy legislation, based on talking points from the oil industry and vague citations from a newspaper that actually supported the bill. Heller has taken more than $260,000 from oil and gas companies throughout his career.  Now, he is embracing attacks used by polluting campaign donors to distort clean energy legislation rather than supporting policies that would help Nevada’s clean energy economy grow and provide much-needed jobs in Nevada.

Heller’s ad, titled “Afford,” smears the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 - which Heller dubs an “energy tax” - using citations from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

Had it passed, the legislation would have created a carbon market trading system, made significant investments in clean energy solutions like wind and solar to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, tackled the rise in climate-disrupting greenhouse gases, and created hundreds of thousands of American clean-energy jobs. It was opposed by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and oil, gas, and coal companies hoping to maintain a chokehold on the nation’s energy future. NAM - which counts executives from Arch Coal, Conocophillips, and Marathon Oil as board members- spent nearly $10 million lobbying Congress in 2009 in part to defeat the legislation. The group’s strident position against clean energy even led utility Duke Energy to leave NAM in 2009.

Heller’s ad attacks the bill’s clean energy investments using on-screen citations to materials created by dirty energy lobbyists to back up their attacks. In addition to NAM, Heller also cites the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank with extensive ties to ExxonMobil., and the New York Times to bolster his attacks.

The New York Times is also cited, but ironically, that paper actually supported the legislation Heller targets. In May of 2009, The New York Times editorialized that the American Clean Energy Act “is an honorable start on a problem too long neglected,” continuing:


 We do know that the emissions cap will not begin to bite until 2012 and that past programs to clean the air have always cost less than predicted. And, if the scientists are right, we know that the costs of doing nothing will dwarf the costs of acting now.


Heller’s ad, therefore, relies heavily on citations from industry groups that spent millions to attack this historic legislation and a reference to a newspaper that actually supported it.



Roanoke Times Talks About the True Cost of Coal -- in Coal Country

The Roanoke Times recently published a powerful op-ed taking a stand for clean air, clean water, and public health, highlighting “the terrible cost to our environment and our health” of coal-fired power.

We are all enemies of coal, not because we wish harm on families who depend on mining for their livelihoods, but because our expectations have changed. We still want cheap electricity. That part hasn't changed. But we also want streams and rivers free of mercury. We want a planet that will not be suffocated by greenhouse gases before our grandchildren become grandparents.

Read the full op-ed here.

A recent analysis prepared by Media Matters for America found that newspapers across six of the most hotly-contested Presidential swing states - including Virginia - often highlighted arguments used by Big Oil and Big Coal industry groups and omitted discussion of the benefits of public health safeguards and the popularity of clean energy. The Roanoke Times op-ed is particularly noteworthy as the paper is based in the heart of coal country, where industry groups have sought to politicize recent transitions away from coal-fired power.


PA: Papers Leave Out Support for Clean Energy

new Media Matters analysis finds that Pennsylvania's two largest newspapers largely omitted any discussion of the broad public support for clean energy in the Keystone State. During a six week analysis of coverage in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, both papers failed to acknowledge Pennsylvanians attitudes on clean energy in their reporting on energy issues in general, and only mentioned clean energy in 9 of 62 articles:

As of 2010, Pennsylvania made the Solar Energy Industries Association's top 10 list for cumulative installed solar capacity. In addition, both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have been designated Solar America Cities by the Department of Energy.  Through the solar energy initiative championed by former Governor Ed Rendell, consumers could expect to see savings of $10 billion by 2017. [...]
Green energy is also very popular among Pennsylvania residents. According to an October 2010 poll by Susquehanna Polling and Research, 85 percent of Pennsylvania voters surveyed thought it was important to support continued expansion of wind energy farms. In addition, a majority of voters would still support clean energy technology even if it cost $2 extra per month.  Another poll conducted in April 2012 by the Small Business Majority found that 73 percent of Pennsylvania small business owners surveyed thought that government investment in clean energy has an important role in boosting our national economy. Pennsylvania's largest newspaper, however, have entirely failed to report this dynamic. 

New Report Finds Energy and Environmental Coverage in Swing States Often Misses Mark

A new analysis prepared by Media Matters for America found that newspapers across six of the most hotly-contested swing states this Presidential election often highlighted arguments used by Big Oil and Big Coal industry groups and omitted discussion of the benefits of public health safeguards and the popularity of clean energy.

With fossil fuel special interests spending more than $150 million on attack and issue advocacy advertisements already this election cycle to drive the narrative on energy, the new Media Matters analysis shows that coverage in Colorado, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia often focuses exclusively on industry perspectives.

The study reviewed stories related to clean energy, public health safeguards, environmental issues, and energy policy from the beginning of July to mid-August in 11 newspapers across those states. The major findings are detailed below. Data and more analysis are available on the Media Matters website.

“Big polluters are doing and spending anything to keep a stranglehold on our energy future and drown out the very real successes our nation has achieved in building a clean energy economy,” said Cathy Duvall, Sierra Club Director of Public Advocacy and Partnerships. “But, Americans deserve the full story about all the work being done to create new clean energy jobs and keep our families healthy -- and they deserve that coverage in their hometown newspapers.”

In response, Sierra Club has launched the new Energy Truth website to help counter propaganda from big polluters and push back against imbalanced coverage with facts on clean energy and environmental and public health safeguards. The site will be updated to address and respond to common mistruths about these issues over the coming weeks.

