Late last week Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, appeared on the CNBC show “Squawk Box.” During his interview, he insisted that carbon emissions are not a primary cause of climate change.
“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,” Pruitt told host Joe Kernen.
To many, Pruitt’s comments are in line with the Donald Trump administration’s playbook. The idea is simple: Say something outrageous that will ignite a firestorm on social media and foment the launch of press releases and public statements from organizations that oppose the president’s agenda. Meanwhile, the White House is dishing out executive orders as it dismantles or delays rules implemented by the previous administration. Such changes in policy are not as fun to read and cannot be crammed in a 140-character tweet, but nonetheless they have far more impact.
With California now on track to have the rainiest year in its history—on the heels of its worst drought in 500 years—the state has become a daily reminder that extreme weather events are on the rise. And the recent near-collapse of the spillway at California’s massive Oroville Dam put an exclamation point on the potentially catastrophic risks.
More than 4,000 dams in the U.S. are now rated unsafe because of structural or other deficiencies. Bringing the entire system of 90,000 dams up to current standards would cost about $79 billion, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. Hence, it has become increasingly common to demolish problematic dams, mainly for economic and public safety reasons, and less often to open up old habitats to native fish. About 700 dams have been taken down across the U.S. over the past decade, with overwhelmingly beneficial results for river species and ecosystems.
Now, however, a new study in Biological Conservation takes the science of dam removal in an unexpected direction. Although acknowledging that reopening rivers usually leads to “increased species richness, abundance and biomass,” a team of South African and Australian authors argues that in some cases threatened species may actually benefit from keeping existing dams intact.
On the Friday afternoon of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, inside the hulking Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, a pair of men besuited in various shades of olive and brown discussed how the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which they granted were up 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution) had led to a phenomenon called “global greening.” Plants need CO2 to grow, they told a captivated audience of a couple dozen people, and when there’s more of it, they grow faster, larger, and—since they need less water—in drier areas.
CPAC has long been a place for the outlandish and the absurd to make its way from the ideological bayou to the mainstream. This year, multiple seminars made the case that Actually, More CO2 in the Atmosphere Is Good. Because of increased CO2 levels, “the Earth is in a far better place today,” Craig Idso of CO2Science and the board of directors of the CO2 Coalition told his interviewer, James Delingpole of Breitbart, in a seminar sponsored by the coalition. Most of those assembled nodded vigorously. Later, they showcased a satellite map demonstrating the increased surface area of plant life in recent years.
Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seems like a refined and intelligent man. Speaking in public, he has an easy manner, a winsome smirk, and a pleasant drawl. Even though Senator Susan Collins opposed his nomination to lead the agency, the Republican senator made sure to note that he is bright and enjoyable, and that she might support him elsewhere in government.
He seems reasonable and genteel—all you’d want in southern lawyer.
Yet on Thursday, Pruitt let slip an opinion that was ugly, and false, and ugly in its falsehood. Carbon dioxide, he said, is not a “primary contributor” to global warming. In his opinion, the topic requires more study and debate.
With this comment, Pruitt finally confirms what many had long suspected: that he broadly rejects the mainstream scientific consensus around climate change. As I wrote Thursday, decades of research have found that carbon dioxide is a primary driver of modern-day global warming. Pruitt’s comment is ugly because he is discarding all the work of discovery that got us there—all those decades of careful observation, onerous computation, and hard-won consensus—without providing an equivalent body of evidence. He is embracing the concept of “study and debate” as a stall, refusing to cede to what actual study and debate have found. It flies in the face of discovery, of curiosity, and of fact.
The former Maine Energy Recovery Co. site, seen from the corner of Lincoln Street and Pearl Street, was purchased by the city of Biddeford, Maine in 2012. The 8.4-acre site received funding from the Environmental Protection Agency through a brownfields cleanup grant. Derek Davis—Portland Press Herald/Getty Images
President Trump’s administration is planning big cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with the aim of moving the organization away from climate programs that grew under President Obama. But the proposed 25% cut to the EPA’s budget would also slash funding to dozens of other initiatives that support clean air and water, which environmental and public health groups say would put human wellbeing at risk almost immediately.
“I can predict with certainty that if those cuts prevail — and I’m not predicting they will — millions of people around the country will be exposed to unhealthful air,” says Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. “It could literally be the difference between protecting public health and premature death.”
Donald Trump has repeatedly indicated that environmentalism is not his priority. Now, Climate scientists, policymakers and diplomats are questioning how his presidency will shape the future of climate change policy.
As many conservatives see it, environmental science is an enabler of dreaded government regulation. When enough studies show that there is no safe level of lead in water, then we have to regulate lead pollution. When scientists agree that mercury pollution can effect developmental health, then we have to regulate mercury. And when scientists agree that excessive carbon emissions threaten public health and welfare—well, you get the point.
An obvious solution, for those seeking to avoid such regulation, would be to prevent that science from seeing the light of day. That’s exactly what Lamar Smith, a Republican congressman from Texas, is trying to do. On Thursday, the House Science Committee passed two of Smith’s bills: The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act (HONEST Act) and the Science Advisory Board (SAB) Reform Act. Combined, they would significantly change how the Environmental Protection Agency uses science to create rules that protect human health.
