When Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt went on CNBC last March and said that he did not believe carbon dioxide was the "primary contributor" to global warming, he put himself at odds with the scientific stances of many institutions — including, officially, the EPA itself.
But an internal EPA review has found that the agency can tolerate such a disagreement.
A panel of EPA scientists convened to investigate Pruitt's commentary found that the administrator was not in violation of the agency's scientific integrity policy because that policy "explicitly protects differing opinion."
"This expression of opinion, which was not made in a decisional context, is fully within the protections of EPA's Scientific Integrity Policy and does not violate that Policy," the panel found, according to a letter sent to the Sierra Club and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon and other outlets. The environmental group filed a complaint in March that prompted the internal review.
That month, Pruitt said on CNBC: "I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."
At the time, EPA's website stated the opposite. "Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change," the website read. That and other climate-related EPA webpages have since been archived, with links now leading to a landing page that reads that the EPA is "updating our website to reflect EPA's priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt."
After the panel's letter leaked, the EPA sent the Free Beacon article out to reporters in an email blast.
"Unfortunately, this letter effectively lets Pruitt off the hook for deceiving the American public regularly in high profile contexts," the Sierra Club said in response to the decision.
Why Pruitt's comments matter: The controversy over the role carbon dioxide plays in global warming is at the heart of a key determination made by the EPA under President Trump's predecessor. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide should be considered an "air pollutant" under the main federal air pollution law, the Clean Air Act. Two years later, with President Obama in office, the EPA officially determined that carbon dioxide is a pollutant harmful enough to human health that it warranted regulation. Pruitt's comment does not undo that determination, but it does suggest he may be less willing to enforce it.
It's an often cited statistic, but: According to at least one review of the scientific literature, 97 percent of climate scientists endorse the idea that humans are driving global warming.
One of those scientists says: "It’s clear to me that Pruitt is in violation of basic standards of ethical conduct," Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, wrote by email.
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-- Secretary swap? Rick Perry may get roped into the game of musical chairs now being played in Trump's Cabinet. Bloomberg News is reporting that Perry is among the top candidates for the job of secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. That position is open now that former DHS head John Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff.
There is always a Trump tweet: Here's what Trump thought of Perry's border security credentials two years ago when both men were seeking the Republican presidential nomination:
Rick Perry did an absolutely horrible job of securing the border. He should be ashamed of himself. Gov. Abbott has since been terrific.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 21, 2015
Another flashback: After Trump wrapped up the GOP nomination, Perry suggested in a 2016 interview that Trump's proposed border wall would never happen — at least not literally.
"It's a wall, but it's a technological wall; it's a digital wall," said Perry, who as governor of Texas oversaw the state with the longest border with Mexico.
Liz Mair, a GOP strategist and 2012 Perry adviser, thinks those at DHS would not be happy with the decision:
If this happens, Trump may be getting a lot of lip from DHS re: his preferences re: border. https://t.co/yLHNVLxZiF— Liz Mair (@LizMair) August 2, 2017
Perry is all too familiar with eminent domain issues that Texas landowners have with border wall project. https://t.co/yLHNVLxZiF— Liz Mair (@LizMair) August 2, 2017
Perry also very aware that a lot of people have to be able to cross border every day for Texas economy to work.https://t.co/yLHNVLxZiF— Liz Mair (@LizMair) August 2, 2017
As such, I'm all for this appointment. Tho I think Perry would miss fun he's having at Energy. Little fun at DHS. https://t.co/yLHNVLxZiF— Liz Mair (@LizMair) August 2, 2017
Here's what others are saying:
Center for Public Integrity’s Christina Wilkie:
This could be a good move. Perry understand the complexity of border issues, and Trump would be free to appoint a nukes expert to run DOE. https://t.co/htywYNmxpb— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) August 2, 2017
Houston Chronicle’s Lydia DePillis:
National Review contributor Dan McLaughlin:
This would be hilarious full-circle from Perry in August 2015 challenging Trump on border security. https://t.co/TnwhixHCk8— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) August 2, 2017
NBC News’s Benjy Sarlin:
Perry knows a lot about the border, a lot less about nuclear physics, so this would probably be good for everyone https://t.co/dKiMcKZZlx— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) August 2, 2017
But for now, Perry is doing his duties as energy secretary. On Wednesday, he hosted his predecessor, Ernest Moniz, at the department:
What does Moniz think of Perry? In an interview in June with The Post, Moniz credited Perry for "actively working with the lab directors" throughout the Energy Department's national laboratory system. He praised some of Perry's rhetoric on research and development, even if it is not always backed up by the White House.
"I think he's made some very, very strong statements in supporting the innovation agenda," Moniz said. "However, there is also this disconnect that the administration's budget does not seem to support the enthusiasm we are seeing for the R&D and the innovation agenda."
-- Few are better than CNN's Andrew Kaczynski at digging up old documents, and his dossier on Sam Clovis — Trump's pick to lead the Agriculture Department's Research, Education and Economics division — is a doozy.
Drudging up old blog posts from Clovis's days as a radio talk show host, CNN found that:
- He wrote that progressives are "liars, race traders, and race 'traitors.'"
- He wrote that Iowa responded better to floods in 2008 than Louisiana did to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita because of Iowa's focus "on family, community and the primacy of faith in life."
