Ultra-right Texas think tank wields power over Trump’s environmental and energy policy

Rejected candidate for CEQ head provided list of candidates for EPA's top advisory board.

Kathleen Hartnett White, of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, provided a list of candidates for EPA’s science advisory boards. CREDIT: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Kathleen Hartnett White, of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, provided a list of candidates for EPA’s science advisory boards. CREDIT: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A top official at a far-right Texas research and advocacy group known for promoting climate science denial failed in her bid to become the top environmental official at the White House. But her extreme views are gaining traction in Washington in other ways.

Kathleen Hartnett White, a researcher at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), proved too controversial to win Senate confirmation to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in February. But new emails released show that she put together a list of candidates to serve on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Science Advisory Board.

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The TPPF — which has received funding from the Koch brothers and Exxon — then gave the list to the EPA, which took its suggestions.

Doug Deason, the son of a billionaire technology entrepreneur and a board member of the TPPF, obtained the list from White and then submitted it the agency, with Michael Honeycutt, a toxicologist at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), named as the top candidate for the board, Politico reported Friday.

Deason, a long-time critic of the EPA, liked Honeycutt because he was well-known for questioning the agency’s assessments of the dangers of mercury, arsenic, and ozone pollution.

According to Politico, Deason forwarded White’s list to Pruitt’s chief of staff Ryan Jackson. In addition, TPPF Executive Director Kevin Roberts wrote on the list that White “especially recommends Dr. Michael Honeycutt of the TCEQ,” the news report said.

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The TPPF, relatively unknown outside of Texas prior to Trump’s run for the presidency, is home to researchers such as White who question the scientific evidence behind the realities of climate change. White has written extensively against regulation of carbon dioxide, which she calls “the gas of life.” She has also written in favor of increasing the use of fossil fuels, a policy favored by the Trump administration.

Prior to joining the TPPF, White served as chairwoman of the TCEQ.

Honeycutt did end up getting appointed to lead the Science Advisory Board, which advises the agency on how it uses science to write regulations. Politico said it learned of the recommended appointments from a new batch of emails released under the Freedom of Information Act to the Sierra Club.

The EPA told Politico that Honeycutt was a “well-qualified and respected toxicologist” who was “nominated by multiple people.”

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In his first year as administrator, Pruitt prohibited scientists who receive EPA funding from serving on the agency’s advisory boards. He replaced many of them with employees of energy companies and state agencies.

Deason, who serves on the board of the TPPF, donated almost $1 million with his father to help elect Donald Trump and other Republican candidates. Deason is a major donor in the Koch political network and lobbied for Pruitt to become Trump’s EPA administrator.

Deason has remained loyal to Pruitt as the scandals engulfing the administrator grow too numerous to count. “He’s a conservative hero,” Deason told Bloomberg in April, referring to Pruitt. “It would be a huge mistake to do anything other than come out and support him.”

Another former TPPF official, Doug Domenech, serves as assistant secretary of Interior for insular and international affairs. Domenech has attracted criticism for holding meetings with his former employer, even though the Koch-funded organization was involved in legal actions against the department at the time.