Trump team includes nine climate skeptics
Trump's transition: sceptics guide every agency dealing with climate change
With at least nine senior members of transition team denying basic scientific understanding, president-elect’s choices demonstrate pro-fossil fuels agenda
The Guardian (U.K.), Dec. 12, 2016
The heads of Donald Trump’s transition teams for Nasa, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy , as well as his nominees to lead the EPA and the Department of the Interior, all question the science of human-caused climate change, in a signal of the president-elect’s determination to embark upon an aggressively pro-fossil fuels agenda.
Trump has assembled a transition team in which at least nine senior members deny basic scientific understanding that the planet is warming due to the burning of carbon and other human activity. These include the transition heads of all the key agencies responsible for either monitoring or dealing with climate change. None of these transition heads have any background in climate science.
Trump has also nominated Oklahoma attorney generay Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA and is expected to pick congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers to head the interior department. Pruitt has claimed that scientists “continue to disagree” about the causes and extent of global warming while McMorris Rodgers has said that former vice-president Al Gore, who has championed climate action, “deserves an ‘F’ in science.”
The president-elect has vowed to pursue an “America first” energy policy that will open up a new frontier in domestic coal, oil and gas extraction while eviscerating the effort to combat climate change, which Trump has previously called a “hoax.”
Trump is personally invested in this agenda. According to his latest financial disclosure records, Trump held investments in the fossil fuel companies Shell, Halliburton, Total and Chevron. His largest energy investment was in BHP Billiton, with the documents showing a stake worth up to $1.015m.
Trump also had interests in Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, which are behind the controversial Dakota Access pipeline that Trump wants to see completed. Jason Miller, a Trump spokesman, has said that Trump sold all of his shares in June but has produced no evidence to prove this.
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said of Trump’s choices: “These are people that had slipped out of the conversation, we haven’t been even debating them in years because they were so out of step with where the American public and business is going on climate change.
“Now they’ve leapfrogged into the White House. The world has been turned upside down and it feels like basic science is up for debate. Will we now have to debate whether gravity exists too?”
Myron Ebell, head of the EPA transition team, is director of energy and environment at the libertarian thinktank the Competitie Enterprise Institute and chairman of the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group that opposes “global warming alarmism”.
Ebell has said that the scientific consensus on climate change is “phoney” and that scientists are part of an effort to spread falsehoods that will result in millions of people being “further impoverished by the higher energy prices resulting from the alarmists’ policy agenda”.
He has suggested that “alarmists could also be prosecuted for denying or grossly underestimating the deleterious effects of their energy-rationing policies on human flourishing.”
Other members of the EPA transition team have been plucked from rightwing thinktanks with fossil fuel funding. Amy Oliver Cooke, of the Independence Institute, has said she is an “energy feminist because I’m pro-choice in energy sources”. She has lashed out at “global warming alarmism” on Twitter and claimed falsely in 2014 that there had been 16 years without any global warming.
David Kruetzer, of the conservative Heritage Foundation, has erroneously claimed there has been “global cooling” in recent years while David Schnare, a former EPA lawyer, said last year that “for the last 18 years, the global temperature has been level”. Schnare’s statement is incorrect.
Department of the Interior
Doug Domenech, head of the interior department transition team, has said carbon dioxide is a “trace greenhouse gas” and has railed against “climate alarmists”.
Domenech is a former Virginia secretary of resources and is now part of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which states the “forgotten moral case for fossil fuels” as its mission. Trump’s plan to open up more land for drilling will “reinvigorate communities across the nation, especially those most seriously impacted by the current restrictive energy policies”, Domenech wrote in November.
Chris Shank, deputy chief of staff to the Republican congressman Lamar Smith, is leading Trump’s landing team at Nasa. Last year, Shank said: “The rhetoric that’s coming out, the hottest year in history, actually is not backed up by the science – or that the droughts, the fires, the hurricanes, etc, are caused by climate change, but it’s just weather.”
Nasa has an internationally venerated climate research operation that may be winnowed away under a Trump administration. Bob Walker, a Trump adviser and climate sceptic, has suggested completely removing Nasa’s $1.9bn Earth sciences budget and focusing instead on deep space exploration.
Department of Energy
Thomas Pyle, who is leading the Department of Energy transition team, is president of the American Energy Alliance, a group that advocates for fossil fuel development. Pyle, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries, has opposed the deployment of electric vehicles and said that human influence on the climate has “yet to be determined”.
Trump’s shortlist for cabinet positions also contains climate change deniers and pro-drilling advocates.
