Climate Progress's Romm Responds Unkindly to NewsBusters

After getting wiped all over the floor by Marc Morano in a March 27 global warming debate, and responding by childishly forbidding any articles of Morano's be linked at his Climate Progress blog, Joe Romm has set his sights on NewsBusters.

In an article hysterically titled "Newbusters jumps the shark (if that’s possible) in its attack on my truthful statement “windpower now generates more jobs in this country than coal mining," Romm took issue with some statements I made about his debate performance in my April 3 piece.

Romm's main beef (bolds and italics his):

So I had this debate with a former Swift Boat smearer you may have heard about (see here).  And I uttered the truthful statement thatwindpower now generates more jobs in this country than coal mining.”

The popular right-wing disinformation website (yes, I know, that is redundant) Newsbusters, devoted a post to attacking me for making that statement.  But the statement is true — indeed, the source that first publicized this was business-friendly Fortune magazine, “Wind jobs outstrip coal mining.” [...]

But you then go on to quote the Christian Science Monitor blog that does not argue the statement I made was flawed.

It most certainly does:

But it’s a bogus comparison. According to the wind energy report, those 85,000 jobs in wind power are as “varied as turbine component manufacturing, construction and installation of wind turbines, wind turbine operations and maintenance, legal and marketing services, and more.”  The 81,000 coal jobs counted by the Department of Energy are only miners. Their figure excludes those who haul the coal around the country, as well as those who work in coal power plants.

Let's take this slowly for the climate alarmists present who seem to have reading comprehension problems.

The point of the original Monitor piece was to refute the claim made by Fortune's eco-blog that “Wind jobs outstrip the coal industry.” Realizing he got caught in a statistical faux pas, the Fortune author edited the article and changed the title to address exclusively coal mining.

However, this is a disingenuous comparison because of the broad nature of what the American Wind Energy Association included in its figures for 2008 wind power employment. If the Fortune author was going to correctly amend his article by acknowledging that the coal industry numbers presented exclusively dealt with mining, then he should have applied similar stricter constraints on what was included in wind power.

Unfortunately he didn't, and neither did Romm during the aforementioned debate leaving them both guilty of comparing apples to oranges.

Moreover, as the Monitor pointed out, the original errant Fortune piece was widely circulated throughout the liberal blogosphere getting linked at websites such as the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and Grist. As such, even though a correction was made three days later, the vast majority of readers likely never saw it.

But that wasn't the only problem with the Fortune blog, for it also claimed:

Wind industry jobs jumped to 85,000 in 2008, a 70% increase from the previous year, according to a report released Tuesday from the American Wind Energy Association. In contrast, the coal industry mining employs about 81,000 workers. (Those figures are from a 2007 U.S. Department of Energy report but coal employment has remained steady in recent years though it’s down by nearly 50% since 1986.)

As you can see, the piece has been edited. However, the 81,000 coal mining employees figure was taken from a 2007 DOE report. Why so old?

After all, a few weeks before this Fortune blog was posted, the Labor Department as part of its monthy jobs report announced that there were 85,100 people working in the coal mining industry in December 2008.

Why cite numbers from 2007 when 2008 data was readily available with a simple click of the mouse?

More importantly, if Romm was going to use said numbers to make a case concerning employment in the wind power and coal mining industries, why didn't he check the veracity of the data?

This seems especially important since the AWEA report -- which Romm wrote about the day it was released -- claimed: "About 85,000 people are employed in the wind industry today."

As such, even comparing apples to oranges, it's questionable whether the broad employment numbers reported by AWEA were actually greater than those exclusively involved in coal mining as of December 2008.

But let's do what Fortune and Romm didn't: compare apples to apples with assistance from the Monitor's blog which elaborated on what the real employment associated with coal likely is:

SourceWatch, a Wikipedia-like site run by the Center for Media and Democracy that monitors industry lobbying groups and PR firms, attempts to tally all those who mine coal, who haul it by rail, barge, and truck, and who operate and maintain coal-fired power plants. The writers estimate that “the coal industry directly provides an approximate total of 174,000 blue-collar, full-time, permanent jobs in the U.S.”

But even comparing that to the number of wind power jobs is a bit spurious. If we’re going to count those who build wind turbines, shouldn’t we also count those who build the coal plants? The same should go for the lawyers and marketing people, too.

A 1995 factbook by the Department of Energy cites 1994 study conducted for the National Coal Association, which said that  the coal industry’s workforce, which at the time was said to be 136,000, was indirectly responsible for another 1.4 million jobs.

Add it all up, using the same broad brush that AWEA used to calculate wind power employment -- as well as VERY old DOE data -- the Monitor blog suggested there could be sixteen times as many people involved in the coal industry. Even if you just used SourceWatch's numbers, there are twice as many than in wind power.

