Media Scrutinizes Modest Clean Energy Investments, Ignores Massive Polluter Tax Giveaways

Smog envelopes downtown Houston, TX (Flickr's Rick Kimpel)
Imagine if reporters spent even a fraction of the time highlighting America’s hugely wasteful dirty energy subsidies as they do trying to gin up “scandal” in clean energy. How would American taxpayers react if they knew how much of their money went to corporations that would’ve turned billions in profits anyway thanks to their ability to treat our atmosphere like an open sewer?

The oil, gas and coal industries get billions of dollars in subsidies and tax giveaways every single year. A group of 35 U.S. senators last year identified $122 billion over 10 years in oil subsidies that could be cut. And globally, fossil fuel industries receive six times more government subsidies than clean energy, according to the International Energy Agency. Those aren’t loan guarantees – it’s gone and we’ll never get a dime back. Where are the media investigations into how many millions in bonuses are paid to the CEOs of these oil giants?

Instead, today we see another headline about a clean company trying to get off the ground, this time electric car battery maker Ener1:

Ener1, an electric car battery company that the Obama administration awarded a $118 million stimulus grant to expand its operations, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Thursday after being unable to repay pressing debts. […]

Ener1 is the third company to seek bankruptcy protection among those the Energy Department backed as part of the president’s signature program to invest in clean energy. Solyndra, a California solar-panel maker, and Beacon Power, a Massachusetts energy-storage firm, entered bankruptcy court proceedings in the fall, after having received taxpayer-guaranteed loans of $535 million and $43 million, respectively.

Ener1 wasn’t controversial with Republican members of Congress when it had the backing of a Republican president:

Ener1’s application for stimulus money had bipartisan support among Indiana lawmakers. The company received $10.5 million in grants and contracts under the George W. Bush administration.

Despite obsessive coverage by the Washington Post and other media outlets, the Department of Energy’s clean energy investment program remains an incredibly safe investment. A Bloomberg Government analysis found that 87 percent of the portfolio is low-risk and that even if all 10 of the higher risk projects had to default, hundreds of millions of dollars would still remain in the Congressional fund to cover losses. And as the Ener1 example shows, even “default” could signify only a bump in the road, not the end of it – private investors have stepped up to back the company and it continues to employ hundreds of people at its Indiana plant.

America’s successful investments in the clean economy don’t get nearly as much media attention. Among the largest Energy Department investments were $5.9 billion in loans for Ford for projects in plants across 5 states. These projects were responsible for sustaining 33,000 permanent jobs making far more fuel efficient vehicles, including electric vehicles. This morning, Ford reported its sales, revenue and earnings are all rising.

As for the reporters who just can’t help themselves from writing negative stories about clean energy, you have to remember the Washington press corps thrives on controversy and in the extremely competent Obama administration, scandals have been hard to come by. But that hasn’t stopped reporters from trying. In this click-driven multimedia age, even a thin attempt at controversy can deliver big numbers for media outlets thanks to the polluter-political industrial complex.

Opposition to clean energy investments isn’t about the deficit, jobs or protecting our wildlife and public health – it’s about election year politics. Many of the very same members of Congress complaining about direct taxpayer investments are same people who blocked legislation that would’ve created a market-based cap-and-trade system to put a price on carbon pollution. So what’s their solution? They don’t have one.

But even after months of relentless attacks on clean energy, a November ORC International poll found  77 percent of Americans agree “the U.S. needs to be a clean energy technology leader and it should invest in the research and domestic manufacturing of wind, solar, and energy efficiency technologies.”

Here’s the bottom line: The National Wildlife Federation’s 4 million supporters from across the political spectrum want clean energy and they want leaders who’ll face down special interests to deliver it. And coming off a year in 2011 that saw global warming-fueled extreme weather cause record damage, action on clean energy is more critically needed than ever.

Take Action

The Environmental Protection Agency is acting now to limit carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, but is coming under assault from polluter-funded attack groups. Let the EPA know you support limits on carbon pollution.