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Thursday, 20 April 2017 06:01

Calling the EPA Chief's Bluff on Climate Change Denial

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carbonemissions(Photo: Walter)

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The advocacy organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is attempting an innovative method of challenging the Trump administration's denial of climate change: It has filed a lawsuit against Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, demanding that he produce one shred of evidence that climate change is not primarily caused by humans. PEER is simultaneously pursuing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Pruitt to produce documents supporting his claims that global warming is "natural."

As quoted in a PEER news release announcing the actions:

"This lawsuit tells Mr. Pruitt to put or shut up – produce his evidence or stop spouting deceptive climate pseudo-science,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Adam Carlesco who filed suit after EPA failed to produce the requested materials within FOIA’s statutory deadlines. “His confirmation as EPA Administrator does not entitle Mr. Pruitt to ignore existing agency research and proclaim his own set of alternative facts....”

“Mr. Pruitt spoke on television in his official capacity and must do so in a manner that honestly represents EPA’s scientific findings,” added Carlesco, noting that any other EPA employee would be subject to disciplinary action for presenting personal views as official policy. “Even if Mr. Pruitt is presenting his personal opinion, he must specify that he is not speaking for the agency – a disclaimer he did not make.”

In fact, Reuters reports that the EPA's own ombudsman is investigating a falsehood recently spewed by Pruitt:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's scientific integrity watchdog is reviewing whether EPA chief Scott Pruitt violated the agency's policies when he said in a television interview he does not believe carbon dioxide is driving global climate change, according to an email seen by Reuters on Friday.

Lawyers for environmental group the Sierra Club had asked the EPA's Office of Inspector General to check whether Pruitt violated policy when he told a CNBC interviewer on March 9, "I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."

The EPA website says its scientific integrity policy requires EPA officials and staff to ensure the agency's work respects the findings of the broader scientific community.

An overwhelming majority of scientists think that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are a major contributor to global climate change, triggering sea level rise, droughts and more frequent violent storms.

Pruitt condemns the Paris Accord -- whose primary goal is to reduce carbon emissions globally -- saying it is bad for the United States. According to the administration-sympathetic FOX Business News,

President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt has a plan to roll back Obama era climate regulations which he says cost U.S. jobs--including withdrawal from the Paris climate change accord agreed in 2015 because it’s a bad business deal for the country.

“What we agreed to there, in the Paris accord, said that we had to take steps domestically to address CO2 emissions while China and India did not until the year 2030. So that cost us jobs,” Pruitt said in an interview on FOX Business Network's Varney & Co.

Pruitt said he questions the enforceability of the Paris agreement and finds the domestic approach towards pro-growth and pro-environment far more important to undoing the Obama administration’s policies, including a "regulatory assault" on the coal industry.

A scientist who works at the EPA, however, is dismayed by Pruitt's dissembling statements and his efforts to dismantle the agency. In a recent letter to The New York Times, Michael J. Kravitz wrote:

I am an environmental scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency, where I have enjoyed my work helping to improve our environment. But I am very saddened by what I see these days under an E.P.A. administrator whose role it is to dismantle the agency that he leads. I walk among my colleagues like a zombie in a bad dream; they also seem dazed.

Our standard weekly newsletter now contains articles mainly about flower shows and photo contests rather than articles about environmental protection. Our president comes to the E.P.A. to sign an executive order withdrawing the Clean Power Plan and other environmental policies, and the audience applauds.

I hope the nightmare ends soon.

EPA lawyers are going to have a great deal of difficulty in defending Pruitt, because he is lying. The EPA staff members tasked with processing the PEER FOIA request are going to face a similar challenge. Only sustained public resistance and advocacy can end the nightmare.