More than 20 top political appointees and nominees across the Trump administration either decline to acknowledge that humans are the main cause of climate change or say that significant questions exist about how much people contribute to the problem...
A few even say global warming could be a good thing or might not be happening at all. Their views are in stark contrast to mainstream science, raising questions about how they will make decisions about the impact of climate change on issues like energy policy, disaster planning and national security.
President Donald Trump
“Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming.”
What they said: Trump has called global warming a hoax (and worse) created “by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive” — claims with no grounding in fact. During December’s frigid weather, he tweeted that “perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming.” He later told interviewer Piers Morgan that polar ice caps are “at a record level,” though NASA says Arctic sea ice is shrinking more than 13 percent a decade.
Why it matters: Trump has begun a wholesale unraveling of former President Barack Obama’s climate agenda. That includes ordering rewrites of major regulations that would limit carbon emissions, promoting greater production of fossil fuels like coal, and announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Vice President Mike Pence
“Follow the science” instead of “rushing into” restrictions on the economy
What they said: Pence acknowledged in a CNN interview in 2016 that human activities have “some impact on climate,” but said he and Trump want to “follow the science” instead of “rushing into” restrictions on the economy.
Why it matters: Pence often represents the United States on the foreign stage, where the U.S. is facing pushback from the president’s decisions to exit the Paris agreement and place tariffs on imports of solar power panels.
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget
“I'm not yet convinced that it is a direct correlation between man-made activity and the change in the climate.”
What they said: Mulvaney has acknowledged that climate change is real but said that “I’m not yet convinced that it is a direct correlation between man-made activity and the change in the climate.” He says his views on the science shouldn’t change the way he does his job “analyzing the costs and benefits” of regulations and policies.
Why it matters: As the official in charge of writing Trump’s budget proposals, Mulvaney has sought to slash or zero-out a host of climate and green energy programs throughout the executive branch — including a proposed 26 percent budget cut for EPA — and has described climate research as “a waste of your money.” His office is also the gatekeeper for federal agencies’ regulations, giving him outsize power on climate actions across the executive branch.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Carbon dioxide “is plant food” that “doesn’t harm anybody except that it might include temperature increases.”
What they said: In a congressional hearing in March 2015, the then-senator from Alabama asserted that “carbon pollution is CO2, and that’s really not a pollutant. It’s a plant food, and it doesn’t harm anybody except that it might include temperature increases.”
Why it matters: His lawyers at the Justice Department have vast power over the fate of Obama’s regulations and Trump’s regulatory rollbacks. Already, they have sought to delay court decisions while agencies repeal and rewrite Obama-era rules facing attack from industry. And they will have the task of defending Trump’s proposals against legal challenges filed by environmental groups and Democratic-leaning states.
Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency administrator
“We know that humans have most flourished during times of what? Warming trends.”
What they said: Pruitt, one of the administration’s most vocal climate science doubters, has refused to agree that man-made carbon pollution is “a primary contributor” to temperature increases — and said global warming may even be good for people. “We know that humans have most flourished during times of what? Warming trends,” he told a Nevada television station. “Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100?”
Why it matters: He is rolling back the federal government’s only major climate regulations, including the Obama-era greenhouse gas limits for power plants. He has forced scientists off science advisory panels, replacing them with people from industry, and persuaded Trump to exit the Paris accords. He is also going after climate research itself — he plans to launch a public debate about the soundness of the science.
Bill Wehrum, EPA’s air chief
Humans’ influence on the climate is an “open question.”
What they said: In his confirmation hearing in October, Wehrum acknowledged that “human activity contributes to climate change” but said it’s an “open question” whether it is the main cause.
Why it matters: His office will oversee the repeal of Obama’s climate standards for the power industry. It is working to replace them with narrow rules for coal plants that are unlikely to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Cathy Stepp, EPA’s Midwest administrator
“I’ve read competing pieces so, yes, I would say there is debate out there.”
What they said: She told the Wisconsin State Journal that she believes substantial scientific disagreement exists on the cause of climate change.
