Back to Basics: Pruitt’s Promises Make Everyone Angry
April 14: This week in science attacks — and resistance
Just when we thought conservatives were happy with EPA head Scott Pruitt gutting his own agency, more extreme conservatives criticize him for not doing enough. Yes, Pruitt and the administration can cut funding for climate programs, clean energy innovation and even basic science. But some say he is avoiding the heart of the matter, the one policy underpinning all of Obama era climate regulations: the endangerment finding.
This rule comes from a 2009 legal battle which found that carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare because they drive global warming. The EPA can flex its regulatory muscles and start limiting emissions from power plants and vehicles as an arm of the executive branch based on this conclusion. The endangerment finding is why Trump’s executive orders rolling back the Clean Power Plan and many other climate policies are being challenged in court. But it turns out, it won’t be as easy to erase Obama’s climate legacy as Trump would like. So it makes sense that conservatives want the endangerment finding gone. As Hermione reminds us, it’s hard to take control of Hogwarts and threaten Harry with Dumbledore still around.
Up to this point, Pruitt has refused to go after the endangerment finding, and he is right to avoid the challenge. Although he has a long history of suing the agency he is now heading, attacking a finding backed by a 2007 Supreme Court decision would be like trying to lasso the moon. Pruitt could try, but he would be doomed to failure.
Thankfully and unsurprisingly, Trump’s policies on climate change are unpopular. Very unpopular. More than 60 percent of Americans believe Trump should not remove regulations aimed at curbing climate change, and another shows Trump’s actions on climate are the least popular of his agenda. They’re even more disliked than building a border wall with Mexico and repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. (And we know how well the latter went over…)
Despite all of this, Pruitt continues to gut the EPA. On Thursday, he announced his “Back to Basics” agenda for the EPA at a Pennsylvanian coal mine. This same mine was recently forced to pay $3 million in fines for violating the Clean Water Act and polluting tributaries of the Ohio River. If Pruitt wanted to paint a clear picture of what is at stake when EPA safeguards are removed, he sure picked the right mine.
The EPA is not the only federal agency directly supporting fossil fuel interests under the new administration. Earlier this week, leaked documents from the Bureau of Land Management revealed two priorities: fossil fuels and a border wall. The new “priority work” would streamline fossil fuel leasing and permitting, as well as remove barriers for pipeline and mining projects.
And on top of all that, even some of our trusted allies are letting us down this week. For some reason, the New York Times hired Bret Stephens, a climate denier and and deputy editor for the well-known climate-denying Wall Street Journal, as a columnist. In a particularly heinous November 2015 piece, he likened global warming to hunger in America, institutionalized racism and campus sexual assault — all things he says are “imaginary enemies.”
For all the advertisements claiming to be a news organization speaking the truth, this hiring decision is sloppy at best and dangerous at worst. Climate denial doesn’t just start in Washington, but also sometimes in the pages of the nation’s most influential newspapers.
If you’re harboring any frustrations about attacks on science and climate policy, this is a good week to do something about it. Why? Congress is on recess until April 23rd, and that means town halls.
During the last congressional recess, Americans came out in droves to tell their representatives how they really felt, and that may have just saved the Affordable Care Act. This recess is already off to a great start. From Michigan, to Arizona, to Texas, representatives are having to face crowds angry about many things, and climate change is among the top issues. So next week, find your representatives and tell them why you support climate action. There is plenty to ask them about.
Garrett Blad writes for I Heart Climate Scientists and other publications on climate change, policy and social change. You can follow him @gblad. Giggles are free.