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Obama’s Ozone Capitulation: Celebrated by Conservatives and Denounced by Liberals

3:17 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Nelson

President Obama’s decision to undercut EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson by cancelling a long-overdue update to smog standards was a mistake on both the politics and the policy. For smart takes on the politics of this, you can read Steve Benen and Paul Krugman. For smart takes on the policy implications, read Brad Plumer, Kate Sheppard and David Dayen.

In assessing the implications of policy decisions, it is useful to consider how various individuals and organizations respond. To that end, I’ve compiled some key reactions to President Obama’s announcement.

So far I’ve found 7 Republican politicians and 7 industry groups that are supportive of the President’s decision, and 2 Democratic politicians and 12 public interest groups that are critical of the decision. If you know of other statements that should be included here, please let me know.

Notably, even as the Republicans and industry groups praised the decision, many of them managed to include an attack on the President in their statement as well.

Person or Organization Supportive Statement Critical Statement
Senator Mitch McConnell X
House Speaker John Boehner (spokesman) X
Reps. Fred Upton and Ed Whitfield X
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor X
Chamber of Commerce X
American Petroleum Institute X
American Enterprise Institute: X
Senator Jim Inhofe X
Senator Pat Toomey X
Senator John McCain X
Electric Reliability Coordinating Council: X
Heartland Institute X
National Petrochemical & Refiners Association X
Electric Power Generation Association X
Greenpeace X
American Lung Association X
Sierra Club X
Friends of the Earth X
Natural Resources Defense Council X
Senator Barbara Boxer X
Rep. Ed Markey X
League of Conservation Voters X
Move On X
Center for American Progress X
Center for Biological Diversity X
American Thoracic Society X
Health Care Without Harm X
The Trust for America’s Health X

Reducing Air Pollution is Well Worth the Cost

8:40 am in Uncategorized by Josh Nelson

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to protect states from sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution emitted from coal plants in other states. After dragging its feet for a while, the Bush administration introduced the Clean Air Interstate Rule in 2005. Due to its over-reliance on emissions trading, the Clean Air Interstate Rule was shot down (PDF) in December 2008 by the U.S. Court of appeals for the District of Columbia. One year ago today, the Obama administration proposed a plan — the Clean Air Transport Rule — to replace the Bush administration’s flawed Clean Air Interstate Rule.

Finally, today, the EPA finalized an updated version of this rule, now appropriately named the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (large PDF), which requires power plants in 27 eastern states and the District of Columbia to significantly reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution. The public health benefits of this rule, which goes into effect at the beginning of 2012, promise to be enormous (PDF, p. 12):

The air quality improvements will also be tremendous, with the number of counties in violation of federal standards expected to drop from 207 to just two as soon as 2014.

Here are the counties that violated air quality standards between 2003 and 2007 (PDF, p. 30):

And here are the two counties that are projected to be in violation by 2014 (PDF, p. 31), as well as the six that are projected to have maintenance problems:

Justifiably, the rule was praised today by countless respected people and organizations.

Here’s a joint statement released this afternoon by Environment America, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters, Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club:

Stronger limits for power plant pollution will mean healthier, longer lives for millions of Americans. Smokestack emissions from power plants threaten public health by delivering harmful pollutants like sulfur dioxide, greenhouse gases and toxic mercury into the air we breathe and the water we drink, posing a particular threat to children and vulnerable populations like seniors. This much-needed update to clean air standards will significantly reduce the threat from this pollution and save lives.

Here’s Delaware Senator Tom Carper:

The EPA has developed a sensible approach that will reduce smog and particle pollution and in turn, give us cleaner air and prevent thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in healthcare costs. In the end, this rule will help us achieve better health care results for less money.

And here’s Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association:

Today’s ruling is an important and long overdue step to protect the health of Americans and clean up our environment. It’s a huge win-win. We praise EPA for its continued efforts to help create stronger, healthier and more productive communities for ourselves and our families.

Care to guess who criticized the rule? That’s right — Republican politicians and the coal industry.

Here’s Texas Governor, potential GOP presidential candidate and former Al Gore supporter Rick Perry, who told Glenn Beck last week that he didn’t think the federal government should enforce clean air laws at all:

Today’s EPA announcement is another example of heavy-handed and misguided action from Washington, D.C., that threatens Texas jobs and families and puts at risk the reliable and affordable electricity our state needs to succeed.