The Findings:

1)  Benefits Of Public Health Safeguards Often Go Neglected

New public health and environmental safeguards proposed and implemented in the last several years are poised to save tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health costs annually. For example, the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants are expected to prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 cases of aggravated asthma each year, while saving American families up to $90 billion in health costs by curbing the pollution in our air and water.

Still, this study indicates that much of the press coverage of the debate over these safeguards rarely acknowledges their positive impact – if they are mentioned at all - instead focusing on industry arguments. No more than half the stories in any of the six analyzed states referenced the role safeguards play in cleaning our air and water, protecting healthy families, or saving lives – even though these are the primary reasons they were implemented.

This breakdown demonstrates the percentage of articles discussing environmental and public health safeguards that included information on their benefits:

   Chart-20120925-enviro-safeguards_Sept 26

  • Colorado: 50% (9 of 18 stories included the benefits of public health safeguards)
  • Pennsylvania: 44% (16 of 36 stories included the benefits of public health safeguards)
  • Ohio: 41% (13 of 32 stories included the benefits of public health safeguards)
  • Nevada: 33% (1 of 3 stories included the benefits of public health safeguards)
  • Virginia: 25% (3 of 12 stories included the benefits of public health safeguards)
  • New Hampshire: 0% (0 of 2 stories included the benefits of public health safeguards)

2)    Public Support for Clean Energy is Rarely Acknowledged in Coverage

Public polling indicates that an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of American voters – 89% - believe increasing the amount of energy the nation gets from wind is a good idea, while 92% think its important to develop more solar energy here at home.

However, this broad public support for clean energy rarely is discussed in the news.

Even in states with relatively high coverage of environmental and energy issues, indicators of public sentiment is often overshadowed by debates between special interests.

In Pennsylvania, readers received no indication that their friends and neighbors support clean energy, even while polling indicates 85% of Pennsylvanians say they support greater expansion of wind energy (source).

The breakdown showing the percentage of stories that included public opinion information on energy policy is below:

  • Colorado: 13% (4 of 30 stories included public opinion information)
  • New Hampshire: 11% (1 of 9 stories included public opinion information)
  • Nevada: 3% (1 of 29 stories included public opinion information)
  • Ohio: 2% (2 of 61 stories included public opinion information)
  • Pennsylvania: 0% (0 of 64 stories included public opinion information)
  • Virginia 0% (0 of 35 stories included public opinion information)

3)    The Risks of Dirty Energy are Reported Less than Half the Time

While landmark public safeguards are being introduced to protect American families from toxics in our air and water pumped out by burning fossil fuels, coverage often completely neglects these severe environmental and health risks.

The state by state breakdown is as follows:

  • Colorado: 44% (11 of 25 stories reported risks of dirty energy)
  • New Hampshire: 20% (1 of 5 stories reported risks of dirty energy)
  • Nevada: 15% (4 of 26 stories reported risks of dirty energy)
  • Ohio: 45% (21 of 47 stories reported risks of dirty energy)
  • Pennsylvania: 44% (26 of 59 stories reported risks of dirty energy)
  • Virginia: 38% (8 of 20 stories reported risks of dirty energy)

4)    Nevadans are receiving poor coverage of clean energy issues -

In contrast to coverage of the benefits of public health safeguards, the benefits of clean energy – including job creation – are reasonably well accounted for. However, of all the papers examined, there was a marked difference between the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the 10 others. There, less than 30% of articles that mentioned clean energy also mentioned the benefits of clean energy – in spite of a cleanenergy job growth rate of over 5% in the state. In contrast Other states had a much higher percentage of clean energy articles that included information on the benefits of clean energy.

The breakdown of the other newspapers’ inclusion of the benefits of clean energy is below:

  • Colorado: 86% (12 of 14 stories on clean energy mentioned its benefits)
  • New hampshire: 83% (5 of 6 stories on clean energy mentioned its benefits)
  • Nevada: 27% (7 of 26 stories on clean energy mentioned its benefits)
  • Pennsylvania: 79% (7 of 9 stories on clean energy mentioned its benefits)
  • Ohio: 64% (7 of 11 stories on clean energy mentioned its benefits)
  • Virginia: 50% (7 of 14 stories on clean energy mentioned its benefits)

5) Virginia and Nevada newspapers cover energy and regulatory debates in the op-ed pages

The Richmond Times-Dispatch and Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot have mostly ignored energy policy discussions in their news reporting, relegating coverage of these issues to their opinion pages. In fact, 83% of their 35 items on the subject of energy and environmental safeguards were opinion pieces. Papers in Nevada followed a similar pattern, constraining 79% of their 24 pieces on the subject to the opinion pages.

The proportion of energy and environmental news stories versus opinion pieces are as follows:

  • Colorado: 43% were opinion pieces (13 of 30), 57% were straight news pieces
  • New Hampshire: 22% were opinion pieces (2 of 9), 78% were straight news pieces
  • Virginia: 83% were opinion pieces (29 of 35), 17% were straight news pieces
  • Pennsylvania: 44% were opinion pieces (27 of 62), 56% were straight news pieces
  • Ohio: 32% were opinion pieces (19 of 60),  68% were straight news pieces
  • Nevada: 79% were opinion pieces (19 of 24), 21% were straight news pieces

Full Report Data Available Here

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