There’s no way to hedge this, no charitable way to read it, no softer way to frame it: Scott Pruitt, the 14th administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a climate denier. Pruitt told CNBC this week that he didn’t agree with the fact that carbon dioxide is warming our planet. The New York Times reports:
Asked his views on the role of carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping gas produced by burning fossil fuels, in increasing global warming, Mr. Pruitt said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
“But we don’t know that yet,” he added. “We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”
Mr. Pruitt’s statement contradicts decades of research and analysis by international scientific institutions and federal agencies, including the E.P.A. His remarks on Thursday, which were more categorical than similar testimony before the Senate, may also put him in conflict with laws and regulations that the E.P.A. is charged with enforcing.
Our understanding of climate change has come a long way over the past couple of decades, and as the science has evolved, the political battle lines on either side of the issue have shifted accordingly. We’ll spare you the historical overview and instead look at where we are today: climate science overall remains far from “settled,” whatever greens might tell you, but we do understand some overarching facts. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane work to trap more of the sun’s radiation in our atmosphere, and in so doing lead to rising surface temperatures. Industrialized society is emitting these GHGs in record quantities. It’s exceedingly clear, then, that humanity is culpable for our changing climate, even though we’re still struggling to accurately predict just what these changes are going to bring.
Over time, deniers of climate change have been forced to acknowledge the above, and conservative opposition on this issue has shifted from disputing these macro truths towards attacking the (demonstrably false) environmentalist claim that the science is settled on what the specific outcomes of it all might be. Pruitt’s comments, then, are something of a departure from what we’ve come to expect, even from someone critical of environmental regulations. This is especially striking coming from the head of America’s EPA, and it’s in line with how Pruitt has approached staffing the agency he now leads.
This is a self defeating position for Pruitt to take, and it’s unfortunate because it will obscure some important points he’s been trying to make in his first weeks as EPA administrator. He made his career campaigning against the EPA, advocating for the right of states to craft their own environmental regulations, rather than being handed rules from the federal government. That’s a debate worth having, just as it’s worth continuing to review and analyze our climate models and the policies we’ve based on them. Just as President Trump could serve to make clean energy advocates smarter, so too could Pruitt foster more critical thinking about America’s climate policies.
But he won’t be able to move the U.S. forward on any of these issues by denying the basics, on which a scientific consensus exists. The sooner Republicans move past this outdated, dishonest repudiation of anthropogenic climate change, the sooner they can fight for smarter, more measured climate policies. As of right now, there’s no indication that Scott Pruitt’s EPA will help them get there—and that’s a shame for the country, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on.