President Trump has stacked his administration with officials who doubt the scientific consensus behind man-made climate change, underscoring a growing divide within the Republican party.
Even as leading scientists, environmentalists and most Democrats accept research that shows climate change accelerating — and as some see it contributing to the two mammoth hurricanes that have threatened the United States this year — some in Trump’s administration have openly raised doubts.
The rise of climate change skeptics has been most pronounced in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which helped lead then-President Obama’s efforts to regulate climate change-causing pollutants.
Administrator Scott Pruitt has questioned carbon dioxide’s role as a “primary contributor” to a warming climate, something accepted by most researchers. He’s also called for a public debate over climate change science, a proposal that has caused scientists, environmentalists and former regulators to bristle.
“I think it’s going to have a chilling effect on science overall because it’s going to elevate those scientists who are in the vast minority and give them a stage that, frankly, they don’t deserve,” said Christine Whitman, President George W. Bush’s first EPA administrator, who called the proposal “shameful” in a Friday New York Times op-ed.
“It’s wasting taxpayer money and making it an even more difficult issue for the average person to wade through, which I think is part of the political agenda, to make the case that we don’t need to do anything about this issue.”
The EPA has taken other actions to minimize its use and publication of science, including removing its climate science website and putting a political appointee in charge of reviewing grants. That official is reportedly targeting grants that focus on climate change.
Pruitt has surrounded himself with like-minded officials, including his August appointment of Cathy Stepp to be a principal deputy regional administrator for the Midwest. Stepp questioned humans’ role in climate change during her tenure as a regulator in Wisconsin.
EPA officials defend their approach. Pruitt has said a “healthy debate is the lifeblood of American democracy,” and he has indicated his review could help refocus federal funding for environmental regulation.
“We are putting the science front and center, because we believe that Americans deserve a robust, open debate about the science around climate change,” said spokeswoman Liz Bowman.