While Democrats vowed to fight the nomination of a climate denier to head up the Environmental Protection Agency, Republican congressmen and fossil fuel industry leaders celebrated on Thursday.
They laid out a straightforward agenda of rolling back environmental regulations, increasing fossil fuel production, and embarking on a public campaign to re-educate Americans against climate change.
Lawmakers at what was billed as “the premier energy and climate policy event in America,” hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., framed the debate between addressing climate change and producing more fossil fuels as one between government overreach versus states and workers rights.
“We’re winning this thing, very clearly,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said. Recounting a 20-year history of opposing climate change action, Inhofe alleged that the U.S. public now believes that climate change is not a concern.
“The American people are smarter than the people on the floor trying to keep this thing going,” Inhofe, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment Public Works, told the audience.
Inhofe recounted the infamous story of being asked by his granddaughter why he doesn’t believe in climate change — a story he says demonstrates how the EPA is brainwashing the nation’s children. Under the newly announced nominee for administrator, climate denier and current Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, that will change, Inhofe said.
“Scott Pruitt and I are going to do something to try to save our next generation,” he said.
Pruitt has been a staunch opponent of the EPA — fighting the Mercury Rule, which seeks to limit the amount of toxic heavy metals from power plants; fighting the Waters of the United States Rule, which seeks to protect drinking water sources for a third of Americans; and fighting the Clean Power Plan, a carbon-reduction plan that is seen as the country’s best chance of complying with the Paris climate agreement, which is seen as the world’s best hope of preventing catastrophic global warming.
Pruitt will be received by like-minded members of Congress.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), another speaker at the event, said he welcomes Pruitt’s leadership at the EPA. Like Inhofe, he framed the current debate as one between out-of-touch bureaucrats and local people. Washington’s federal agencies need a “fundamental attitude adjustment,” he said.
With Republican control of the House, Senate, and White House, Lee said his first order of business would be to use the Congressional Review Act to roll back methane emissions regulations and a rule requiring coal mining to take place at a safe distance from drinking water sources. In addition, “Trump needs to reverse the moratorium on coal leasing,” Lee said.
Lawmakers were not the only ones dancing on the grave of the Obama administration’s most ambitious environmental regulations. The fossil fuel industry, including leaders from Peabody Energy, the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association, and the Quintana Group, a fossil fuel investment fund, was heavily represented. (At a conference about clean energy and climate, no representatives from the solar or wind industry were listed on the event’s day-long program.)
Introduced to the audience as “one of the largest coal owners in the United States” and a “third-generation oilman,” Quintana’s Corbin Robertson suggested that Republicans go on a media offensive against the EPA and environmental regulations. He urged attendees and lawmakers to take out ads in newspapers challenging the science of climate change.
“I think of myself as an environmental educator,” Robertson said, educating the crowd on how the earth has been warming since the 1750s (other attendees said “since Genesis”) and that sea-level rise was constant.
Robertson insists that carbon dioxide, which does in fact drive climate change, is simply “a trace element in the atmosphere does not cause weather.”
On the other hand, “we don’t know beans about the effects of water vapor,” Robertson said.
(Actual scientists, including Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, the 2013 President of American Meteorological Society and director of the University of Georgia’s (UGA) Atmospheric Sciences Program, can fully explain why water vapor is a red herring in the climate change conversation.)
These are the organizations that have a voice in shaping the forthcoming Trump administration: The Heritage Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the two hosts of Thursday’s event, are closely tied to Trump’s transition team and emerging White House staff.
Trump, for his part, has repeatedly denied that climate change is a real, existential threat to our coasts and our global stability.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed Inhofe to Texas. He represents Oklahoma.