The Trump Administration: Putting Big Polluters at the Helm

By Gene Karpinski, President of the League of Conservation Voters

It is no surprise that the fossil fuel industry establishment is giddy at the prospect of the incoming Trump administration. On the campaign trail, Trump called climate change a “hoax,” promised to gut the EPA, rip up the Paris Agreement and more.

It is often said that personnel is policy, and, with that in mind, President-elect Trump’s early personnel decisions are deeply troubling:

  • Incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus oversaw the creation of the most anti-environmental RNC platform in history, one that outright denies the scientific reality of man-made climate change. Priebus’ Republican Party pledged to get rid of the Clean Power Plan, drill on public lands, approve the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline, cancel the historic Paris Climate Agreement, eliminate subsidies for renewable energy, and remove federal protections for the environment.
  • By making Senior Strategist Steve Bannon first among equals in the White House, this administration is undermining the equality we value for all people. This former chairman of Breitbart News has encouraged and amplified views that are beyond offensive and categorically unacceptable, and both the NAACP and Anti-Defamation League have condemned his rise to leadership in the White House. Furthermore, he has insulted our country’s dedicated climate scientists, calling them “talentless low-lives” and “abject liars,” and deemed climate advocates “eco Nazis” and “scum-sucking slime balls.”
  • Myron Ebell, who has been called a “top climate skeptic,” is overseeing the EPA’s transition to the Trump administration, which means this non-believer will be setting the tone for the federal agency that is so critical to addressing climate change and protecting the environment. Ebell, who directed environmental and energy policy for an organization funded — in part — by the coal industry, has written extensive treatises questioning climate change and believes that the Clean Power Plan is illegal. If that were not enough, he also leads the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group focused on dispelling climate science, and deemed Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change “leftist drivel.”
  • In May, Trump brought on Representative Kevin Cramer (R-ND), an outspoken climate change skeptic, as his energy adviser. Wasting no time, Rep. Cramer urged Trump to get rid of the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Water Rule, and the newly-minted federal standards on methane emissions. He also suggested that Trump reduce environmental regulations and get rid of tax incentives for clean and renewable energy. Rep. Cramer has, after all, received nearly $650,000 from the oil and gas industries and is quite the advocate for their interests. Maybe that is why the oil and gas industry expected Trump to offer a “full-throated endorsement” of its dangerous activities.
  • Mike McKenna, a lobbyist who Trump has tapped to run his Department of Energy transition team, is the definition of Washington insider. As the president of MWR Strategies, his connections to the fossil fuel industry run deep. His clients have included Koch Companies Public Sector LLC, Southern Company Services, Dow Chemical Co. and Competitive Power Ventures Inc. McKenna is known as a climate science skeptic and consistent critic of environmental progress.
  • David Bernhardt is yet another energy lobbyist on Trump’s transition team. Before working for the nation’s second largest lobbying firm, Bernhardt served as George W. Bush’s solicitor general for the Department of Interior, where he was the third ranking official. In a memo, Bernhardt argued that specific greenhouse gas sources could not be linked to indirect effects on wildlife — an argument that intended to limit the Endangered Species Act’s ability to protect wildlife from the effects of climate change.
  • Sarah Palin is rumored as a possible pick for the Secretary of the Interior. In response to a position in the Trump Administration, Palin immediately welcomed the idea so that she could “Drill, baby, drill” and have the “opportunity to dismantle” our energy policy altogether. As a refresher, Palin is a climate change denier who believes there is a “political agenda” emanating from those who accept the science. In the past, she brushed off climate change as “junk science,” and compared those who warned about its threats to the early 20th century eugenics movement.
  • Meanwhile, the position of secretary of energy is reportedly Harold Hamm’s job to lose. Hamm, a longtime oil magnate, would be the first Secretary of Energy to be plucked directly from the fossil fuel industry since the post was created, bolstering Trump’s pro-drilling energy agenda. Speaking at the Republican National Convention, Hamm’s conception of climate change was one of dismissal and absurd conflation, ultimately suggesting climate action supports terrorism. He claimed: “Every time we can’t drill a well in America, terrorism is being funded. Every onerous regulation puts American lives at risk.”

