Investigative Journalist Steve Horn discusses President Trump’s pick to head up the powerful White House Council: former Texas Commissioner on Environmental Quality, Kathleen Hartnett White, who has links to ExxonMobil, the Koch Brothers, and Big Coal
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Here’s California governor, Jerry Brown earlier this month. JERRY BROWN: This is truly one of the greatest if not the greatest tragedy that California’s ever faced. The devastation is just unbelievable, it’s a horror that no one could have imagined. SHARMINI PERIES: Southern California is sizzling in a record setting heat wave with temperatures soaring across Los Angeles and other cities this week. The opening game of the 2017 World Series on Tuesday was the hottest World Series on record with the first pitch being thrown at 103 degrees Fahrenheit. According to weather historian, Christopher Burke, this is likely the hottest single temperatures recorded anywhere in the United States so late into the year. The increased temperatures due to human caused climate change, have also been linked to the increase in drought and forest fires across California and the US. As if all this is not enough, in the midst of dealing with fallout from the worst hurricanes in the US history also linked to climate change, President Trump has named a prominent climate denier, Kathleen Hartnett-White to head up the White House Environmental Council. With us to discuss the appointment, we are joined by Steve Horn. He is an investigative reporter for DeSmogBlog. Good to have you back, Steve. STEVE HORN: Good to be back on, thanks for having me. SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Steve, so who is Hartnett-White and has it gone through in terms of a US Senate confirmation that is required for this appointment? STEVE HORN: The Senate Confirmation Hearings have not begun for Kathleen Hartnett-White. She has been named, nominated I guess you could say, by President Donald Trump to chair the Council on Environmental Quality of the White House. Basically what the CEQ does is oversees everything pertaining to climate change, science or environmental science, environmental science policy, environmental policy. The head of the CEQ is the inter-agency coordinator basically of a law known as the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA. NEPA is basically the bread and butter, sort of like the first amendment of journalism NEPA is to environmental law. It is something that arose in the 1970s alongside the rise of The Environmental Protection Agency and the foundation of The Environmental Protection Agency under President Nixon. Basically, NEPA ensures that when agencies make decisions on infrastructure projects, energy projects, that environmental concerns are taken into consideration and there’s tons of prongs to what that means. In Environmental Law the NEPA is sort of the staple that melds it all together. Hartnett-White, her background is basically in the state of Texas she served in a similar capacity at the state level in the Texas Council for Environmental Quality or TCEQ under then Governor, Republican Governor Rick Perry from 2003-2007. SHARMINI PERIES: Who now heads up the US Department of Energy, I must remind our viewers. STEVE HORN: That’s correct. Right, exactly, so that would be someone that she interacts with on a daily basis if she does go through the nomination process and gets confirmed by the Senate. After she served in that capacity, which she was a very controversial chair of that particular TCEQ during that time with some of the decisions she was making around coal fired power plants, downplaying science, and other things that can get into. After her tenure there she left and then became the head of something called The Fueling Freedom Project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is a member organization of the State Policy Network, which as I’ve said on the previous Real News Network, the State Policy Network was actually started as an offshoot of the American Legislative Exchange Council as its think tank branch to put up the ideas so that…was creating had some legitimacy in state houses. She headed up the Fueling Freedom Project there which itself was funded by the likes of Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, Chevron, the Heartland Institute, and others. She worked there for a while. She recently wrote a book with the same title, Fueling Freedom, exposing the mad around energy, which was a reaction to the Obama Administration and the policies that Obama was putting forward, which mostly weren’t very environmentally anyway. That aside, when she was there she wrote that book. Interestingly, she co-wrote that book with a guy by the name of Steven Moore. Steven Moore and her were both on the Economic Advisory team for the Trump campaign. Steven Moore, he’s with the Heritage Foundation, GOP Think Tank, very influential economic guy so he co-wrote that book with Hartnett-White. That book basically steeped climate change denial and very much cheer leads for things like fracking. Claims that fracking can create millions upon millions of jobs and generate, and I’m not making this up. She says it can generate 50 trillion dollars for the US economy. Both of those claims have been debunked from the book. This is the woman who is now being nominated to head