with Paulina Firozi


Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt has long insisted it is difficult for scientists to precisely measure the extent to which humans cause climate change.

Now EPA's regional staff engaging with local communities and Native American tribes have been instructed to push the same message too.

This week, EPA staffers received an email instructing them to underscore the uncertainties about how human activity contributes to climate change.

Here are a few of the “talking points” in the email, first reported by HuffPost and confirmed by The Washington Post:

  • “Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”
  • “[C]lear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.”

Pruitt, along with other administration officials and President Trump, has repeatedly and publicly highlighted uncertainty about the role humans have played in contributing to the warming of the planet since becoming EPA administrator. Now it's official internal guidance.

Consider how closely the talking points match Pruitt's rhetoric during a March 2017 interview on CNBC, with the use of words such as “precision,” “impact” and “debate” that also appear in the memo:

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see ... We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

Yet some of the talking points are also at odds with the vast majority of climate scientists abroad and at home. A 2017 interagency report by federal scientists concluded that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

The talking points appear to be an effort to narrow the gap between what Pruitt and the rest of the EPA bureaucracy say publicly about climate change. 

For example, among the many scientific communicators that disagreed with Pruitt's position that carbon dioxide is not a “primary contributor” to global warming was the EPA's own website. At the time Pruitt gave that interview, it stated that “human activities have contributed substantially to climate change by adding CO2 and other heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere.”

Over the course of 2017, though, the agency updated its parts of the website to reflect the administration's de-emphasis on climate change. That Web page linking human activity to global warming has since been archived, with a message at the top stating "[t]his is not the current EPA website.”

Other efforts to question climate science have not yet been realized. Pruitt also has pushed for a government-sponsored exercise to scrutinize climate science, but the White House reportedly nixed the idea.

The EPA is not alone. According to another email obtained by The Post, the Fish and Wildlife Service also issued guidance instructing staffers that the grant solicitations they send out “must not include any broad, generic phrases or terms that are known to be related to divisive political issues or otherwise have a political association, meaning, or inference.”

PROGRAMMING NOTE: With Congress in recess, The Energy 202 will not publish until Tuesday. Enjoy the rest of your week.


— Trump vs. California: Meanwhile on Wednesday, Pruitt wrapped up a tour of California, ground zero for the resistance to the Trump administration's agenda, after visiting a Superfund site at the March Air Reserve Base and an almond processing facility in the Central Valley. After seeing the Superfund site, Pruitt tweeted his visit “improves our partnerships in the Golden State as we work cooperatively to remediate contaminated lands & protect the environment.”

Yet the legal battle between Trump and California is only heating up. This week, Xavier Becerra, the state's attorney general, announced California is prepared to sue the EPA if it loosens Obama-era vehicle efficiency standards, Reuters reported. As of January, Becerra's office secured 10 legal victories against the Trump administration, with most of that success coming in environmental policy.

— Meanwhile in Washington, the League of Conservation Voters projected protest messages against the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, where EPA headquarters is located, as part of its new #BootPruitt campaign. Environmentalists are calling on Trump to remove Pruitt from office over what they say is his wasteful spending on luxury travel and dangerous policies for public health. 

— "We apologize:" At a listening session last fall, the chief executive of an Idaho-based mining company complained to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about federal pollution rules that were “impediments to mining.” The 21-second exchange, which was captured on video and can be seen above, is raising eyebrows for the secretary’s response. “On behalf of the United States government, we apologize,” Zinke told Phillips S. Baker Jr., the chief executive of a mining company tied to major toxic contamination in the Little Rocky Mountains, The Post’s Darryl Fears reports. Fears notes: “It’s not known whether Zinke was aware of Baker’s ties to a company responsible for pollution that cost tens of millions of dollars to clean up.”

— Call for investigation: A group of congressional Democrats have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate Zinke’s reassignment of senior career civil servants last year. “We are concerned that mismanagement of this program could lead to premature retirements, lower morale within the federal workforce, higher costs for the Department, and discourage talented professionals from entering the SES,” wrote the eight Democrats on committees that oversee federal worker issues. The request comes off the heels of a CNN report that Zinke has told employees that diversity isn't important. The Democrats want to know if the reassignments had a "disparate impact" on employees in "protected class[es]," like race.

