Pruitt slams scientists for talking about ‘cause and effect’ of Harvey, Irma

If not now, when?

President Donald Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruit. CREDIT: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Donald Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruit. CREDIT: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

For Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, the right time to talk about the link between climate change and hurricanes is… never.

In an interview with CNN on Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, Pruitt slammed scientists for discussing “the cause and effect of these storms,” saying that “to use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to the people in Florida.”

That statement flies in the face of a growing body of scientific evidence connecting climate change to more intense and destructive hurricanes. As we’ve written, if we can’t talk about what’s to come, and what’s driving it, then how can we plan for it? How can we rebuild wisely?

Pruitt himself apparently never wants to address the issue. Indeed, Politico reported Friday that “EPA’s climate change adaptation staff will be dissolved.” Specifically, this is “the team formerly focused on preparing for sea-level rise and extreme weather.”


In other words, Pruitt would like to end all talk about climate change during a superstorm — and then ensure his agency doesn’t discuss how our understanding of climate change and sea level rise might help communities prepare for the next extreme storm. But if we spend tens of billions of dollars trying to rebuild Houston without an understanding of sea level rise or the role of climate change in juicing extreme weather, then Houston will just keep getting inundated and we’ll keep rebuilding it the wrong way.

In an administration full of cabinet members and high-ranking appointees who reject the scientific consensus on climate change, Pruitt may well be the foremost climate science denier. His anti-science views are so extreme that even Fox News felt compelled to debunk him on air.

Last week, climate scientists explained how global warming, while not the “cause” of superstorm Harvey, had worsened every aspect of it. This week, scientists have been explaining how climate change helped juice Irma into one of the strongest super-hurricanes on record, with the most sustained high-intensity winds the world has ever seen.

CNN itself talked to several climate scientists and reported their conclusion that the warming Gulf temperatures, which were up to 3.6°F warmer than normal “could be a pressure cooker for key ingredients of a hurricane: extreme winds, rainfall and storm surge.”


Pruitt, however, told CNN that “to have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced.”

Last week, however, NASA’s Gavin Schmidt labeled such efforts to attack scientists for talking about the climate-hurricane link during a superstorm, “BS” and an effort to “control the story & deligitimize other voices.” He pointed out that “unless you are actually a first responder or work for FEMA, you have enough bandwidth” to talk about climate science.

What does Pruitt think the EPA should be doing now? He told CNN, “What we need to focus on is access to clean water.”

But in a Friday New York Times op-ed piece, “How Not to Run the E.P.A.,” former George W. Bush EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman explained that Pruitt isn’t even doing the job of protecting the nation’s access to clean water. She slams “Mr. Pruitt’s swift and legally questionable repeals of E.P.A. regulations — actions that pose real and lasting threats to the nation’s land, air, water and public health.”

Bottom line: Trump’s EPA administrator isn’t doing his job of protecting the environment and public health — and educating the public about the serious environmental threats facing Americans. So he has no business criticizing climate scientists who are trying to do their job.