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White House Withdraws Climate Skeptic for Top Environmental Job

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White House Withdraws Climate Skeptic for Top Environmental Job
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee video

By Andy Rowell

In another major setback for President Donald Trump, the White House has been forced to withdraw the nomination of a leading climate skeptic to become the chair of the influential Council on Environmental Quality.

The nomination of the skeptic, Kathleen Hartnett White, had been mired in controversy due to her comments on climate change and other environmental issues, and she was struggling to win support even amongst Republicans in the Senate. Her nomination process had dragged on for over a year.


Like many Trump nominees, she is ideologically opposed to environmentalism, and she is a fellow at the conservative, free-market think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation.

But over the weekend, she asked for her nomination to be withdrawn, according to the Washington Post.

She said in a statement: "I want to thank President Trump for his confidence in me and I will continue to champion his policies and leadership on environmental and energy issues of critical importance to making our nation great, prosperous and secure again."

She added that her name should be withdrawn "in the best interest of facilitating confirmation of the President's nominees throughout his administration, as well the needs of my family and work."

She has long said controversial statements. Back in 2011, she asserted that "there is no environmental crisis—in fact, there's almost no major environmental problems" in the U.S.

She also was on record saying renewable energy is "a false hope that simply won't work" and called scientists' climate findings "the dogmatic claims of ideologues and clerics."

In September last year, Hartnett White had described believing in "global warming" as a "kind of paganism" for "secular elites."

Her extreme views were also on show in November at her nomination hearing at the Senate committee on environment and public works, where she struggled to answer basic questions about carbon dioxide and climate:

"CO2 in the atmosphere has none of the characteristics of a pollutant that, you know, contaminates and fouls and ... can have a direct impact on human health," she replied when asked if she was worried by rising CO2 levels. "As an atmospheric gas it's a plant nutrient," she added.

When asked whether she was aware of any problems in the oceans relating to fossil fuel emissions, she replied: "there are probably a number of them." When probed to name a few, she said she had a "very superficial understanding" of the issues.

She could not answer the question by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) about how much of excessive heat from rising CO2 emissions had been captured in the oceans.

Whitehouse later tweeted, "I don't even know where to begin with @realdonaldtrump's CEQ nominee Kathleen Hartnett White—she outright rejects basic science."

She was also taken to task by Senators for writing an article that said that "signing the Paris agreement was the worst way to celebrate Earth Day."

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) criticized her: "It seems to me that you don't believe that climate change is real." She started to reply "I am uncertain," before clarifying her remarks, saying, "Climate change is of course real," but added the extent to which human activity was causing global warming is "very uncertain."

When asked whether she would rely on scientists to give her that answer, she replied, "No, I have had that question for a very long time."

It is not surprising that to coincide with the hearing, more than 300 scientists had signed a letter urging the Senate to reject her nomination, arguing, "This is not a partisan issue; it is a matter of defending scientific integrity."

Confirming Harnett White, the group said, "would have serious consequences for people and the ecosystems of the only planet that can support us."

The news of her withdrawal was welcomed by scientists: Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Post, "A while ago, I wrote that many Trump appointees to science-based positions could be considered to either have deep conflicts of interest, to be fundamentally opposed to the mission of the agency they were to lead or totally unqualified. Hartnett-White was all three—a trifecta," he said.

The news was also welcomed by Democrats: Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, added in statement that "Withdrawing Kathleen Hartnett White's nomination is the right thing to do, and I believe it is past time for this administration to nominate a thoughtful environmental and public health champion to lead this critical office in the federal government."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Oil Change International.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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