Scott Beveridge’s article on the Elrama power plant in the July 17 Observer-Reporter can be determined to have a distinct liberal bias. Beveridge’s article exaggerates the impact of consumers’ choices of energy efficient products, ignores obvious elements of the supply-demand dynamic, and paints the plant operators with a deceptively defeatist brush to minimize their inherent influence in the broader matter of domestic energy policy.
The article opens with Beveridge’s assertion that the Elrama plant is “operating at a bare minimum because of increased competition and smarter electricity consumers.” Beveridge goes on to quote Benny Ethridge, the plant manager, in a way to suggest that the plant’s operating at 12% of capacity is due to compact florescent light bulbs and efficient appliances.
“The demand for coal power is affected every time someone replaces a
traditional light bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb or an old home
appliance with a new energy-efficient one, Ethridge said.”
Either Etherage is being deceptive in his disclosure of the reason that his plant is operating 88% below it’s capacity, or he is not particularly adept at accurately retracing cause-effect sequences. While replacing traditional incandescent bulbs with compact florescent lighting and upgrading appliances can have a marked effect on a household’s electricity usage, it has virtually no impact compared to a decades long population exodus from a region, both in individual citizens departing, and heavy industry and commercial development relocating. All of the energy star refrigerators and curly-cue light bulbs in the world aren’t going to compensate for the loss of the factories and mills that have closed down in the Monongahela Valley in the past 30 years.
How is that, though, a liberal perspective on the story? In going forward, we must generalize a couple of viewpoints and accept some premises as self-evident. First, we should assume that the environmental movement and primarily environmental concerns are the dominion of the left. We should also assume that the agenda of the left is to promote energy-efficient alternatives as equal substitutes for existing technology, and to portray the technology of yesteryear as woefully inefficient, dirty, and irresponsible.
By asserting that this power plant is operating at only 12% of its capacity because of newfangled light bulbs and new appliances, the message is clear: “New technology is devastatingly efficient and the path to a greener future is as easily traversed as replacing your light bulbs.”
Furthermore, Beveridge portrays the old technology in a way that suggests pity or a condescendingly patronizing attitude toward the plant operators. The plant is operating at such a reduced capacity that it isn’t even enough to require their half-century old pollution scrubbers to work up to today’s standards. So, for the few hours a week that it’s turbines limp to life, it belches soot and smoke, not unlike that racist, though elderly relative that is tolerated despite their anti-Semitic rants, odor, lack of control over bodily functions, and general unpleasantness because, quite frankly, they are old and nearly dead anyway.
Ethridge is quoted again as saying that the plant is “trying to compete as best as possible." Any sympathies for the energy industry can be attributed either to false pity for an industry that the left is all too quick to cheer the demise of, or to the author’s penchant for romanticizing the coal-fueled Burghs and Vales of Southwestern Pennsylvania in a sort of self-deprecating nostalgia for the age of blissful ignorance and self-righteous, blue collar arrogance that is present in every run down hole-in-the-wall mill bar along America’s Rust Belt.
The article ends with a pair of quotes that both appear to include typos. The first quote is attributed to Kurt Miller, resident of neighboring West Elizabeth:
"It let loose a load noise," Miller said. "Within a minute, it was
putting out pretty black smoke."
I am not familiar enough with power plants to know whether there is such thing as a “load” noise, or if I should assume that the noise that was “let loose” was, in fact, “loud.”
Also, there is some ambiguity as to whether the smoke was extraordinarily black (pretty black), or if the sight of smoke pouring forth from the plant is, to the valley folk, a beautiful sight (PRETTY black smoke). In context, the message is clearly the former, but the haphazard construction of the ending of this article suggests either an extraordinarily busy writing schedule (entirely possible) or perhaps an inability to maintain a consistently attentive connection to the demise of a power plant, a monolithic symbol of America’s industrial, fossil fuel-fueled era of false progress and faux prosperity.
The final quote contains a typo that may be a subliminal nod to the biases held by the author, and perhaps even of the editing staff:
"We have done everything we can to reduce our operating costs, lower
emissions and reduce efficiency," Ethridge said.
Certainly, the plant operator did not intend to suggest that his staff has done everything to reduce efficiency, but perhaps his failure to achieve the first two items in the list had a sub-conscious effect of Mr. Beveridge’s assumptions about the third. And since people generally bring their biases with them to an article, it would not be surprising for that misstatement to slip by an editor who fully expects power plant operators to not work in the best interests of the environment.
This is not intended to disparage Scott Beveridge at all. He is, after all, a human maker (in the Platonic sense), with human biases and human failings (depending on your orientation). But the point is that bias exists in each and every one of us. Some industries attract certain types of people. Media tends to attract people with pronounced biases, and individual organizations tend to attract people of similar bias. Therefore, media will contain more profound bias than, say, retail sales. Individual media outlets will come down firmly on the left or the right. The bias is systemic. It starts at the top, and trickles down to the interns. It is disingenuous to say that individuals can be relied upon to set those biases aside and report evenhandedly. Even if the production staff is capable of doing that, the fact that someone must choose what is news and what is not on a particular day allows for bias to percolate through the content that is chosen for submission to the public. Perhaps the public would be better served if entities would be upfront about their biases and then allow their product to compete honestly. Also, in regard to the subject matter of this essay, it should be noted that Beveridge’s article is not necessarily a “news” story. It doesn’t report on an event, such as a car crash or the aftereffects of a storm, but rather it speaks to the state of our region. It could have been written last week, today, or a week from now. In material that actually relates a record of events, it would certainly be less likely for one to find bias in the reporting of a car accident, though a good critic should be able to tease out fibers of the reporter from the cloth of the story. What material like this does, though, is cast a tint on the more subjective items in the news cycle. If a page contains 3 completely unbiased stories, 2 with this level of bias, and 1 that swings the other way, it appears as if that particular page leans more markedly in one direction that what it really does. The stain of bias bleeds into other content that, on their own, would not appear to have a political orientation.
To read Scott Beveridge's story, click the title of this post. Sphere: Related Content