Scott Pruitt Acknowledges Climate Change While Denying Scientific Consensus of Human Responsibility
There’s a last-ditch effort by the energy industry to halt a transition from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and renewables, and it’s reflected in Trump’s picks to head the EPA and Department of Energy, says Wenonah Hauter
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.
Government agencies NASA and NOAA held a joint press conference on Wednesday morning to confirm that 2016 was the hottest year on record, continuing a decades-long warming trend. Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies found that the earth’s average surface temperature has risen about two degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 1.1 degree Celsius, since the late 19th century, which is largely the result of human emissions into the atmosphere.
At the same moment, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was testifying before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for the position to be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency in the incoming Trump Administration.
Pruitt has come under fire from environmentalists and some Democrats for ties to the fossil fuel industry and for spearheading the legal case against the Clean Power Plan, which is a cornerstone of the US commitment to the Paris Agreement to curb climate change.
With us to discuss this, Pruitt’s hearing and his nomination, we are joined by Wenonah Hauter, she is the author of “Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment”. She’s also the founder and executive director of Food and Water Watch, which is the first national advocacy organization to call for a ban on fracking. Wenonah, you’re joining us from Washington, D.C. Thanks for being here.
WENONAH HAUTER: So glad to be here.
KIM BROWN: I know you were present on Capitol Hill for the confirmation hearings of Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be head of the E.P.A..
But before we get started, Wenonah, let’s take a look at Scott Pruitt’s opening statement.
SCOTT PRUITT: Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.
KIM BROWN: He surprised a few people by acknowledging climate change, which is contrary to President-elect Trump. Wenonah, what do you make of this about-face from Scott Pruitt, as it were?
WENONAH HAUTER: Well, I think he was very defiant. He very carefully chose his words about climate change to say that, “Yes, there could be some relationship to human activities but there needed to be a vigorous debate.”
KIM BROWN: Some were saying that this was the new strategy of the Republicans with ties to the fossil fuel industry to acknowledge that climate change is happening, but blur the connection to human activity such as the emissions of greenhouse gases. Is there really any doubt from a scientific perspective of this link?
WENONAH HAUTER: No, there’s no doubt. In fact, 97% of scientists who have written on this subject and written for peer-reviewed publications say that climate change is human-induced.
The announcement today that 2016 was yet again the hottest year on record, and this is the third consecutive year that’s been the hottest year on record, with the hottest years on record since the change of the century. I mean, we have so many records that have been set.
So, we’re having a real crisis and the fact that the person who may be the administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency does not recognize this and has not made a commitment to address climate change is really horrific.
KIM BROWN: One of the senators Pruitt was being grilled by, as it were, or being questioned by, was Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He is from Rhode Island and one of the questions that he asked of Scott Pruitt about his fundraising from the fossil fuel lobby. Let’s take a look at that clip.
SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: You closed your super PAC, Liberty 2.0, but that took fossil fuel contributions as well, correct?
SCOTT PRUITT: That particular entity has been closed, yes.
SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: Now you helped to raise money for the Republican Attorney General’s Association while you were a member of its executive committee. They received $530,000 from Koch Industries, $350,000 from Murray Energy, $160,000 from ExxonMobil and $125,000 from Devon Energy, the company whose letter you transposed onto your letterhead and sent as an Oklahoma Attorney General document.
Did you solicit in your role at the Republican Attorney General’s Association any of that funding?
SCOTT PRUITT: I’m unable to confirm if they gave those numbers, Senator, those amounts that you…
KIM BROWN: Wenonah, talk about his strong link between – the strong link, rather – between Pruitt and these large energy companies. What kind of relationship is there?
WENONAH HAUTER: Well, Scott Pruitt has been their chief advocate. When he was the Attorney General of Oklahoma, he organized this campaign called the Rule of Law Defense Fund. It was funded by energy companies and it consisted of a number of right-wing Attorney Generals coming together as a single law firm and working with corporate attorneys to challenge the E.P.A. and other federal agencies. There were any number of lawsuits all focused on trying to prevent E.P.A. and the federal government, under the Obama Administration, from doing its job.
KIM BROWN: There was a tweet, Wenonah, from Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, I believe. This is what Senator Markey said, “When I asked #pollutingpruitt whether he would recuse himself from lawsuits he brought against the E.P.A., he balked.”
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley also tweeted about how Scott Pruitt tried to sue the State of Maryland for their efforts to try to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. It seems as if the congressional members and other elected officials, current and former, have genuine opinions about Scott Pruitt.
If you could talk about his role – Pruitt’s, that is – with the legal case against the Clean Power Plan and what it may mean for the plan if Pruitt is indeed tapped to be head of the E.P.A.
WENONAH HAUTER: Yes, well, it’s very easy for the Democratic senators to find things to grill Pruitt on because he’s done so many terrible things as the Attorney General of Oklahoma.
He was one of the instigators of a lawsuit, along with Texas, to try to get the Supreme Court to overrule their original finding that the E.P.A. could actually regulate carbon.
KIM BROWN: What do you make of the lineup of Rex Tillerson, ex-CEO of Exxon, as Secretary of State; Scott Pruitt as head of the E.P.A.; and Rick Perry, who is having his hearing to be Secretary of the Energy Department on Thursday.
What kind of trio is this, Wenonah, for the environment and for the country at large?
WENONAH HAUTER: Well, I think what’s happened is that the energy industry sees that there is determined grassroots to make our elected leaders actually do something about climate change. So, rather than using the money of industry to try to influence regulators, they are actually going to go into the government and become the regulators.
And I think that this is a last-ditch effort of the fossil fuel industry to really make sure that we do not transition into energy efficiency and into renewable energy.
It’s very dangerous, in fact, it’s a real crisis because we only have about 15 years, maybe less than that, to address the worst of climate change so that we don’t reach that tipping point where climate chaos is irreversible.
So, this is completely irresponsible and we’re going to have to work very hard at the state and local level on these issues around energy efficiency, renewable energy, and of course, all of the other dreadful things that the Trump Administration intends to force down our throats.
KIM BROWN: I didn’t mean to omit Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke who had his hearing, I believe, to be head of the Department of Interior so we can include him in the Tillerson, Pruitt and Rick Perry ensemble there.
But talk about the protests that were happening on Capitol Hill at the Pruitt confirmation hearings, Wenonah. I know you were there. You were outside, you were inside. Tell us about the tone, the feeling and what were people trying to make sure that this Senate Committee understood about Scott Pruitt?
WENONAH HAUTER: Well, there was a rally on the outside and lots and lots of young people. Many of us went inside with health masks that said “Stop Pruitt” and we went up to the 4th floor where the hearing was going on.
Of course, no member of the public – or very few, maybe a handful of members of the public – actually got into the hearing. But the sides of the hallway in this very long hallway were lined with protesters; sometimes two or three deep with these masks on.
Several people got arrested who were trying to go into the hearing. There was pandemonium and I know I came back to the office and watched the hearing on my computer and saw that several times the noise in the hallway actually interrupted the hearing that was going on. So, I know that people’s voices were heard.
KIM BROWN: We’ve been speaking with Wenonah Hauter. She is the founder and executive director of Food and Water Watch, which is the first national advocacy organization to call for a ban on fracking. She’s also author of the book, “Frackopoly”.
Wenonah, thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate it.
WENONAH HAUTER: Thanks so much for having me.
KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.