Newly released emails show EPA officials working with a right-wing think tank in a coordinated effort to undermine climate science.
Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been quietly working with climate change deniers at a conservative think tank to discredit climate science, according to a slew of newly released emails.
The emails, which were unveiled as part of a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), reveal a new level of coordination between Scott Pruitt’s EPA and the Heartland Institute, a fossil fuel-funded think tank that has spent years manufacturing an alternative body of pseudoscientific research meant to call into question mainstream climate science.
Backed by funding from the Koch brothers and the Mercer family, the Heartland Institute has engaged in an aggressive, years-long disinformation campaign aimed at undermining peer-reviewed science showing that human-caused climate change is a real and pressing matter.
While it was already known that the EPA was taking cues from conservative groups and promoting dubious “experts” to cast doubt on mainstream climate science, these latest emails reveal the extent to which the Trump administration has embraced the right-wing think tank and used the pseudoscience it produces to inform government policies.
Among other things, the exchanges show top EPA officials working directly with the Heartland Institute to “rally like-minded people for public hearings on science and global warming, counter negative news coverage and tout Administrator Scott Pruitt’s stewardship of the agency,” the Associated Press reports.
In one email, John Konkus, the deputy associate administrator for public affairs at the EPA, asked then-president of the Heartland Institute Joseph Bast to provide a list of suggested scientists and economists who the EPA could invite to an annual public hearing on the agency’s science standards.
“If you send a list, we will make sure an invitation is sent,” Konkus told Bast, showing that the EPA actively invited the Heartland Institute to handpick who advises the agency’s climate-related policies.
The emails also show EPA officials reaching out to the Heartland Institute to rally activists to publicly support the Trump administration’s rollback of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, a set of evidence-based regulations to reduce greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants.
The Heartland Institute rejects decades of scientific research showing that fossil fuel emissions are driving climate change, and claims on its website that cutting back on the use of coal and petroleum would “squander one of America’s greatest comparative advantages among the world’s nations.”
In its effort to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change, the Heartland Institute has mailed tens of thousands of books attacking climate science to public school science teachers, apparently in the hopes of shaping school science curricula.
The right-wing group has also attacked Pope Francis for speaking about climate change and, in 2012, put up a billboard comparing scientists and others who say that climate change is real to the Unabomber.
These are the viewpoints that are now informing federal environmental policies.
The emails also suggest that the Heartland Institute likely played a role in shaping internal EPA policies, as well. For example, in March, a leaked EPA memo revealed that the agency had provided employees with a list of talking points instructing them to cast doubt on the scientific consensus about climate change.
The internal memo directed employees to highlight scientific uncertainty and lack of evidence linking human activity to climate change — statements that are flatly contradicted by years of research, including the 2017 federal climate assessment, which concluded that “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
One of the talking points in the memo encouraged EPA staffers to question whether fossil fuel emissions directly contribute to climate change, stating incorrectly that “clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.”
The memo also cast doubt on the scientific consensus surrounding climate change, claiming that the “degree and extent” of human impact on climate change “are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”
The false assertions in the memo are closely aligned with the pseudoscience manufactured by the Heartland Institute, which has quite obviously found an ally in Pruitt’s EPA.
While Pruitt claims that he believes in climate change, he denies the science linking it to human activity. Under his direction, the EPA has worked to roll back critical environmental regulations that experts warn will speed up the rate of climate change.
At the same time, Pruitt’s EPA has also taken steps to censor scientific information that might reveal the harmful impact of the Trump administration’s environmental policies. This started shortly after Pruitt’s confirmation as head of the EPA, when he he personally approved the removal of references to climate change and climate-related government programs from the EPA’s website.
With the release of these new emails, we now also know that Pruitt and other top EPA officials have been working directly with a fossil fuel-funded group to undermine legitimate scientific research and replace it with pseudoscience and dubious “expert” opinions.
Perhaps worst of all, the EPA has invited this group to help the agency manufacture the appearance of support for policies that will harm Americans — all in the name of “making America great.”