Here’s the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which was caught sending fraudulent letters to members of Congress in August 20009:

America’s coal-fueled electric industry has been doing its part for the environment and the economy, but our industry needs adequate time to install clean coal technologies to comply with new regulations. Unfortunately, EPA doesn’t seem to care.

And here’s Pat Hemlepp, spokesman for American Electric Power:

Taking power plants out of service like this pulls tax dollars out of the communities, pulls jobs out of communities, in addition to increasing electricity costs

One side says this new rule will save tens of thousands of lives and improve air quality for 240 million Americans. They’re absolutely right. The other side says the rule is costly and unnecessary and will kill countless jobs. While this is mostly coal-industry spin, there is a kernel of truth to it. Implementing pollution controls on out-of-date coal-fired power plants is somewhat expensive, and if some plants choose to close down rather than modernizing, jobs will be lost. But as Harvard economist Robert Stavins explains, this is a more than worthwhile tradeoff. “It doesn’t mean that there are no costs, but the benefits of the transport rule in terms of human health protection tremendously outweigh the costs of this,” he told NPR.

Ultimately, that is what this rule comes down to. There are unintended consequences to nearly every action the government takes, but as a society, we’ve decided that saving thousands of lives and making it easier to breathe for hundreds of millions of Americans is a higher priority than protecting the profits of an unscrupulous industry. I think that’s a pretty wise decision, and I’m proud of the EPA for having the courage to go through with it while facing a seemingly endless onslaught of hysterical attacks.

Voters Strongly Oppose Michele Bachmann’s Proposal to Abolish the EPA

8:09 am in Uncategorized by Josh Nelson

Building on an idea that seems to have originated with Newt Gingrich, Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has spent the past few weeks calling for the Environmental Protection Agency to be abolished. In the June 13th GOP debate, Bachmann said she would pass the “mother of all repeal bills” to target “job-killing regulations.” She indicated that she’d start with the EPA, and added that it “should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America.”

But a new poll from the conservative-leaning Rasmussen** finds that an overwhelming majority of likely voters, including more than two-thirds of independents, disagree with Rep. Bachmann. When asked whether they “favor or oppose abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency,” 61% of likely voters indicated that they are opposed:

Notably, even likely Republican primary voters aren’t so sure about Bachmann’s proposal, with 42% wanting to abolish the EPA, 40% opposed to doing so and 18% unsure.
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Three Prominent Republicans Care About Climate Change, Sort Of

7:37 am in Uncategorized by Josh Nelson

In recent weeks, three prominent Republicans — Mitt Romney, Chris Christie and Jon Huntsman — have publicly affirmed their belief in climate change and the need to reduce pollution. This is good news!

But as far as I can tell, they don’t have a plan to address the issue between the three of them.

The most recent was Mitt Romney, the presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor with a tendency to play both sides of every issue. At a town hall style campaign event in New Hampshire on Friday, Romney said:

I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that, because I know that there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past but I believe we contribute to that. And so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.

This isn’t the first time Mitt Romney has sounded like an environmentalist. In 2003, he told his constituents that he would not “not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people,” while pointing at a coal plant.

But six weeks ago he told Greta Van Susteren that he would lower gas prices by drilling for oil and burning lots of coal:

Well, you get the prices down by convincing people who are investing in gasoline futures, so to speak, the speculators — you let them understand that America is going to be producing enough energy for our needs. And that means we’re going to start drilling for oil. We’re going to use our natural gas resources, which are now extraordinarily plentiful, given new technology. We’re going to use our coal resources. Of course, we’re going to pursue all the renewables, but you have to have oil and gas to power America’s economy.

And at today’s town hall at the University of New Hampshire, Romney downplayed clean energy and electric cars. “I love solar and wind (power) but they don’t drive cars. And we’re not all going to drive Chevy Volts,” he said. He also warned against working to solve the problem unless China and Brazil were participating in the solution, reminding the crowd that “it’s not called American warming, it’s called global warming.”

