Fiends of the Earth
Some environmental planners spend their careers mapping out worst-case scenarios. As of January 20, they’ve got one in the White House.
There's a case to be made that the Trump Administration's rollback of environmental regulation won't be devastating; that market forces will prevail in the coming energy revolution; that the environment and public health will continue to be protected under the EPA and other agencies, and that state governments will do their part as well; and that a newly-elected President, self-branded as an astute businessman and dealmaker, will be open to the wisdom of ensuring a safe and healthy America.
But there are two fatal flaws with this argument: 1) You weren't born yesterday; and 2) You don't come to this page to be lied to.
The Trump Administration’s cabinet nominees and transition staff are a wall-to-wall collection of zealots, ideologues and latter-day Robber Barons. Their collective message, both stated and implied, is that the American government’s ability to protect the environment, already besieged and underfunded, is on the brink of oblivion.
“An open mind”
In early December, the cavalcade of aspirants and celebrities seeking an audience at Trump Tower included two high profile climate activists, former Vice President Al Gore and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Gore’s visit was brokered by the First Daughter-Elect, Ivanka Trump.
Upon exiting, Gore told the press gaggle that meeting with the Trumps was “extremely interesting.” Combined with Trump’s declaration to the New York Times that he had an “open mind” about climate change, the wilted spirits of environmentalists were revived. Kudos to Gore and DiCaprio for making their case, but now, let’s return to climate reality.
EPA:A day after Gore’s meeting, Trump announced the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. In his six years on the job in Oklahoma, Pruitt has enjoyed the support of keystone local industries, including fossil fuel and poultry.
He’s not let them down, helping to lead a battle—against the agency he’ll be in charge of if approved—on the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the United States definition (WOTUS). WOTUS and the Clean Water Act hold a particular irony, since the anticipated assaults on Section 404 of the Clean Water Act could make it easier to drain real, not metaphoric, swamps from coast to coast.
State:Next was ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who vaulted past the likes of Rudy Guiliani and Gen. David Petraeus for the Secretary of State nomination. Months away from Exxon’s mandatory 65 year-old retirement age, Tillerson was a man in search of a hobby. Tillerson has acknowledged that human-caused climate change is real, and has endorsed both a carbon tax and the Paris climate agreement. He’s an Exxon lifer, with 41 years in the employ of a corporation that’s buried its own science affirming climate change, and that still funds climate denial groups. But don’t think he’s inexperienced in government or foreign policy. Steve Coll’s must-read 2012 book “Private Empire” makes the compelling case that Exxon functions as a sovereign petro-state, leveraging diplomatic pressure in virtually every corner of the Earth.
All told, the CEO of Exxon looks to be the most progressive voice on climate change in the Trump Administration. The CEO of Exxon. As Elizabeth Kolbert, the Pulitzer-winning New Yorker writer observed, “You have to be pretty desperate – and at this point many people are – to take this as cause for optimism.”
DOE:Editorial cartoonists and late-night comics love Rick Perry, who, as its potential boss, probably now remembers that Department of Energy was one of those agencies he’d like to abolish.
The former Texas governor is actually a big fan of wind power, which he watched become a booming industry in his state. “You can be proud that Texas produces more energy from wind turbines than all but five countries,” he boasted upon leaving office in 2015.
He ruled over a bonanza in Texas fracking as well, and last year joined the Board of Directors of Energy Transfer Partners, the builders of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Perry has also said that climate science is a conspiracy to keep climate scientists as wealthy as we all know that they are. While DOE has been home to groundbreaking clean energy research, the bulk of the department’s mission and budget goes to maintaining the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, and cleaning up the immense messes left by their manufacture.
Since leaving the Texas State House, Perry has kept himself busy with an unsuccessful appearance on “Dancing With the Stars,” and by turning back a criminal indictment for abuse of power as Governor. Step lightly, Guv.
Interior: Ryan Zinke is a first-term Montana congressman who accepts that climate change is real. In the past, he’s called climate change a “threat multiplier,” but that Obama’s climate strategies would unleash “catastrophic” economic costs.
He earned a 3 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters in 2015. Unlike many on the Trump team, he’s voiced opposition for turning federal lands over to states.
An avid hunter, Zinke says he’d like to see more intensive use of federal lands by both sportsmen and oil and gas drillers, and is expected to favor opening controversial export terminals to ship Montana and Wyoming coal across the Pacific. He does have credentials as a “hook and bullet” conservationist, including support for the crucial Land and Water Conservation Fund. That’s earned him opposition from western anti-environment groups like the American Land Rights Association.
Justice: If approved, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions would serve as Attorney General. He’s said that efforts to bring clean energy to developing nations would be a veritable assault on the world’s poorest people.
He believes CO2 is a benign “plant food,” and famously launched a bizarre interrogation of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy earlier this year.
Enough about the energy/environment bosses. The secondary players may be considerably worse. Many of these items are taken from first-rate reporting by Lyndsey Gilpin of High Country News, and research by Jenny Rowland and Erin Auel at the Center for American Progress. The CAP researchers documented that nearly every key member of the transition teams for EPA, Interior, and DOE worked for Koch-funded organizations or office-holders.
Energy: Thomas Pyle, a former lobbyist for both Koch Industries and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, leads the transition team. He currently runs the Koch- and Exxon-funded Institute for Energy Research, a think tank that’s espoused a loosening of energy regulations and climate denial while denouncing wind energy.
A special moment came on December 14, when Energy transition team member Anthony Scaramucci appeared on CNN.
