I think it’s fair to say that at least some members of the Oklahoma Congressional delegation and the corporate power structure here are waging a carefully constructed rhetorical war against the environment.
The principal ammunition is money given by the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions to politicians, such as Republicans U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and U.S. Rep. James Lankford, who represents Oklahoma’s Fifth Congressional District. The principal tactics—or to put it another way, what that money buys—are relentless science denial, linguistic subterfuge and reductionist sloganeering.
The victim, of course, is the environment. Our planet faces the major threat of global warming caused by man-made carbon emissions. By supporting the interests of the oil and gas industry above environmental protection, politicians like Inhofe and Lankford, the corporate energy sector here and their mouthpiece, The Oklahoman, have not only positioned themselves on the wrong side of history but have also sold out the future of the planet for money and power.
Take just this week. On Wednesday, Inhofe announced he, along with other senators, have introduced a legislative plan for a “full global embargo against Iranian oil” that also includes a requirement that the federal government open up more of its land for energy production. Of course, as even Inhofe concedes in a press release, the United States doesn’t import any oil from Iran, but that doesn’t matter because the new production of oil by big corporations on federal lands would somehow help those countries who do import oil from Iran. All this will result in the “defeat” of Iran, according to Inhofe, which is a somewhat fantastical concept in itself.
Of course, traditional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on federal lands will also damage the environment and only exacerbate the real problem of climate change through the burning of fossil fuels, but, as we know, Inhofe doesn’t buy into the science of global warming and calls it all a hoax.
On Friday, Inhofe also issued a statement arguing that the Department of Interior needs to back off any re-proposals of rules over fracking on federal lands, which are going to provide the oil needed to defeat Iran. In the statement, Inhofe makes the claim that “over one million wells have been fracked and there has not been a single confirmed case of groundwater contamination in that time.” It’s not surprising that argument has been refuted. (Click here as well.) Fracking has also been related to earthquakes here in Oklahoma and elsewhere.
It’s also not surprising that Inhofe doesn’t mention in his press releases that he has received at least $550,950 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 2007.
Inhofe’s ties to the oil and gas industry through campaign funding ultimately result in an assault on the environment as he does the bidding of big energy companies.
One of his anti-environment colleagues in Washington, Lankford, does the same type of bidding. Lankford received $160,350 in campaign money from the oil and gas industry in the 2011-2012 campaign cycle. What does that amount of campaign money get the oil and gas industry?
On Thursday, Lankford criticized the federal government during a hearing for not expediting drilling permits on federal land. He has argued that new rules related to fracking are not needed for drilling on federal lands because apparently states do such a good job regulating the oil and gas industry. The Oklahoman, of course, extensively covered Lankford’s predictable remarks.
To round out the week, the newspaper, which is a propaganda mouthpiece for Inhofe, Lankford and all of Oklahoma City’s large energy companies, such as Devon, Chesapeake, Sandridge and Continental Resources, published an editorial Friday mocking protesters of the Keystone XL pipeline currently under construction in the state.
The editorial focused on one quote by a protester, who was arrested at a construction site, and the editorial made the sophomoric argument once again that people who fight for the environment most likely also use cars fueled by gasoline and thus have some type of conflict of interest that renders their arguments invalid.
The real conflict of interest is that the newspaper is owned by Philip Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire, who became rich drilling for fossil fuels, and that the newspaper conveniently never allows consistent, dissenting views to its one-sided, conservative myopia when it comes to the environmental destruction. Has Oklahoma become the epicenter of an anti-environment campaign waged by corporate interests for short-term profits?
Oklahoma politics has long seemed incredulous under Republican dominance, but it reached a new level of weirdness early this week.
On Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin signed her highly-touted tax cut into law amid the usual GOP rhetoric about people keeping their “hard earned” money and joyful predictions of a stampede of new businesses and skilled workers soon to flood the state. This is just GOP code for what the bill really does, which is this: It rewards the wealthiest Oklahomans with a tax cut through an irresponsible decrease in state revenue.
Also, on Monday, Fallin signed a measure into law that raises fees for driver's licenses by $12 making it all a net financial decrease for many of the approximately 40 percent of Oklahomans who won’t even qualify for the tax cut. Under the law, the top income tax rate would drop from 5.25 percent in 2015 and then to 4.85 percent in 2016 if there are available revenues to cover the cut.
Meanwhile, an Oklahoma City attorney, Jerry Fent, has announced he plans to sue the state over the tax cut measure, House Bill 2032, because he argues it contains more than one subject, which is unconstitutional in Oklahoma. The bill provides for the tax cut and $120 million in repairs to the state Capitol building. This could be considered log rolling, a political technique used to sway legislators to vote on a bill even though they stand against one component of it.
So let’s get this straight: Fallin and GOP leaders are making hoopla over a tax cut that doesn’t even give a break to some 40 percent of Oklahomans and might not even go into effect anyway because of a lawsuit. The hike in the basic driver’s license fee and other licenses’ fees under Senate Bill 652 would mean thousands of Oklahomans are actually paying more, not less, to the state.
But that basic reality didn’t stop the GOP propaganda machine, which was in full throttle Monday. Here’s Fallin in a press release issued by her office about the tax-cut bill signing:
One of the first questions I get when I am talking to business owners throughout the country is, ‘if I come to Oklahoma, are you going to raise my taxes?’ Passing a significant and responsible tax cut will help us to recruit these businesses and retain the ones we already have. Our tax cut will ultimately lead to more job opportunities for all Oklahomans.
Is that really one of the first questions she gets from business owners? Does the state even need businesses that are owned by people fixated on getting out of paying taxes?
Fallin called the tax cut “responsible” in her remarks, but the responsible approach would have been to delay a cut until the economy has fully recovered and then, with interest rates at historic lows, authorize a bond interest to fix the state Capitol building.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, a Lawton Republican, had his say, too.
The way you grow an economy is by letting hard working people keep more of their hard earned money. Oklahoma has proven this conservative principle to be true over the past 15 years. By lowering the income tax rate, we are attracting skilled and educated workers to our state and making Oklahoma a leader in business and economic growth.
What is Shannon talking about when he refers to the past 15 years? Prior tax cuts that mean the state remains dead last on a regional basis in per pupil funding and has some of the nation’s worst medical outcomes? The state’s new-age dependency on the federal government for its sustenance and viability? The fact state workers haven’t had an across-the-board raise in six years? What we do know for sure is that the Great Recession beginning in 2008 devastated state revenues, the state has not fully recovered and education funding has taken the brunt of the hit. That’s not disputable, and that’s five of Shannon’s 15 glory years right there.
The average tax cut per person is $81 annually, but it would collectively cost the state budget $136 million in 2015 and then more than $230 million in 2016 if that year’s tax cut does take effect, according to estimates. The $81 average is a bit misleading. The bulk of the cut goes to the wealthiest Oklahomans, who will see an average cut of $2,031 annually, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. OK Policy estimates 41 percent of Oklahomans won’t get any break, people with incomes from $19,500 to $36,400 would only get a $9 reduction annually, and, overall, the bottom 60 percent of income earners will receive only 9 percent of the cut.
But don’t think the GOP isn’t thinking about the poverty-stricken here. On Monday, Shannon also announced that Fallin had signed into law his House Bill 1908, which uses money from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to pay for a public service campaign promoting marriage. In other words, the GOP is taking money away from a program that helps impoverished people to tell them they need to get married.
So the class warfare waged by Republicans here continues.
It’s only fitting that as an editorial in The Oklahoman pointed out that Oklahoma’s cool weather in April was “news that a climate change zealot won't want to hear,” scientists were reporting the average daily level of carbon dioxide in the air in the world was at its highest level in three million years.
Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas, and its growing levels in the atmosphere have been blamed for global warming and climate change.
In a May 10 editorial brief titled “Cool to conclusions” in its weekly Scissors Tale column, The Oklahoman reported the rather unremarkable news that last month was the seventh coolest recorded April in the state’s history dating back to 1895.
“We won't extrapolate from this data to support a conclusion that global warming is over or that this will be one of the coolest summers on record,” the editorial claims, and then goes on to criticize anyone who brings up the recent temperature record breaking summers as evidence of global warming.
“It would be nice if the zealots wouldn't leap to conclusions based on those summers,” according to the commentary, “or last year's Superstorm Sandy or any other weather phenomenon that's cashed in like a lottery ticket to score a political point.”
So, in essence, the editorial IS using a particular weather event to criticize those concerned about climate change, which is the same thing as using a weather event as evidence to argue global warming is simply a mythology embraced by, to use its own word, “zealots.” The editorial does exactly what it says it won’t do, which makes its writer as much as a zealot as anyone else.
The disingenuous rhetoric comes with a heaping dose of faulty logic. The seventh coolest April in one state hardly compares with the fact that 2012 was the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States or the fact the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reported that ocean surface temperatures last year off the Northeast coast in this country were the highest in 150 years.
The editorial also doesn’t refer to the actual math of global warming, which can be viewed in these charts from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Two other subjects The Oklahoman will always omit from any discussion of climate change is the fact the world’s best known global warming denier, its own home-state darling U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, has received at least $550,000 in campaign funding from oil and gas companies since 2007 and the fact the newspaper itself is currently owned by Philip Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire, who became rich decades ago by drilling for fossil fuels.
All the omissions and faulty logic come just as scientists reported that the average daily carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere is now at 400 parts per million, the highest in at least three million years. The measurements come from scientific instruments in Hawaii and have been compared to carbon dioxide levels in trapped air bubbles in ancient Antarctic ice.
According to a New York Times article, scientists didn’t mince words about the significance of the finding. “It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” one scientist said. The impact of carbon emissions on the climate continues to be one of the planet’s largest problems.
So let’s be clear: Global warming is a scientific issue and fact, not a bipartisan debate, and no one weather event can determine much of anything. Long-term climate patterns, which now include a series of unusual weather events through the years, high carbon dioxide levels in the air, warming sea temperatures and melting Arctic ice indicate we face a problem. The Oklahoman does a great disservice to its readers and the broader community here in its discussions of global warming when it simply engages in rhetorical hyperbole by calling people zealots, making false comparisons and omitting crucial information about conflicts of interest.