Last week it was Chris Christie, the New Jersey Governor who is being recruited into the presidential race by a group of wealthy Iowans. In an impressive speech, Christie talked the talk:

When you have over 90% of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role it’s time to defer to the experts. Climate science is complex though and we’re just beginning to have a fuller understanding of humans’ role in all of this. But we know enough to know that we are at least a part of the problem. So looking forward, we need to work to put policies in place that act at reducing those contributing factors.

But at the same time, Christie announced that New Jersey would be leaving the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a 10-state, voluntary cap and trade system designed to reduce emissions. The New Jersey Sierra Club credited the governor with destroying “the first and most successful greenhouse gas reduction program in the country.” Brad Plumer convincingly argues that Christie had to distance himself from climate policy in order to play on the national stage.

In mid-May it was Jon Hunstman, the former Utah Governor and President Obama’s former Ambassador to China, forging the path that Chris Christie and Mitt Romney later followed. “This is an issue that ought to be answered by the scientific community; I’m not a meteorologist. All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring,” he told Time Magazine. “If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them. I respect science and the professionals behind the science so I tend to think it’s better left to the science community.”

If he had stopped there, that would have been fine. He meant climatologist and the 90% figure is low (it is more like 97%), but no major harm was done. But then he added, “though we can debate what that means for the energy and transportation sectors.” Asked about cap and trade, Huntsman kept digging. “Cap-and-trade ideas aren’t working; it hasn’t worked, and our economy’s in a different place than five years ago,” he said, concluding, “much of this discussion happened before the bottom fell out of the economy, and until it comes back, this isn’t the moment.”

Romney and Christie both went further than Huntsman did, saying we have to reduce emissions. And Huntsman and Christie both cited the same inaccurate 90% figure, with Huntsman even paraphrasing Al Gore with the doctor/scientist comparison. But what sticks out the most about their remarks is that all three are opposed to doing anything productive to solve the problem. If any of these three has a plan for dealing with climate change that doesn’t include cap and trade, a carbon tax or massive investments in clean energy, they should explain what their plan is and how it would work.

Rick Santorum, The Only Consistently Anti-Environmental Candidate

10:01 am in Uncategorized by Josh Nelson

Rick Santorum announced yesterday that next week, in a Western Pennsylvania coal field, he’ll announce he is running for President. The leaked announcement seems to have heavily emphasized the coal field angle, since several major outlets mentioned it prominently.

On Twitter, Bill Scher asked a compelling question: “Can he win by tarring Mitt, Newt, Tim, Jon w/past cap-trade support?”

I don’t think it will win him the nomination, but there is a segment of the Republican electorate that could be convinced to oppose Mitt/Newt/Tim/Jon solely because of their past support of cap and trade. Anti-environmentalism has become a matter of faith in the modern Republican party, so predictably, every 2012 Republican presidential candidate has reversed their previous support of addressing climate change.

Mitt Romney went from denouncing coal jobs “that kill people” to opposing environmental laws because they are “bad for business and cost jobs.” Tim Pawlenty went from “come on Congress, cap greenhouses gases now” to “it is a really bad idea, it is going to be harmful to the economy. Newt Gingrich went from advocating for solutions alongside to Nancy Pelosi in an Al Gore funded TV ad to “It is inconceivable that any threat from global warming is big enough to justify destroying the American economy.” Even Sarah Palin thought climate change was a threat that needed to be addressed as recently as 2007.

With former energy industry lobbyist Haley Barbour now out of the picture, Santorum is now the the only consistently anti-environmental candidate Republican primary voters have to choose from.

Santorum’s anti-environmental record and pro-coal credentials have been solid throughout his career, and this might just be how the candidate tries to distinguish himself in a soon-to-be-crowded GOP field.

Consider Santorum’s June 2008 Philadelphia Inquirer piece entitled ‘Coal’ is not a dirty word if we are realistic about saving the Earth, in which he rattled off a laundry list of climate change denial canards. Or look at his appearance in Reno six weeks ago, in which he criticized President Obama and Senator Reid for their opposition to coal production. Or look to 2001, when Santorum touted coal as the future and “environmentally safe.”
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Rasmussen: Support For Offshore Drilling Reaches New Low

7:13 am in Uncategorized by Josh Nelson

New data shows that support for offshore drilling has reached its lowest level ever in Rasmussen’s latest polling. Here’s how the GOP-friendly pollster** frames the latest data (emphasis mine):

With the deepwater oil leak apparently capped after three months of gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, support for both offshore oil drilling and drilling further out in deepwater remains largely unchanged. Most voters also remain concerned about the potential environmental impact of new drilling.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 56% of U.S. Voters now believe offshore oil drilling should be allowed, while 26% oppose it. One-in-five voters (19%) are undecided.