Anthony Scaramucci, a financial CEO and Fox Business News contributor, mixed it up with CNN anchor Chris Cuomo in mid-December. Cuomo repeatedly asked his guest about whether climate change is real. Citing Flat Earth Theory, Scaramucci took a deep dive into the manufacture of doubt.
Funny thing: Scaramucci was asked the same question six months ago and declared climate science to be “irrefutable.” For good measure, and possibly with his new boss in mind, he added back in June, “I find it tragic that so many people in this country believe global warming is some sort of elaborate hoax perpetuated by every credible scientist on the planet.”
Other Energy Department transition officials include two more former Koch Industries lobbyists, Mike McKenna and Mike Catanzaro. Catanzaro also served a stint as Communications Director for uber-denier Sen. James Inhofe. Team member William Greene is Deputy Legislative Director for the Safari Club International, which has lobbied for trophy-hunting exemptions from the Endangered Species Act.
Transitioner Daniel Simmons comes from two Koch-funded groups, IER and ALEC.
Somewhere on this DOE team, an unidentified someone has been “counseled.” Those were the announced consequences for distributing a questionnaire to DOE employees that, among other things, sought to identify anyone at the agency who had participated in climate-related meetings.
After an uproar, and a refusal by current DOE staff to comply, the Trump team disowned the questionnaire and its McCarthy Era overtones (In fairness to Senator Joe McCarthy, he was nowhere near as forgiving with the Russians).
NASA Transition head Chris Shank is the #2 staffer to House Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith, and is expected to steer the agency away from its vital Earth science and climate change research.
Commerce: The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is NASA’s government counterpart in climate research. Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross has made billions on rescuing and leveraging distressed companies, including coal, oil and gas firms. He’s acknowledged that climate change is a thing, offering suggestions to boost rail traffic and invest in ethanol as climate fixes.
Ross’s International Coal Group owned the Sago Mine in West Virginia. In January 2006, 13 miners were trapped in an explosion at the mine. Only one was rescued. In 2011, Ross sold ICG to Arch Coal for a reported $3.4 billion.
There’s little indication that NOAA’s climate science is nearly as much in the crosshairs as NASA’s. But, as one former Commerce official told me, “maybe they just haven’t gotten to it yet.”
EPA: Myron Ebell is a veteran political operative guiding EPA’s transition team. Ebell dodges the “denier” label via a few old climate-denial standards: In the past, he’s either said that climate change is “nothing to worry about,” or that it will be awesome when fewer people die from the cold in a warming world.
When hackers stole thousands of emails from climate scientists in 2009, Ebell described the climate science community as a “gang” that was “without honor.” Multiple investigations cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing.
Also on the team are attorneys David Schnare and Chris Horner of the American Tradition Institute. Schnare and Horner have specialized in filing lawsuits and sweeping Freedom of Information Act requests against prominent climate scientists. Bankruptcy filings by coal companies have revealed their funding for Schnare’s and Horner’s work.
National Security Team:K.T. McFarland, another Fox contributor, would become Deputy National Security Advisor. She’s denounced the Obama Administration for citing climate change as a global security issue.
Monica Crowley, still another appointee drained from Fox News, will handle the press for National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. She recently called global warming “a way of separating Americans and Westerners from God and organized religion, and it’s also a wealth redistribution scheme.”
CIA: Wichita-based Congressman Mike Pompeo counts on David and Charles Koch as his constituents. He’s been a business partner with Koch Industries through an oil supply firm, and has said that President Obama is “horribly wrong” about climate change posing a global security risk.
Interior: Doug Domenech is a former Virginia state official who blames the “regulatory war on coal” for tough times in Appalachia, and says that the miracle mineral can relieve energy poverty. But coal jobs have been on a steady swan dive since the Reagan Administration due to mechanization.
Other Interior transition staffers include attorney Daniel Jorjani, who works for the Koch’s Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. Authors Alyssa Katz describes this effort as having bankrolled anti-regulatory campaigns by the U.S. Chamber and others with $255 million in 2012 alone.
Congressional staffer Harlan Watson served as chief climate negotiator under President George W. Bush. A leaked memo from ExxonMobil, written shortly after Bush’s inauguration, sang Watson’s praises and recommended him for a role in climate policy.
And a few more: As Transportation Secretary-designate, Elaine Chao would lead on major infrastructure projects, including the Obama Administration’s plans to ramp up electric vehicle charging stations nationwide. Chao resigned her seat on the Bloomberg Philanthropies Board in 2015 when the charity decided to increase its support of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign. She is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – a helpful reminder that sometimes, guilt by association means that you’re guilty.
Linda McMahon, nominee for the Small Business Administration, has cited “conflicting science on both sides of this issue.” The former World Wrestling Entertainment executive didn’t go so far as to declare climate science is fake and has a predetermined outcome.
Senior Counselor Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News site regularly touts climate denial. Bannon accused the Pope of “hysteria” for embracing climate action. Domestic transition head Ken Blackwell believes that climate models are rigged, and the science is a “hoax.” HUD nominee Ben Carson has said there’s “no overwhelming science” on climate change. Chief of Staff Reince Preibus said “melting icebergs aren’t beheading Christians in the Middle East.” UN Ambassador nominee Nikki Haley fought the Clean Power Plan as South Carolina Governor, even as her state endured lethal, record-smashing downpours. And Vice President-Elect Mike Pence has at times said climate change is real, but that government policy can’t impact it. But he’s also called it a “myth.”
Game. Set. Match.