Yet, Romm sniped: "In your effort to refute me, you actually quoted from a source that backs me up!  Doh!"

Hardly. But even this isn't the entire story, for inside the AWEA report was more information contradicting Romm's view:

The massive growth in 2008 swelled the nation’s total wind power generating capacity by 50% and channeled an investment of some $17 billion into the economy, positioning wind power as one of the leading sources of new power generation in the country today along with natural gas, AWEA added.  At year’s end, however, financing for new projects and orders for turbine components slowed to a trickle and layoffs began to hit the wind turbine manufacturing sector.     

“Our numbers are both exciting and sobering,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode.  “The U.S. wind energy industry’s performance in 2008 confirms that wind is an economic and job creation dynamo, ready to deliver on the President’s call to double renewable energy production in three years.  At the same time, it is clear that the economic and financial downturn have begun to take a serious toll on new wind development.  We are already seeing layoffs in the area where wind’s promise is greatest for our economy: the wind power manufacturing sector. 

Let's be clear about a couple of things: the world experienced an energy price bubble a few years ago that exploded last July. As it was being filled it created a boom in alternative energy sales and associated employment.

But the dropoff in wind energy demand cited by AWEA is NOT just an economic event. It is also caused by the plummet in energy prices from their July highs.

With coal, oil, and natural gas prices roughly one third what they were at their peak last year, the demand for alternative energy has greatly declined:

About 85,000 people are employed in the wind industry today, up from 50,000 a year ago, and hold jobs in areas as varied as turbine component manufacturing, construction and installation of wind turbines, wind turbine operations and maintenance, legal and marketing services, and more.   About 8,000 of these jobs are construction jobs, and a significant number of those will be lost in 2009 if financing for the pipeline of new projects is not quickly restored.  

Wind power’s recent growth has also accelerated job creation in manufacturing, where the share of domestically manufactured wind turbine components has grown from under 30% in 2005 to about 50% in 2008.   Wind turbine and turbine component manufacturers announced, added or expanded 70 new facilities in the past two years, including over 55 in 2008 alone. Those new manufacturing facilities created 13,000 new direct jobs in 2008.  However, because of the recent slowdown in orders, wind turbine and turbine component manufacturers in different parts of the country are beginning to announce layoffs.      

What we've experienced in previous bubble bursts is that what goes up too quickly goes down just as fast. As such, this 70 percent increase in jobs related to wind power in 2008 could largely be reversed in 2009 given the price of conventional forms of energy.

As a result, it is highly unlikely -- even using the AWEA's broad measure of employment -- that wind power workers will exceed those involved exclusively in coal mining by the end of this year; when you add in the tens of thousands that support the coal industry, this comparison will be even more absurd.

There is after all precedent for this, as America has experienced booms and busts in the wind power industry before. When oil prices exploded in the late '70s and early '80s, wind was all the rage. When oil plummeted back into single digits by the mid-'80s, wind power construction all but went away.

Of course, we're in a little different environment right now given the Obama administration's push to subsidize the creation of green jobs. Yet, even with that, unless oil, coal, and natural gas prices explode again, it is quite possible wind power construction and employment saw a significant peak in America last year, at least for the time being.

If Romm cares to debate that speculation on my part, he knows where to find me.

On a lighter note, I must address another truly hysterical beef of Romm's (bolds and italics his):

Even odder, at the top of the Newsbusters post, the author writes “Romm hysterically responds to NewsBusters.

How could anyone possibly describe these words of mine — “I’m not sure it is worth the effort. Note that Newsbusters pretty much admits that what I was said was true — since, of course it was.” — as hysterical?

Honestly, does this guy REALLY have a Ph.D.? From dictionary.com:

hys⋅ter⋅i⋅cal
   /hɪˈstɛrɪkəl/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [hi-ster-i-kuhl] Show IPA
-adjective

6. causing unrestrained laughter; very funny: Oh, that joke is hysterical!

For those with Ph.D.s (or from Rio Linda), Romm's claim "Newsbusters pretty much admits that what I was said was true" caused me unrestrained laughter much as the title of his piece today AND its contents.

*****Update: NBer Par for the Course sent a great NYT piece concerning layoffs in the wind power industry.

*****Update II: Another hysterical response from Mr. Hysterical:

heckrulz Says:

Damn…..Noel Sheppard slams your site hard today….

http://newsbusters.org/ blogs/ noel-sheppard/ 2009/ 04/ 08/ climate-progresss-romm-responds-newsbusters

[JR: Wouldn't call it "hard." Maybe "lamely."]

Honestly, what color IS the supposedly carbon dioxide filled sky in this man's world? I REALLY can't wait to see his NEXT hysterical response.

How 'bout you?

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.