- He wrote that then-President Obama was a "Maoist, anti-colonialist who is also a pathological narcissist."
What is his background? The Post's Juliet Eilperin and Chelsea Harvey have noted that Clovis, a former economics professor and talk radio host, lacks a hard-science background.
“A lot of the science is junk science," Clovis said of climate change in a 2014 radio interview. "It’s not proven; I don’t think there’s any substantive information available to me that doesn’t raise as many questions as it does answers. So I’m a skeptic.”
-- Monument count: On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that he will recommend no changes to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana. The Interior secretary is currently reviewing the status of 27 national monuments designated under the last three presidents before Trump.
Here's the tally so far. Zinke has recommended:
- shrinking one monument (Bears Ears National Monument)
- and keeping four other monuments the same size.
The other 22 are still under review.
-- Inside Interior: A new website published by the Western Values Project demonstrates that Zinke continues to fill the department with pro-industry officials. The High County News writes that “of the known political hires to the Interior thus far, 21 come from resource extraction industries." Only three come from "conservation, outdoor recreation, or hunting and fishing backgrounds," Chris Saeger, executive director of Western Values Project, told the news organization.
-- Governor Moonbeam vs. Trump: The president’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord has turned California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) into the anti-Trump on climate change, writes The Post’s Chris Mooney.
“If anything, the Trump imperative going in the opposite direction is a stimulus,” Brown said in a recent interview with The Post. “It’s a goad, it’s a pressure… In a way, it’s a rising of or raising of awareness that’s actually making my agenda stronger and more resonant with the people of California.”
Brown, known as "Governor Moonbeam", Mooney writes, "in part because of his passion for space exploration during his first two terms as governor in the 1970s," has launched the U.S. Climate Alliance since Trump's decision to leave the Paris deal to continue a more local-based commitment to the international accord. Brown says Trump’s actions have encouraged conversations on climate.
-- The mayor of Virginia’s Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay— remember him? — showed up at a CNN-hosted town hall with former vice president Al Gore to ask: "If sea-level rise is occurring, why am I not seeing signs of it?” James “Ooker” Eskridge, the mayor, noted that, “I’m not a scientist, but I’m a keen observer."
He instead blamed the water creeping up on Tangier Island homes on erosion, not sea-level rise:
Gore responded: "It won't necessarily do you any good for me to tell you that the scientists do say that the sea level is rising in the Chesapeake Bay, and that you've lost about two-thirds of your island already."
-- After two years of talks, United Nations diplomats recommended beginning treaty negotiations to determine how to protect waters that extend beyond national jurisdiction, the New York Times reported. Negotiations could begin as soon as 2018.
Plans to protect the high seas that have until now gone ungoverned are sure to spark pusback from commercial interests and in countries who go to the open ocean for fishing or to gather valuable minerals.
How do you govern areas outside anyone’s jurisdiction? That, and many key questions are left to be answered in negotiations. The Times’s Somini Sengupta writes: “How will marine protected areas be chosen? How much of the ocean will be set aside as sanctuaries? Will extraction of all marine resources be prohibited from those reserves — as so-called no-take areas — or will some human activity be allowed? Not least, how will the new reserve protections be enforced?”
The changes could have a broader impact on the climate, as well. The report notes there is “growing scientific evidence that creating large, undisturbed sanctuaries can help marine ecosystems and coastal populations cope with climate change effects, like sea-level rise, more intense storms, shifts in the distribution of species and ocean acidification.”
-- Some good news abuzz: The USDA said this week that the number of honeybees in the United States has increased — yes, increased — in 2017. Commercial U.S. honeybee colonies went up three percent in the last year as of April 1, Bloomberg reported. Environmentalist groups have been concerned (and still are) about the bee decline, and that the use of pesticides — in particular, a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids — may be partially to blame.
-- And now for some more bad news: Scientists warn that unchecked climate change could bring extremely dangerous heat to South Asia, reports Chelsea Harvey for The Post.
--A cold patch, explained: A new study may bring scientists closer to understanding a cool-temperature zone in the North Atlantic Ocean just south of Greenland, writes Chelsea Harvey.
The study published in Nature Climate Change describes that the “cold patch is evidence that a major ocean current system — which transports heat and influences climate and weather patterns around the world — may be slowing down. What’s more, the melting of Arctic sea ice could be to blame,” Harvey writes.
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is a powerful conveyor-like current system that carries warm water north from the equator and sends cool water back down from the Arctic. It’s responsible for transporting heat all over the ocean and regulating weather patterns in places like Europe and eastern North America. But some recent studies have suggested that the AMOC may be slowing down, which could explain why less heat is reaching the North Atlantic.
Whether the AMOC has actually been weakening in recent decades, and to what extent, is still an open question among oceanographers. But many scientists worry that the future effects of global warming, including large influxes of fresh water from melting sea ice and retreating Greenland glaciers, could further disrupt the AMOC’s flow.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to “examine federal and nonfederal collaboration, including through the use of technology, to reduce wildland fire risk to communities and enhance firefighting safety and effectiveness.”
- The UPROSE holds its 6th Climate Justice Youth Summit
New York City turns organic waste into green energy:
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