The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
President Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement earlier this month was a clear win for conservative groups and individuals that support the weakening of environmental regulations.
So what do these politically powerful forces have next on the agenda?
By Ben Jervey
Earlier this week, staffers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received their first official email from the new administration. "Changes will likely come and when they do, we will work together to implement them," wrote Don Benton, a senior White House adviser who is now leading the so-called "beachhead" team for the EPA's transition, in the email published by E&E News.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Ex-Trump U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team leader and fervent climate change denier Myron Ebell continued his headline-grabbing tour this week, claiming Monday at an event in London that the environmental movement is "the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world."
In various interviews on Thursday, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition chief Myron Ebell confirmed the Trump team would probably seek significant cuts to the agency's workforce and budget, but would not provide details of specific policy recommendations he made to the president.
Trump's Koch-Connected Rumored Pick to Run EPA: Renewables Are 'a False Hope That Simply Won't Work'
By Jeremy Symons
As President-elect Donald Trump fills out his cabinet, he has an opportunity to continue the long, bipartisan tradition of appointing qualified leaders to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who will protect and defend the public health of all Americans.
The outlook took a turn for the worse, however, when Trump met with Kathleen Hartnett White on Monday, Nov. 28, reportedly to discuss cabinet positions, including one as the head of the EPA.
Like Myron Ebell, who is leading Trump's EPA transition team, White is a polluter-funded operative who has harshly attacked the agency.
America needs an EPA administrator who is guided by science, respects our environmental laws and values protecting public health ahead of the lobbying agenda of special interests.
White, a registered lobbyist in Texas—where she works on behalf of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an advocacy group funded in large part by the energy industry—fails all three of these most fundamental qualifications.
She has undermined the work of health scientists on air pollution and climate change. She has taken positions at odds with the Supreme Court regarding the Clean Air Act.
And as a lobbyist for an organization funded by fossil fuel interests, she would most benefit her current patrons if Trump were to choose her as EPA administrator.
Guided by Science? No.
A former chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, White has repeatedly pushed ideas that are flatly contradicted by decades of scientific evidence and all major scientific organizations.
When Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Congress found time at the height of the Civil War to establish the National Academy of Sciences, they recognized that sound science is a cornerstone of good government. Unlike Lincoln, White has a skeptical view of the value of health and science studies.
"We're not a democracy if science dictates what our rules are," she recently told Rolling Stone.
In a 2012 report targeting EPA's efforts to reduce the fine particle air pollution that exacerbates lung disease and asthma, she lamented that political appointees must weigh the views of what she called "mandarins brandishing their scientific credentials." These are people others would call knowledgeable experts.
Two years later, in the publication The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, White attacked climate science as a biased indictment of carbon emissions from fossil fuels.
CO2 is "the gas that makes life possible on the Earth and naturally fertilizes plant growth," she wrote. "Whether emitted from the human use of fossil fuels or as a natural (and necessary) gas in the atmosphere surrounding the Earth, carbon dioxide has none of the attributes of a pollutant."
In the same publication, White argued that the planet had stopped warming. She was wrong again: 2014 and 2015 were the hottest years on record and the top 10 hottest years have been since 2008. This year, meanwhile, is on track to be another record-breaking year.
If you want to understand the breadth of scientific voices who disagree with White and others who question climate change, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration offers insights.
White wrote that that science is tarnished because "solar activity plays almost no role in current climate modeling" when it does. Bloomberg, for example, has an interactive display on the different drivers of global warming.
She also frequently derides cleaner energy sources, calling renewables "a false hope that simply won't work," despite the fact that her home state of Texas is generating record-breaking amounts of wind power at low costs.
Respect for America's Environmental Laws? No.
White has been a critic of the EPA's efforts to reduce air pollution such as soot and toxic emissions of mercury. In a 2016 op-ed for The Hill newspaper she attacked the agency for pursuing standards to reduce air pollution from fossil fuels.
She also lobbied in favor of legislation that would ban the EPA from creating standards to reduce emissions of CO2, methane and other damaging greenhouse gases.
White has argued that greenhouse gas emissions are not a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. What she overlooks is that the Supreme Court affirmed in 2007 that greenhouse gas emissions are in fact pollutants as governed by the law.
