On April 2, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt went on Fox News Sunday for an interview about the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration would like to dismantle. Host Chris Wallace really took Pruitt to task on the Plan and a number of other issues, including EPA state partnerships and the diplomatic implications of Trump's environmental policies.
Of particular interest to me was an exchange Wallace and Pruitt had about CO2 emissions and climate change. Pruitt adopted a new tone on this issue, which surprised me. But frustratingly, Pruitt's position on climate change has gotten more scientifically accurate but less logically coherent. I never thought the Trump administration's climate position could get worse, but with this shift, it has.
Pruitt is famous for being at once the man in charge of America's environmental protection and not believing in the existence of our greatest environmental threat. Or, more accurately, I should quote Pruitt as saying that carbon emissions are not a "primary contributor to the global warming that we see." (Of course that's not what the research says, by the way. For interested parties, here is a list of more than 12,000 scientific studies from 2014 alone that support the idea of anthropocentric global warming, compiled by James Powell, direction of the National Physical Science Consortium.) Apparently according to Pruitt, carbon is not something to worry about.
But he strikes a different tone in the Chris Wallace interview. Scot "not-a-primary-contributor" Pruitt boasted five times on Fox News Sunday that American CO2 emissions have sunk below 1994 levels, and therein lies the problem. Although he seems to recognize the problem we face (the need to reduce carbon emissions), in doing so he is contradicting his own other policies and most likely not advancing needed solutions any further.
Source: Energy Information Administration
This is because of an "inconvenient truth" for the Trump administration as to why our emissions have fallen so low. Pruitt hints at the reason, citing innovation, technology, and most importantly, natural gas. But he never fully connects the dots. The reason natural gas is reducing carbon is because it reduces use of the Trump administration's favorite material: coal. Natural gas has largely pushed coal out of the electricity market because it is so much cheaper, and this is why America has lost so many harrowed coal jobs.
Of course, the President has made it his rhetorical mission to "bring back coal jobs." This would require undoing the advances of natural gas, thus canceling the very CO2 reduction Pruitt brags about. So ostensibly, Pruitt has abandoned his boss's zealous coal crusade for his newfound carbon sensibilities.
If only we were so lucky. At the same time as he repeatedly heralded emissions reductions from natural gas, he repeatedly praised coal, and generally followed the Trump administration's line on increasing coal production relative to the Obama years. Just four days before the interview, for instance, Pruitt promised to end the Obama administration's "regulatory assault" on coal.
What we are left with is a wholly unsatisfactory middle ground on several fronts. Regarding our need to decrease coal use, Pruitt shows no indication of defying Trump, despite praising coal's most effective restriction, the economic proficiency of natural gas. On the scientific accuracy of his statements, Pruitt has become less blatantly wrong, but his statements are more ambiguous, and he does not connect the "here is the science" premise to the "we must take action" premise. And on emissions reductions, while he seems to recognize them as a somewhat significant goal, there is no way his policies will bring about the level of emissions reduction that would be consequential.
All in all, Pruitt's interview took the EPA one step forward and two steps back.
Photo credit Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons