A Utah State University professor is speaking out about an online op-ed he penned on wind power after editors for Newsweek admitted they did not perform âoutside vettingâ on him or disclose his âties to the oil industryâ before running the piece, which questions the economics of wind power.
Randy Simmons, an economics and finance professor for the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, claimed that âNewsweek doesnât do any reporting anymoreâ and is ârepeating the talking points of the big wind lobby folksâ after the venerable national magazine added an editorâs note to this op-ed titled, âWhatâs the true cost of wind power?â, which asserts that taxpayers might not want to âfoot the billâ of generating energy from wind power if they ârealized the full costâ of it. The editorâs note states that Simmons is Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy at USU and a senior fellow for the âthe Koch- and ExxonMobil-fundedâ Property and Environment Research Center (PERC).
Newsweek issued the editorâs note after the wind power lobby American Wind Energy Association and others flagged errors in Simmonsâ op-ed. In addition, Newsweek linked Simmonsâ column to a rebuttal op-ed by the founding director of the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund.
When asked about the Newsweek editorâs additions by The Herald Journal, Simmons didnât mince words. He claimed Newsweek got things wrong in its editorâs note and didnât vet the defense fund op-ed, either.
Simmons said he feels Newsweek is âjust an advocator, and thatâs too bad,â adding that the magazine never contacted him.
âI think Newsweek is responding to heavy pressure, and they are not responding in a way that I would say is responsible journalism,â he explained.
Simmons explained to The Herald Journal he is no longer a Koch professor because funding ran out two years ago; however, the Koch Foundation still provides funding for a non-credit âreading groupâ he supervises with Huntsman School students.
He told The Herald Journal that he did not feel obligated to disclose all of his associations in the op-ed because it seems âsilly and pretentious.â
In addition, Simmons said the research center where heâs a senior fellow, PERC, is not backed by the Koch Foundation or ExxonMobil, a claim which PERC defended in an email to The Herald Journal.
A PERC spokeswoman said the organization has not received funding from ExxonMobil since 2007; when it did, it was less than 2 percent of the annual budget. In addition, PERC received a grant this year from the Charles Koch Foundation â the first since 2013, she stated. This is âthe largest giftâ PERC has ever received from the foundation, and it makes up less than 4 percent of the think tankâs annual budget, according to the spokeswoman.
PROBLEMS WITH VETTING?
The kerfuffle began when Simmonsâ op-ed ran in the April 11 edition of Newsweek after first being published by The Conversation, an international global publishing platform. The piece was co-authored by Megan Hansen, a policy analyst for Strata, the Logan-based public policy research firm that Simmons founded.
Newsweekâs decision to add the editorâs note was highlighted in a Politico media blog Wednesday. According to the blog posting, a top Newsweek editor told the Washington, D.C.-based news agency that âwe are not in the habit of fully fact-checking opinion pieces picked up like this from outside sites. These are aspects of our workflow that we’re looking at now.â
Simmons told The Herald Journal that editors for The Conversation did vet him and provided to the paper a lengthy email between him and editors about his various associations before the âwind powerâ op-ed ran. Simmonsâ email also discussed Strata, stating the group receives funding from âa variety of sources including individuals, foundations, corporations, and government grants.â
âIt is important to note that the results of our research are not tailored to support the funding source, but rather explore the issue with a strict focus on empirical, honest, non-biased, academic research of the highest quality,â Simmons wrote.
He concluded the email by stating of his associations, âIf all this causes a problem for your readers or other editors, I will understand.â
As senior fellow for the Bozeman-based PERC, Simmons conducts a seminar for students and writes op-eds occasionally. For the controversial âwind powerâ op-ed, though, Simmons maintained he only wrote it in his capacity as an academic.
He has written a slew of columns over the years online and in various publications.
âI do the same kind of research that Iâve been doing for 35 years, and it appears to me what wind is all about in many cases is farming subsidies from the government, which is something economists call ârent-seeking,ââ Simmons told The Herald Journal. â(The wind power op-ed) is a continuation of the work Iâve done for 35 years, and if people want to look at that body of work, I invite them to look at that body of work.â
He emphasized when the op-ed was published âno one argued with any of the other claims about the effects of the subsidies.â
âI care about looking at the data on hand saying that while some people might think those wind turbines are beautiful, I donât happen to believe that. The good intentions arenât producing good policy, and thatâs the important thing,â Simmons said. âFascinating thing is, wind energy has had subsidies for 25 years, and it still canât survive without subsidies. Twenty-five years on training wheels and you canât ride your bike by yourself yet suggests that thereâs a problem. So maybe we ought to be looking at something else.â
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