Week 55: EPA Climate Confusion―What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger

Pruitt speculates that climate change is healthy, Trump is looking for a few good scientists, and the dog ate the State Department’s carbon emissions report

February 09, 2018

Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.

Pruitt image: Gage Skidmore

Scott Likes It Hot

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt took to the airwaves this week to once again deny the threat of climate change. In an interview with KSNV television in Las Vegas, Pruitt said of a warming earth, “Is it an existential threat, is it something that is unsustainable, or what kind of effect or harm is this going to have? We know that humans have most flourished during times of, what, warming trends?”

Politicians in the throes of climate change denial have an amusing habit of phrasing everything as a question, as if there are no answers and they are the first to seriously consider these issues.

Scientists have, in fact, thought about “what kind of effect” climate change will have on human civilization. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes regular assessments of climate change science, and an entire section of the most recent report was titled “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.” I can see why Pruitt hasn’t read it—the report is well over 1,000 pages. But he spends so much time flying around at taxpayer expense, he really ought to have a few minutes free.

Here are some highlights from the report. Climate change is already having negative impacts on crop yields. Extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy precipitation, and coastal flooding are on the rise. An additional 1 degree Celsius of warming will make extreme weather significantly more challenging. The risk of severe illness and disrupted livelihoods in coastal communities will increase substantially. Food insecurity will get far worse as the impacts of climate change fall disproportionately on the poor.

More than 70 scientists, each of whom understands this issue far better than Pruitt, worked on that segment of the IPCC report. Imagine what it’s like for them to see the supposed head of environmental protection mumbling on local television about, ya know, maybe climate change could be a good thing? Who knows?

Restructure Destruction

According to a report in E&E News, President Trump plans to “restructure” the National Science and Technology Council, which advises the president on issues of, well, science and technology.

This seemingly dry story is, on several levels, both alarming and hilarious. First, the Trump administration’s record on restructuring is laughable. The White House staff has been restructured repeatedly, with another round reportedly on the horizon. Ryan Zinke is restructuring the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Scott Pruitt has done the same at the EPA—and both organizations are suffering. Rex Tillerson has been talking about restructuring the State Department for the past year. All he has actually accomplished is to drive most of the expertise out of the department, hollowing out our diplomatic corps and leaving us voiceless in important parts of the world. It’s so bad that national security experts are openly wondering whether Tillerson is the worst secretary of state in living memory.

When the Trump administration says “restructure,” it means “destroy.”

Second, who is Trump going to get to restructure his science advisory council? I doubt most remotely qualified scientists would agree to work for an administration in which the best one can hope for is to be completely ignored. Trump’s half-assed search for a White House science adviser has accomplished the square root of squadoosh, as even the climate change deniers—apparently Trump’s only nonnegotiable credential—have balked at the idea of seeing their careers destroyed defending a man who has no allegiance to either science or facts.

Since the 1950s, scientific expertise has become one of the most critical elements of White House decision making. Science advisors help presidents understand the implications of nuclear disarmament, space exploration, health research investments, and environmental policy, among many other issues. Modern presidents consider science and technology issues in virtually every major decision.

Well, most modern presidents, I guess.

The Report Is in the Mail. Well, Not Yet. Soon. Not Sure When.

Speaking of restructuring the State Department into dysfunction, a spokesperson confirmed this week that the department will, at some point in the future, submit the U.S. carbon emissions report to the United Nations. The report was due more than a month ago, and the United States remains obligated to continue reporting until at least 2020. The disrespect that the State Department is showing the U.N. is somewhat astonishing. Aside from still refusing to specify a date for delivery of the report, the administration hasn’t bothered to offer even a barely plausible explanation for why it can’t get its work done on time.

Here’s a crazy guess: As of late 2017, 60 percent of the top management positions at the State Department were vacant, and there were very few applications to fill those jobs. Is it possible that when you clear out a major government department, scything off an entire level of management and rendering the vast majority of employees directionless, it becomes impossible to do the basic work of governing?

Stand up to Trump’s climate-denial agenda

Rrrrrrrepublicans for Rrrrrrrenewables

When asked about the Trump administration’s reported plan to cut investments in renewable energy research by 72 percent and eliminate the weatherization program, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski resorted to onomatopoeia. “Brrrrrrrr!” the senator reportedly responded. (I find eight r’s somewhat hyperbolic, but I guess it’s cold in Alaska.)

Murkowski and her fellow Republicans seem nearly unanimous in their opposition to Trump’s shortsighted plan to slash funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.

“We don’t like that,” Murkowski elaborated.

“I will continue to advocate for NREL [the National Renewable Energy Laboratory],” said Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado.

“No,” said Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho.

Well said, Congressman Simpson. When an idea is bad enough, a single syllable of opposition will do.

The Hartnett White Hokey Pokey

They put the nomination in, they took the nomination out, they put the nomination in . . .

President Trump withdrew on Sunday the nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The president initially announced her nomination to the position in October, only to have Congress return it without action after the last session. Trump subsequently resubmitted the nomination in January, then abandoned it this week when it became clear that even Senate Republicans couldn’t understand how Harnett White was qualified to hold the position. Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer, for example, complained of her “lack of understanding” and “extremist views.”

A senior fellow at the Koch brothers–backed Texas Public Policy Foundation, White will presumably retreat back into the echo chamber of online climate change denial, where she remains a startlingly prolific quote machine.

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch or following it on Facebook or Twitter.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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The EPA chief asks corporations to run U.S. science policy, and a USDA nominee is caught up in the Russia scandal.

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Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke are courting chaos—and calling it a victory for good governance.

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EPA employees are silenced, Pruitt is paranoid, and now’s your chance to sound off.

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To what lengths will Scott Pruitt go to undo the good work being done by his agency’s scientists, researchers, and staff?

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Also, Administrator Scott Pruitt equates hard questions (and mustache doodles) with security threats.

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