That’s down from 60% last month. Since the oil rig explosion that caused the massive oil leak, support for offshore drilling has ranged from 56% to 64%.

Predictably, Rasmussen leaves most of the useful information out of their analysis. In their polling immediately prior to the rig explosion in the Gulf, 72% of likely voters supported offshore drilling. Even with Rasmussen’s skewed likely voter model, this represents a 16% shift in just 11 weeks. The current level of support among likely voters, 56%, is the lowest ever recorded by Rasmussen for this question. Moreover, support among Democrats for offshore drilling has dropped from 54% in early April to just 29% in the latest poll. Support among Republicans remains relatively flat, down just 4%. GOP support for offshore drilling, at 82%, is actually up 8% from its low point in late May.

This chart shows the extent to which Democratic support for offshore drilling has plummeted and Republican support for the controversial practice has remained steady, in the wake of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

As I’ve documented several times in recent months, the modern Republican party does not care at all about the environment. This represents an unprecedented political opportunity for Democrats, who could really put Republicans on the spot by putting forth a common sense energy and climate bill and forcing them to choose between polluting industries and the planet. In an example of profound political malpractice, though, it appears as if Democrats may end up squandering this opportunity.

**Rasmussen’s conservative bias is well documented. See here, here, here, here and here.

Does Anyone at Bloomberg News Care About Accuracy?

3:57 am in Uncategorized by Josh Nelson

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the answer is no. On Thursday I documented a blatantly false Bloomberg news story designed to mislead readers about the level of support for President Obama’s temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling. Bloomberg’s poll (PDF), which the story was based on, asked the following (bottom of page five): "Do you think the spill proves off-shore drilling is just too dangerous and should be banned in U.S. waters, or was this a freak accident and offshore drilling can be made safer and should not be banned?" Based on this question, the Bloomberg headline blared: Americans in 73% Majority Oppose Deepwater Drilling Ban. The story begins, "Most Americans oppose President Barack Obama’s ban on deepwater oil drilling in response to BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico spill…" Bloomberg made the same false claim two days later in a Businessweek story.

Obviously, there is a huge difference between an indefinite ban on all offshore drilling and President Obama’s temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling. Regardless, Bloomberg polled about the former and reported on the latter. And frankly, I use the word ‘reported’ extremely loosely here. What Bloomberg actually did is fabricate public opinion information on a highly contested public policy issue that is currently being considered in some form by all three branches of government. This is important because political actors, both within Congress and the Obama Administration, may look to public opinion polls like this one to determine the proper course of action.

I’m not alone in finding Bloomberg’s reporting on this poll to be highly objectionable. Several thoughtful observers have taken note, criticizing Bloomberg’s coverage on the similar grounds. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones writes, "This is stunningly bad journalism… The Bloomberg results make for an exciting headline, but that’s about it. Correlation with reality is pretty close to zero." At Media Matters, Eric Boehlert explains, "There’s an apples-and-oranges problem here that Bloomberg News ought to acknowledge and correct." The Washington Post’s Jon Cohen adds, "The latter question is useful to understanding public attitudes, but it’s not necessarily focused on the ban that’s in place. That question potentially confounds views on the short-term ban, drilling more broadly and the cause of the spill." And Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism writes, "I could tell from the mere headline that the poll question was inept and/or unduly suggestive."

Atlantic Monthly has corrected their piece that cited the Bloomberg article, explaining, "This post formerly read that 73 percent of Bloomberg respondents thought the deepwater drilling moratorium was ‘unnecessary.’ This assertion directly reflected Bloomberg’s article about the poll, but has been revised to reflect the polling language."

