Laid-Off Oil Worker on Fox News Was Recruited by Group That Denies Climate Change

A pipeline worker went on Fox News this week to talk about how Biden cancelling Keystone XL cost him his job. Fox failed to mention he was recruited by a prominent climate denial organization.
Pipeline worker Jason Jernigan went on Fox News this week to talk about how Biden cancelling Keystone XL cost him his job
Pipeline worker Jason Jernigan went on Fox News this week to talk about how Biden cancelling Keystone XL cost him his job. Photo courtesy of Jason Jernigan

A laid-off Keystone XL pipeline worker who was interviewed on Fox News appeared on the network thanks to a group that has disputed the science of climate change, spent decades fighting against the green economy, and is closely affiliated with the Republican Party.

Jason Jernigan, who is with Pipeliners Local Union 798, had recently commented on Facebook about the pipeline from Alberta to Texas. A fellow worker was making the rounds on Fox criticizing the Biden administration for cancelling Keystone, and Jernigan chimed in online: he too had lost work because of that decision.

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After his Facebook comment, Jernigan said a man who works for a group called Americans for Tax Reform got in touch. “I woke up one day and had a private message on my phone,” Jernigan told VICE News. “He’d seen my comment. He had a list of 10, 20 people and he reached out to us and asked if we’d be interested in submitting a 30-second video to him.” 

Jernigan had never heard of Americans for Tax Reform, but agreed to create a short video. “Three days later, I woke up again and I had two emails from Fox, an email from Fox Business; I had texts on my phone, a private message, and they were all wanting me to get a hold of them,” he said. Jernigan said he did three interviews with the network in total.

In a Fox segment that aired this week, host Dana Perino introduced Jernigan by saying that “President Biden’s decision to kill the Keystone pipeline has cost thousands of American workers good-paying jobs. Now one of them has a message for the Biden administration.” 

“I spent my whole life learning this craft and this skill and it’s not as easy as somebody might think or people might think to just start all over at 45 years old,” Jernigan said during the Fox interview.

Americans for Tax Reform is an anti-tax organization founded in 1985 by Grover Norquist, a conservative activist whom the New York Times once called “one of the Republican Party’s most influential policy strategists.” 

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The group, which has reportedly received millions of dollars in donations from Koch Industries, Exxon, and other industry groups, has been active in the fight against climate regulations for decades, including a campaign in the late 1990s with the American Petroleum Institute to convince the public that climate change isn’t real. It more recently supported Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to withdraw from the Paris climate treaty, and is currently fighting efforts to bring in a national tax on U.S. carbon emissions. 

Americans for Tax Reform is now running a campaign where it’s “collecting personal testimonials of Americans hit by President Biden’s executive actions.” The group didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

Americans for Tax Reform posted Jernigan’s video on Feb. 25. The video was then reposted on Twitter by the Daily Caller, where it has more than 33,000 views.

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Jernigan’s most recent Fox interview was picked up by several other conservative outlets, including Breitbart, the site co-founded by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, which ran a piece entitled “Laid-Off Pipeline Worker: Joe Biden ‘Has Taken My Livelihood from Me’. The Washington Examiner also did a story on Jernigan. 

Creating content designed to flood conservative media and make the public second-guess efforts to fight the climate emergency is a tactic that Americans for Tax Reform has used many times, said Lisa Graves, founder of True North Research, a corporate watchdog group that tracks climate disinformation. 

“This is part of their playbook, which is to try to scare people and make them think that policies to mitigate climate change are going to destroy jobs,” Graves said, “when in fact the proposals that are on the table by the Biden administration are about building new jobs.” 

Biden’s rejection of a key permit for Keystone XL is part of a series of federal actions that he says will fight climate change and build a “clean energy future that will create millions of good-paying union jobs.” 

But Jernigan has yet to be won over by those promises. He said if the administration is serious about transitioning workers like him into the green economy, it would need to back that up with action. “I haven’t been offered a job,” he said. “I haven’t been sent a contract, I haven’t been sent an application, I haven’t been told where I can get an application.” 

Follow Geoff Dembicki on Twitter.