Rick Perry, the former Texas governor and climate sceptic, is being considered for secretary of energy, reports say. He would lead a department he was unable to name in a 2011 presidential debate when listing government bodies he would scrap.
Kevin Cramer, a congressman and potential energy secretary, said in 2012 that “we know the global climate is cooling. Number one, we know that. So the idea that CO2 is somehow causing global warming is on its face fraudulent.”
Rex Tillerson, chief executive of Exxon Mobil, is reportedly a top contender for secretary of state, a year after it emerged that Exxon spent years covering up and denying climate science despite being well aware of the science of global warming.
Steve Bannon, who will be one of Trump’s closest advisers in the White House, has given a platform, via his rightwing website Breitbart, to climate change conspiracy theorists such as the British writer James Delingpole, who has called climate activists “scum” guilty of trying to “advance the cause of global governance”.
Bannon also has a little-known link to environmental work via his involvement in Biosphere 2, a $200m research facility in the mountains outside Tucson, Arizona. As chief executive of the project in the early 1990s, Bannon oversaw experiments that attempted to simulate how the world, represented by thousands of plants and animals housed within a giant glass dome, would cope with air pollution and climate change.
Two disgruntled colleagues, Abigail Alling and Mark Van Thillo, were fired in 1994 after breaking into Biosphere 2 to warn other members of Bannon’s management style. During court proceedings against the duo, Bannon admitted to calling Alling a “bimbo” and threatening to kick her “ass”. He managed the project until it was transferred to Columbia University in 1996.
Trump has threatened to withdraw the US from international climate agreements, cut clean energy spending and loosen regulations for fossil fuel companies. He received $700,000 from oil and gas interests during his election campaign – a sizable amount but still $100,000 less than Hillary Clinton and nowhere near the $10.4m raised by Trump’s Republican primary opponent Jeb Bush.
Robert and Rebekah Mercer, two prominent Republican donors, supported Trump and their financing of climate science denial will likely reverberate at the White House.
The Mercers have backed the Heartland Institute and Heritage Foundation, conservative groups that have tried to discredit climate scientists, and via their foundation bankrolled initiatives such as the Berkeley Earth and Oregon Petition projects. Both endeavors attempted to reveal flaws in mainstream climate science, only to validate scientists’ findings and mislead the public, respectively.
The Koch brothers, who have previously bankrolled candidates who promised to water down environmental protections, largely sat out of the 2016 presidential election but their influence on Trump is now coming to bear through the many groups they fund.
Koch-backed groups supply a number of advisers and transition staff that Trump now relies upon and the conservative network is now sounding upbeat about the new president. Green groups, which were briefly cheered when they saw Al Gore march into Trump Tower for a meeting, now bitterly complain that this was a smokescreen for Trump’s nakedly anti-environment agenda.
“We are seeing the wholesale move of people associated with climate misinformation campaigns into Trump’s administration in a big way,” said Robert Brulle, a sociology and environmental scientist at Drexel University. “Myron Ebell, for example, is the leader of the climate counter-movement that opposes any restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.
“Trump is getting two pushes – one from the conservative movement and another from fossil fuel interests. If it was one or the other, it wouldn’t be so strong, but they are combined. It’s pretty clear that his administration will be sympathetic to fossil fuel interests. Whether they achieve that is another matter because there will be stiff resistance from the environmental movement and also there will be international concern. We’ll soon see how influential that concern is.”
While Trump can certainly hamper the effort to avoid dangerous climate change, there will be limits to his reach. The plummeting cost of solar and wind energy and the woes of the coal industry can’t be reversed by a president. Cities and certain states, most notably New York and California, have vowed to forge ahead with emission cuts, vehicle electrification and energy efficiency measures.
Federal agencies do have undeniable clout. The EPA oversees clean air and water standards, the Department of the Interior is responsible for millions of acres of public land, including prized sites such as Yellowstone national park and the Everglades. Fossil fuel interests may have deep roots in the Trump administration but it’s unlikely that the American public will tolerate the dissolution of popular protections that have been in place for the past 40 years.
“I think it’s likely there will be a quick failure followed by a correction,” said Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman for South Carolina. “You get found out at the EPA pretty quickly. It’s not like Fema, where there is a hurricane only once in a while. There will be plenty of opportunities to display incompetence and there won’t be the scapegoat of Barack Obama to blame anymore.
“Donald Trump has made promises to coal and also to natural gas. The problem is that these promises are inconsistent with each other and that will be revealed. The question is how quickly coal miners, and others, will realize that they have been had.”