Since Thursday, I’ve been in contact with the following reporters, editors and public relations staff at Bloomberg news:

  • Kim Chipman — The reporter who wrote the story.
  • Al Hunt — Washington Executive Editor.
  • Laura Colby — Managing Editor.
  • Ronald Henkoff — Editor.
  • Eric Pooley — Bloomberg Businessweek Deputy Editor.
  • Ty Trippet — Director of Global Public Relations.
  • Joe Winski — Managing Editor, Regulations.
  • William Hawley — Senior Editor.
  • Jon Asmundsson — Senior Editor / Strategies Associate Editor.
  • Gail Connor Roche — Senior Editor.

I did not receive a response from Kim Chipman, William Hawley, Jon Asmundsson, Gail Connor Roche, Laura Colby or Ronald Henkoff. I also reached out to three additional individuals on the Bloomberg public relations staff, but did not hear back from any of them. Both Eric Pooley and Joe Winski told me they’d look into the situation and indicated they’d get back to me, but both subsequently failed to provide any additional information.

Joe Winski informed me that Al Hunt supervises Bloomberg’s poll coverage, and that Mr. Hunt wanted me to give him a call to discuss my concerns. After leaving two voicemails for Mr. Hunt without receiving a return call, I finally got through. Mr. Hunt claimed not to know who I was or why I was calling. He told me that he was not the right person to talk to about my concern. He told me to contact him by email, since he was in the middle of a conference call. When I did so, I received the following response from Mr. Hunt:

mr nelson: why don’t you write back a serious response that doesn’t contain such silly assertions as intentionally misleading reporting or sloppy journalism.

I replied with the following:

The facts speak for themselves. The story in question is factually incorrect.

You have a choice to make: you can correct the highly misleading story or instead shift the focus to me.

As an editor with responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of such stories, I assume you’ll choose the former.

Again, the facts clearly speak for themselves.

Will you correct this obviously misreported story?

Here is Mr. Hunt’s full response:

Mr. Nelson: We appreciate your interest in our BP poll and understand that you think the conclusions we reported are wrong. We have reviewed the article in light of your comments and we believe we interpreted the poll data correctly. We encourage you to write a letter to the editor to express your views. Al Hunt, Executive Editor

Mr. Hunt did not respond to my subsequent requests for clarification.

Given Mr. Hunt’s inability to explain how Bloomberg’s reporting meshed with their own polling, I pursued another avenue. J. Ann Selzer, President of Selzer and Company, Inc, the firm that conducted the poll for Bloomberg, responded to my email but refused to answer any specific questions. She mentioned that Bloomberg editors had consulted with her about my line of questioning, and added, "There’s really nothing more to add to the conversation."

Eric Pooley, Deputy Editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, indicated several times by email that he was looking into this. On Friday he emailed that he would be happy to talk to me about this but didn’t have time at the moment. By Saturday he had changed his tune, emailing:

Josh, sorry to say it but I’m not the right person to talk about this one, since I wasn’t involved in the poll or the story. It makes sense for someone who was involved to explain why they believe they have interpreted the data correctly. There’s a guy named Ty Trippet in Bloomberg PR — I’ll put you in touch with him. I think he can find the right person to walk you through the data.

I asked Mr. Pooley if he was responsible for ensuring the accuracy of Bloomberg Businessweek stories in his capacity as Deputy Editor of that publication, but did not receive a response. He did not respond to several subsequent emails seeking clarification.

After placing several calls and sending multiple emails to the Bloomberg public relations department I received the following response via email from Ty Trippet, Director of Global Public Relations:

We stand by our reporting.

When I pointed out that Eric Pooley had indicated that Mr. Trippet should be able to put me in touch with someone who could walk me through the polling data, he replied:

You have already spoken with Ann Selzer and others, and I have given you our response.

To summarize, I’ve been in contact with 13 Bloomberg employees and have been unable to identify anyone who a) cares that these stories include obviously false information, or b) can provide any sort of justification for the reporting. Both the Director of Global Public Relations and the Washington Executive Editor have indicated that they stand by their reporting. Anyone at Bloomberg who is able to justify the reporting in these stories, or would like to offer their own take on the veracity of the stories, is encouraged to contact me.