The EPA administrator has a responsibility to uphold and implement the law.
Puts Public Health Ahead of Special Interest Lobbyists? No.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, the advocacy group where White works, is funded, among others, by Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and "American Coalition for Clean Coal." But White has also lobbied Congress to pass specific legislation aimed at hamstringing the EPA.
The Dallas Morning News had this to say about her:
"She has been an apologist for polluters, consistently siding with business interests instead of protecting public health. Ms. White worked to set a low bar as she lobbied for lax ozone standards and pushed through an inadequate anti-pollution plan."
That is not the kind of leader we need in charge of protecting and defending the air we breathe, the water we drink and the planet we will leave future generations.
"It's one issue that's interesting because there are few things where there's more division than climate change," he told the assembled staff. While Trump said he believed "there is some connectivity" between human activity and climate change, he also claimed "a lot of smart people disagree" with the idea, mentioning that "the hottest day ever was in 1890-something." (2016 is currently on track to be the hottest year ever recorded).
"We're waiting for action, and Trump is kidding nobody on climate as he simultaneously stacks his transition team and cabinet with climate science deniers and the dirtiest hacks the fossil fuel industry can offer. Prove it, President-elect. The world is watching."
As for climate policies, Trump reiterated his belief in the importance of clean air and water and alluded that U.S. climate action "depends on how much it will cost our companies." Two transition team advisors on energy and environment told Reuters they were "caught off guard by his remarks." Trump's transition team appointees and rumored cabinet picks mostly consist of figures with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, many of whom deny human-made climate change and advocate for pulling out of the Paris agreement.
"Actions speak louder than words," May Boeve, 350.org executive director, said.
"As long as Trump has a climate change denier like Myron Ebell running his transition team, you know this is all a bunch of empty rhetoric. If Trump is changing is tune, maybe it's because he's realized that far more Americans support climate action than voted for him in this election. The public is clamoring for a renewable energy economy that will create millions of jobs while saving our planet. Instead of delivering, Trump is going on about fantasies like 'clean coal' and flip-flopping around on whether there's 'some connectivity' between humans and climate change. The president-elect needs to get up to speed, and fast."
For a deeper dive:
News: New York Times, Climate Home, Huffington Post, CNN, Reuters, LA Times, The Hill, Hollywood Life, NPR, Politico, Gizmodo, New York Post, Morning Consult, The Atlantic, Independent, New York Magazine, Guardian
Climate activists projected huge images and text onto the front of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters in Washington, DC Monday evening, calling on President-elect Donald Trump to not appoint climate change denier Myron Ebell as head of the agency.
Using a high powered projector, activists with 350.org, ClimateTruth.org and the Sierra Club projected an image of the Earth and oil rigs, along with messages like, "Don't Let A Climate Denier Take Over the EPA" onto the front of the building. The images could be seen clearly across the street from another building: the Trump Hotel.
"Every science teacher in America should be appalled that Donald Trump would consider appointing a climate change denier to head the EPA," Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, said. "Part of the job description to run that agency should be that you actually care about the environment. MEbell has shown exactly the opposite, taking over $2 million from ExxonMobil to gut environmental regulations and promote climate denial. We're doing everything we can to stop this appointment."
Trump has already appointed Ebell as head of the EPA Transition Committee and is rumored to be considering him for the top job at the agency. Ebell has no scientific experience and denies the threat of human caused climate change. His think-tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has taken millions more from fossil fuel companies like the Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil to undermine environmental regulations. Ebell has also enthusiastically opposed the Clean Power Plan and reveled in his status as "climate criminal."
"Myron Ebell is a professional merchant of doubt who is committed to undermining the consensus behind climate change," Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said. "It's no wonder why: He has spent his career doing the bidding of the big polluters who pay him to deny climate change and attack clean air protections. Anyone who denies climate science does not have the American people's best interests at heart and is not fit to oversee the leadership of the EPA, an agency that is charged with keeping all Americans healthy and safe."
