Climate deniers keep pushing to fill top White House environment role with friendly face

Conservative allies to the Trump administration are pushing another controversial candidate to head the Council on Environmental Quality.

Conservative climate deniers are pushing a climate skeptic for a top White House post. (CREDIT: Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images)
Conservative climate deniers are pushing a climate skeptic for a top White House post. (CREDIT: Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images)

Conservative climate science deniers are pushing for one of their own to take on a leading environmental policy role within the Trump administration, according to a report published on Friday by E&E News.

According to the report, prominent climate science deniers are supporting Donald van der Vaart, North Carolina’s former environmental chief, to head the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality. Van der Vaart has so far seen support from both Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who helped lead the administration’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team, and Tim Huelskamp, president of the Heartland Institute. 

The Council on Environmental Quality currently has no permanent head, and whoever is appointed must be confirmed by the Senate. The administration’s first nominee, Kathleen Hartnett White, withdrew her nomination after facing intense criticism over her fringe scientific beliefs, including the idea that increased carbon emissions in the atmosphere are beneficial to humans.

The Council of Environmental Quality works with the White House to make sure that federal agencies are adhering to environmental laws and regulations, and works with the administration to create new environmental policies and initiatives. As head of the council, van der Vaart would oversee all of its work.

Van der Vaart, who lead North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality under Governor Pat McCrory (R), has not openly championed the benefit of fossil fuels and carbon emissions for the planet. But he still holds views on climate change that are far outside the mainstream scientific consensus. In an interview with E&E News van der Vaart refused to say whether he accepts that humans are the primary cause of climate change. According to NASA, 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate change is both occurring and primarily a result of human activity.

“I certainly think mankind contributes,” van der Vaart told E&E News. “How and how much is something I’d like to have more answers on and more accuracy.”

Van der Vaart also signaled his interest in revisiting the EPA’s endangerment finding, a body of scientific work that concluded in 2009 that carbon emissions pose a threat to public health and legally paved the way for regulations on emissions from power plants and other emitters.

As head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, van der Vaart sent a letter last November to then president-elect Trump requesting that the EPA “return environmental leadership to the states” and place a moratorium on all pending environmental regulations. Van der Vaart was a vocal critic of environmental regulations promulgated under the Obama administration, including the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule, which he has characterized as federal overreach.

Under van der Vaart and McCrory’s leadership, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality was accused of favoring Duke Energy over public health and environmental concerns, including ongoing coal ash contamination that has forced some families to rely on bottled water for more than 1,000 days.