THE LIGHTBULB

Scott Pruitt has repeatedly questioned the scientific consensus that rising levels of carbon dioxide from human-fueled activity are warming the planet during his year in the job as Environmental Protection Agency chief.

The examples began piling up almost from the start. Just a month into his tenure, Pruitt said carbon dioxide is not the "primary contributor to the global warming that we see," putting him at odds with the EPA’s own official scientific findings.

But recently, a new line of thinking has emerged during Pruitt's interviews with reporters and hearings with lawmakers.

It goes like this: Even if climate change is occurring, as the vast majority of scientists say it is, a warmer atmosphere might not be so awful for humans.

The latest and best example came Tuesday during an interview on KSNV, an NBC affiliate in Las Vegas.

In it, Pruitt said: “We know humans have most flourished during times of what, warming trends. So I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018? That’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”

Pruitt continued: “There are very important questions around the climate issue that folks really don’t get to. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve talked about having an honest, open, transparent debate about what do we know, what don’t we know, so the American people can be informed and they can make decisions on their own with respect to these issues.”

Brady Dennis, Chris Mooney and I have the full story on Pruitt's remarks here.

That interview wasn't a one-off. Consider what Pruitt has said during his public appearances in January:

  • “The climate is changing. That’s not the debate. The debate is how do we know what the ideal surface temperature is in 2100? . . . I think the American people deserve an open honest transparent discussion about those things,” Pruitt said in an interview with Reuters last month. He added, “This agency for the last several years has been more focused on what might be happening in 2100, as opposed to what is happening today.”
  • "There are questions that we know the answer to; there are questions we don’t know the answer to," Pruitt said during a hearing on Capitol Hill later in January. “For example, what is the ideal surface temperature in the year 2100? [It’s] something that many folks have different perspective on.”

Although this argument may be new for Pruitt, some conservative and fossil-fuel industry groups have used it for almost three decades. In 1991, for example, the Western Fuels Association funded “The Greening of Planet Earth,” a 30-minute video arguing that more CO2 in the air helps farmers.

In 2001, the Cato Institute echoed the video’s message. “The video was right,” Patrick J. Michaels, a senior fellow at the libertarian think tank, wrote. “The greens were wrong.”

Ultimately, the warming-is-not-so-bad chatter may be warm-up for Pruitt's “red team-blue team” exercise — a government-wide debate over the science of climate change that Pruitt has pushed for since the summer.

During his most recent congressional testimony, Pruitt came back to the same idea. “That red team-blue team exercise is an exercise to provide an opportunity to the American people to consume information from scientists that have different perspectives on key issues,” Pruitt told Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), “and frankly could be used to build consensus in this body.”

Scientists, of course, have already weighed the pros and cons of climate change themselves. While rising temperatures may indeed boost agricultural yield in some regions, they are projected to cause debilitating drought elsewhere. And many cities dot the coasts of Earth’s continents and were situated there assuming relatively stable sea levels.

The fact that the EPA chief is advancing this new line holds significant political as well as environmental consequences: Pruitt is in charge of a sprawling department whose resources can be used to curb climate change. For now, at least, Pruitt seems to be questioning whether his department should be doing something about it.

POWER PLAYS

— California vs. Trump: California officials say the state will ban the transport of crude oil from offshore oil rigs as a way to block the Trump administration’s planned expansion of offshore drilling. “I am resolved that not a single drop from Trump’s new oil plan ever makes landfall in California,” California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom told Reuters. The threat comes as many states’ leaders attempt to meet with the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to lodge their opposition to the controversial plan from which Florida has already been granted an exemption.

— EPA No. 2 pick, advanced: The Senate Environment and Public Works committee voted Wednesday to send to the floor Andrew Wheeler's nomination to serve as the second-highest official at the EPA. The panel approved Wheeler along party lines 11-10, per the Associated Press. The move came on the heels of an Intercept report that Wheeler held fundraisers for two Republicans on the panel, John Barrasso (Wyo.) and James M. Inhofe (Okla.).

