Sun Burned: Does the LA Times Have the Most Anti-Solar Power Reporter in the Mainstream Media?


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[Editor's Note:  I'm reposting with permission this excellent essay from California environmentalist RL Miller, which was initially posted at Daily Kos, on bad reporting in the LA Times about solar power.  It should be obvious why I want more people to see it.  If the LA Times is screwing up the story, maybe that gives the OC Register a chance to show them up. -- Greg]

California Desert

Photo of California desert by RL Miller.

Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times has published yet another anti-solar piece there. This time, in Solar power plants burden the counties that host them, she discovers that sprawling rural counties that vote Republican would like more money from the federal government, please, and it’s all the fault of Big Solar. And when a sprawling rural county that votes Republican tries to tax just the solar industry alone, solar advocates organize opposition to a Sun Tax.

The horrors!

Among other journalistic nuggets, she reports that construction workers laboring near the California-Nevada state line are more likely to spend their money in Nevada (i.e., Las Vegas) than in the middle of California’s Empty Quarter. Because Joshua trees don’t take ATMs.

And she indulges Republicans opposed to the Obama administration’s treatment of renewable energy:

“The solar companies are the beneficiaries of huge government loans, tax credits and, most critically for me, property tax exemptions, at the expense of taxpayers,” said county Supervisor John Benoit, referring to a variety of taxpayer-supported loans and grants available to large solar projects as part of the Obama administration’s renewable energy initiative. “I came to the conclusion that my taxpayers need to get something back.”

Republican John Benoit, shorter: If they’re going to get special treats, I want a cut.

Among Benoit’s recent campaign contributors: Occidental Petroleum, California Independent Petroleum Association, Chevron, Valero Energy… but no solar folk. (That information is not in Julie Cart’s story. I did the research.)

Also missing from Cart’s story is any sort of perspective or critical analysis. If a plant will end up with only five permanent workers, then how accurate is the county’s claims of wear and tear on its roads and increased emergency room services?

Julie Cart has been assigned to the California desert solar beat for several years. Anyone whining about Big Solar finds her writing a sympathetic story.

Her reporting that Taxpayers, ratepayers will fund solar plants was widely criticized as getting the facts wrong, very wrong.

In Environmentalists feeling burned by rush to build big solar projects, every single small desert-tortoise-loving green group whines that the Sierra Club and other big green groups think stopping climate change is more important than saving the habitat of the desert tortoise.

In Sacrificing the desert to save the earth, she decides that a big plant taking up six square miles of California desert constitutes a sacrifice of the entire region, never mind the 50 million acres of public lands available to fossil fuel developers, never mind the relatively small footprints of all of the solar projects put together, and never mind the vast desert habitat being protected from solar development.

Land speculators see silver lining in solar projects bemoans the fact that some people are getting rich selling virtually worthless pieces of private land to solar developers. Other pieces by the same reporter bemoan the use of public land for solar development.

The Los Angeles Times is effectively the national paper of record for the California desert. I’ve searched the Los Angeles Times site for all 170 stories written by her (many on unrelated topics) and reviewed them all. All of her solar stories portray the solar industry in a bad light. As only one example, today’s story could – but doesn’t – note the negative impacts of climate change on Riverside and Inyo counties, the health burdens of relying on existing dirty energy, whether Inyo County’s worries about the impact of Big Solar on its roads is overblown, whether Riverside County Supervisor Benoit is motivated by Big Oil contributions when he proposes a solar tax (see my research above), and many other angles. The Times has other good reporters who cover environmental and climate issues, but it’s woefully understaffed.

The Los Angeles Times in a nutshell: no appetite for covering a dramatically warmer world in this century, but front page headlines for the impact of Big Solar on Inyo County’s tax revenues.


About Greg Diamond

Worker's rights attorney now moving into "good governance" litigation. North Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Orange County and occasional candidate. Proud to be prolix. Unless otherwise specifically stated, his writings never speak for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Brea but generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and without compensation, although in 2014 he may receive some compensation for campaign consulting and fundraising for the campaign of Jorge Lopez for Orange County Assessor.