The NY Times’ absurd energy editorial

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"The NY Times’ absurd energy editorial"

The lead editorial in today’s NYT, “Energy Fictions,” is a misguided and misinformed smear of Obama’s outstanding energy proposals. It harshly criticizes a few tiny pieces of Obama’s energy plan that deal with short-term oil strategies, in particular, his willingness to compromise on offshore drilling, and then ends:

Here is the underlying reality: A nation that uses one-quarter of the world’s oil while possessing less than 3 percent of its reserves cannot drill its way to happiness at the pump, much less self-sufficiency. The only plausible strategy is to cut consumption while embarking on a serious program of alternative fuels and energy sources. This is a point the honest candidate should be making at every turn.

The NYT would seem to be accusing Obama of being dishonest — even though it is the other side whose insatiable dishonesty now extends to climate-destroying [and soul-destroying] disinformation (see “here).

Did the NYT even bother listening to any of Obama’s speeches or reading his plan online, rather than, say, listening to the cable news version — or worse, the Republican National Committee version? Obama has a detailed a plan to “cut consumption while embarking on a serious program of alternative fuels and energy sources” — more serious and more comprehensive than any presidential candidate of either party has ever put forward (see “A real energy plan for America: Efficiency now, 10% renewables by 2012, and one million plug-in hybrids by 2015“).

And Obama has said over and over again that offshore drilling will not have any significant impact on US oil production or prices at the pump. But he recognizes that the Republicans have decided to drown out all debate by endlessly shouting the new Newt Gingrich mantra”Drill Here. Drill Now.” As long as the media keeps miscovering the subject, any serious political leader will have to agree to some meaningless drilling to get a serious clean energy program passed.

[As an aside, the NYT helped rehabilitate the eco-image of the virulently anti-environmental Gingrich last year, calling his new book, " A Contract on the With the Earth," part of a "move to the pragmatic center on climate and energy." As if. Gingrich fooling the media by disguising himself as an eco-friendly centrist is about as pathetic as Radovan Karadzic wandering around Belgrade disguised as a New Age doctor.]

But I digress. The entire editorial is as intentionally misinforming as a typical Wall Street Journal ed, but you expect that from the WSJ. The NYT writes of Obama’s energy plan:

The Democrats’ presumptive nominee has made a poor choice of weapons, beginning with his proposal to tap the petroleum reserve, an idea that Mr. McCain has wisely resisted. True, some usually responsible Democrats have been urging the release of as much as 70 million barrels of oil from the 700-million-barrel strategic reserve. And tapping the reserve on several earlier occasions — including the home heating oil crisis in 2000 and after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — did in fact cause oil prices to drop.

Uhh, no. First off, Obama did not propose to tap the reserve — he proposed a small “swap of light oil … for heavy crude oil.” The total volume of oil would stay the same. It’d be nice if the NYT got simple facts right in their lame hitjob.

But these were the kinds of genuine emergencies for which the reserve was designed in the first place.

Uhh, no. Bush’s father released oil during the first Gulf War when prices had begun to drift up slightly — to $32 a barrel [!!! -- ah, the good old days, when a war in the Persian Gulf coupled with a $32 a barrel price constituted an energy crisis].

High prices — even $4 for a gallon of gasoline — do not, in our view, constitute such an emergency.

That would be funny if it weren’t coming from the so-called “paper of record.” We have a world market for oil — oil embargoes, the raison d’ÂȘtre for the reserve, have been replaced by price shocks. That is, the way that supply shocks will manifest themselves today is in high prices. Today we again have a war in the Gulf, but this time oil prices are 4 times higher than they were when Bush’s father released announced he would sell 34 million barrels from the reserve — and oil prices dropped by one third in 24 hours. And he didn’t even have to sell all of the 34 million barrels. And we have more than 700 million barrels in the reserve. And in over a quarter of a century we’ve never even sold a combined 70 million barrels. But the NYT mindlessly repeats a long-dead shibboleth about the “responsible” use of the strategic reserve during some hypothetical emergency — which somehow doesn’t include two wars and record prices, which means the reserve can basically never be used.

As I testified to Congress last month on this subject, “If oil prices did drop [after releasing maybe 70 million barrels], that would vindicate this strategy. If oil prices did not drop, that would demonstrate how useless the strategic reserve is.

(They may even be salutary: according to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drove 30 billion fewer miles in the first five months of this year than they did last year. Consumers are moving briskly to the more fuel-efficient cars they probably should have been buying all along.)