the Council on Environmental Quality of the United States Government of the White House. SHARMINI PERIES: What’s her track record in terms of climate science? In your article I notice you wrote, not only a fracking promoter, she is in terms of, you’re referring to Hartnett-White here. She has called carbon dioxide in the atmosphere a major benefit for society. What does she mean by that and what is her connection to the fracking movement? STEVE HORN: Well, you know, I think it’d be more, rather than me summarize it I’ll just read that quote that I was describing in that part of the article. I’ll read part of it at least. She writes, “No matter how many times President Obama, EPA, and the media rant about dirty carbon pollution” there is no pollution about carbon itself. As the dictionary will tell you, carbon is the chemical basis of our life. Our flesh, blood, and bones are all built of carbon and CO2 is the gas of life on this planet, an essential nutrient for plant growth on which human life depends.” Basically, she’s saying the opposite of what essentially every scientist, almost every single climate scientist says, which is that carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas has been leading to temperature increases that are making climate change worse and creating the conditions that you described in the introduction, this record for the World Series and how hot it was in Los Angeles for that game. She’s someone who has come out and basically said, “No, this is actually really good for the planet and for humanity and it’s natural, it’s a good thing.” In terms of what’s her background in the energy world and on fracking, she’s really gotten more into that in the past several years when she was on the Texas Public Policy Foundation in terms of oil and gas and promoting that in her book and in public speaking. She’s spoken at several Hotline Institute events, for example. Before that, one of the most controversial things that she did at TCEQ was approved a coal fire car plant which came under quite a bit of opposition in the Dallas area. One more controversial thing she did at TCEQ when she was working for the Perry Administration in Texas is when the EPA under George W. Bush was studying the potential for radiation existing in water in an area under her jurisdiction for TCEQ, what she did was proceeded to downplay the science that was in there, lower the numbers, cut some fat from the top, and said it wasn’t as bad as what the EPA was finding. That was one of the most controversial things she did at TCEQ, which came out I think I believe as a result of some Freedom Information Acts that were done by reporters, that were released by one reporter in Texas. That gives a snapshot of who Kathleen Hartnett-White is and what she has been doing in the past decade or so. SHARMINI PERIES: Steve, this is not the first time that the head of the White House Environmental Council had strong ties to the fossil fuel industry. This happened under President George W. Bush, someone with similarly, with connections to the fossil fuel industry and so on. If appointed how much damage can be done and will it be worse than what we experienced under Bush? Bush had quite a few people from the fossil fuel industry in his administration, including Condoleezza Rice who was a lawyer for the industry who then became the Secretary of State. STEVE HORN: Right, well under, there is an interesting parallel to Hartnett-White at the Council on Environmental Quality for Bush, his name is Philip Cooney. He came from a background of being a lawyer and a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, left the API, came to the Bush Administration and strikingly similar and a striking parallel to Hartnett-White when federal scientists for the federal government were doing, different agencies were doing studies on climate change and human causation of climate change and carbon in the atmosphere, he took those studies and added down the numbers to make it seem not as bad as it was. Whistleblowers came out, showed the documents to the New York Times, Andy Revkin who’s now with InsideClimate, No, he’s with Propublica. Revkin published a story basically saying, “Okay, I have the…,” Basically, this guy was doing what I just described and then under fire he resigned from the Council on Environmental Quality and where did he go? He became a lobbyist and consultant with Exxon Mobile. From there who has been over the past several decades ones of the major funders of climate change denial alongside Coke Industries and others. There is definitely a parallel here in the way she’s, in the same camp as Philip Cooney. In other ways she’s even more of a wing nut than him in that he actually worked directly for a company as a lobbyist. She has been working for a think tank that’s funded by these entities but I’m not really sure if he was ever on the record saying some of the far fetched things that Hartnett-White has said openly and in books and in speeches at Heartland Institute events and things like that. SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Steve. I thank you so much for enlightening us in terms of this web of connections that’s going to lead our environmental and land policies in this country. Thank you for joining us. STEVE HORN: Thanks again for having me. SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.