Why it matters: At EPA, Stepp is in charge of environmental protection in a region that runs mostly on coal plants. She formerly ran the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which under her leadership cut science funding and changed information on websites to suggest that the cause of climate change is uncertain.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
There’s debate on “what that influence is, what can we do about it.”
What they said: In his confirmation hearing, Zinke acknowledged that “climate is changing” and “man has had an influence,” noting that glaciers are receding. But he said he believes that debate still exists on “what that influence is, what can we do about it.” In 2015, Zinke told a Montana newspaper that President Barack Obama shouldn’t claim Hurricane Sandy was related to climate change because that is “not based on fact.”
Why it matters: The Interior Department manages a fifth of U.S. land, including 35,000 miles of coastline and 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf. Interior’s inspector general, an internal watchdog, says that means the department will face significant effects from climate change, including wildfires, water scarcity and harm to native tribes.
Douglas Domenech, Interior’s assistant secretary for Insular Areas
“Climate alarmists are once again predicting the end of the world as we know it. This time the culprit is carbon dioxide.”
What they said: Domenech, who also headed the agency’s transition team, has warned that fulfilling Obama’s pledge in the Paris agreement would “wreak havoc on the economy, jobs and electricity rates — and, in the process, on the lives of millions of people.” In his confirmation hearing, however, he agreed that “climate is changing and man has a role in that.”
Why it matters: Domenech’s portfolio includes Insular Areas, International Affairs, and the department’s Ocean, Great Lakes and Coastal Program, all of which face effects from climate change. Sea-level rise and ocean acidification are particularly troubling for the island territories he oversees.
Steven Gardner, nominee to head Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement
“Climate Change is real. It always has been. It's not new!”
What they said: “Climate Change is real. It always has been. It’s not new!” he wrote on Facebook, according to E&E News.
Why it matters: Gardner would be the nation’s top coal mining regulator. He has said coal workers are “unfairly profiled as polluters” and defends the controversial practice of “mountaintop removal” mining, which the Obama administration sought to regulate under a rule that Trump blocked.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue
“Liberals have lost all credibility when it comes to climate science.”
What they said: Perdue has said “scientists on both sides” have views about whether humans contribute to climate change. He has also expressed frustration when people link damaging weather to climate change, saying liberals have “lost all credibility” on climate science.
Why it matters: As global temperatures rise, droughts have become more intense and longer-lasting, and rainfall patterns are changing — which puts the Agriculture Department on the front lines. Last year, The Guardian reported, USDA staffers told employees to avoid making direct references to climate change in their work, preferring terms like “weather extremes.”
Energy Secretary Rick Perry
“Climate’s changing, always has. Man at this particular point in time is having an effect on it. How much effect is what’s at debate here.”
What they said: Perry contends that the “science is out” on whether humans are the dominant cause of climate change, saying at the White House last year that “climate’s changing, always has. Man at this particular point in time is having an effect on it. How much effect is what’s at debate here. And, more importantly, what is the United States going to do to affect that?”
Why it matters: Perry has unsuccessfully pushed federal regulators to subsidize money-losing coal plants. He has also restructured the Energy Department to focus more on basic research and development, and less on commercial deployment of advanced energy technologies that could help cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Bruce Walker, assistant energy secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability
“I think there is a contribution from man. I couldn’t quantify exactly what that is.”
What they said: Asked about climate change during his September confirmation hearing, Walker said: “I believe the climate has been changing and will continue to change as long as we’re on the planet. I think there is a contribution from man. I couldn’t quantify exactly what that is.”
Why it matters: Walker’s office is tasked with helping ensure that the U.S. energy system is “secure, resilient and reliable.” He has a say in how federal dollars are devoted to research and infrastructure as the electric grid shifts away from coal toward natural gas and renewable power. His department coordinates responses to weather that affects the electrical grid.
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, nominee for assistant transportation secretary for Research and Technology
“Over the past 15 years, despite increasing greenhouse gas emissions, the warming by some measures has stopped.”
