In the Trump Administration, the Polluters Are in Control

In 2017, 13 federal agencies expressed high confidence that “more than 92 percent of the observed rise in global average temperatures since 1950 is the direct result of human activity.” But the Trump administration wants to debunk its own findings. First, Trump nominated Kathleen Hartnett White, a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), to lead the Council on Environmental Quality.  As you might imagine, the TPPF is basically a front for utility companies and the oil and gas industry.

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, told the Texas Observer, “TPPF‘s donors are a Who’s Who of Texas polluters, giant utilities and big insurance companies. TPPF is thinking the way its donors want it to think.”

Unfortunately for the polluters, Kathleen Hartnett White gave one of the most pathetic performances in history during her confirmation hearings. It was so bad that her nomination had to be pulled.

Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he found Ms. White’s views so unsettling that he mounted a campaign to block her confirmation. Mr. Carper said he visited the offices of 16 Republican senators to voice his concerns, bringing with him an iPad in order to play a three-minute video that his staff had compiled of Ms. White struggling to respond to questions posed by both Republicans and Democrats at her hearing.

In an interview last week, Mr. Carper said he believed his effort had played a part in ending Ms. White’s nomination.

Her climate change skepticism wasn’t necessarily the problem. Her complete ignorance of environmental science was just too much to overlook. That’s why the Trump administration is tossing us another climate skeptic.

The Trump administration is considering a North Carolina regulator who questions mainstream climate science to be the next White House environmental adviser, just weeks after withdrawing a previous nominee who held similar views.

Donald van der Vaart, the former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, said in a telephone interview that he had been in discussions with the White House for several positions in recent months, most recently to possibly lead the Council on Environmental Quality, which is responsible for coordinating federal environmental policy.

In the interview, Mr. van der Vaart expressed skepticism about the extent to which humans have contributed to climate change, a view that puts him at odds with scientific findings and echoes the views of other senior administration officials. He also expressed a willingness to challenge the legal foundation of federal climate-change policy, the 2009 Environmental Protection Agency decision known as the “endangerment finding,” which declares that greenhouse gases are harmful to human health and must be regulated.

“I’m not going to say ‘no,’” Mr. van der Vaart said when asked if he would support repealing the endangerment finding.

Now, it’s clear that getting a climate skeptic confirmed to this position is a priority for the Trump administration, regardless of what 13 agencies of the government have concluded with “high confidence.” But the goal this time is to find someone who won’t fall flat on their face in front of the Senate. In Mr. van der Vaart, the polluters think they’ve cleared that bar.

Some activists who deny established climate-change science, like Myron Ebell at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank, support Mr. van der Vaart’s potential nomination, saying he combines more than 25 years of regulatory experience with a unique background as both a lawyer and chemical engineer. In addition, Mr. Ebell said, Mr. van der Vaart’s climate views are closely aligned with those of the previous nominee, Kathleen Hartnett White, who was withdrawn from consideration this month.

“Having lost Kathleen, which saddens me, I think Donald van der Vaart is a good alternative. He brings many of the same strengths,” Mr. Ebell said. And, he noted, “He doesn’t have a long and open trail of speeches and comments,” like Ms. White does, in which opponents can look for ammunition.

The polluters, using manufactured climate skeptics, captured the GOP as soon as John McCain lost his bid for the presidency. A lot of people who aren’t Republicans put their trust in Donald Trump precisely because he wasn’t in lockstep with conservative positions on everything. On climate, though, there has been absolutely no daylight. For whatever reason, Trump is fully on board with pushing climate skepticism. If Donald van der Vaart isn’t confirmed, the next nominee will be no different. The polluters can feel confident that Trump will feed their nominees into the system until one can make it through the process and win confirmation.

And this is across the board: at the EPA, at the Energy Department, and even in the courts, the polluters are ascendant and can justifiably expect to get everything they want from this administration.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.