The motive is obvious, the product of anxiety and frustration. The forces of disinformation are running scared and lashing out.

There’s a reason why EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is going all-in on attacking climate science–but this time, the target is not climate scientists:

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is leading a formal initiative to challenge mainstream climate science using a “back-and-forth critique” by government-recruited experts, according to a senior administration official.

The program will use “red team, blue team” exercises to conduct an “at-length evaluation of U.S. climate science,” the official said, referring to a concept developed by the military to identify vulnerabilities in field operations.

“The administrator believes that we will be able to recruit the best in the fields which study climate and will organize a specific process in which these individuals … provide back-and-forth critique of specific new reports on climate science,” the source said.

“We are in fact very excited about this initiative,” the official added. “Climate science, like other fields of science, is constantly changing. A new, fresh and transparent evaluation is something everyone should support doing.”

The disclosure follows the administration’s suggestions over several days that it supports reviewing climate science outside the normal peer-review process used by scientists. This is the first time agency officials acknowledged that Pruitt has begun that process. The source said Energy Secretary Rick Perry also favors the review.

The suggestion that Pruitt is launching this effort as a prelude to undermining the EPA’s 2009 endangerment finding, which concluded that greenhouse gases were indeed a threat to public health and justified regulation, is misguided: Pruitt may be an anti-science ideologue, but he isn’t stupid enough to think that the federal courts would sign off on an effort to gut the endangerment finding, which emanates from the Supreme Court’s 2007 Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency et al. ruling.

So who’s the real target of this effort? The Republican members of the House Climate Solutions Caucus, who by their involvement in this group are contradicting the denialist message that Pruitt and the Trump White House are trying to communicate on this issue. While the caucus has been criticized in some quarters as ineffective, Pruitt and his allies evidently don’t believe that’s the case.

If Pruitt can promote the idea that climate science remains unsettled, it will a) open the Republican members of the Caucus to unrelenting criticism from right-wing media entities and b) intimidate other House Republicans who are thinking about joining the Caucus. Pruitt, Donald Trump and opponents of climate action in the fossil-fuel industry are presumably aghast at the prospect of Republicans agreeing to work with Democrats on solutions to the problem of carbon pollution; if the House changes hands in 2018, yet some Republican members of the Caucus survive, these Republicans could play a key role in passing legislation that threatens elements of the industry (particularly the carbon-intensive coal industry).

As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has observed, over the course of the past seven years, the fossil-fuel industry has used its power to punish Republicans who dared to agree with Al Gore on the severity of the climate crisis:

Republicans are not idiots. On the Senate Armed Services Committee, they hear the military warn of climate change as a catalyst of conflict and a threat to low-lying military bases such as Norfolk and Diego Garcia. At their home-state universities, they see climate science in action. Those with coasts see sea levels rising and fisheries going awry; those with forests see pine beetles spreading and wildfires raging; those with farms see unprecedented drought and unprecedented cloudbursts. Republicans hear about climate science from national laboratories and national science and health organizations. They see overwhelming polling numbers showing young voters — even young Republican voters — in favor of climate action.

Republicans are trapped. The merciless might of the fossil-fuel industry’s new post-Citizens United political armaments is directed at them. After I gave a speech about the hoodlum politics of the fossil-fuel industry, a Republican friend approached me on the Senate floor and said: “What the hell are you complaining about? They’re spending more against us than they are against you!” I suspect[ed] they were at the time. The fossil-fuel industry knew that if it could bring a political party to heel, it could use that party to block progress.

A climate solution will require safe passage for Republicans through the political kill zone. Democrats can’t help with that.

By launching this attack on climate science, Pruitt is turning up the heat on every House Republican who recognizes that climate change is an urgent issue. The idea is to either pressure House Republicans who are members of the Climate Solutions Caucus to leave the group and pledge allegiance to the Trump-Pruitt vision on climate, or make these Republicans more vulnerable to right-wing primary challenges–challenges that could prove to be successful, as Republican voters radicalized by Pruitt’s denialist ideology rush to the polls on Primary Day to punish perceived RINOs and replace them with “real” Republicans. Pruitt is as diabolical as he is determined. The question is: will the Republican members of the Climate Solutions Caucus be just as determined in standing up to his sleaziness?

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D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.