If anyone has suggestions for additional steps I can take in my efforts to get Bloomberg to correct their highly misleading stories, please let me know. In the meantime, I’d suggest to all journalists, bloggers and readers that they view Bloomberg’s reporting with a heavy dose of skepticism.

Bloomberg Reporter Totally Misinterprets Bloomberg Polling on Offshore Drilling

10:30 am in Uncategorized by Josh Nelson

The beginning of this Bloomberg story is completely false:

Most Americans oppose President Barack Obama’s ban on deepwater oil drilling in response to BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico spill, even as they hold the company primarily responsible for the incident.

Almost three-fourths, or 73 percent, say a ban is unnecessary, calling the worst oil spill in U.S. history a “freak accident,” according to a Bloomberg National Poll.

Without looking at the poll’s toplines (PDF), you might not realize what is wrong with these two paragraphs. As it turns out, Bloomberg’s poll did not ask about President Obama’s temporary ban on deepwater drilling. Here is the question they actually asked:

As you can see, they asked whether all offshore drilling should be banned in U.S. waters, without specifying a timeframe. President Obama’s moratorium, on the other hand, applies only to deepwater drilling (deepter than 1,000 feet) and only for six months.

I’ve emailed the Bloomberg reporter who made this mistake, Kim Chipman, and will be updating here if a correction is made.

The Daily Beast and The Atlantic have also picked up Bloomberg’s erroneous reporting on this. I’ve requested corrections from both of these publications as well.

ABC released polling yesterday with a similar question (PDF): "Do you support or oppose the current six-month ban on new offshore oil drilling while authorities investigate the cause of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?" Although ABC also failed to make the distinction between between deepwater drilling and all offshore drilling, they did ask specifically about President Obama’s six month moratorium. Surprise, surprise, this wording produced a significantly different result:

In the ABC poll, 60% of respondents supported Obama’s temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling, while just 39% opposed it. Loading their poll questions with framing that is likely to produce business-friendly results is bad enough. Completely misreporting the findings of their polls is going too far. Bloomberg should follow CNN’s lead on this and correct their piece as soon as possible.

Update — Kevin Drum had similar thoughts:

This is stunningly bad journalism. Pending a safety review, Obama has put in place a five-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the outer continental shelf. But the Bloomberg question doesn’t ask about this: it asks if offshore drilling should be flatly "banned in U.S. waters." These aren’t even remotely the same things, and in no way can you conclude from this question that "most Americans oppose" the moratorium. They might, but an ABC poll that actually asks the question properly1 tells us that only 39% oppose Obama’s moratorium.

The Bloomberg results make for an exciting headline, but that’s about it. Correlation with reality is pretty close to zero.

Update 2 — At WaPo’s Behind the Numbers blog, Jon Cohen writes:

On Wednesday, one headline screamed "Americans in 73% Majority Oppose Deepwater Drilling Ban." Another poll showed 56 percent support for the moratorium.

What gives?

The answer is pretty straightforward: the two national polls asked about completely separate things. You decide.

In the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, respondents were asked this: "Do you support or oppose the current six-month ban on new offshore oil drilling while authorities investigate the cause of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?" Some 56 percent of those polled said they’re in favor of the temporary suspension. (In the most affected Gulf counties, the results were flipped, with 60 percent opposition.)

The Bloomberg questionnaire phrases it thusly: "Do you think the spill proves off-shore drilling is just too dangerous and should be banned in U.S. waters, or was just a freak accident and offshore drilling can be made safer and should not be banned?" This is the one showing 73 percent on the negative side.

Obviously, I see the first question as a clear read on a current policy choice, and the second as about something else entirely. The latter question is useful to understanding public attitudes, but it’s not necessarily focused on the ban that’s in place. That question potentially confounds views on the short-term ban, drilling more broadly and the cause of the spill.

Update 3 — Kudos to Atlantic Monthly’s Nicole Allan, who has corrected her piece. She notes that Bloomberg’s story about the poll is incorrect:

*This post formerly read that 73 percent of Bloomberg respondents thought the deepwater drilling moratorium was "unnecessary." This assertion directly reflected Bloomberg’s article about the poll, but has been revised to reflect the polling language.

