President Donald Trump nominated Kathleen Hartnett White, a fringe player in the climate debate who promotes the idea that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is good for humanity, to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality on Thursday.
Hartnett White, a senior fellow and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the fossil-fuel funded Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), has questioned the scientific consensus that human activities are the major driver of catastrophic climate change. She has described efforts to combat climate change as primarily an attack on the fossil fuel industry.
Hartnett White’s hard-line position that carbon dioxide emissions can be good represents an extreme stance, even among Republicans who refuse to concede the role of humans in climate change. The best science indicates not only that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for global warming, but that global warming is widely expected to have catastrophic effects for humanity if it is not curbed.
If confirmed by the Senate, Hartnett White would join a growing list of climate deniers in the Trump administration.
“Having a full suite of climate deniers poised to undo every environmental law — the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act — has got to be unacceptable to the American public,” said Christy Goldfuss, who served as managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President Barack Obama.
Hartnett-White is “even more extreme” than the other environmental and energy officials appointed by Trump, surpassing even Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, said Goldfuss, who is now vice president of energy and environmental policy at the Center for American Progress. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within the Center for American Progress.)
“Her views are so out of the mainstream, it’s almost as if she falls in kind of a flat earth category,” Goldfuss said. “Her number one task is to rip and throw out the environmental laws that this whole country has come to accept as standards and norms.”
Prior to joining the TPPF in 2008, Hartnett White served a six-year term as chairman and commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). At the Texas commission, she angered community groups with her support for dirty coal-fired plants and other fossil fuel projects. In 2007, environmental groups purchased a billboard near TCEQ headquarters in Austin, Texas, urging then-Gov. Rick Perry to “Get White Out!” and campaigned against her reappointment to the commission.
At the TCEQ, Hartnett White often put industry preferences ahead of public health by “pushing for a lax ozone standard, approving pollution-intensive coal plants, and lowballing fines for companies that violate state laws,” Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Friday in a statement.
Even more egregious, according to Kimmell, is how Hartnett White has been so vocal in denying the science of climate change. “In fact, she has said that the overwhelming acceptance of the evidence for climate change is ‘more like the dogmatic claims of ideologues and clerics than scientific conclusions,’ that renewable energy is ‘parasitic’ and ‘a false hope,’ and that carbon dioxide ‘has no adverse environmental impacts on people,’” he said.
In her work at TPPF, Hartnett White has challenged the Supreme Court’s ruling that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are pollutants that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. “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,” Hartnett White wrote in a 2014 paper. In the paper, she argued “global warming alarmists are misleading the public about carbon dioxide emissions.”
The TPPF has been funded by ExxonMobil, Chevron, the Koch network, and the Heartland Institute, and other groups and companies that the Texas Observer describes as the “Who’s Who of Texas polluters.”
Earlier this year, the TPPF petitioned the EPA to reconsider its endangerment finding on greenhouse gases, which is the basis for the agency’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and stave off the worse effects of climate change. “Because carbon dioxide is everywhere and in everything, the Endangerment Finding provides EPA with a springboard for regulating virtually every aspect of our nation’s economic life,” the TPPF said in its filing.
During the presidential election, Hartnett White served as a member of Trump’s economic advisory team. She was previously rumored to be in line for EPA administrator.
The CEQ advises the president on environmental matters and ensures federal agencies comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a thorough assessment of a project’s impacts before the government can permit or undertake a host of potential actions. It also coordinates environmental policies across government agencies.
“This is the top environmental position in the United States. The purpose of the position is to communicate with the public, collect information about the greatest environmental threats we face, and advise the president,” Goldfuss said. “From my perspective, she’s unfit for the job.”
Trump has tasked the agency with speeding up government environmental reviews of infrastructure projects, and, last month, Goldfuss joined two former chairs of the CEQ in criticizing the Trump administration’s “inappropriate focus” on expediting approvals for energy infrastructure projects. In their September 25 letter, the former CEQ officials told Trump that if his administration decides to “short circuit” the environmental review and public engagement process created by NEPA, “we will ensure that efforts to weaken NEPA will not go unnoticed and that the American public and the environment are not given a backseat to favored special interests.”