Last week Donald Trump gave environmentalists a ray of hope when he told the New York Times that he believes there is some “connectivity” between human industrial activity and global warming—and that he is keeping an “open mind” on what to do about the Paris climate accord. No doubt President Obama has been harping on the importance of staying in the Paris fold for the sake of planetary health and keeping in the good graces of the rest of the world, let alone the economic benefits of leadership in the clean tech and renewable energy sectors.
But with Myron Ebell, the former tobacco industry lobbyist turned climate denier, still at the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition, environmentalists’ fingers remain firmly crossed. Trump’s meetings this week with two candidates for the cabinet-level post of EPA administrator may have allayed initial fears that Ebell would keep that job for himself. But even if Ebell isn’t running EPA come January, Trump’s final picks may not be any better for the environment.
According to sources inside the transition team, one of the leading contenders for the EPA job is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has spearheaded the legal fight against Obama’s Clean Power Plan which would slash carbon dioxide output from electrical power plants by 32 percent within a quarter century — and is a key piece of the U.S. plan to meet emissions reduction goals set forth under the Paris climate accord. Last spring, Pruitt rallied attorneys general from 26 other states to join him in suing the federal government to block the Clean Power Plan, set to go into effect in 2017. The case is currently being deliberated in the DC Court of Appeals and will likely make its way to the Supreme Court.
Pruitt’s antipathy towards the Clean Power Plan stems from a long-held political belief that individual states, not the federal government, should be responsible for the enactment and enforcement of environmental regulations. Pruitt also believes the plan will drive up the cost of electricity for everyone, disproportionately burdening the poor who already spend upwards of 60 percent of their income on energy costs. He cites an Energy Venture Analysis study estimating that the proposed rule would increase the typical household’s annual electricity and natural gas bills by $680, or 35 percent, by 2020, rising each year thereafter as more stringent regulations are phased in.
Yet another finalist for the EPA administrator role is former Texas environmental regulator Kathleen Hartnett White, who no doubt made her way onto the short list thanks to her repeated calls for restraining “the imperial EPA.” As chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from 2003-2007, Hartnett White proved herself no friend to environmentalists by siding with industry at every turn despite environmental concerns, culminating in the greenlighting of the controversial Oak Grove coal power plant despite its lack of compliance with new pollution control standards.
Since those heady days running TCEQ, Hartnett White has been running the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment, a conservative think tank funded by ExxonMobil, Chevron and the Koch brothers, among others.
According to the Texas Observer, White considers efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions “futile” and thinks that “carbon dioxide has none of the attributes of a pollutant.” She has called climate change a “dogmatic claim of ideologues and clerics” and blames natural variability and solar activity for rising global temperatures.
She also has stated that “fossil fuels dissolved the economic justification for slavery” and that the UN advocates for communism as “the only system of government which effectively would reduce carbon dioxide.” Trump insiders say Hartnett White is also reportedly being considered for Interior Secretary, so either way it looks like she may have the ear of the Donald.
It’s unclear who else might be on Trump’s short list for EPA or when the decision will be made, but from the looks of the field of candidates so far, environmentalists are bracing for a very long four years.