MSM Loves Bipartisanship…Unless the Issue Is Environmental Policy

by William Yeatman on May 16, 2011

in Blog, Features

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In this era of hyper-partisanship, the mainstream media thinks that bi-partisanship is beautiful…unless both parties agree on an environmental policy, in which case the media invariably recasts the story such that it’s the Green Democrats versus the Dirty Republicans.

On cap-and-trade policy, I’ve noted in a previous post how the media willfully ignores that both parties oppose energy rationing. Instead, you’ll read or hear about the “Republican War on Science,” whenever Congressional climate policy gets rejected by a bipartisan, bicameral vote.

There was another example of this phenomenon last Wednesday. The Energy and Water Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing during which there was unanimous bipartisan agreement that the Environmental Protection Agency had overstepped its bounds on a controversial policy regarding  mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia.

To me, at least, unanimously bipartisan opposition to a major Presidential policy on an ultra-divisive issue is newsworthy. But there was no mention of it in any of the stories on the hearing that I read. Readers of the stories that I read would have thought that the Democrats and Republicans clashed.

The subject of the hearing was the EPA’s issuance of what full Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV) called “do or dare permits,” whereby the EPA threatened to veto surface coal mining permits that failed to meet “non-binding” guidance documents. This is a blatant violation of the federal Administrative Procedure Act. As I explain in detail here, the EPA’s justification for these procedural shenanigans is the protection of an insect that lives for a day, and which isn’t an endangered species.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Timothy Bishop (D-NY) spoke of a “pendulum” between the “non-mutually exclusive” issues of environmental protection and economic activity. He said it had swung too far towards business in the Bush era, and now it appeared to have swung too far in the other direction. Of course, Rahall agreed with the Republicans; he’s from West Virginia, the nation’s second largest coal producing state. Rahall’s constituents suffer most as a result of this Administration’s war on Appalachian coal production. Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA), offered “our support, as a group…for anything we can do to lessen the burden.” Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) chided EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Stoner, saying, ““When an issue raises to the level of the Congress, you know there’s a problem.”

To be sure, Rep. Bishop aggressively defended the EPA from the rhetorical claim, made by one witness, that the Obama Administration was waging a “war on coal” in order to fulfill the President’s promise to “bankrupt coal,” but he also allowed that EPA had gone too far when he made his pendulum analogy. Again, Rep. Rahall’s willingness to check the EPA was never in doubt. Rep. Altmire is from Appalachian PA, where surface coal mining is practiced (although there has been a dramatic conversion from surface to underground mines there over the last decade), but I couldn’t find any evidence of mountaintop removal coal mines in that State. Rep. Richardson’s skepticism of the EPA’s actions was most striking, given that her district is as far from Appalachia as it gets.

Remarkable, right? Perhaps, but it wasn’ newsworthy. In fact, if you didn’t attend the hearing, but you read media accounts of the hearing, your knowledge of what took place would be the opposite of what took place.

In the trade publication I rely on for energy and environment news, the write up of the hearing mentioned that two Democrats defended the EPA from purple rhetoric used by witnesses and Republicans. The story never mentioned that these Democrats ultimately agreed with Republicans on the need to check the EPA. And on the blog that I rely for detailed information about the Appalachian coal industry, a post on the hearing was titled “EPA, Democrats Respond to Coal Attacks.”


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