How the Oil Industry Influences National Beliefs

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"The New York Times recently published an op-ed attacking renewable fuels from the Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce," wrote Denise Robbins in Media Matters, "without disclosing his ties to the oil industry, despite a directive from its former public editor for the paper to fully disclose its op-ed contributors' financial conflicts of interest."

While the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is an incomplete solution at best (robust fuel competition is what we need), we thought the excerpt below was an interesting look at one of the ways the oil industry has managed to keep its transportation fuel monopoly despite innovations such as turning municipal waste profitably into clean fuel (while reducing landfill bulk and greenhouse gases) or the ability to create ethanol for a dollar a gallon using undrinkable water and unfarmable land. Robbins writes:

In a March 10 New York Times op-ed, Robert Bryce falsely characterized the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as an expensive "tax." The standard, which requires oil refiners, blenders, and gasoline and diesel importers to blend a set amount of renewable fuel into their gasoline supply, was dismissed by Bryce as a "boondoggle" and a "rip-off."

But the Times failed to disclose Bryce's financial incentive to attack the RFS, identifying him only as a "senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of a new report from the institute, 'The Hidden Corn-Ethanol Tax.'" The Manhattan Institute has, in fact, received millions from oil interests over the years, including $635,000 from ExxonMobil and $1.9 million from the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, where Charles Koch and his wife sit on the board of directors. Koch made his fortune from oil and currently has significant holdings in oil and gas operations.

Bryce is, in essence, acting as a spokesperson for the oil industry, which has much to gain from weakening or repealing the RFS. The renewable fuel requirement is set to increase over the next several years, potentially replacing up to 13.6 billion gallons of the conventional fuel supply by 2022.

These financial ties might explain why Bryce's op-ed was peppered with industry myths, including that renewable fuel can damage car engines (this has been proven wrong) and is bad for the environment (ethanol's lower greenhouse gas emissions are better for the climate).

The New York Times faced backlash after similarly failing to disclose Bryce's financial interests in a 2011 op-ed attacking renewable energy policies. A letter signed by more than 50 journalists and media professionals expressed concern that such a lack of disclosure is "a growing problem in American journalism" and asked the public editor to "lead the industry and set the nation's standard by disclosing financial conflicts of interest that their op-ed contributors may have at the time their piece is published."

Read the whole article here: NY Times Fails To Disclose Oil Funding Behind Pro-Oil Op-Ed.

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