In a bonkers interview with CNN yesterday, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt doubled down on the climate censorship that's become foundational to this US administration's environmental agenda. A longtime denier of man-made climate change, Pruitt told CNN it is "insensitive" to discuss the role climate change may have played in strengthening Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma.
From his interview with reporter Daniella Diaz:
"Here's the issue," Pruitt told CNN in a phone interview. "To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced."
"All I'm saying to you is, to use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to this people in Florida."
Where to begin with this?
Climate change, a phrase Pruitt tellingly skirts in his response, has been pushed to the margins since the day he became EPA administrator. He refused to support the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change in his confirmation hearing and has made erasing climate change discourse a cornerstone of his tenure, striking it from the EPA's site and from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences's site, ending funding for climate advocacy awards, and even submitting a budget that would end US federal funding for climate change research.
Pruitt's finger-wagging attempts to turn global warming into a taboo may be softer than his boss's assertion that climate change is a "hoax", but they're united in a policy of erasure and denial. This has nothing to do with Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Harvey. This is about enacting a relentless deregulation agenda and using any means necessary to silence detractors, even at the cost of ignoring what's energising these catastrophic storms.
How do you prevent storms without understanding their causes? Even the most measured assessments of climate change's impact on Harvey and Irma points to warming oceans and rising sea levels. In a report on the ambivalent data on climate change and Hurricane Harvey, climatologists told Gizmodo that, by even their most conservative estimates, Harvey was "more intense, bigger, and longer lasting" than it would have been without the effects of climate change.
What about that is insensitive? The lies only became more obvious as the Pruitt interview continued:
What we need to focus on is access to clean water, addressing these areas of superfund activities that may cause an attack on water, these issues of access to fuel. ... Those are things so important to citizens of Florida right now, and to discuss the cause and effect of these storms, there's the... place (and time) to do that, it's not now.
Scott Pruitt's tenure as EPA has continuously undermined each recovery effort he's listed here.
Pruitt has said that he wants the EPA to address superfund sites — heavily polluted areas that, if breached by floodwater, could carry contaminants all throughout the hurricane's path. Just last week, AP reporters found that the EPA still hadn't visited 11 superfund sites surrounding Houston, falsely claiming they were inaccessible. Instead of fast-tracking on-site visits, the EPA attacked the journalists for "cherry-picking facts" without actually refuting the story itself. Who does that help?
Those most vulnerable to the effects of the storm are the people who live near chemical plants, landfills and waste treatment centres; overwhelmingly low-income people. The EPA has a dedicated department to understanding how social inequities exacerbate the effects of pollution and environmental harm. It's called the Office of Environmental Justice, and Trump's administration proposed eliminating the program by zeroing out its funding. Isn't that insensitive?
And finally, the logo of the Trump/Pruitt environmental agenda is relaxing restrictions on fossil fuel companies in the hopes they will function as job-creating engines for blue collar America. But the lack of binding legal oversight majorly contributed to why petrol chemical facilities encircle Houston's poor, and why these companies weren't required to disclose the real dangers to residents, even as they keep exploding. Pruitt has long-reaching ties to the fossil fuel industries and, while pushing for deep cuts to his own staff (of which nearly 400 are leaving this month), is reportedly trying to place lobbyists for polluting industries on EPA payroll. Whither "sensitivity", administrator Pruitt?