EPA is asking a climate denier think tank for help recruiting its ‘red team’

EPA is reaching deep into the swamp.

Then-Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt gestures as he answers a question during a news conference in 2013. CREDIT: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Then-Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt gestures as he answers a question during a news conference in 2013. CREDIT: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

The Environmental Protection Agency has asked the Heartland Institute, a D.C.-based rightwing think tank that denies the human causes of climate change, to help identify scientists to join the agency’s so-called red team-blue team effort to “debate” the science of climate change, according to the Washington Examiner.

The move is part of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s efforts to undercut established climate science within the agency. In an interview with Reuters earlier this month, Pruitt suggested the possibility of creating a red team to provide “a robust discussion” on climate science and determine whether humans “are contributing to [warming].”

The Heartland Institute offers a model of what the EPA red team might look like. Their contrarian Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change — often referred to as a red team — publishes regular volumes of a report called “Climate Change Reconsidered.”

Heartland communications director Jim Lakely told the Washington Examiner the red team exercises to critique climate science are necessary “to critically examine what has become alarmist dogma rather than a sober evaluation of climate science for many years.” But, as many scientists and experts have noted, the peer review process for scientific publications already requires and facilitates rigorous examination.

For years, the Heartland Institute has spread misinformation about climate change and attacked the credibility of climate scientists. In 2012, the group launched a billboard campaign with the photographs of Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), Charles Manson, and Osama bin Laden, saying those men “still believe in global warming.” Heartland’s website at the time declared “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”


More recently, the group announced plans to send a report titled “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming” to every K-12 teacher and college professor in America. The report incorrectly denies humans’ contributions to rising global temperatures.

Pruitt has adopted much of the misinformation that Heartland promotes. Since being confirmed, Pruitt has continued to question the science behind climate change and repeated climate denier talking points claiming that humans are not the main contributors to a warming planet.

And Heartland experts have already had an active role in Trump’s administration. Dan Simmons, currently an assistant to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, is still listed as an author on Heartland’s website. Myron Ebell, a noted climate denier, led Trump’s EPA transition team and has written several pieces opposing climate policy for Heartland.

Heartland has received funding from several fossil fuel companies, though it no longer publicly discloses its funders. In 2012, leaked documents from the group showed the group received contributions from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others. It has also received funding from ExxonMobil to support work to refute the human causes of climate change.


Last month, Heartland announced former Kansas congressman Tim Huelskamp will become president of the organization. During his political career, Huelskamp’s top donor was Koch Industries, and he received more than $250,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. Koch Industries and the Koch family foundations have been one of the biggest funders of organizations that deny humans’ role in causing climate change and oppose policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It remains to be seen who will staff the EPA’s red team. NYU professor Steve Koonin, a scientist who formerly worked with both BP and the Obama administration, is reportedly the top contender. In 2014, Koonin wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed detailing the ways in which climate science is not settled, which included the extent to which humans are causing climate change, a now-frequent talking point among Trump administration officials.

In April, Koonin published another op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, suggesting that a Red Team/Blue Team would be “a step toward resolving…differing perceptions of climate science.”