WaPo Uses Misleading Arguments to Push Flawed Oil Spill Narrative

12:48 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Nelson

The Washington Post published an article on Monday entitled, ‘Historic oil spill fails to produce gains for U.S. environmentalists.’ It was immediately picked up by several liberal bloggers whose opinion I respect, each of whom seemed to take the article’s conclusion at face value. But while the article gets some things right, it also includes several misleading lines of argument in order to bolster its attention-grabbing headline.

I’ll outline a few of those arguments below, and explain why each is so misleading.

Misleading Argument 1: While previous environmental disasters have prompted legislative action, the still-ongoing spill in the Gulf of Mexico has failed to do so.

Here is how the Washington Post article makes this argument:

Traditionally, American environmentalism wins its biggest victories after some important piece of American environment is poisoned, exterminated or set on fire. An oil spill and a burning river in 1969 led to new anti-pollution laws in the 1970s. The Exxon Valdez disaster helped create an Earth Day revival in 1990 and sparked a landmark clean-air law.

But this year, the worst oil spill in U.S. history — and, before that, the worst coal-mining disaster in 40 years — haven’t put the same kind of drive into the debate over climate change and fossil-fuel energy.

The Santa Barbara oil spill took place in January 1969. The Cuyahoga River fire took place in June 1969. Here are the major pieces of legislation that were passed in response, along with the amount of time that lapsed between the environmental disasters and their respective Congressional approval:

In contrast, it has been less than three months since the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico began. I agree with Eric Pooley, author of The Climate War, who told Eli Kintisch in an interview on Monday that "it’s too early to tell what the full impact of the BP disaster will be."

Buried at the bottom of the piece, the Post acknowledges that it may be too early for major impacts to be seen:

At 11 weeks after the spill, some historians say it’s too early to say it won’t alter national environmental politics. Adam Rome, a historian of the U.S. environmental movement at Pennsylvania State University, said that it could take a year for the public to understand what the spill has done to the gulf — and for politicians to understand what the spill has done to the public.

"If we don’t do anything then, then it’s a sign that we’ve entered into some newer, more passive mode of responding to disasters," Rome said.

Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes followed up with Rome on this. He added the following:

The Santa Barbara oil spill happened in January 1969. Right away, people were appalled. In Santa Barbara itself, the spill brought together people who had never been allied before — countercultural students and very wealthy Republicans alike were shocked. But still, it took a long time for it to lead to something more than just "we might need more regulation on offshore oil," and more than just preventing that one specific thing from occurring again.

Misleading Argument 2: Public opinion hasn’t changed in the wake of the spill.

According to the article, "Opinion polls haven’t budged much."

When it comes to offshore drilling, this is absolutely false:

  • A 6/17-6/21 WSJ/NBC poll found that 48% Americans are skeptical of Congressional candidates who support continued offshore drilling off U.S. coasts. Not increased drilling, mind you, continued drilling.
  • A 6/8-6/9 Fox News poll found that support for increased offshore drilling had dropped an incredible 26% in just two months.
  • Half a dozen polls conducted in May found that support for increased offshore drilling had dropped between nine and seventeen percent.

And when it comes to legislation intended to promote clean energy technologies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the public is overwhelmingly in favor:

  • A 5/25-6/1 Benenson Strategy Group Poll (PDF) found that 63% of likely voters support clean energy legislation.
  • A 6/17-6/21 WSJ/NBC poll found that 63% of Americans support clean energy legislation, ‘even if it means an increase in the cost of energy.’
  • A 6/16-6/20 NYT/CBS poll found that nearly 90 percent of Americans believe U.S. energy policy needs either ‘fundamental changes’ or ‘to be completely rebuilt.’

But have numbers on clean energy legislation budged since the spill? According to Pew’s polling, they have. In February, 50% of respondents favored (PDF, page 29) ‘setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions.’ By June this number had jumped to 66% (PDF, page 3).

If the authors of the Washington Post piece have seen polling showing that support for clean energy legislation has remained flat in recent months, they should cite it. Until they do so, their claim that the polling hasn’t budged remains unsubstantiated.

Misleading Argument 3: Gasoline usage increased between 2009 and 2010.

According to the Post story:

"In addition, U.S. government estimates show that public demand for gasoline and electric power is looking stronger now than last year at this time. If these disasters have made individuals start conserving their energy use, "it’s not something that we’ve been able to observe," said Tancred Lidderdale of the U.S. Energy Information Administration."

