Next Generation’s New Low: Attacking Scholars, Denigrating Jobs

Next Generation is an anti-fossil fuel activist group co-founded and bankrolled by hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer.

The group writes that its mission, among other things, is to confront “diminished prospects for children and families.” This goal is admirable enough, but Next Generation has a strange way of demonstrating its interest in the well being of California families and children.

In fact, in an article published this week, Next Generation denigrated the careers of thousands of hard-working, taxpaying families directly employed by California’s oil and gas industry, and the group takes evident delight in the idea that fewer, rather than more, jobs will be created in this important sector of California’s economy in the future.

That’s a recipe for worsening, not improving, prospects for our children and families.

In the same article, Next Generation impugned the integrity of respected scholars in some of California’s leading universities and think tanks.

The article, by Next Generation’s James Barba, uses the results of a recent economic impact analysis prepared by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) as a pretext for an odd screed against the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), which commissioned the LAEDC study and similar studies in the past.

Barba makes two claims. The first is that WSPA has commissioned a variety of studies that show different estimates for current and future industry employment in California. This is absolutely true, and a review of these studies – from the University of Southern California (USC), California State University, Fresno (CSUF), consulting firm Purvin and Gertz, and the LAEDC – will demonstrate a host of different assumptions and methodologies that led to their conclusions. Any study is fair game for responsible scholarly criticism, and Next Generation itself did a critique of the USC study, which is referred to in Barba’s paper. Readers are encouraged to draw their own conclusions.

But why does Next Generation think it is wrong for the industry to tout positive economic impact analyses done by some of our state’s most reputable and admired scholars? After all, what all of these studies have in common is that they recognize the hugely positive impact that the industry has on our state’s employment base and tax base.

The reason is Next Generation has a problem with an industry sharing encouraging news about itself (and to his credit, Barba is more honest about this than many who try to hide behind activist prose) is that the group accuses WSPA, USC, CSUF, Purvin and Gertz and the LAEDC of … lying.

According to Barba, “WSPA has a long record of inflating the economic impact of the oil industry’s activities and commissioned research tailored to suit its member companies political needs.”

It speaks to Next Generation’s approach, and Barba’s class, that he would send a tweet directly to Cathy Reheis-Boyd, president of WSPA, essentially calling her a liar:

Next Generation’s Kate Gordon also tweeted about WSPA’s alleged “fuzzy math.”

This is an extraordinary claim, which would seem to require extraordinary evidence. Unfortunately, Barba produces no evidence – extraordinary or otherwise. In a world where the oil and gas industry is the villain, apparently, any claim is fair game. These claims shouldn’t be confused with either journalism or responsible policy debate, however.

Instead of pointing out where (and how) WSPA could have inflated the numbers in scholarly analyses it didn’t conduct, or showing evidence that scholars themselves turned a blind eye to the scientific method in order to suit a pre-determined outcome, Barba chose a different path: he muses on the annual salary of gas-station employees — who, one assumes, prefer their jobs to unemployment — while dismissing even the most conservative of the scholarly estimates of the industry’s economic impact.

Barba’s indifference to the needs of actual families making their living in California’s oil and gas industry – the third largest of any state in the country – is palpable. He seems to delight in lower numbers.

For example, he writes:

As for the potential of the Monterey Shale, the CSU Fresno economists projected at most 46,649 new jobs in the San Joaquin Valley by 2020 – the equivalent of just over 62,000 jobs statewide, significantly undercutting the previous year’s USC study.

It is true that the USC study, in its highest “oil boom” scenario, estimated jobs numbers significantly higher than CSUF. But what is Barba’s point?

The italics, which appear in the original, are telling.

It appears Next Generation thinks that “only” 46,000 new jobs are somehow insignificant to the San Joaquin Valley. These are 46,000 good-paying, family-supporting opportunities in an area plagued by unemployment. These are families that will pay taxes and buy goods and services. Not one drop of ink spilled noting that even the lowest estimates made by the host of independent scholars commissioned to do these studies could lead to an economic renaissance in a troubled region. There is no mention of the thousands of working families who would be materially better off if this opportunity for work presented itself.

As noted above, it is truly extraordinary to accuse — without a shred of evidence — independent scholars from a host of respected institutions of shirking their professional responsibilities and manipulating data to suit a political agenda. It is simply absurd to accuse WSPA, which, after all, didn’t conduct the studies, of doing so – although based on the kinds of allegations anti-fracking activists have been making recently, this one is perhaps more benign.

If such “analysis” is what we can expect from Next Generation going forward, Mr. Steyer should have to answer for his advocacy against the interests of hardworking men and women in California.  Nothing diminishes the prospects of children and families more than unemployment, something billionaires need to be reminded of, it seems.


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