EPA spokesperson claims there’s ‘ongoing scientific debate’ about the cause of climate change

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists would beg to differ.

CREDIT: iStock
CREDIT: iStock

On March 9, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt went on CNBC and blatantly contradicted established climate science, falsely claiming that carbon dioxide emissions are not the “primary contributor” to global warming.

Now Pruitt isn’t the only EPA employee mischaracterizing mainstream climate science to major media outlets. On Wednesday, an EPA spokesperson defended his boss’ claim by telling Reuters that “there is ongoing scientific debate on climate change, its causes and its effect.”

As the head of the agency created to protect the U.S. environment, something deeply threatened by climate change, Pruitt received swift backlash from the scientific and environmental communities for his initial comments. The Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization, found the comments so egregious that it filed a formal complaint with the Inspector General of the EPA on Wednesday, alleging that Pruitt’s comments violate the agency’s Scientific Integrity Policy.

“Administrator Pruitt undermines the agency’s mission and its integrity by contradicting basic facts that EPA scientists have studied, verified, and communicated for years,” the complaint, which asks for an investigation into the comments, reads. “The Scientific Integrity Policy aims not only to protect sound decision-making, but also to engender public trust in the Agency. By misrepresenting his own agency’s science, Administrator Pruitt severely threatens that trust.”

But, according to EPA spokesperson — and former Trump campaign operative — John Konkus, Pruitt didn’t violate the EPA’s scientific integrity policy, because he didn’t mischaracterize climate science at all.

“Administrator Pruitt’s comments are perfectly in keeping with the scientific integrity policy,” Konkus said in an email to Reuters. “There is an ongoing scientific debate on climate change, its causes and its effect. That debate should be encouraged as the Administrator has done, not discouraged as Sierra Club is attempting to do.”

This statement contradicts volumes of scientific evidence, which show that climate change is both real and primarily caused by human activity. Ninety-seven percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree that warming trends over the past century as “extremely likely due to human activities,” according to NASA. And that high level of consensus — at least 90 percent or higher — has been shown to exist by multiple studies.

The EPA itself also contradicts Konkus’ statement. In a section about climate change, the EPA website states that “most of the warming of the past half century has been caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.” Another section on the website is titled “Humans are largely responsible for recent climate change.”

Excerpts from www.epa.gov. CREDIT: EPA
Excerpts from www.epa.gov. CREDIT: EPA

Konkus did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for clarification as to whether the EPA’s official position is that there is ongoing debate about the cause of climate change, or whether human activity explains recent global warming. If the EPA were to take the former position, it would represent a massive shift in the agency’s viewpoint, and contradict overwhelming scientific evidence and consensus.

In response to Konkus’ comments, Elena Saxonhouse, Senior Sierra Club Attorney, told ThinkProgress that “it’s a major cause for concern that Pruitt’s actions are already causing his staff to violate EPA’s scientific integrity policy as well, and this simply confirms that our worst fears about an erosion of the Agency’s integrity as a result of his comments were justified.”