It’s hard to know where to start with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s insistence that it’s — what? insensitive, gauche, opportunistic? — to talk about climate change in the wake of the untold damage to life and property caused by the recent wave of hurricanes.
But, we’ll try. First, as others have pointed out, Pruitt has never seemed to think it’s time to talk about climate change. A bought-and-paid-for climate-denier (was he really educated in Lexington’s public schools?) Pruitt seems to suggest that if we all just whistle a happy tune the oceans will calm and sea levels will sink.
More serious and more concerning is that Pruitt seems to be saying it’s just too hard to think about what caused something while you’re dealing with its aftermath. Would anyone say investigators shouldn’t go into a smoldering house to assess the cause of a blaze until the survivors have settled with their insurance and found a new home?
Pruitt’s job is to protect the environment that is killing people, robbing them of their homes, and disrupting large swaths of the economy as a result of abuses heaped upon it. The EPA does play a role in recovery, but FEMA and other agencies are directly responsible for helping people deal with the immediate crisis they are facing.
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Besides, we have a big federal government that could work on two related problems at once, if it could only acknowledge they both exist.
Pruitt’s demur is a facade. The best time to inspire action to protect vulnerable areas from the inevitable next weather disaster is when the ravages of the most recent are laid out before us.
But of course, there’s nothing rational about Pruitt’s insensitive comments. They are just part of his brief to defend the oil and gas industries that gave rise to his political career in Oklahoma. As attorney general there, he sued the EPA 14 times, battling its efforts to regulate pollutants, including mercury and smog.
Thousands of emails released after Pruitt was confirmed in his EPA post showed he “regularly huddled with fossil fuel firms and electric utilities about how to combat federal environmental regulations,” according to the Washington Post.
It is true that no one hurricane, heavy rainfall, heat wave, drought or other so-called natural disaster can be chalked up to climate change. But, just as it is the overwhelming consensus of legitimate scientists that climate change is real and caused in part by human activity, it is also accepted science that a warming climate contributes to more frequent and more severe weather events.
But Pruitt is having none of it, as Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who led the EPA under President George W. Bush, wrote in the New York Times.
“The evidence is abundant of the dangerous political turn of an agency that is supposed to be guided by science,” she wrote. Under Pruitt, “the agency created by a Republican president 47 years ago to protect the environment and public health may end up doing neither.”
Pruitt doesn’t want to talk about climate change because those who have enabled his career don’t want him to talk about it. It is they — not the environment or the millions of Americans threatened by its next wild rage — whom Pruitt seeks to protect.