UPDATE (11/18) — Trump continues to select troubling personnel for his administration. Here is the latest:

  • Trump has appointed Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) — his very first endorser in Congress — as attorney general, a position that will shape our country’s enforcement of laws against discrimination, including the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, and enforcement of our bedrock environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Sen. Sessions has an appalling 7 percent lifetime score on LCV’s National Environmental Scorecard and is a climate skeptic who has flippantly dismissed the harm of carbon pollution, saying carbon dioxide is “not really a pollutant; that’s plant food.” Prior to being elected to the Senate, Sen. Sessions failed to be confirmed as a U.S. District Court judge, largely because of testimony detailing his history of racially discriminatory comments, including deeming the NAACP and ACLU “un-American.”
  • As Trump fills his national security focused cabinet positions, he has deprioritized climate change in this realm by choosing Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KA) as CIA director. Rep. Pompeo has a terrible 7 percent lifetime score on LCV’s National Environmental Scorecard and on many occasions has criticized President Obama for viewing climate change as a national security threat. Furthermore, Rep. Pompeo has deep ties to the Koch brothers — in 2010 he received $80,000 from Koch Industries and its employees, more than any other candidate that year. And, he has made a habit of defending the Kochs. In 2012, Rep. Pompeo penned an op-ed entitled, “Stop harassing the Koch brothers.”

UPDATE (11/30) — Trump continues to speculate about troubling additions to his administration. Here’s the latest:

  • Scott Pruitt, who Trump is considering for EPA Administrator, has proven himself to be no more than a shill for the oil and gas industry in office and climate denier. As Oklahoma Attorney General, he’s done the industry’s bidding by suing the EPA on numerous occasions over commonsense safeguards to protect public health, like the Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Plan. Pruitt’s positions are literally copied and pasted from fossil fuel interests — he’s sent letters to the Federal officials that were almost entirely written by oil and gas lobbyists. Pruitt’s made it his career goal to protect fossil fuel industry profits — he has no place running the EPA.
  • Also in consideration to run Trump’s EPA is Kathleen Hartnett White, a climate denier who’s on the list of the “who’s who of Texas polluters.” She has taken radical positions, including calling to “end the designation of CO2 as a pollutant” — at odds with the vast majority of Americans, in addition to reality. Her ill-conceived policies would put the health of our families at risk and increase the deadly impact of climate change. It seems that as EPA Administrator, she would give polluters a free pass to regulate themselves — putting our clean air and water at risk.

UPDATE (12/1) — The latest speculation:

  • Jeff Holmstead has made a career out of trying to weaken our bedrock environmental protections to protect the profits of Big Polluters. While working for Bush, he spearheaded efforts to gut the Clean Air Act, and in private practice worked almost exclusively on behalf of fossil fuel interests — the very same ones he would be asked to regulate as EPA Administrator. Moreover, he testified to Congress against the Clean Power Plan, which provides significant health benefits to our families.

As this list shows, Trump is backpedaling on his promise to shake up Washington and do things differently. His early personnel choices are the same old industry hacks who are itching to give away our lands, air, water and wildlife to Big Polluters. And this is just the tip of the executive iceberg made up of over 4,000 positions Trump must fill in his new administration.

So, between the new administration and a Congress controlled by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, it looks increasingly likely that Big Polluters could have free rein — threatening not only the clean air and water our families depend on, but also the historic progress we have made in the fight against climate change. This is completely unacceptable, and we will fight tooth and nail at every step of the way.

And of course, we will need your help to fight back. Time and again when administrations have threatened the environmental progress we have made, the public has pushed back. Stand with us — take the pledge.