Ah, now we see where the NYT is coming from. They want higher oil prices. Well, they obviously never ran for office or in fact tried to govern this country. I wouldn’t call higher oil prices “salutary.” I have, however, predicted for years they are “inevitable” given our myopic energy policy. But to the extent that higher prices in the short term are partly due to speculation, I certainly think it’s worth releasing a little oil from the reserve to find out — and then using that money to jumpstart the transition to a clean energy economy.

The rest of the NYT editorial is even more illogical, if that’s possible, in a bizarrely consistent way:

The windfall tax idea seems exactly the kind of populist gimmick Mr. Obama has been trying to avoid, and could be counterproductive. It is true that oil company profits have reached obscene levels, largely as a result of oil prices. It is also true that oil companies receive tax benefits that they do not need and that ought to be repealed. But rebates would encourage consumption, leading to higher prices at the pump and hurting the very consumers Mr. Obama is trying to help.

[In voice of Jon Stewart] Oh mavens of the most respected newspaper in the world, why do you mock me? That last sentence is one of the dumbest thing ever published in the NYT. Yes, they are arguing that if you give struggling people a rebate during economic hard times, they might actually spend the money, and some of that spending would go toward consuming oil (perhaps 8%, in fact), which in turn might raise oil consumption (perhaps 1%, in fact), which in turn might raise oil prices (perhaps microscopically and just temporarily, in fact), which in turn might hurt the very consumers Mr. Obama is trying to help (and monkeys could fly out my butt, in fact, but they probably won’t). Somehow I suspect most Americans probably would take the rebate and not worry too much about whether their stimulus will cause price inflation that eats slightly into the value of the rebate.

And one more thing, the five biggest oil companies are poised to receive $33 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies over the next five years — and last year put more than $60 billion of their profits (a stunning 55% of the total) into stock buybacks (see “Follow your money“). That is beyond obscene.

Has the New York Times ever published such a lame editorial? Let’s hope not. It ends:

A toxic combination of $4 gasoline, voter anxiety and presidential ambition is making it impossible for this country to have the grown-up conversation it needs about energy.

Not surprisingly, the NYT left out the key ingredient in the toxic stew — the media’s blatant miscoverage of the energy issue. That’s the real reason it is impossible for this country to have a grown-up conversation on energy.

If the ref doesn’t understand or enforce any of the rules, the game inevitably becomes fixed, and one side, typically the one employing Karl Rove or his disciples, realizes that repeatedly lying to the public may well be a winning strategy (see “here).

The paper of record is now the paper of discord.

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11 Responses to The NY Times’ absurd energy editorial

  1. Thanks for writing this, Joe. It’s awful coverage like this that muddies the waters and makes it harder to have an honest discussion about the issue.

  2. David B. Benson says:

    Er, locally the price of gasoline is now down 3.5% from its high.

  3. rpauli says:

    The Carbon energy industries are pouring on the propaganda with this election. An easy observation would be to track fossil fuel industry advertising buys in the NYTimes from now through the election. It is surely considerable.

    Meanwhile the Online campaign also expands

    http://www.willyoujoinus.com/energy-issues/
    http://www.willyoujoinus.com/media-gallery/advertising/print.aspx
    And has some ‘kumbayah” touchy feelly video ads

    Has some slick game simulations
    http://www.willyoujoinus.com/energyville/

    They now seem to embrace alternative energy sources.
    The campaign seems to be sending the message of “we are your friends, we can do this together”

  4. Ronald says:

    That opinion piece is bad. I think that they mostly just want to make controversy to sell papers than to actually make sense.

    this one by Thomas Friedman is way better. About how Denmark doesn’t import any middle east oil and 50 percent are on bicycles. And it works.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/opinion/10friedman1.html?em

    1.6 percent unemployment? Denmark? Huh?

  5. andrew says:

    I’ve ranted about this before, but while we’re discussing bad press coverage of energy issues; here goes:

    The media including most blogs I read, consistently give the oil and gas industry a pass on the environmental damage they do. They acknowledge past damage, but seem to believe that future damage can be avoided.

    This is simply not true.

    Usually the news story if interviewing a candidate or an editorial piece will end something like this: “and we believe that domestic oil and gas production should be increased with appropriate environmental safeguards in place.”

