Trump’s pick to lead environmental office really loves fossil fuels
On Thursday, President Donald Trump nominated Kathleen Hartnett White to be the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). This relatively little-known office helps coordinate environmental policymaking in the Executive Branch, and works with agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency to vet new rules and regulations.
Even in an administration loaded with climate deniers, Hartnett White, if confirmed, would stand out for her extreme views on climate science. She has a track record of expressing an enthusiasm for burning more fossil fuels, like oil, coal, and natural gas, compared to renewable energy sources.
Hartnett White currently directs the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which received funding from Koch Industries, a major donor to climate denial groups. She also is a former chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
In an op-ed in June of last year, for example, she wrote that carbon dioxide, which is the longest-lasting greenhouse gas, is actually beneficial for the environment.
“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, and carbon is certainly not a poison,” Hartnett White wrote.
“… This falsely maligned natural gas is better known as the ‘gas of life’ because it is a necessary nutrient for plant growth — the food base of life on the planet Earth,” she wrote.
Her views, as expressed in that op-ed, even put her out of step with most fossil fuel companies. Even Exxon’s leadership acknowledges the existence of human-caused climate change, and backs particular efforts — namely a carbon tax — to address the issue.
Climate scientists have warned for decades that emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases, such as methane, from burning fossil fuels are causing the Earth’s global average temperature to increase. This warming is triggering large-scale changes to our planet, from melting polar ice sheets to increasingly common and severe extreme weather events.
Hartnett White, however, denies that the science tying the burning of fossil fuels to global warming, and she favors creating a new panel to take a fresh look at the evidence.
Her views jibe well with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who is planning to hold a series of televised climate science debates sometime this winter.
Hartnett White has been a particular critic of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which issues comprehensive climate science assessments about every 7 years, which are used to inform policymakers worldwide.
Hartnett White told the Washington Post in 2016 that she is unconvinced that acting on climate change is an urgent task.
“I am not at all persuaded by the IPCC science that we are standing on some precipice,” Hartnett-White said. “We’re not standing on a cliff from which we are about to fall off.”
In fact, many climate scientists have issued increasingly dire warnings that if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced significantly within the next decade, the world will be locked into such a large amount of warming that world economies will take a large hit, many species will go extinct, and coastal megacities will be swallowed by rising seas.
Christine Goldfuss, who led the CEQ under former president Barack Obama, said Hartnett White espouses “classic [fossil fuel] industry talking points.
“This is not a nomination that is fit for the position that she would be filling. She is just so extreme in her denial of science and what we know to be true,” Goldfuss said in an interview. “She is not capable of doing the job”
The job of the CEQ director, as spelled out by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, is to establish environmental policy goals for the nation and to develop regulations and guidance for how agencies should conduct their environmental review processes.
The CEQ staff is supposed to meet with the public to hear their concerns about environmental issues, and recommend to the president how to better protect the air, water, and public lands.
“A person who denies, ignores the greatest environmental danger we face — it’s shocking — it’s shocking this would be who he’d put in there,” Goldfuss said about Hartnett White’s nomination, which is subject to Senate approval.
Goldfuss thinks that under Trump, the CEQ is being turned into a fast-track permitting agency, through which special interests are having the government to sign off on their desired energy projects. Goldfuss, along with three other former CEQ leaders, recently wrote to Trump, warning of the consequences that could result from rushed, inadequate environmental reviews of everything from oil pipelines to new bridges.
She said Hartnett White would complete the “trifecta” of climate deniers at key environmental agencies, including Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.