This is obviously due to the improving economic situation. As this EIA chart shows, U.S. liquid fuel consumption was down nearly 800,000 barrels per day in 2009:

Energy use is subject to significant variations caused by a variety of factors, not the least of which is the economy. Comparing a year in which the economy was mired in a recession to a year in which many economic factors began to improve doesn’t tell us much of anything about the impact of the oil spill.

It looks like the Post had already decided on the story they wanted to write before they bothered to look at the facts. Could the Senate have acted by now in response to the spill? Of course, but this doesn’t mean the spill hasn’t already had a profound impact on energy politics. Judging the political impact of an environmental disaster that is literally still playing out doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the first place, given the examples I cited above. If the Post insists on doing so, they should be a bit more careful with the arguments they cobble together to make their case.

Update — Brad Johnson has more on this at The Wonk Room.

On Environmental Issues, The GOP is Completely Oblivious to Reality

7:44 am in Uncategorized by Josh Nelson

Peter Daou asks:

For reference, here is the Drudge headline Daou was referring to:

And here is the data on 2010 being the hottest year on record.

To answer Daou’s question: it is extremely absurd, but at the same time, utterly predictable. But the underlying question is why Drudge (and other Republicans) would continue highlighting such stories when all available evidence supports the fact that climate change is real and already having an impact.

For the modern Republican party, particularly when it comes to environmental issues, facts are pesky annoyances that have no bearing on public policy. To explore another example of this, let’s take a peek under the hood of some polling on offshore drilling and the oil spill.

On 3/31-4/1, Rasmussen asked (premium account required) 1,000 likely voters if they were concerned that offshore drilling would cause environmental problems.

As you can see, while 70% of Democrats were at least somewhat concerned, just 31% of Republicans felt the same way. Now, this was before 100+ million gallons of oil (and counting) gushed into the Gulf of Mexico as a direct result of offshore drilling. We now have a current and extremely vivid example of offshore drilling actually causing major environmental problems. Indeed, by nearly all accounts the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the worst environmental disaster in American history. So, how have likely voters, Republican and Democrat alike, adjusted their beliefs in the wake of this disaster?

On 6/27-6/28 Rasmussen asked the same question (premium account required).

An overwhelming majority of Democrats, 84%, were concerned that offshore drilling would cause environmental problems. 54% indicated that they were very concerned:

How about Republicans? While they did move a bit from the previous poll, just 50% of Republicans were concerned that offshore drilling would cause environmental problems. Incredibly, 14% remained ‘not at all concerned.’ If I didn’t know a thing or two about the modern Republican party I would doubt the veracity of these numbers:

How could this be? The fact that offshore drilling causes environmental problems could not possibly be more apparent right now. To make matters worse, 93% of Republicans in this survey said they were following the ‘offshore drilling incident’ closely. While 60% said they were following it very closely, zero percent were not following it all. This means that a decent number of Republicans who are following the news of the ongoing spill are ‘not at all’ or ‘not very’ concerned that offshore drilling will cause environmental problems. If this is not the definition of absolute oblivion, I don’t know what is.

Only one conclusion can be drawn from all of this: when it comes to environmental issues, the Republican party is completely oblivious to reality. Now, to be fair, they aren’t just oblivious to reality on environmental issues. But I’ll leave it to the someone else, perhaps the Democratic party, to make that case.

Update — Via @milesgrant, a piece in The Guardian cites some social science research that may partially explain this phenomenon:

What do people do when confronted with scientific evidence that challenges their pre-existing view? Often they will try to ignore it, intimidate it, buy it off, sue it for libel or reason it away.

The classic paper on the last of those strategies is from Lord, Ross and Lepper in 1979: they took two groups of people, one in favour of the death penalty, the other against it, and then presented each with a piece of scientific evidence that supported their pre-existing view, and a piece that challenged it; murder rates went up or down, for example, after the abolition of capital punishment in a state.

The results were as you might imagine. Each group found extensive methodological holes in the evidence they disagreed with, but ignored the very same holes in the evidence that reinforced their views.

Originally Published at EnviroKnow.