    As if by magic, asking that “appropriate safeguards” be used will make environmental damage simply not occur. Well, that’s a load of absolute BS. Oil and gas development continues to incur significant and permanent damage to fish and wildlife populations and habitats as well as to the agricultural, ranching and forestry industries.

    If oil and gas development occurs off of Virginia, how will the product get onshore? Will they directionally drill a 36″ pipeline across the Chesepeake or simply plow it through the seagrass beds and oyster reefs? Only one way it can pay and that’s to blot out a few hundred more acres of these already endangered and disappearing bay habitats. Of course there will have to be many lines built.

    How many crew boats will ground on coral reefs if they seriously drilled off of Florida’s east coast? Wells aren’t just drilled next to existing shipping channels. And how will they get the pipelines across those reefs and grass beds that often stretch for tens of miles?

    My experience with this industry comes from Texas, Louisiana and Alaska, and it isn’t good. They often bully their way through whatever environmental safeguards there are and often no matter how much money could be spent, there is no way to avoid damage. I still recall the day I saw a backhoe on top of the largest oyster reef in Texas (Galveston Bay’s Todd’s Dump) hacking away a path for a pipeline. No permit, but what the hell all was forgiven. That single oyster reef produced one-third of Texas’ oysters or about 10% of the U.S. Atlantic total.

    Not many folks have noticed, but citizens and elected officials in New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming have a lot of not nice things to say about the booming gas industry in their states.

    How about a little honesty: “and we should increase local production even though it means irreversible damage to large swaths of our country.”

  6. Robert says:

    I agree with the NYT. They are raising exactly the same objections I was raising about Obama’s plan.

  7. twowheels says:

    Joe,
    There is a well worn and stubborn journalistic shortcut that may be in play here. Some times “news men” profess their goal to be criticized equally by both sides – a self-serving and lazy way to claim integrity. Maybe that made sense in the era of moderate republicans. These days it’s just a formula to promote liars and cheats. But there you go.

  8. ecostew says:

    The Republican (including McCain’s) drilling strategy is as lame as Bush’s ethanol strategy when it comes to energy security and mitigating AGW – it’s all about winning in the November election. The Republican oil shale strategy is even a worse disaster when it comes to energy security and mitigating AGW. The news media outlets are doing a great disservice by not doing their homework.

  9. Jon says:

    Platt’s argued recently that the price destruction after the first Gulf War shock was simply the result of anticipated supply disruptions – Iraqi scorched earth missile attacks on Kuwaiti or Saudi export facilities – not actually materialising.

    That this happened on the day after Bush Sr. indicated he would sell from the SPR is coincidental, not causal. Bush’s planners made the decision before the invasion that the SPR would be tapped and followed through with it even though it was not necessary from a supply/price point of view – the price would have collapsed anyway on the back of unmet expectations with or without the SPR release.

    Later releases from the SPR have clearly failed to produce any sustained price suppression – when both Clinton and Bush Jr. sold from the SPR, prices rebounded within mere weeks.

    If you buy Verlager’s theory about diesel refinement being the driver of world oil prices, then a release from the SPR as suggested by Obama might make sense. Indeed it might make loads of sense to let lighter crude out now when demand is high – but the flipside is that the US could not sustain releases of light crude long enough (until 2012) to get through the hump in refining capacity shortfall. Meanwhile, the increase in distillate demands is a secular trend. So, any SPR release would be the equivalent of running on fumes: good for a few miles (months) but you’re going to hit the wall eventually.

    It would also be a stretch to say that the SPR is useless if prices don’t fall upon doing so – the SPR does not exist to smooth price volatility; that is the role of the future’s market, in theory. The SPR exists for two reasons: 1) to provide several weeks worth of import cover in the event of a major supply disruption to the US and 2) to partially meet the US’s IEA commitments. This is why it is a ‘strategic’ reserve and not a simply reserve.

    The one thing that might help longer term is switching New England from heating oil to gas, which the US has in abundance.

  10. Pierre Gosselin says:

    OT, h/t IceCap:
    http://tomnelson.blogspot.com/2008/08/new-poll-shows-co2-hysteria-fading-in.html

    So why isn’t the public getting the message? AGW proponents have thrown just about everything trying to convince the public. WHY is there growing doubt?
    Enjoy your vacation Maine.

    [JR: The public is getting the message -- denial works! Keep up the great, if self-destructive work!]

  11. Robert says:

    Joe,

    The Oil Drum has the integrity and analytical depth to point out the absurdities of the Democratic position.

    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4388#more