Trump’s Cabinet of Horrors

Congressional hearings kick off for those who will lead our government’s top agencies. Earth has reason to worry.

President-elect Donald Trump was fairly clear about his indifference—and worse—toward environmental protection during his campaign. He denied climate science at every opportunity, vowed to eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (though he called it by the wrong name), and, when asked who would protect the environment if not the EPA, he blurted out “we can leave a little bit.” If there was any sliver of doubt over Trump’s intentions, it disappeared last month when he started making appointments. His picks for the heads of the EPA and the State, Energy, and Interior departments are particularly dismal for the planet. Here’s why.

Scott Pruitt
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Scott Pruitt

Nominee for: EPA Administrator
Current Job: Attorney general of Oklahoma
Known for: Suing the EPA
Honors and Distinctions: Triple-A ball club Oklahoma City RedHawks set a minor league attendance record while Pruitt was general managing partner.

Scott Pruitt refers to the Clean Power Plan—the Obama administration’s signature rule to reduce carbon pollution from U.S. utilities—as “the so-called Clean Power Plan.” That pretty much tells the story.

The so-called attorney general of Oklahoma doesn’t much like the EPA, and he is the media’s go-to quote machine for criticizing the agency. Pruitt accused the EPA of threatening states with a “gun to the head.” He called the Waters of the United States rule, aimed at protecting streams and wetlands, a “devastating blow to private-property rights” and an “unlawful power grab.” Pruitt has also joined lawsuits against nearly all major EPA rules in recent years.

Pruitt’s critics call him a puppet of the fossil-fuel industry—a label that is rarely applied so literally. In 2014, he signed a letter to the EPA, accusing the agency of overstating air pollution from natural gas wells in Oklahoma. According to the New York Times, however, Pruitt was not the author of the letter. In fact, lawyers for an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company, Devon Energy, wrote the letter for him. (The company later praised the letter as “Outstanding!” which is a bit like a chef who won’t shut up about how delicious the food is.)

According to Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, “Having Scott Pruitt in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”

Rex Tillerson
Credit: World Economic Forum swiss-image/Michael Wuertenberg

Rex Tillerson

Nominee for: Secretary of State
Current Job: Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil
Known for: #ExxonKnew
Honors and Distinctions: Eagle Scout, Russian Order of Friendship

In 1977, a senior scientist at Exxon warned company brass that carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels was affecting the earth’s climate. Since then, rather than working to address its role in the problem, Exxon has undertaken a sustained campaign to obfuscate the link between oil and global warming. For example, Exxon has given donations into the six figures to the Heartland Institute, an organization largely dedicated to denying climate change. The company is now under investigation for what environmentalist Bill McKibben calls “the most consequential lie in human history.”

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson has dismissed the investigation as something that “happened decades ago” (the same excuse Trump gave for his lewd comments about sexually assaulting women). In his public statements, Tillerson has tried to have it both ways on climate change. He acknowledges global warming as a general problem and referred to the Paris climate talks as “some serious issues that need to be talked about,” but his company has continued to make investments that would destroy the targets laid out in the Paris agreement. He has also said that “there is no scientific consensus on the human role in climate change” and believes we can just “adapt” to changing weather patterns and rising sea levels—as if doing so would be simple, or cheap. Tillerson, like Trump, thinks there are “much more pressing priorities” than climate change. As secretary of state, Tillerson would be the primary authority in ensuring follow-through with international climate agreements, like the one signed in Paris.

Rick Perry
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Rick Perry

Nominee for: Secretary of Energy
Most Recent Job: Governor of Texas
Known for: failed presidential bids, forgetting stuff, the quickstep
Fun(ish) Fact: Perry once fatally shot a coyote while out for a jog.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. In a 2011 presidential primary debate, Rick Perry vowed to eliminate three federal departments: “Commerce, Education, and the um, ah, what’s the third one there, let’s see…oops.” After some head scratching, Perry later identified the department he was unable to remember as the U.S. Department of Energy—the same department he’s now nominated to lead. If Donald Trump had been elected president of irony, Perry would be the obvious choice for energy secretary.

Perry is an intriguing character. On the one hand, he oversaw a significant expansion of wind-energy production in Texas and even won cautious plaudits from the American Wind Energy Association. “He created an environment conducive to economic investment through robust infrastructure and competitive power markets that allowed new technologies to enter,” AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan told Science.

On the other hand, he’s a climate change denier. Perry claims that the planet is actually cooling and regularly questions the “so-called science” of climate change. As governor, he censored discussion of climate change in Texas state reports and accused climatologists of lying for money.

Ryan Zinke
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Ryan Zinke

Nominee for: Secretary of the Interior
Current Job: Republican congressman from Montana
Known for: Let’s face it—nothing (yet)
Fun Fact: Rocks the flip-flops, especially on conservation issues

Ryan Zinke is so obscure that the Washington Post began its report on his nomination by listing his undergraduate degree. Zinke’s primary qualifications to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior seem to be that he’s from the West, he hunts, and he was a Navy SEAL. (President-elect Trump loves a military man.)

Zinke doesn’t have much of a political record, but what he does have is not encouraging. The Interior manages 500 million acres of federal public land, and so far, Zinke has amassed a 3 percent voting score from the League of Conservation Voters. Since entering Congress in 2015, he has cast only one positive environmental vote, against a bill that would have stripped funding to renewable energy programs. (Don’t get too excited—the overwhelming majority of members voted against it.) Zinke supports the Keystone XL pipeline and opposed a rule that would have limited methane releases from oil and gas operations on federal lands.

As for his feelings on climate, Zinke told the Los Angeles Times last month that the extent of humanity’s influence on climate change was still under scrutiny and criticized current regulations that require oil and gas projects on public lands to be assessed for their climate impacts. He once considered climate change a national security threat, but since leaving the military and joining Congress, Zinke seems to have gone soft.

This story is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the story was originally published by and link to the original; the story cannot be edited (beyond simple things such as grammar); you can’t resell the story in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select stories individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our stories.

Related Stories