CEQ pick grilled for comments on global warming ‘paganism’

Source: Niina Heikkinen, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, November 13, 2017

Senate Democrats peppered President Trump’s nominee for a top White House environmental job with questions about some of her most polarizing statements on climate change.

Kathleen Hartnett White, Trump’s pick to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee along with Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist and the nominee to be U.S. EPA’s deputy administrator. Both responded to pointed questions on their backgrounds, but it was the CEQ nominee who faced the most criticism over her climate views.

Hartnett White has not shied away from diverging from mainstream climate science, describing carbon dioxide as a “harmless and completely natural gas” and as the “gas that makes life possible on this Earth.” The senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation stood by those comments during the hearing, saying that she had “many questions” that remain unanswered.

“It’s likely that CO2 emissions from human activity has some influence on the climate,” she said. “CO2 in the atmosphere has none of the characteristics of a pollutant that contaminates and fouls and has a direct impact on human health as an atmospheric gas.”

Hartnett White said she agreed that the climate was getting warmer but disputed that carbon dioxide levels had increased significantly. She clarified that she did not disagree with the science backing EPA’s endangerment finding that greenhouse gases were harmful to human health and welfare. Her problem with the finding, which provides the basis for EPA’s climate regulations, was that the determination was based on an “over-expansive reading” of what could be classified as an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

The nominee did try to distance herself somewhat from some of her more inflammatory comments in the past.

Democrats dove into Hartnett White’s past comments on climate change, slamming her for comparing believers in human-driven climate change to pagans, communists and totalitarians.

“When you say that, do you believe Oregon’s farmers who are concerned about the three worst-ever droughts with the impact of climate changes are Marxists, or totalitarians or paganists?” asked Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Hartnett White said the comments had been taken out of context. Later, when pressed further, the nominee said some of what she said in the past may be inaccurate.

“I think I submitted 100 pages of commentaries. … In that entire corpus, there may be some mistakes,” she said.

The comments on climate change and paganism appear to come, at least in one instance, from an August 2016 interview on the conservative talk radio show “The Right Perspective.”

She said then, “There’s a real dark side of the kind of paganism, this secular, elite religion, now evidently being global warming.”

She went on to say that former United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres had been openly promoting communism.

“[Figueres] uses China as some sort of good example as the way we can avert global warming. And on another occasion she said for the first time we have a clear opportunity using climate policy, climate plans, to undermine the system of economic growth and industrialization that began a couple hundred centuries ago,” she said.

Hedging on climate report

Senate Democrats also asked how closely the nominees would follow guidance from scientists.

They pointed to the latest draft of the National Climate Assessment, which reaffirms that human activity is the driving force behind rising global temperatures, as evidence of strong consensus on climate change within the federal government.

The nominees hedged on giving credence to the report’s findings. Wheeler noted that, while he didn’t reject the report’s conclusions, it was still up for notice and comment. Hartnett White pushed back on the Democrats’ description of the draft as being a Trump administration assessment.

“I view this report as the product of the past administration, not of this president,” she said.

Wheeler also repeated a line often repeated by administration officials on climate change.

“I believe that man has impact on the climate, but what is not completely understood is what the impact is,” Wheeler said.