— Aided by Adelson: Last year, at the request of GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, Israeli company Water-Gen met with Pruitt. Now the agency has signed a research agreement with the company, Politico reports, to study one of its products, an “'atmospheric water generator,’ essentially a giant dehumidifier that pulls drinkable water out of the air.”


— Greenland’s quick thaw: Scientists have found evidence that Greenland is melting faster than it has at any point in the past 450 years at the least, The Post’s Chris Mooney reports. And if the ice on Greenland melts altogether, that could raise sea levels by 20 feet.

— 182 high-tide days per year: A startling report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts high-tide flooding could occur “every other day” by the year 2100, The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. “This scenario works under the assumption that greenhouse gas emissions — which warm the climate and speed up sea-level rise — are curbed,” Samenow writes. “For a more aggressive ‘intermediate’ scenario, in which greenhouse gas emissions carry on at today’s pace, high-tide flooding is forecast to occur 365 days per year.”

— A 163-day drought: On Tuesday, a total of .24 inches of rain fell in Amarillo, Tex. That’s the most water the town has seen in 163 days. “When almost six months pass and your rainfall can be measured in drops, you’ll take anything. Even if it’s only a couple more drops,” Samenow reports. It was the longest rainless stretch in the city in recorded history.


— It's always sunny in Saudi Arabia: Softbank and Saudi Arabia have reached an agreement to launch a massive solar power project in a desert known for its abundance in energy from petroleum.

But a point of caution on the announcement that Softbank and Saudi Arabia have reached an agreement to launch a massive solar power project: The Post’s Chris Mooney and Steven Mufson report “several analysts cautioned the agreement between the massive Japanese firm and the desert nation might not be fully realized, both because of its ambitious scale and because at the present it is a nonbinding memorandum of understanding.”

And here are a few good longreads for the weekend: 

— How Trump favored Texas over Puerto Rico: A decision to keep a “star of the Federal Emergency Management Agency” in Texas even after Hurricane Maria blasted Puerto Rico still shocks some experts. But a Politico investigation describes the decision as “emblematic of a double standard within the Trump administration.” “No two hurricanes are alike, and Harvey and Maria were vastly different storms that struck areas with vastly different financial, geographic and political situations. But a comparison of government statistics relating to the two recovery efforts strongly supports the views of disaster-recovery experts that FEMA and the Trump administration exerted a faster, and initially greater, effort in Texas, even though the damage in Puerto Rico exceeded that in Houston.”

— How Jim Justice left miners “in limbo:” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R), who owns a coal empire with his son, “exploited a regulatory loophole that allows him to leave mines idle and defer environmental clean-up,” according to an investigation from Climate Home News. “Records compiled by CHN show coal mines belonging to Justice have been idle for years at a time. Unreclaimed, idle mines mean ongoing pollution and community health impacts, while miners are put out of work indefinitely. The practice is not illegal, nor is it confined to Justice companies; CHN discovered many companies, particularly in Central Appalachia, using temporary cessation for extended periods.”

— Pruitt gets a New Yorker profile: Margaret Talbot's deep dive from the New Yorker examines the philosophy of “E.P.A. originalism” that has defined Scott Pruitt’s tenure as the agency’s administrator, and how some of his deregulatory approaches have made him a close ally of the fossil fuel industry.



  • The American Association of Petroleum Geologists Global Super Basins leadership conference continues in Houston.
The Tiangong-1 satellite reentered Earth's atmosphere uncontrolled on April 1. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

— Falling out of the sky: A Chinese spacecraft is expected to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere in the coming days, though the timing is unclear. “The operators of the Chinese space lab, Tiangong-1, lost contact with it back in 2016,” The Post’s Angela Fritz reports. “Now it looks like the spacecraft will blast into Earth’s atmosphere on March 31 or April 1.”