Kathleen Hartnett White, who was nominated to lead the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, tried and failed to defend her denial of climate change during a Senate confirmation hearing for the position on Wednesday.
During the hearing, Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, bluntly asked Hartnett White if she believed in climate change. “I am uncertain,” she answered before realizing she was clearly off script. “No, I’m not. I jumped ahead. Climate change is of course real.” Hm. It sure sounds like Hartnett White was coached to acknowledge climate change, but question its causes. Scott Pruitt, current Environmental Protection Agency administrator, pulled a similar stunt during his confirmation hearing.
Hartnett White also confirmed that she wasn’t a scientist, which seems to be a theme amongst hopeful Trump administration environmental and agricultural appointees. “I’m not a scientist, but in my personal capacity I have many questions that remain unanswered by current climate policy,” Hartnett White told Cardin. “I think we indeed need to have more precise explanation of the human role and the natural role.”
Later in the hearing Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, presented a chart referencing the recently released federal climate report which ostensibly contradicted the Trump administration’s vocal denial of human influence on global warming. The report concluded that “human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
Merkley’s chart shows the difference between human-cased, solar, and volcanic, temperature increases. When he asked whether she accepted the report’s findings, Hartnett White avoided directly answering his question. “There are all different types, there are many different types of scientists. There’s a credible difference of opinion among climate scientists,” she said.
Even Republican senators expressed concern about Hartnett White’s confirmation. “I worry about your lack of understanding of the law, which is to provide access for renewable fuels and to promote agriculture,” said Sen. Deb Fishcer of Nebraska. “I worry about your extremist views.”
White’s confirmation hearing was never going to be easy for her: as a senior fellow at the Koch Industries-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation she argued that carbon dioxide wasn’t a pollutant, and in her essay “Fossil Fuels: The Moral Case” she championed nonrenewable energy as a life-saving force. Sounds familiar.