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EPA Chief Denies Basic Climate Science

By: Jeff Masters 9:27 PM GMT on March 10, 2017

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said on Thursday that carbon dioxide was not a primary contributor to global warming. On CNBC’s “Squawk Box”, Mr. Pruitt was asked, “Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate?” His response was: “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” This view denies fundamental climate science as expressed on the EPA website and summarized by the 2013 report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found that it is “extremely likely” that more than half the global warming that occurred from 1951 to 2010 was a consequence of human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and that their best estimate was that all of the warming after 1950 was due to human causes. A January report by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which documented that 2016 was the warmest year on record, agreed, stating: “The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.”

Figure 1. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt at his January 18, 2017 Senate confirmation hearing (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images.)

Commentary: Scott Pruitt a destructive choice for head of EPA
It’s difficult to imagine a more destructive choice for the health of Americans, the avoidance of dangerous climate change, and the health of the American economy than Scott Pruitt as head of EPA. Mr. Pruitt’s denial of the basic science behind climate change makes him as unfit for the office of EPA administrator as an astrologer would be for head of NASA. Decisions based on the best science are critical for the success of any endeavor, as summed up well by Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, in a March 10 editorial at CNBC: “Businesses thrive when they make smart decisions based on the best available information. The reality is that climate change is happening now and is having wide-ranging ripple effects on businesses. Ignoring risks and long-term trends for short-term benefits is how to drive a company—and the economy—into the ground.”

The EPA’s mission is to ”protect human health and the environment -- air, water and land,” and the regulations the EPA issues should be guided by the best science we have. But in his first speech as EPA administrator, Mr. Pruitt envisioned an EPA that can be "pro-energy, pro-jobs and pro-environment." EPA’s mission statement has no requirement that the agency protect the profits of industry, though, nor should it, since there are plenty of pro-business and pro-job interests out there. Apparently, though, science and protection of people’s health at the EPA are increasingly going to take a back seat to protecting the profits of industry. An early example of this came on January 30, in a shift of the mission statement by the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology to stop issuing “science-based” standards for water pollution, and instead develop “economically and technologically achievable standards” (Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The EPA’s Office of Science and Technology develops clean water standards for states. Before January 30, 2017, their website said those standards were “science-based”, meaning they were based on the best peer-reviewed science available. As reported by newrepublic.com, the reference to “science-based” standards has since disappeared, and the web site now says the EPA develops “economically and technologically achievable standards” for water pollution.

Mr. Pruitt, the Attorney General of Oklahoma from 2010 - 2016, is a self-described “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda”, and is apparently contemptuous of the law in pursuit of that goal. Three examples of this have surfaced:

1) Mr. Pruitt illegally withheld emails from an open records request in 2015, and was finally forced to turn them over last week. Those emails revealed that he worked closely with the fossil fuel industry to promote their interests, including such groups as the Koch Industries-funded Americans for Prosperity. Additional emails are still being withheld, and are scheduled to be released pending review by a judge.

2) As reported by Fox News in Oklahoma City, Mr. Pruitt used a private email account to perform government business, in direct contradiction to his sworn testimony at his January 2017 Senate confirmation hearing before Congress.

3) As reported by businessinsider.com, Mr. Pruitt may have made another false statement under oath to the Senate: he said he filed briefs in support of a case where 12 poultry companies had allegedly dumped waste into the Illinois River. Investigators found no evidence that he or his office had filed any such briefs.

Mr. Pruitt is packing EPA management with fellow fossil fuel industry-friendly staffers. Two former staff members of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the most outspoken climate science denier in Congress, have already been added. A third, Andrew Wheeler, who now works as a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry, awaits Senate confirmation to be Pruitt’s deputy EPA chief.

Mr. Pruitt sued the EPA fourteen times while he was Attorney General of Oklahoma; none of those cases have succeeded thus far, and at least eight have yet to be settled. This sets up the absurd situation where Pruitt is now the originator and defender of these lawsuits against the agency. According to the New York Times, “In all but one of these 14 cases, regulated industry players also were parties. And these companies or trade associations in 13 of these cases were also financial contributors to Mr. Pruitt's political causes.” Desmogblog.com details that Pruitt has received at least $345,246 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 2002.

A January 2017 poll by Reuters found that 39 percent of Americans would like to see the EPA "strengthened or expanded," 22 percent wanted it to "remain the same," and just 19 percent said they would like to see the agency "weakened or eliminated.” The rest said they "don't know." Well, the wishes of the 19% who want to see the EPA weakened are going to be well-served by the gang of pirates Mr. Pruitt is assembling to run the EPA, as the common treasure we all share—clean air, clean water and a future livable climate—are plundered and sold off.

Substantially weakening air pollution regulations is going to end up killing a lot of people. A peer-reviewed 1997 EPA Report to Congress reviewed the benefits of the Act from 1970 to 1990, and concluded that in 1990 alone, pollution reductions under the Act prevented 205,000 premature deaths—deaths that occurred, on average, about twelve years earlier than they would have. A 2013 study estimated that air pollution was still responsible for about 200,000 premature deaths per year in the U.S.—about three times the number of U.S. combat deaths (58,000) during the entire Vietnam War. Any significant weakening of U.S. air pollution regulations goes against widespread public support for clean air, and is going to kill a lot of people and cost tens of billions of dollars in health-related costs.

Preliminary plans have been leaked on Trump’s intention to cut EPA’s $8.1 billion budget by 26%, laying off about 3,000 of the agency’s 15,000 workers. This would be the biggest cut in EPA since the 35% reduction that the agency endured in 1981, the first year of the Reagan presidency. The EPA’s budget peaked in 2010, at $10.3 billion. As with all of the Trump administration's proposed budget, these major EPA cuts must get through Congress before becoming law, and it is quite possible that the scale of the cuts would be reduced in the appropriations process.

Climate science in NOAA is also at risk, according to this March 3, 2017 Washington Post article:
White House proposes steep budget cut to leading climate science agency.

If you want to find out the amount of money politicians who deny or downplay climate science have received from the fossil fuel industry, desmogblog.com is the place to go. Donald Trump’s two largest campaign contributors in the 2016 election were coal companies, Murray Energy and Alliance Coal.

The Trump Administration Is Filling Up With Koch Allies (December 2016 post from Ben Jervey at DeSmogBlog.)

Trump’s war on EPA regulations will kill jobs and a lot of people: Clean air and water standards create jobs, spur innovation, and save lives (January 25 post by Joe Romm of ThinkProgress.)

A Lesson Trump and the E.P.A. Should Heed, March 7, 2017 New York Times editorial by Reagan’s head of the EPA, William D. Ruckelshaus.

Climate Science Denial Shifts to a New Tactic Among Trump Appointees, my February 3, 2017 post.

How to Save $23 Trillion Per Year: 100% Renewable Energy for the World, my January 2, 2017 post.

Take Action!
These escalating assaults on our health and on the air we all breathe must be protested, and I urge you to write your Senators and Representatives on this issue:

Contact your House Representative
Contact your Senator

Jeff Masters

Climate Change Politics

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.