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New Brown University Study finds Pervasive Disinformation in Congress about Offshore Wind

For the world to act on climate change, it is urgent that the United States develop fair and effective energy policies. To do so, decision makers need a full and balanced set of information about our technological options. Instead, disinformation is spreading, fueled by incumbent industries and others intent to stop or slow the deployment of wind energy and other renewables by the Biden administration. Local groups are latching on to many of the worrisome claims being repeated across social and conservative media.

How far has the disinformation spread?

Spinning Negativity is the first systematic study of claims about the pitfalls of offshore wind and renewable energy advanced in Congressional hearings, debates, and documents. It examines 441 claims made during the first six months of the 118th Congress.

The study builds on a 2023 study by Brown’s Climate and Development Lab about claims against offshore wind used by a prominent anti-wind group in New England. Though the recent spike in opposition to offshore wind largely appeared in state and local arenas in 2023, Spinning Negativity shows that many of these same arguments have reached the halls of Congress. Many of the claims are misleading or false, sensationalizing negative elements of the technology, while ignoring the massive local and global impacts of continued mass combustion of fossil fuels.

What did we find?

The most frequent claims were Emphasizing the Downsides of offshore wind, a drumbeat created by speakers 128 times. Conspiracy Theories were utilized 85 times, including 49 statements that implied nefarious intent by those in favor of wind. 49 claims included Cherry Picked data or facts, and 77 advanced Logical FallaciesOutright False Statements and Exaggeration/Fearmongering were more common among offshore wind opposition than in the case of opposition to renewable energy more generally.

“What surprised me was how much of the belief in disinformation seemed to be genuinely held by members of Congress,” said the report’s lead author, Brown University researcher Isabella Garo. “That is, it seems the false claims about offshore wind have become so pervasive that even our leaders believe them. This seems even more dangerous than if they were just consciously lying, because it seems they will more likely stick with these false claims, and no amount of data or evidence will change their views.”

The researchers searched the Congressional Record using the online search tool, for the terms [offshore wind]. For the 118th Congress, they searched all documents available on the site: legislation, committee reports, meetings and publications, the Congressional Record (floor speeches), and House and Senate Communications from January 1 to July 12, 2023. Since it was focused on the issue, the New Jersey Field Hearing on March 16th, 2023 was added, led by Congressman Jeff Van Drew [R-NJ]. We then manually checked each document for claims about climate change, renewable energy, offshore wind, and fossil fuels.

441 claims, including about wind (n=165) and renewables (n=276), were cataloged and categorized. Two existing frameworks were used: FLICC (Cook) and Discourses of Climate Delay (Lamb et al). Statements that did not neatly fall into either framework were assigned to new categories created for this study. Additional research is proposed to more comprehensively assess the changing landscape of renewable energy disinformation.

An 52 page Appendix lists each claim about offshore wind and renewable energy found in our search of Congressional records for the first six months of 2023, and how we categorized them. Many include explanations for their categorization. 



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