Newsweek Cloaks Industry-Funded Environmentalist’s Hit Piece

First, some background

On April 11, 2015, an editorial piece by Randy Simmons and Megan Hansen on the cost of wind energy was published by Newsweek. A DailyKos blogger posted the next day disputing various claims in the piece and observing Newsweek had not disclosed Simmons’s apparent oil industry connections. The day after that the wind energy industry’s lobbying group in Washington, D.C., the American Wind Energy Association, published its reply, more pointed on the topic of Simmons connection, and Media Matters for America chimed in too.

A week later Newsweek added an editorial note to the Simmons and Hansen piece stating Simmons had been the “Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy” at Utah State University and was also a fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center. In addition, Newsweek posted a reply op-ed by James Marston, a founding director of the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund.

So here we go

Marston pulls no punches in his counterattack on the Simmons and Hansen policy piece in Newsweek: “[Randy] Simmons’ op-ed on the ‘true cost of wind power’ is the same tired slant we have heard from fossil fuel interests time and time again, which should come as no surprise when you learn who’s really behind the piece.”

Get that sinister phrase, “who’s really behind the piece”? Marston apparently believes you can judge a opinion by the company the author keeps. If the author has ever taken money or worked for a project somehow connected to a company, foundation, or industry lobbyist then surely everything the author ever does is tainted, at least in Marston’s view. It is an insulting approach to debate, implying a lack of respect both for people you disagree with and for anyone who might read either the original op-ed or Marston’s reply. It is doubly insulting in the case of an academic like Randy Simmons, who has published several books and peer-reviewed academic articles.

Simmons has presented his best summary of his understanding of the issues. If Marston had respect for his readers, he would do the same. Marston should present his own best substantive arguments, not make tenuous emotional appeals and logically irrelevant ad hominem attacks.

Of course Marston does present some substance in the article that Newsweek rushed into print as a kind of rebuttal to Simmons, but there is a real question as to whether the article is his own work. It certainly looks heavily dependent on the AWEA blog piece written a week earlier by a wind energy industry lobbyist.

Let’s look

On April 13, American Wind Energy Association lobbyist Michael Goggin wrote: “[Simmons] paints a very misleading picture of federal energy incentives by ignoring that study after study has found that subsidies for conventional energy sources have been far larger than those for renewables. The nuclear industry’s own tally shows that all renewable resources accounted for less than 10 percent of federal energy incentives provided over the period 1950-2010, with fossil resources receiving more than 70 percent.”

Eight days later, Newsweek published the following under Marston’s name: “Study after study has shown that subsidies for conventional energy sources, such as coal and oil, historically have been much larger than those for renewables, but Simmons ignores this information. The Nuclear Energy Institute’s own tally indicates all renewable resources made up less than 10 percent of federal energy incentives between 1950 and 2010.”

Phrasing kind of similar, isn’t it. And both of the two sentences in the two pieces include links to the exact same pair of internet locations. Sure, some differences here, Goggin wrote “study after study has found that subsidies for conventional energy source …” while Marston wrote “study after study has shown that subsidies for conventional energy sources ….” In the second sentences quoted both pieces embed a link using exactly the same word as anchor: “tally.”

Again, from Goggin on the 13th of April: “Last month, independent expert DBL Investors analyzed the data and found that states with the most use of renewable energy have lower electricity prices, while also observing that states with pro-renewable policies have seen lower electricity price increases than other states.”

Eight days later from Marston: “Moreover, last month, independent DBL Investors found states with the greatest use of renewable energy experience lower electricity prices, and states with pro-renewable policies have seen lower electricity price increases than those without.”

Once again similar phrases, once again both use a one-word internet link, once again it is same word (‘found’) in both the industry lobbyist’s blog post and the environmentalist’s Newsweek article, and the link in both cases goes to the same internet-accessible report.

A little later a paragraph on electric transmission repeats the same two main points using similar language, link to the same two internet sources, and use the same words to link to these same resources. Oh wait, not quite identical: where the industry lobbyist Goggin used the words “more than pay for themselves” to anchor a link, the environmentalist Marston used the words “more than paying for themselves.”

One more example. Goggin, the lobbyist, wrote: “The claim that wind energy is having an undue impact on other energy sources has been thoroughly rejected by a number of experts, including former Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner John Norris.”

Eight days later in Newsweek, under Marston’s name, appears this sentence: “This claim that wind energy is having an undue impact on other energy sources has been thoroughly debunked by a number of experts, including former Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner John Norris.”

In Goggin’s version of the sentence the words “thoroughly rejected” link to an AWEA report and in Marston’s version the words “thoroughly debunked” link to the same AWEA report. In both sentences the name “John Norris” anchors links to the same blog post on the AWEA website.

Marston’s version does include a few links not in the week-earlier blog post of the wind energy industry group, and some of the weaker, earlier points made by Goggin are omitted from Marston version. The Marston version is heavily rearranged. But it is clear that significant parts of the Marston version are a not so expert gloss on the blog post put out by the wind energy industry.

One thing you can say for Marston, he believes in recycling.

Marston and EDF

Marston has been working environmental issues in Texas for several decades, so clearly he is both committed to the cause and has a thick skin. His reputation is not at stake here, because he has done so much more. But he and the Environmental Defense Fund of Texas ought to be embarrassed to have this piece published in Newsweek with their names attached.

What of Newsweek?

Issues of plagiarism and industry ties are raised here. Newsweek took a lot of flack online for initially publishing the Simmons piece without mentioning apparent connections to fossil fuel interests, and became convinced to append a comment. Is Newsweek interested in Marston’s connections to the wind energy industry (or DailyKos or Media Matters, etc.)?

Marston’s employer has partnered up with wind turbine manufacturers like General Electric and wind-farm owning electric utilities like Duke Energy and NextEra Energy on various projects. GE Corporation has a representative on the AWEA’s board of directors, and so does NextEra Energy. [Edited, see below. -MG]

Newsweek ought to disclose both the, uh, affinities (if we do not call it plagiarism) between the Marston opinion piece and the wind energy industry lobbyist’s blog post, and the multiple financial ties between the wind energy industry, it’s lobbyists in Washington, DC, and Marston’s employer.

By the way…

I’m not a disinterested observer here. In his Newsweek piece Simmons favorably cited work I did that was funded by the Institute for Energy Research. Goggin attacked my work on the AWEA blog (“Fossil-funded think tank strikes out on cost of wind“). For that reason, I am placing this material here and inviting you to think for yourself.

[About two weeks ago I emailed seeking comments from Marston and EDF of Texas, Goggin at AWEA, Newsweek, and the Washington Post‘s Eric Wemple who had blogged about the controversy over the Simmons piece. Other than a quick reply from Wemple acknowledging my email, I have seen no reaction.

My title “Newsweek Cloaks Industry-Funded Environmentalist’s Hit Piece” is patterned after the Media Matters headline “Newsweek Cloaks Koch-Funded Professor’s Dirty Energy Agenda.”

NOTE ON EDIT: I had initially claimed that Marston’s employer, EDF, was represented on the AWEA board. As Michael Goggin commented below, the EDF on the AWEA board is the France-based international energy company not the Environmental Defense Fund.]

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2 thoughts on “Newsweek Cloaks Industry-Funded Environmentalist’s Hit Piece

  1. Environmental Defense Fund, Marston’s employer, is not on AWEA’s Board. The EDF on AWEA’s Board is Electricite de France, a global energy company. To my knowledge there are no financial ties between AWEA and Environmental Defense Fund.

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