What they said: She said in 2015 that “the Earth has been warming and cooling for millennia, certainly before the Industrial Revolution. … Over the past 15 years, despite increasing greenhouse gas emissions, the warming by some measures has stopped.” In fact, NASA says 2017 was the second-warmest year on record since 1880, second only to 2016.
Why it matters: Transportation is the biggest source of man-made greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration. Limiting transportation’s effects on climate change was a key focus of Furchtgott-Roth’s office under the Obama administration.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo
“There’s some who think we’re warming, there’s some who think we’re cooling.”
What they said: Is the Earth even warming at all? Pompeo expressed uncertainty on that point in 2013, saying on C-SPAN that “there are scientists that think lots of different things about climate change. There’s some who think we’re warming, there’s some who think we’re cooling, there’s some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment.”
Why it matters: A 2014 Pentagon report called climate change an immediate threat to national security, saying it increases risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. Obama and President George W. Bush both acknowledged climate change as a security risk, but Trump’s Pentagon excluded the issue from the 2018 National Defense Strategy.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen
“I can’t unequivocally state it’s caused by humans. ...There are many contributions to it.”
What they said: Nielsen says climate change is happening but has not acknowledged that humans are the main cause. “I can’t unequivocally state it’s caused by humans,” she said during her confirmation hearing in November. “There are many contributions to it.”
Why it matters: DHS’s Federal Emergency Management Agency responds to hurricanes and other natural disasters, which scientists expect to become harsher as temperatures rise. FEMA also examines risks to determine where and how Americans can rebuild their homes after storms along the coasts, where sea-level increases make flooding more likely. At the Coast Guard — another arm of DHS — Obama’s military advisers described climate change as a national security issue.
Tom Bossert, White House homeland security adviser
“We continue to take seriously the climate change — not the cause of it, but the things we observe.”
What they said: He hedged on the science after last year’s historic hurricanes battered Houston, saying the administration does “continue to take seriously the climate change — not the cause of it, but the things we observe.” He declined to say whether he thinks the hurricanes were worsened by rising temperatures.
Why it matters: Homeland Security officials will be responsible for responding to more intense storms and flooding, as well as wildfires and other large-scale disasters that could strain federal resources. For example, two research groups have concluded that the rainfall brought by Hurricane Harvey was much higher than it would have been without global warming.
Ben Carson, Housing and Urban Development secretary
“I know there are a lot of people who say ‘overwhelming science,’ but then when you ask them to show the overwhelming science they never can show it.”
What they said: “I know there are a lot of people who say ‘overwhelming science,’ but then when you ask them to show the overwhelming science they never can show it,” Carson told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2015.
Why it matters: HUD tells states how to spend disaster recovery money allotted by Congress. Trump last year rescinded an executive order requiring federally funded projects to consider higher flooding risks caused by climate change, but HUD recently required that structures built in floodplains be built above projected flood levels anyway.
Linda McMahon, Small Business Administration head
“I just don’t think we have the answers as to why it changes. … The bottom line is we really don’t know.”
What they said: “I just don’t think we have the answers as to why it changes … I’m not a scientist, so I couldn’t pretend to understand all the reasons. But the bottom line is we really don’t know,” McMahon said in 2010.
Why it matters: McMahon has said she wants to strengthen disaster relief for small businesses, citing SBA’s slow response after hurricanes. During the Obama administration, SBA sought to help small businesses become more resilient to the risks posed by climate change.
Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator nominee
Do humans cause climate change? “That is a question that I do not have an answer to.”
What they said: The Republican congressman from Oklahoma said in his November confirmation hearing that he accepts that humans are a cause of climate change — but he would not acknowledge that they are the main contributor. “That is a question that I do not have an answer to,” he said. He has criticized Obama for spending more on climate research than on tornado warning systems, and has claimed that global temperature changes are linked to sun output and ocean cycles.
Why it matters: NASA studies Earth science and is responsible for satellites that monitor climate, programs that researchers fear are imperiled under Trump. NASA says unequivocally on its websites and in its scientific reports that most scientists agree humans are the main cause of the current global warming trend.
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