A polluter-funded lobbyist as the head of the EPA?

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As President-elect Donald Trump fills out his cabinet, he has an opportunity to continue the long, bipartisan tradition of appointing qualified leaders to the Environmental Protection Agency who will protect and defend the public health of all Americans.

The outlook took a turn for the worse, however, when Trump met with Kathleen Hartnett White on Monday, Nov. 28, reportedly to discuss cabinet positions, including one as the head of the EPA.

Like Myron Ebell, who is leading Trump’s EPA transition team, White is a polluter-funded operative who has harshly attacked the agency.

America needs an EPA administrator who is guided by science, respects our environmental laws, and values protecting public health ahead of the lobbying agenda of special interests.

White, a registered lobbyist in Texas – where she works on behalf of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an advocacy group funded in large part by the energy industry – fails all three of these most fundamental qualifications.

She has undermined the work of health scientists on air pollution and climate change. She has taken positions at odds with the Supreme Court regarding the Clean Air Act.

And as a lobbyist for an organization funded by fossil fuel interests, she would most benefit her current patrons if Trump were to choose her as EPA administrator. 

Guided by science? No.

A former chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, White has repeatedly pushed ideas that are flatly contradicted by decades of scientific evidence and all major scientific organizations.

When Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Congress found time at the height of the Civil War to establish the National Academy of Sciences, they recognized that sound science is a cornerstone of good government. Unlike Lincoln, White has a skeptical view of the value of health and science studies.

“We’re not a democracy if science dictates what our rules are,” she recently told Rolling Stone.

In a 2012 report targeting EPA’s efforts to reduce the fine particle air pollution that exacerbates lung disease and asthma, she lamented that political appointees must weigh the views of what she called “mandarins brandishing their scientific credentials.” These are people others would call knowledgeable experts.

Two years later, in the publication The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, White attacked climate science as a biased indictment of carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

CO2 is “the gas that makes life possible on the earth and naturally fertilizes plant growth,” she wrote. “Whether emitted from the human use of fossil fuels or as a natural (and necessary) gas in the atmosphere surrounding the earth, carbon dioxide has none of the attributes of a pollutant.”

Of course it does, as a landmark 2016 report on the U.S. health impacts of carbon and climate change points out.

In the same publication, White argued that the planet had stopped warming. She was wrong again: 2014 and 2015 were the hottest years on record, and the top 10 hottest years have been since 1998. This year, meanwhile, is on track to be another record-breaking year.

If you want to understand the breadth of scientific voices who disagree with White and others who question climate change, NASA offers insights.  

White wrote that that science is tarnished because “solar activity plays almost no role in current climate modeling” when it does. Bloomberg, for example, has an interactive display on the different drivers of global warming.

She also frequently derides cleaner energy sources, calling renewables “a false hope that simply won’t work,” despite the fact that her home state of Texas is generating record-breaking amounts of wind power at low costs.

Respect for America’s environmental laws? No.

White has been a critic of the EPA’s efforts to reduce air pollution such as soot and toxic emissions of mercury. In a 2016 op-ed for The Hill newspaper she attacked the agency  for pursuing standards to reduce air pollution from fossil fuels.

She also lobbied in favor of legislation that would ban the EPA from creating standards to reduce emissions of CO2, methane and other damaging greenhouse gases. 

White has argued that greenhouse gas emissions are not a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. What she overlooks is that the Supreme Court affirmed in 2007 that greenhouse gas emissions are in fact pollutants as governed by the law.

The EPA administrator has a responsibility to uphold and implement the law.

Puts public health ahead of special interest lobbyists? No.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, the advocacy group where White works, is funded, among others, by Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and “American Coalition for Clean Coal.” But White has also lobbied Congress to pass specific legislation aimed at hamstringing the EPA.

The Dallas Morning News had this to say about her:

“She has been an apologist for polluters, consistently siding with business interests instead of protecting public health. Ms. White worked to set a low bar as she lobbied for lax ozone standards and pushed through an inadequate anti-pollution plan.”

That is not the kind of leader we need in charge of protecting and defending the air we breathe, the water we drink and the planet we will leave future generations.

Jeremy Symons

Jeremy Symons

Jeremy is EDF's Associate Vice President of Climate Political Affairs.

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Comments

We are entering a dark period when what is accepted as scientific truth is dictated not by science, but by the results of elections. Ideology has given the world Lysenko, and also the German physics. Actual science was suppressed in both cases. Are we in the USA, who have a tremendous stake in continuing to advance scientific knowledge, going to be a third case of ideology trumping science?

We have been living in just such a dark period. Now perhaps scientists will do some real research and post scientific results instead of being politically motivated for results that secure their grants.

My focus is more on climate, where the EPA and NASA are recognized by scientists and global leaders for doing “real research”, which is confirmed year after year as temperatures change. It is unbelievable that we would consider candidates to head the EPA that are diametrically opposed to this science.

We need local and national media to publicize Trumps plans and appointments for the environment. The EPA is a scientific agency and I know several dedicated scientists who work [there]. Trump's plans and appointments are far outside morality, and both the fact and the perception among our citizens is that money spent for the environment is money well spent.