Wheeler used to work fas a staffer for Inhofe on the Republican side of the committee. After the hearing, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said he would not place a hold on the nomination.

— Carper, though, is needling the EPA elsewhere by questioning the the department's decrease in grant funding in 2017, according to a letter he sent this month to Pruitt. Carper came to that conclusion after his staff analyzed publicly available data.

The EPA responded by saying the numbers used by the senator's office used were out-of-date. “We find it unfortunate that Senator Carper would place his letter in the news rather than wait for a legitimate response to his question," the agency said in a statement. "Although EPA is continuing to analyze the information on grant funding Senator Carper provided in his letter sent this morning, it appears the data that the Senator is reviewing is from an outdated source."

— No stampede to land grab: A vast area of federally protected land in Utah was opened to mining last Friday, but five days in “not only has there been no stampede, but no one has shown up at all,” Bloomberg reports. “The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining says it hasn’t received a single permit application for plots in the areas. That may not ease the angst in the activist community any but it does highlight a couple of key elements to the dispute: While the remote region contains several minerals as well as oil and gas, the logistics of moving material in and out are tricky, and the only resource that has the real potential of luring explorers is uranium.” 

— Change of plans: Included in a more than 100-page document from the Department of Housing and Urban Development on how states should allocate $7.4 billion in disaster aid is a requirement that new structures in floodplains be built above projected flood levels. Bloomberg News points out that’s essentially the requirement lays out the same standards as the Obama-era regulation President Trump revoked in August.

— Patagonia’s newest platform: Patagonia launched an online platform, Patagonia Action Works, on Wednesday as a way of "connecting Patagonia customers with local grassroots activism opportunities," the company said. The outdoor clothing retailer has been on an activist kick with its campaign against Trump's decision to shrink in size two national monuments in Utah.

THERMOMETER

— Decoding the Redwoods: As California’s extreme climate, erratic weather, changing fog frequency and coastal erosion continue to put the only existing coastal redwood forest at risk, scientists are looking into the best ways to preserve them. “For the first time, scientists are mapping the coast redwood’s genome, a genetic code 12 times larger than that of a human being. By the end of the year, scientists hope to have mapped the complete genome of the coast redwood and of the giant sequoia,” The Post’s Scott Wilson reports. The best defense against these unknowns is to make the forest more resilient. And the "best way to accomplish that is to ensure that these forests are genetically diverse," writes Wilson.

— Dunkin’s green goal: Dunkin’ Donuts announced Wednesday it would eliminate all polystyrene foam cups by 2020 and will instead use double-walled paper cups. The change will start this spring in New York and California. The company projects the change will remove nearly 1 billion foam cups from the waste stream each year. 

Idaho is the only state whose legislature has removed climate change from its education standards. Teachers and students testified for it to be reinstated.
New York Times
OIL CHECK

— Coal plants vs. climate goals: If all the planned coal plants in the world are successfully constructed, they could burn the remaining carbon budget, essentially making certain there would be little chance of meeting global climate change goals of staying under 2 degrees Celsius of change. The Post’s Chris Mooney reports “nations including Turkey, Vietnam and Indonesia could increase their emissions from coal dramatically between now and 2030, based on current plans.” 

— Solar fate: Ahead of looming solar  tariffs the Trump administration announced last month, recent data from the National Solar Jobs Census found the industry recorded 9,800 jobs lost between 2016 and 2017, Greentech Media reports. It's the first time the National Solar Jobs Census has reported a drop since 2010. The industry census also found 61 percent of solar project developers polled said they anticipated a 25 percent drop in installations this year, per Vox.

— More EVs on the horizon: Mercedes-Benz announced this week it is working on an electric version of its Sprinter van, dubbed the “eSprinter,” to launch next year. The German automaker said the van will be “primarily designed for inner-city operations,” Electrek reports.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environmental holds a Lunch & Learn event on battery storage.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Bioluminescent bloom: In Big Sur, bioluminescent phytoplankton have made the waves glow. Check out the images shared from KSBW Action News 8: