A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay


The Father’s Day political talk shows contained a stretch here, an exaggeration there, misimpressions left everywhere. Here’s what we found.

All Studies Don’t Agree

On CNN’s "State of the Union," Sen. Joe Lieberman, an Independent, bragged about the supposed benefits of the climate-change bill he has introduced with Democratic Sen. John Kerry:

Lieberman: And, look, our comprehensive bill, according to all of the independent studies will create half a million new jobs a year, break our dependence on foreign oil by 40 percent, 2 million barrels a day, and clean up the air.

Gosh, who could be against that? But wait. In his enthusiasm, Lieberman made it sound as though all of the studies that have been done show the American Power Act would do all of those things: create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, significantly cut oil imports and bring cleaner air. We asked Lieberman’s office which studies he was referring to, and a spokesman sent four of them: one from the Environmental Protection Agency, one from the World Resources Institute, one from the ClimateWorks Foundation and one from the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The WRI document turned out to be a summary of the bill, not an analysis.

However, EPA’s analysis, completed earlier this month, does indeed show that CO2-equivalent concentrations would diminish globally (see page 21) as well as domestically if the APA were to be adopted. Other studies agree; that is, after all, the central goal of the bill.

But breaking “our dependence on foreign oil by 40 percent”? Only one of the studies shows that, and that’s the high end of a range; also, it’s not a comparison with what the number would be if no legislation were passed. According to the Peterson Institute policy brief, U.S. oil imports could be reduced 33 percent to 40 percent below 2008 levels under APA, and by 9 percent to 19 percent below a business-as-usual scenario by 2030.

And as for the legislation’s estimated effect on employment, the ClimateWorks Foundation’s report does indeed show a net increase under the Kerry-Lieberman bill of 440,000 jobs per year from 2012-2020 compared with the business-as-usual model, and 540,000 jobs per year from 2012-2030 (see page 5). ClimateWorks, which says it "supports public policies that prevent dangerous climate change" and used a McKinsey & Co. model for its analysis, has the highest jobs numbers we’ve seen. The Peterson Institute’s report, which we’ve cited before, estimates a net average annual gain in jobs of 203,000 above business-as-usual from 2011-2020, but that falls to just 6,300 per year more than business-as-usual if one takes a longer view, 2011-2030. (ClimateWorks attributes the difference in findings between the two organizations to more aggressive energy efficiency assumptions in the McKinsey model than in the Energy Information Administration model used by the Peterson authors.)

Lieberman is off-base to say that "all of the independent studies" show all the things he’s claimed. And yet to weigh in is the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which is looking at the bill.

Government Shares Blame on Oil Spill Estimates

On NBC’s "Meet the Press," Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts blamed BP for providing inaccurate estimates of how much oil was spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. The federal government, however, deserves some of the blame, too. Here is what he said: 

Markey: So again, right from the beginning, BP was either lying or grossly incompetent. First they said it was only 1,000 barrels, then they said it was 5,000 barrels, now we’re up to 100,000 barrels. It was their technology, it was their spill camp, they’re the ones that should have known right from the beginning; and either to limit their liability or because they were grossly incompetent, they delayed a full response to the magnitude of this disaster.

The government, not BP, estimated the spill at 5,000 barrels per day — a figure that would later prove to be wrong. Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry of the Coast Guard said at an April 28 press conference that a NOAA scientist estimated the leak at 5,000 gallons per day, based on aerial observations. At his May 27 press conference, Obama said BP "wasn’t fully forthcoming" and the government had to rely on aerial photos, even though BP had an on-site camera that ultimately allowed scientists to more accurately estimate the spill.

A GOP ‘Philosophy’?

On ABC’s "This Week," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel criticized Rep. Joe Barton’s recent characterization of the BP-White House deal to put $20 billion of company money into escrow. Barton called the escrow, to be used to pay damages related to the oil spill, a "shakedown," and Emanuel said that comment represented the GOP’s "philosophy."

Emanuel: That’s not a political gaffe, those were prepared remarks. That is a philosophy. That is an approach to what they see. They see the aggrieved party here is BP, not the fishermen. And remember, this is not just one person.

Barton was not the only Republican to object to the deal requiring BP to establish the escrow fund. Rep. Tom Price, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, issued a statement on June 16 labeling the White House-BP agreement a "Chicago-style shakedown." The statement said: “BP’s reported willingness to go along with the White House’s new fund suggests that the Obama Administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics."

But not all Republicans feel the same way. Key House and Senate Republican leaders have distanced themselves from Barton’s statement. House Minority Leader John Boehner, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and House Republican Conference Chair Mike Pence issued a statement on June 17 calling Barton’s comments "wrong." (Cantor and Pence are also members of the Republican Study Committee.) Barton was reportedly threatened with the loss of his ranking member status on the House Energy Committee if he didn’t back down. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the June 20 edition of "Fox News Sunday" that he "couldn’t disagree with Joe Barton more."

More Slippery Spill Statistics

On CBS’ "Face the Nation," Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida offered some claims that could use context.

Boxer downplayed Exxon’s financial liability for the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill:

Boxer: You know, the Exxon Valdez, this is unbelievable. They fought in the courts, Exxon did. And at the end of 20 years, they were still fighting to re– they didn’t want to reimburse the fishermen and all the folks there. They finally settled at 15,000 average per claim.

That was true initially — after several appeals and a 20-year court battle, Exxon was only ordered to pay out $507.5 million. But the 9th Circuit Court later held the company responsible for interest fees that significantly increased compensation to victims. Exxon was eventually liable for a total of $987.5 million, or about $31,000 for each of the 32,000 plaintiffs.

And Nelson said that BP is ignoring scientific evidence about the presence of subsurface oil, also called oil plumes:

Nelson: BP says there’s not the underwater plumes. That is not borne out by scientific research.

Nelson is correct to say that, contrary to BP chief executive Tony Hayward’s claim that "there aren’t any plumes," scientific investigators have found clear evidence of subsurface oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Samantha Joye, a researcher from the University of Georgia, first found evidence of plumes back in May. An expedition from the University of South Florida found subsurface oil as well, and those results were confirmed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But NOAA reported that it could not conclusively link that oil to the Deepwater Horizon spill. In fact, samples from one station 142 miles from the wellhead were found to be inconsistent with the BP oil spill source. At closer stations, the oil was too diluted to identify, and only the surface samples were highly concentrated enough to determine the source with certainty.

University of South Florida researchers say that they are continuing analysis on the samples. Meanwhile, Joye and other scientists have not shied away from implying, when talking to the press, that the subsurface oil is clearly from this spill. Nelson is correct about general scientific opinion, but not about confirmed research.

In Their Opinion

On "Fox News Sunday," Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell misstated the results of a recent public opinion poll.

McConnell: [A]n NPR poll just came out this week taken by a prominent Democrat and Republican pollster indicated Americans preferred Republicans over Democrats, what’s called a party generic ballot question, by eight points.

Not quite. He referred to a poll released by National Public Radio on June 15. It did show that “voters are choosing Republicans over Democrats 49 percent to 41 percent,” but only in the 70 House districts experts regard as most likely to oust incumbents or go to the party not in state power this fall. While NPR reported that’s “grim news for Democrats,” the sentiment doesn’t apply to “Americans” as a whole.