DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn says Trump’s victory represents the political triumph of climate science skepticism and its powerful influence in the coming administration
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown. With new key appointments to his upcoming Cabinet, President-elect Donald Trump appears to be moving fossil fuel interests front and center in his upcoming administration. Seen here with a backdrop of Virginian miners, Trump demonstrates his support for fossil fuels and the coal industry during his presidential campaign. DONALD TRUMP: We’re gonna put the miners back to work. We’re gonna put the miners back to work. We’re gonna get those mines open. Oh… coal country! KIM BROWN: So, after the election, Trump said that he would keep a “open mind on the issue of climate change.” But on Sunday, in an interview on Fox News Sunday, Donald Trump told Chris Wallace, “Nobody really knows if climate change is real.” With us to discuss what these new appointments mean for the United States energy and climate policy, we’re joined by Steve Horn. Steve is a Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog and he’s also a freelance investigative journalist whose work is featured in The Guardian, The Nation and Truthout. He joins us today from Indianapolis. Steve, thank you so much for being here. STEVE HORN: Good to be back. Thanks for having me. KIM BROWN: Steve, there’s a lot to unpack here. But, first, talk to us about Scott Pruitt — who he is and what does it mean for him to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency? STEVE HORN: Well, a good place to start with Scott Pruitt is that he basically has the same exact climate change position as Donald Trump basically put forward in his Fox News interview, and that is that there’s still a lot to be learned about climate change and whether or not humans caused it, therefore it’s not too much to worry about and, you know, the climate scientists, what they say is probably exaggerated and so everything is okay. We should just move forward with producing as much fossil fuel as possible in the United States and around the world. So, Scott Pruitt is sort of symbolic of who Donald Trump has surrounded himself with, both on the campaign trail for his climate and energy team and now, after being elected President, who he has surrounded himself with for his transition team. And so, it’s been people… you know, you have to look at who helped pick Scott Pruitt, and that is people like Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who is a well-known climate change denier. CEI … was funded by Koch Industries; Donors Trust, which is just a dark money trust fund that is funded by the likes of, again, Koch Industries. Used to be funded by Exxon Mobil, etcetera. So, Myron Ebell has been the head of the EPA transition team, picking… was instrumental in picking Scott Pruitt. Scott Pruitt himself, someone who sued the EPA on behalf of his state — he’s an Attorney General — in the Obama-era(?) EPA for its coal regulations and for its methane regulations. So he’s someone who went unopposed in 2014 running for Attorney General, still ended up raising over $300,000 from the energy industry, even though he didn’t have an opponent. So, I think his allegiances are clear: he considered himself someone who worked for the oil and gas industry as the Attorney General of Oklahoma. That’s sort of a central hub of fracking and of oil and gas in the United States, historically, and at present. So that’s sort of what we’re looking at with Scott Pruitt. Someone who has no background in science, someone who has no background in working for any environmental protection agency at all, someone who used to be a state level Senator in Oklahoma, then became Attorney General, and now he is the Head of EPA of the United States if he gets it through by Congress. KIM BROWN: Yeah, his selection definitely makes me wonder how can someone be tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency if they themselves are not interested in actually protecting the environment. So, Steve, talk to us about what the vetting process is for this pick because, as you wrote about in your article, “The Billionaire Energy Investor Who Vetted Trump’s EPA Pick?”, has a long list of EPA violations. So how did we get Scott Pruitt to head the agency designated to protect the environment, when that’s not really seemingly his thing? STEVE HORN: Right. So, I mentioned Myron Ebell, and that’s obviously crucial, but I think that the part of the story that’s been lost, that has really only been reported on by the business press is that in actuality, the 26th richest man on the planet and a long-time business partner of Donald Trump, Carl Icahn, who helped him when he went bankrupt at the Trump Taj Mahal Hotel in Atlantic City. Carl Icahn was actually doing interviews of all of the finalists for the EPA position. That was reported on by CNBC, that was reported on by The Wall Street Journal. CNBC actually reported that he did four interviews with Scott Pruitt and interviewed all of the finalists, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. And, as you said, he has business ties nationally, looking at what his investments are in for Icahn Enterprises, and entities such as Cheniere, which is a gas exporting company, has terminals on the Gulf Coast, Sabine Pass LNG, for example, which was approved by the Obama Administration in 2012. He formerly… or he still owns a small stake in Transocean, which was partially responsible for the BP oil spill back in 2010. And, importantly, in this case, actually has business stakes in Oklahoma, going back to Pruitt connection, owns another company through the Icahn Enterprises holding company known as CVR Energy, which also has a subsidiary called CVR Refining. And through that they own a big refinery in Oklahoma which does refining of oil and gas products including tar sands from Alberta, including tar sands that flow through the original Keystone I Pipeline that was approved by the Bush Administration in 2008. So, and looking at that actual refinery in Oklahoma, it has been tagged with several EPA violations. If you look at EPA data as very high levels of carbon emissions, the equivalent of one quarter of the year of an average coal-fired power plant. And then looking at its methane emissions, also very high levels, plus several other carcinogens. And so, also through another company that he still owns a stake in — 4.5%, Chesapeake Energy, which is also based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. That’s another company that was actually tagged with one of the highest amounts… looking at the monetary level, for an EPA violation several years ago, for water contamination in West Virginia, for one of Chesapeake Energy’s subsidiaries, Chesapeake-Appalachia. So, this is a guy who was doing the actual interview of Scott Pruitt, who himself has been tagged with lots of EPA violations, and said when Pruitt was hired, went on Bloomberg, and said, sort of in this ironic twist, said the hiring of Pruitt is a “breath of fresh air.” So looking very ironic given what goes on at his refineries and at his various holdings throughout the United States. So that’s the guy who interviewed the head of the EPA. He’s a long-time Trump business partner and one of the richest men on the planet. KIM BROWN: I’m sure it was the most fabulous, most amazing vetting ever.