Environmental groups across the United States have been rallying to oppose Senate confirmation of Donald Trump’s nominees for several key cabinet positions, turning up the heat on the new administration before the casino magnate and reality TV star steps forward to be inaugurated later today.
“Across the country — over television airwaves, in local congressional offices, and even in the halls of Congress — environmental groups have been actively pressuring lawmakers on both sides of the aisle,” ThinkProgress reports, with nominees Rex Tillerson (secretary of state), Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency administrator), Rick Perry (energy secretary), Jeff Sessions (attorney general), and Ryan Zinke (interior secretary) receiving primary attention.
“Donald Trump is entering office as the least popular president-elect in modern history, so his ability to wield power will depend on all of us and, as President Obama put it, how we choose to participate from day one,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune told ThinkProgress. “That’s why it’s critically important to keep building the movement we need to resist Trump from the start, working across movements, organizing, and raising our voices to stop these dangerous cabinet nominees now, while growing stronger for the fights ahead.”
Other organizations cited in the ThinkProgress post include Greenpeace, the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, 350.org, and NextGen Climate, with EDF and LCV breaking with long-standing practice to take a harder-edged stand against specific nominations.
“Trump’s most unsettling action to date… has been his nomination for the top job at the EPA,” the Defense Fund wrote. “Since becoming Oklahoma’s top lawyer in 2011, Pruitt has repeatedly sued the agency to block important public health standards for mercury, ozone and climate pollution.”
At Tillerson’s disastrous hearing last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, four protesters interrupted the former ExxonMobil CEO’s opening statement with shouted objections, ThinkProgress reports.
“Senators, be brave!” yelled 68-year-old Joan Flynn, from the Rockaways neighbourhood in Queens, New York. “Protect my community! Protect America! Rex Tillerson, I reject you! I reject you! My home was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy!”
Ahead of this week’s confirmation hearings, InsideClimate News reported that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination as EPA administrator would face tough scrutiny over his cozy relationship with fossil companies in his state.
“In five years as chief law enforcer for his energy-rich state, Pruitt has transformed his office into a regiment in the war against federal regulation of industry,” ICN writes. “He has been a party to at least 14 lawsuits challenging the EPA’s authority to impose rules on oil and gas production, vehicles, and coal-fired electricity, helping to lead the campaign against President Barack Obama’s signature climate initiative, the Clean Power Plan.”
Pruitt helped a campaign donor, Devon Energy, oppose methane regulations introduced by the EPA. He led a non-profit, partly funded by the Koch brothers, that lobbied heavily against environmental regulations, and fought the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases pose a danger to human health.
“While opponents of Pruitt face an uphill battle, Democrats on the Senate environmental panel have made clear their plan to hit the nominee hard with questions on conflicts of interest,” ICN notes. “The stakes over Pruitt’s nomination are high for environmental advocates and their Democratic allies. They fear the Trump administration will embark on an historic rollback of 40 years of federal protections for air, water, and land, as well as dismantling the first federal limits on global warming emissions.”
During Wednesday’s hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders caught coverage from the Washington Post after he asked Pruitt for his own view of why the climate is changing. As the Post tells it:
“My personal opinion is immaterial to the job of the…” Pruitt began.
“Really? You are going to be the head of the agency to protect the environment, and your personal feelings about whether climate change is caused by human activity and carbon emissions is immaterial?” Sanders retorted.
Earlier, Pruitt told senators he rejected Trump’s well-documented notion that climate change is a hoax, but “claimed there is still ‘some debate’ over the role of human activity in climate change,” The Guardian reports. On Tuesday, secretary of interior nominee Ryan Zinke took a similar tack in his hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Post notes. He said it’s “indisputable” that the climate is changing and acknowledged that humanity is an “influence”, quickly adding that “I think where there’s debate on it is what that influence is, what can we do about it.”
Based on Zinke’s testimony, Climate Central concludes the Trump administration will try to shunt renewables aside in favour of fossil fuels and revisit Obama policies restricting Arctic drilling and ending coal development on federal lands. “Throughout the hearing, Zinke questioned the science showing that climate change is driven by burning fossil fuels, that it could bring about water scarcity, influence the spread of catastrophic wildfire, and melt glaciers in the national parks he would oversee,” writes correspondent Bobby Magill.
“The war on coal, I believe, is real,” Zinke told the committee. “All-of-the-above is the correct (energy) policy. Coal is a great part of that energy mix. I’m also a great believer that we should invest in research and development on coal—because we know we have the asset—to make it cleaner and better.”
Before Senate Foreign Relations Wednesday, United Nations ambassador nominee Nikki Haley contradicted Trump’s assertion that the U.S. would withdraw from a leadership role at the UN. “I will come to the UN to work and to work smart,” she said, and “climate change will always be on the table for me.” But she hedged on whether the U.S. should take a lead role in implementing the Paris Agreement: “We don’t want to do it at the peril of our businesses and our industries along the way.”
By Thursday, EDF was out with an action alert, asking supporters to urge their U.S. senators to oppose Pruitt’s nomination. In an email, Action Network Manager Heather Shelby introduced some of the highlights from the hearing, noting that “I listened in so that you didn’t have to.”
“Did you ever file one lawsuit on behalf of those kids?” asked Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ), citing Oklahoma’s record-high asthma rates.
“I need you to care about human health, and really believe that the cost—when human health is at risk, when people are dying—is far higher than…the cost to that polluter to clean up the air,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). “I need you to feel it, as if your children sitting behind you are the ones in the emergency room.“