ThinkProgress

Trump-tied Texas group petitions EPA to reconsider whether greenhouse gases are a problem

CREDIT: AP Photo/David Zalubowsk

Five years ago, the Supreme Court declined to hear what was thought to be the last challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s endangerment finding on greenhouse gases.

But on Tuesday, a conservative think tank with ties to the Trump administration, ExxonMobil, and the Koch brothers petitioned the EPA to reconsider the finding, 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 filing from the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) says. “At the same time, it is the product of serious legal, scientific, evidentiary, and procedural errors. Those errors reflect the past Administration’s rush to judgment, which was spurred by political expediency.”

Endangerment findings — which have also been developed for lead, mercury, and other pollutants that affect human health and the environment — are a first step in the EPA’s rule-making process. Once the agency has found that something is endangering health, it is required to develop regulation. In the case of greenhouse gases, the EPA came up with the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to limit carbon emissions from the electricity sector. Electricity, until recently, was the number one source of greenhouse gases in the United States.

Rob Henneke, general counsel for the TPPF, told ThinkProgress that regulations EPA has put in place since the endangerment finding “came with a cost to business and industry and ultimately to the American taxpayer.” He said the Clean Power Plan, which was stayed and has not been implemented, was estimated to cause “double-digit” increases in electricity prices. The plan was “documented to having billions of dollars of implementation costs,” he said.

Harvard analysis found that the Clean Power Plan would ultimately benefit Americans, largely by reducing pollution exposure, but also by driving efficiency measures. A Northeastern program that reduces emissions, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, has seen a decrease in energy costs in the region.

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump said he would order a review of the endangerment finding for greenhouse gases. That review has not yet come, prompting some on the right to criticize EPA chief Scott Pruitt for not being aggressive enough in efforts to roll back regulations — including the endangerment finding.

TPPF is the first group to have petitioned the EPA to reverse the findings under the new administration. Henneke told ThinkProgress that the group has not had any communication with Trump’s EPA so far about the endangerment finding.

“The filing of our petition begins that conversation,” he said. “The response remains to be seen, but we expect that Administrator Pruitt will look to follow federal law and limitations on EPA authority in recognizing that the endangerment finding was not correctly adopted and should be reconsidered.”

But some have speculated that Pruitt is staying away from the endangerment finding because it would be a massive lift.

“There are just reams and reams and reams of documents supporting EPA’s findings,” Joanne Spalding, chief climate council for the Sierra Club, told ThinkProgress. “I don’t think that Pruitt has any chance of creating a robust record that would enable him to reverse the endangerment finding that would be upheld by any court.”

But EPA science and TPPF science aren’t always the same thing.

One of TPPF’s senior fellows, Kathleen Hartnett White, has made a name for herself by insisting that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is actually good for humanity.

Her book, Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy, “has all kinds of examples of the really beneficial impacts of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere,” she says in a 2015 YouTube video, titled “Kathleen Hartnett White discusses the benefits of CO2.” Among the benefits is a “greening of the earth” picked up by satellites, she says.

According to Politico, Hartnett White is “a leading candidate” to head the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality under Trump.

TPPF already has close ties to the Trump administration. Doug Domenech, chair of the group’s Fueling Freedom Project, led of the Interior Department’s transition team.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s former employer, ExxonMobil, is one of the group’s major donors. In fact, a 2012 Texas Observer article on the right-wing think tank noted its biggest donors are fossil fuel interests, including Exxon and Koch Industries. “Most think tanks work for their funders and TPPF’s donors are a Who’s Who of Texas polluters, giant utilities and big insurance companies,” Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, told the paper. “TPPF is thinking the way its donors want it to think.”

The group also has ties to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who spoke at a conference cosponsored by TPPF in December and whose senate staff has made major inroads into the Trump administration. Inhofe, in turn, has a close relationship with EPA head Pruitt.

“Scott Pruitt and I are going to do something to try to save our next generation,” Inhofe said in December.