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Leon Kaye headshot

Pruitt’s CO2 Comments Prompt Voicemail Jam, Rebuke from Scientists

By Leon Kaye

Late last week Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, appeared on the CNBC show “Squawk Box.” During his interview, he insisted that carbon emissions are not a primary cause of climate change.

“There's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see," Pruitt told host Joe Kernen.

To many, Pruitt’s comments are in line with the Donald Trump administration’s playbook. The idea is simple: Say something outrageous that will ignite a firestorm on social media and foment the launch of press releases and public statements from organizations that oppose the president’s agenda. Meanwhile, the White House is dishing out executive orders as it dismantles or delays rules implemented by the previous administration. Such changes in policy are not as fun to read and cannot be crammed in a 140-character tweet, but nonetheless they have far more impact.

In addition to his comments on man-made climate change, Pruitt also cast doubt on whether the EPA was the right government body to regulate carbon emissions. “Nowhere in the equation has Congress spoken,” said Pruitt, as he wondered aloud if the agency was even equipped to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

In the case of the EPA, those shifts include the end of the agency’s methane disclosure rule and tactics used to cease the Clean Power Plan. Considering Pruitt’s background and testimony during his confirmation hearings, his comments on CNBC should hardly come as a surprise. Critics have noted, however, that last week’s interview was a departure from the administrator's prior rhetoric: During his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing, he said he had no opinion whatsoever on human beings’ impact on climate change.

Nevertheless, the interview sparked plenty of blowback – and some analysts warn the new administration could create fatigue as the public gets a sense that the White House is in constant chaos. Furthermore, if results do not come close to matching Trump’s promises and the economy starts to slow down, the GOP risks seeing a Capitol Hill turnover rivaling what occurred in 1994, 2006 and 2010.

For now, voters don't seem happy: The EPA’s D.C. offices received so many calls over the weekend that the agency’s voicemail system jammed, The Hill reported on Saturday.

Republican lawmakers also fielded an overwhelming amount of telephone calls, but as reporter Max Greenwood noted, it is common for elected officials to receive an onslaught of calls – but heads of government agencies are usually spared the wrath of concerned or angry citizens.

Meanwhile, scientific organizations are doing more than rolling their eyes at Pruitt’s comments. The American Meteorological Society, for example, slammed the administrator for his comments on Monday. In a public letter, the group said Pruitt's “mischaracterizing the science is not the best starting point for a constructive dialogue.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Brenda Ekwurzel described Pruitt’s statement as “dead wrong,” and reminded readers that federal agencies, including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have documented climate change data for decades. Both of those agencies could see deep cuts under the new administration, according to White House budget proposals.

Image credit: Wigwam Jones/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye