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Could New White House Climate Panel ‘Shut the National Security Community Up on Climate Change’?

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William Happer, head of proposed White House climate panel, in the lobby of Trump Tower in 2017. Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images

The White House is assembling a climate change panel to be headed by a known climate denier who once took money from a coal company to testify at a hearing and who has compared criticism of carbon dioxide to Hitler's demonization of the Jews.

William Happer, a Princeton physicist who has never trained as a climate scientist, joined the Trump administration in September 2018 as senior director for emerging technologies at the National Security Council (NSC).


"The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler," Happer said on CNBC in 2014, as CNN reported. "Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews."

Happer would head a panel to assess whether climate change poses a national security threat, a claim most recently made by a Pentagon report released in January. The proposed Presidential Committee on Climate Security would be formed by executive order, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and reported Wednesday.

"This is the equivalent of setting up a committee on nuclear-weapons proliferation and having someone lead it who doesn't think nuclear weapons exist," Chief Executive of the Council on Strategic Risks and co-founder of the Center for Climate and Security Francesco Femia told The Washington Post. "It's honestly a blunt-force political tool designed to shut the national security community up on climate change."

The panel represents the latest attempt by the Trump administration to cast doubt on climate risk assessments produced by its own government, like the Pentagon report and volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment released in November 2018. The NSC discussion paper describing the panel obtained by the Washington Post acknowledges these reports only to undermine them.

"[T]hese scientific and national security judgments have not undergone a rigorous independent and adversarial scientific peer review to examine the certainties and uncertainties of climate science, as well as implications for national security," it reads.

It is not clear how much support the panel has within the administration, however. No major agency agreed to comment, and the deputies of various agencies have been summoned to discuss the matter Friday.

Happer, who also worked for the Energy Department during the first Bush administration, has never published a peer-reviewed paper on climate science, according to Media Matters. He has served on the board of CO2 Coalition and the George C. Marshall Institute, two groups that question the threat posed by climate change. In March 2018, he admitted to receiving $10,000 to $15,000 from Peabody Coal to testify at a hearing of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission hearing, The Washington Post reported.

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