Environmental groups have collected tens of thousands of signatures opposing Ebell and are looking to add momentum to a growing backlash against his appointment. A petition on the White House's "We the People" website garnered nearly 100,000 signatures before being taken down because the current administration had no say in the matter. Protests have also been spreading offline: Last Friday, hundreds of students at Georgetown and Harvard demonstrated against Ebell, organizing online with the hashtag #RebelAgainstEbell. Environmental groups have also joined other social justice organizations in opposing the appointment of white supremacists and racists such as Steve Bannon and Sen. Jeff Sessions.
"Like Steve Bannon and most others floated for Trump administration roles, Myron Ebell is a climate change denier whose ignorance and corruption makes him unqualified for the job," Emily Southard, campaign director at ClimateTruth.org, said. "If you aren't prepared to protect all Americans from the threat of climate change, you aren't qualified to lead the EPA."
While the odds are low considering Trump's own belief that climate change is "bullsh*t" or "a hoax created by the Chinese," the need for an EPA administrator who supports action to address the climate crisis couldn't be more urgent. Scientists recently confirmed that 2016 is the warmest year on record and Arctic sea ice is at an alarming all time low. Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change across the U.S., especially on low-income and communities of color, are becoming more clear with each passing month.
Despite the fact that Donald Trump campaigned against special interests and suggested his primary opponents who begged for Koch cash were puppets, he now seems to be happy to #StaffTheSwamp with Koch operatives.
Beyond Myron Ebell and David Schnare on his environment team, news broke Sunday that Trump picked Steven Groves to lead the Department of State "landing team." Groves is an international policy wonk at the Koch (and Exxon, and Korean gov't) funded Heritage Foundation, and just last week, he wrote an article advocating for a pull-out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a way to exit the Paris agreement. As the negotiating framework for the UN's climate efforts and the underlying basis for the Paris agreement, if the U.S. were to leave the UNFCCC, it would remove us from the negotiating table altogether.
Not only would this "lead to political consequences with our allies," as Groves admitted in a House Science hearing last April, but it would also mean that Trump wouldn't be able to negotiate an amazing new treaty on climate, as the U.S. would no longer be part of the negotiating framework.
But contradictory advice is nothing new to the Heritage Foundation, which during the Farm Bill fight in 2013 told the GOP to split the bill into two parts. When Republicans did as they were told, Heritage still wasn't happy. Republican Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said: "Heritage was now scoring against Republicans for doing exactly what Heritage had been espousing only a month before." Because of this stunt, as well as their push for 2013's government shutdown, former House speaker Boehner said: groups like Heritage had "lost all credibility."
Unfortunately, from the top of the Trump administration down, a distinct lack of credibility seems to be the unifying factor. But it is ironic that despite the Koch network's distinct lack of effort to get Trump elected, they are nonetheless filling Trump's administration with their operatives, from VP Mike Pence to CIA chief Mike Pompeo to Ebell, Schnare and Groves. And on the Energy Department front, it's been reported by E&E that Thomas Pyle of Koch-funded American Energy Alliance is running the transition, while the Interior is being led by Doug Domenech, of Koch-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation. And according to PoliticoPRO, on the Treasury team are Heritage-affiliated Bill Walton and Curtis Dubay.
The question is: Does Trump even know the Kochs are pulling his strings? Or does he really think he's "No puppet?"
The options include withdrawing from the parent treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, entirely or issuing a presidential order to delete the U.S. signature from the climate deal.
Before leaving for Marrakech on Sunday, Sec. of State John Kerry said that the Obama administration would do everything possible to implement the global agreement before Trump takes office.
In an interview, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Europe should respond with a trade war and institute a carbon tax for U.S. products if Trump backs out.
Backing out of the Paris agreement isn't the only anti-environment plan Trump has been touting. He has also said he wants to dismantle the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and revoke the Clean Power Plan.
Trump's man-in-charge of leading the transition at the EPA is Myron Ebell, a known climate denier who opposes the Clean Power Plan and advocates for opening up more federal lands to logging, coal mining and oil drilling.
He is a director at fossil-fuel-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute and leads the Cooler Heads Coalition, which focuses on "dispelling the myths of global warming."
One scholar points out that Trump's attempts to weaken the EPA are reminiscent of Reagan's appointment of Anne Gorsuch Burford to head the agency, whose attempts to dismantle EPA in the early 1980s resulted in heavy criticism and pushback.
For a deeper dive:
Commentary: Guardian editorial