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Senate Confirms ‘Climate Change Denier’ Scott Pruitt to Head EPA

Scott Pruitt (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The United States Senate has confirmed Scott Pruitt, whose skepticism about human-caused global warming and close ties to the fossil fuel industry have led critics to label him a “climate change denier,” to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Washington Post reports Pruitt was confirmed early Friday afternoon, despite strong opposition from Democratic lawmakers, environmentalists and hundreds of current and former EPA staffers. President Donald Trump’s selection of Pruitt to head the federal agency tasked with protecting the nation’s environment raised eyebrows and ire among critics who noted he sued or challenged the EPA 14 times when he was the attorney general of Oklahoma. Pruitt’s lawsuits were attempts to block Obama administration rules meant to protect the nation’s air and water and fossil fuel interests were involved in all but one of the 14 cases. In his LinkedIn profile, Pruitt describes himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

The Senate confirmed Pruitt by a vote of 52-46, with two Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, voting in favor of his appointment. One Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, voted against Pruitt.

Environmental organizations blasted Pruitt’s confirmation. “By appointing Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump is putting America at risk,” Greenpeace said in a statement. “Pruitt is a pure product of the oil and gas industry, installed in successive government posts to sell out his constituents at every turn. He will push this country far behind the rest of the world in the race for 21st century clean energy. With Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA, the people and the environment will be in the hands of a man who cares about neither.”

“As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt was an enthusiastic shill for the fracking industry, and a reckless obstruction to the Clean Power Plan,” Greenpeace added. “By putting fossil fuel toadies and climate deniers like Pruitt in positions of power, Trump is taking America further away from climate solutions and the global clean energy revolution and toward planetary disaster.”

“Scott Pruitt as administrator of the EPA likely means a full-scale assault on the protections that Americans have enjoyed for clean air, clean water and a healthy climate,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told the Washington Post. “For environmental groups, it means we’re in for the fight of our lives for the next four years.”

Even some conservatives expressed their disapproval of Pruitt’s nomination. “I don’t recall ever having seen an appointment of someone who is so disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does,” Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who served as EPA chief during George W. Bush’s first term, said of Pruitt in a recent interview with Grist. “It doesn’t put us in a good place.”

Other Republicans praised Pruitt. Patrick Morrissey, attorney general of West Virginia, a major coal-producing state, called him a “terrific man” and insisted that “some of the attacks that have been launched against him are just rubbish.”

“Scott Pruitt has been a leader and a partner on environmental issues for many years,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the former head of the Senate Environmental Committee and a fervent climate change denier, said. “Pruitt has fought back against unconstitutional and overzealous environmental regulations like Waters of the US and the Clean Power Plan; he has proven that being a good steward of the environment does not mean burdening tax payers and businesses with red tape.”

While Pruitt acknowledged during his Senate confirmation hearing that global warming is not, as President Trump has said, a “Chinese hoax” and admitted that human activist has at least some effect on the Earth’s climate, he stated that “the ability to measure and pursue the degree and the extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.” This assertion is commonly made by fossil fuel interests and the Republican politicians whose campaigns they fund, despite the near universal agreement among climate scientists that there is no debate that humans are causing and exacerbating climate change and strong evidence that Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil companies, knew about human-caused global warming and its potentially catastrophic effects as long as 40 years.

With each passing year come reports that it was the warmest ever recorded. The polar ice caps are melting at a record pace, fueling rising, warming oceans and forcing entire island nations to plan permanent emergency evacuations before they’re swallowed by surging seas. According to a major international study commissioned by 20 national governments, climate change kills 400,000 people per year — including 1,000 children a day — and costs the global economy $1.2 trillion annually. Climate refugees aren’t just a developing world problem — from the Louisiana bayous to the Alaskan tundra, a growing number of Americans are facing life-threatening consequences and heartbreaking choices due to climate change.

Yet to President Trump, who has vowed to pursue an “America First” energy policy featuring vastly increased domestic fossil fuel production, climate change is, at worst, an “expensive hoax” invented by China to hamstring the American economy or, at best, something that “nobody really knows” if it is real. And while Trump has said he’s “open-minded” on the subject, many of his key cabinet picks so far, as well as much of his transition team, are climate change skeptics or outright deniers, and the president-elect himself is reportedly heavily invested in fossil fuel interests, including the highly contentious Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

Trump’s likely science adviser recently described climate scientists as a “glassy-eyed cult,” while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is formerly CEO of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, whose scientists and executives knew about human-caused climate change and the potentially catastrophic consequences of the greenhouse effect as early as 1977 but spent billions of dollars over the following decades on lobbying, misinformation and climate denial science. The company is currently under investigation for allegedly lying to the public about climate change risks, and a federal lawsuit has been filed in connection with the cover-up. Trump’s pick for energy secretary, former Texas governor Rick Perry — who sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the owner of the DAPL, chief White House strategist Steve Bannon and interior secretary nominee Ryan Zinke are all climate change deniers.

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