Janine Jackson: New research from the group Media Matters shows that in 2016, broadcast evening newscasts and Sunday shows collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015. It’s hard to think of a worse development, given that we now have an administration including a number of folks who say out loud they don’t believe the world scientific consensus on the issue.
Broadcast news isn’t all news, of course, and a good thing, because the public does need to see the impact of the Trump administration’s ideas, if you will, on the laws and policies that determine how we address climate disruption, which keeps stubbornly existing despite claims to the contrary.
Marianne Lavelle is a veteran environmental journalist, now reporter for InsideClimate News. She joins us now by phone from Virginia. Welcome to CounterSpin, Marianne Lavelle.
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Marianne Lavelle: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Well, let’s start with the Paris Agreement. The US was some ways toward doing what it pledged to do, I understand, but now all bets are off, I guess. Can you walk us through some of the changes being made that affect our commitment there in Paris?
Yes. President Obama had made a very ambitious pledge, but felt that it was an achievable pledge, to cut greenhouse gas emissions about 26 to 28 percent by 2025, and that was based on levels from 2005. Well, we’ve cut emissions about a third since then. So the Obama plan was really to achieve the rest through this whole array of different regulations and possibilities. And very key to that was the Clean Power Plan, to attack those emissions from power plants, which are our biggest single source of emissions. That, of course, is No. 1 target for elimination by President Trump.
There’s more. Even before we get to the EPA, there are other things, aren’t there, that maybe are on the chopping block?
Right. And, of course, the EPA is the agency that’s supposed to be executing all of these rules, or most of them. There was a regulation on methane. And the Obama administration felt that this would be a very achievable goal, of cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, because methane, although it’s a very, very potent greenhouse gas, we have the technology to capture any methane leaks. We just need to monitor and detect and make sure that it’s not leaking.
But the oil industry has been very opposed to having federal rules on that. And one of the first things that the new EPA did was put a stop to most of the regulation for methane from oil and gas. It’s that, and regulations on energy efficiency, on car efficiency, all of those seem to be in the sights of the White House. And this was the ladder we were going to use to reach our target for the Paris Agreement.
I see. Well, clearly, as you’ve touched on, cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency itself are going to be harmful. And I would note that in one piece you wrote, you showed how small a slice of the budget EPA actually accounts for.
Yes. You almost need a magnifying glass to see it. If you look at the whole federal budget, it’s two-tenths of 1 percent of that budget.
I mean, $8 billion sounds like a lot of money, unless you are looking at a $4 trillion federal budget.
They certainly aren’t going to get a lot of money by cutting all of these programs. And that shows that it’s not about money, it’s ideological — and also they’re looking at what businesses are going to favored under this administration. And although the EPA is a very small agency, the oil, gas and coal industries are very much affected by what it does. They have been fighting it for quite some time, and now they feel they’re going to be successful in really reducing the agency’s clout.
You mentioned ideology, and I think Scott Pruitt’s history, of course, is telling. I understood that he just tweeted last month that he was “dedicated to working with stakeholders — industry, farmers, ranchers, business owners — on traditional values of environmental stewardship.” Are those all the stakeholders? Somebody’s missing there.
The public doesn’t get really mentioned in that, which, of course, is the biggest stakeholder that the EPA was actually established to protect. But this is Scott Pruitt; this was his view even when he was attorney general in Oklahoma. Talk about the whole idea of corporations as persons, that was the part of the public that he was serving. And some would say a large part of what he did, when he was suing the EPA 14 times as attorney general, was serving the Oklahoma oil and gas industry. So that is really where we stand.
Now, the president’s budget proposal, that is not the last word by any means. It’s Congress’s job to make the budget, and I think that we’re going to see opposition, even among Republicans in Congress, to some of these cuts and programs in their areas. The Great Lakes, for instance, and I would say in Appalachia as well. And then, also, there will need to be some Democratic support to pass a budget, so this is not the end of the road. But a start like this, where the EPA gets — no agency would be hit harder than the EPA under the president’s first budget plan, and that is very telling.
It is deeply dispiriting, but as you point out, announcements are not changes to law, you know, and the budget is not passed. And you also note that state actions can still be meaningful.
Yes. Take an example, California’s economy is the sixth-largest in the world, and California has been very committed to actions passed by their legislature to really act on greenhouse gas. That state alone, if it meets its goals, that will get us part of the way to that Paris goal, and maybe other states will follow suit. And certainly those that see the value of clean energy in their economy, which really has been a big thing across farm communities, across many of the places in the Southwest where solar energy has really taken off, I think that you’re going to continue to see an effort at local action.
Well, finally, broadcast news reducing their coverage of climate change is terrible, but that coverage wasn’t always spectacular in the first place.
No, no. When I heard that it wasn’t at all surprising. And I was just reminded of, during the presidential debates, that not one question from the reporters who were questioning was really on, directly on, climate change.
But yet when you ask the public, what questions would you have for the candidates, climate was one of the top questions that people had. And here the Trump administration’s policy changes could be profound on this subject, and I don’t think that we really got the airing of that as a top issue during this campaign at all.
And we’re living the fruits of that now to some extent. Well, we’re going to need to end here, I think. I would just say, finally, it seems that independent media is just better suited to do reporting that’s going to almost inherently be threatening to powerful industries. It just seems like the independent media is the place to look for this kind of stuff.
Well, we’re proud of our focus on this really important issue.
We’ve been speaking with Marianne Lavelle of InsideClimate News. Find them online at InsideClimateNews.org. And, Marianne Lavelle, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
Thank you for having me.