Remember the 2008 presidential campaign, when candidates and voters alike couldn’t seem to get enough of energy and climate issues during the good ol’ days of $4 per gallon gasoline?
Politically and at the pump, those days are long gone. This election cycle has seen very little talk of energy and climate, and very little media coverage thereof, despite plenty of fodder.
“We had an oil spill; we had a coal mine explosion. We had a gas facility in Pennsylvania blow up. We had a gas transmission line in California explode. We’ve got people fighting wind turbines all over the country. Look, if energy isn’t a big issue now, with all that’s gone on, it’s not going to be a big issue,” said Frank Maisano, a spokesman for several major energy interests, who works for the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani.
“But what I would add is, the reason it’s not a big issue is because we’re struggling economically, and when that overshadows everything else, the environment will always be a backseat issue.”
Maisano was speaking on a panel about environmental issues’ relation to the mid-term election at a meeting of the Society of Environmental Journalists in Missoula, Montana last Friday. Next to him was Tony Massaro, the League of Conservation Voters’ senior vice president for political affairs and public education, who had a slightly different take.
“I think that voters vote on things that affect their daily lives, and all of the things that were ticked off—even the Gulf oil spill and the mine explosion in West Virginia (I mean, horrible calamity) didn’t affect most Americans daily lives,” he said. “Four-dollar a gallon gasoline affected every American’s daily life, and I think that’s the difference. Right now, with so many people out of work, it’s jobs that are affecting people’s daily lives.”
If there is an exception to the political apathy toward energy and climate issues it is most certainly California. Defeating Proposition 23, which would suspend the state’s 2006 global warming law requiring deep cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, is the League of Conservation Voters’ first priority this November, Massaro said. The ballot measure has received ample media coverage in the Golden State, with innumerable articles, reports, editorial, op-eds, and analyses (collections of these can, as usual, be found at popular “No on 23” and “Yes on 23” websites) weighting in on the matter. It is no mystery, for instance, that out-of-state oil interests support the measure or that, more recently, its opponents have outraised supporters.
Editorially, it seems to be that the majority of California papers, and the largest ones, oppose Prop 23, including the Los Angeles Times, the San Jose Mercury News, The San Diego Union-Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee, the Fresno Bee, the Los Angeles Daily News, and The Bakersfield Californian. The only big papers supporting the measure seem to be The Orange Country Register and The Press-Enterprise in Riverside.
Despite being the most conspicuous environmental ballot measure nationwide, which many consider a bellwether for national legislation, Prop 23 has received very little attention from the country’s largest newspapers. The New York Times is a bit of an exception. The paper first mentioned the measure in print in a fascinating, localized piece (contributed by The Bay Citizen, a local news outlet) in early September on the importance of environmental issues in the mayor’s race in Richmond, a blue-collar city in the East Bay. On September 17, the Times tackled Prop 23 head on in an article headlined “California Braces for Showdown on Emissions,” but buried the story on page A16. A few weeks later, the paper touched tangentially on Prop 23 again in a story comparing GOP hopefuls Meg Whitman and Carly Fiornia, and then went for more direct treatment in another interesting, localized piece (again from The Bay Citizen) about the city of Benicia, where the measure “is personal.”