The HONEST Act is essentially a re-brand of Smith’s notorious Secret Science Reform Act, a bill that would have required the EPA to only use scientific studies for which all data is publicly available and the results are easily reproducible. The SAB Reform Act would change the makeup of the board that reviews the “quality and relevance” of the science that EPA uses: Scientists who receive EPA grants would be forbidden from serving, while allowing the appointment of industry-sponsored experts who have a direct interest in being regulated—so long as they disclose that interest.
In a press release, Smith said these bills would help promote “an open and honest scientific process” at the EPA. He says past regulations have been “based on hidden science” and that the SAB needs “a more balanced group of scientists to assist EPA in fulfilling its core mission.”
Environmental Protection Agency workers and supporters protest job cuts during a rally in Chicago, Illinois, March 2. John Gress/Reuters
But several scientists, science advocates and former EPA officials told me this week that these bills are a solution in search of a problem. The bills, while couched in good intention, will add significant expense and delay to the scientific process, effectively preventing the EPA from using the best available science to protect the public from pollution. Worse, they said, the bills would embolden polluters and discourage good scientists from working in government.
“I’ve always had a hard time understanding why members of Congress like to tell scientists how to conduct their research,” said Democratic Representative Bill Foster, one of only two scientists in Congress. “Scientists should set the standards for research. Not politicians.”
According to The Intercept, “The small group of lawyers and PR strategists orchestrating the secret science effort are closely tied to those attacking the EPA from within. All have connections to either big tobacco, oil, or both.” And those industries would, of course, benefit financially by killing or delaying regulation. “I’m sure you’ve heard of the ‘delay game,’ where clearly it’s in the best interests of certain major stakeholders to delay science so they can in effect delay regulations that may have an impact on their business or industry,” said Thomas Burke, who served as the EPA’s chief science advisor under President Obama. “So one has to be a little skeptical of an intent to a bill like this that might lead to an endless loop of re-analysis of data.”
Burke and others said the HONEST Act would delay or stymie the approval of scientific data at EPA because it requires that the disclosure of private data and that study results be “reproducible,” meaning an outside source must be able to replicate the entire study on their own and get the same results. Scientists say that’s just not possible for many public health studies. Consider a 10-year study of lead exposure in pregnant women and children: How would scientists swiftly replicate the results? Or a study on the BP oil spill’s impact on public health in coastal Gulf communities: How can one reproduce that event?
Aramco, Exxon among emitters of fifth of industrial emissions
ight of the world’s largest oil companies are responsible for as much of the climate-damaging pollution spewed into the atmosphere as the entire U.S., according to a study by a London-based researcher.
Saudi Aramco, Exxon Mobil Corp., OAO Gazprom, the National Iranian Oil Co., BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc were among the eight companies whose fuel was responsible for a third of emissions from oil and gas, according to the non-profit group CDP. The companies released a fifth of all greenhouse gases outside of farming and forestry since 1988, the year most governments acknowledged man-made climate change as a risk.
The findings suggest policymakers may be better off focusing on the practices of companies instead of national environmental policies. The study’s release coincides with preparations by U.S. President Donald Trump to slash environmental regulations and possibly withdraw from the landmark Paris Agreement, which promises to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels.
“One way to really drive forward climate action is to look at the key producers of fossil fuels who are causing the globe to warm, this is what the new CDP data brings to life,” said Paul Simpson, chief executive officer of CDP, which surveys companies and collects data on sustainability issues.
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is fueling speculation that he could try to repeal the lynchpin of the federal government’s climate change regulations.
In an interview Thursday with CNBC, Scott Pruitt cast doubt on his own agency’s 2009 conclusion that greenhouse gases “endanger both the public health and the public welfare of current and future generations.”
The so-called endangerment finding was the backbone of the Obama administration’s climate change regulations. Under Obama, the EPA argued that the 2009 finding compelled it to issue greenhouse gas emissions limits for sectors like cars, trucks and power plants.
But as Pruitt and President Trump look to unwind Obama’s major climate policies, the endangerment finding might be imperiled.
The calls to Pruitt’s main line, 202-564-4700, reached such a high volume by Friday that agency officials created an impromptu call center, according to three agency employees. The officials asked for anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
Interns were dispatched to answer some of the incoming calls, according to one employee. At times, calls to that number ended up going to voice mail.
EPA did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Pope Francis warned against the rising tide of populism in an interview with German paper Die Zeit this week, reigniting an ongoing search for subliminal criticism of President Trump in the pope’s words.
“Pope Francis issues veiled warning about Donald Trump,” proclaimed the headline on British news site the Independent about the interview, though Francis had not mentioned Trump.
His statement, however, that “populism is evil and ends badly as the past century showed,” marks at least the second time in recent months that the pope has warned against the dangers of growing populist movements in the U.S. as well as Europe. His latest words echo similar pontifications made during an interview with Spanish-language paper El Pais on the day of Trump’s inauguration.