Climate-denying Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is taking heat from surprising sources for his attacks on mainstream climate science—as key conservatives steer clear of the effort, and at least one news report suggests Pruitt is using the campaign and the EPA itself as stepping stones for a Senate run in 2020.
“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, political groups backed by the Koch brothers, and the top lobbying organizations for the coal, oil, natural gas, and power industries are among those so far declining to back Pruitt’s efforts to undermine the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change,” Politico reported last week, citing interviews with more than a dozen sources. “Some advocates privately worry that the debate would politically harm moderate Republicans, while wasting time and effort that’s better spent on the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory rollback.”
“Policy risks could arise from playing politics,” said Chrissy Harbin, vice president of external affairs for the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. “If done incorrectly, efforts that are more politically motivated than policy-focused could unintentionally undermine conservatives’ ability to roll back overreaching Obama-era regulations.”
“We have neither taken a position on it nor have we been terribly interested in that debate,” said National Mining Association spokesperson Luke Popovich. “We’re not debating the ‘accept or deny climate science’…We have much more pressing issues, as you can imagine.”
Conservative lobbyists like the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Energy Alliance, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heartland Institute, and Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray do want Pruitt to rescind the endangerment finding that is the cornerstone of EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide. “Ultimately if you don’t overturn the endangerment finding, Trump or whoever comes after him will have to impose their own carbon restrictions,” said Heartland research fellow H. Sterling Burnett. “You can’t get around it.”
But that fight could last through the end of the Trump administration, Politico notes, “triggering a legal fight from environmental groups that EPA could easily lose given the vast amount of evidence from scientists that shows man-made greenhouse gas emissions harm the environment.”
“The downsides are considerable,” said David Bookbinder, chief counsel for the libertarian Niskanen Center. “It would take an enormous amount of work to do it, and then [Pruitt] would get laughed out of court.”
Bookbinder believes Pruitt is positioning for a 2020 Senate run, when veteran climate denier James Inhofe (R-OK) will be up for re-election at age 85. “This is nothing more than to give people a show,” Bookbinder said of Pruitt’s determined effort to undermine climate science. “Everything he says is calculated toward securing the Republican nomination in Oklahoma and then winning the general election there.”