President Donald Trump, as first reported by EnergyWire’s Hannah Northey on Twitter and as stated in a White House press release, has named Kathleen Hartnett-White to chair the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
Hartnett-White, as previously reported by DeSmog, is a prominent climate change denier and former Chairman and Commissioner of the Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) under then-Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry now heads up the U.S. Department of Energy and is reported to have advocated for her to run CEQ. She is also an outspoken advocate of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and of exporting oil and gas to the global market.
Long seen as the presumptive front-runner to take the CEQ role, Hartnett-White also worked on President Trump’s presidential campaign on his Economic Advisory Team. And her name was once floated to head up the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well, currently led by Scott Pruitt.
The head of the CEQ coordinates interagency science, climate, and environmental policy, and is tasked to oversee things like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process and agencies’ compliance with that law. The CEQ as an entity itself was actually a creation of NEPA, mandated by that law.
Though CEQ oversees the NEPA process, it remains unclear how seriously Hartnett-White will take the NEPA review process, for decades seen as a bedrock of U.S. environmental regulation since NEPA became law in 1970.
Hartnett-White has long positioned herself as an opponent of environmental and climate actions taken by regulatory agencies. She currently works as a fellow-in-residence at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which receives funding from ExxonMobil, the Heartland Institute, Koch Industries and others. White also helped head up the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Fueling Freedom Project, which had among its stated goals to “explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels” and “end the regulation of CO2 as a pollutant.”
In September 2016 during campaign season, Politico’s Morning Energy reported that Hartnett-White was “among a small group of people who have Donald Trump’s ear on energy policy.” Hartnett-White and Stephen Moore, who also worked on Trump’s campaign, co-authored a 2016 book titled, Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy. The book promoted fracking and said the U.S. shale gas bounty could be worth $50 trillion, a statement which has been called false by an energy analyst who crunched the numbers.
The book also claimed that all of the net jobs gained in the U.S. between 2007-2012 can be linked to the fracking revolution, which they wrote has spawned “millions of new jobs in the energy sector.”
But according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, during that time period, the number of oil and gas industry workers ranged from a low of about 140,700 jobs in 2007 to a high of 194,700 in 2012.
Hartnett-White Is a climate science denier
Not only a fracking promoter, Hartnett-White has also called carbon dioxide in the atmosphere a major benefit for society.
“No matter how many times, the President [Obama], EPA and the media rant about ‘dirty carbon pollution,’ there is no pollution about carbon itself! As a dictionary will tell you, carbon is the chemical basis of all life,” White wrote in September 2015.
“Our flesh, blood and bones are built of carbon. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the gas of life on this planet, an essential nutrient for plant growth on which human life depends. How craftily our government has masked these fundamental realities and the environmental benefits of fossil fuels!”
Likewise, Hartnett-White gave a talk for the Texas Public Policy Foundation in November 2015 on a panel titled, “Not a Pollutant: CO2 is the Gas of Life.”
In a September 2016 interview with Politico, Hartnett-White advocated for the creation of a ”blue ribbon commission” on climate change, similar to the “red team-blue team” one being floated by Pruitt’s EPA. The commission, Hartnett-White told Politico, would create an “alternative scientific methodology” to the one used by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She has also stated on the record that the UN has “revealed themselves” as advocating for communism.
Six years ago at a forum convened by Americans for Prosperity (AFP), funded by the Koch Family Foundations, Harnett-White actually even went so far to say that there “there is no environmental crisis – in fact, there’s almost no major environmental problems.” (starting at about 18:55).
Past as prologue
Under the presidency of George W. Bush, someone with similarly pro-fossil fuels views also ran CEQ. Before taking over the helm at CEQ in the Bush White House, Philip Cooney served as a lawyer and lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute (API), which itself has a long track record of funding climate change denial.
Cooney came under a cloud of scandal and resigned when it was revealed that he had heavily edited scientific data showing a link between carbon emissions and global warming in official U.S. governmental reports.
“In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved,” reported The New York Times. “In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports.”
Soon after he resigned, Cooney was hired by ExxonMobil, another key funder of climate change denial.
Harnett-White, too, has some instructive history to look back upon. In 2007, she came under fire for lack of climate and environmental action while chairing TCEQ. This motivated the watchdog group Public Citizen to create a billboard image near the TCEQ headquarters demanding to “Get White Out” and also build a website by the same name.
Public Citizen said she had not done enough to halt issues such as climate change or slow mercury and air pollution. They also stated that she had tried to erode democracy by eliminating the right to comment publicly on a proposed project unless one lived within two miles of its proposed site.
“Chairman White has failed to lead our environmental agency in the right direction. Instead of acting to curb the serious threat from global warming, the TCEQ buried its head in the sand, and determined that global warming impacts would not have to be considered in the contested case hearings for any of the coal plant permits,” Get White Out’s website said of her tenure.
The paper of record in Dallas, Texas, The Dallas Morning News, agreed with this sentiment in a July 2007 editorial written at the end of Harnett-White’s tenure at TCEQ, chiding her track-record in harsh terms.
“She has been an apologist for polluters, consistently siding with business interests instead of protecting public health,” wrote the paper. “Ms. White worked to set a low bar as she lobbied for lax ozone standards and pushed through an inadequate anti-pollution plan.”
In an example perhaps paralleling the Cooney situation most closely, during Harnett-White’s tenure at TCEQ, the agency regularly lowered the statistical data – as compared to federal EPA data – for the amount of alpha radiation traceable in drinking water in places such as Harris County, Texas.
“For years, tests performed by the Texas Department of State Health Services showed the utility provided water that exceeded the EPA legal limit for exposure to alpha radiation,” reported the broadcast news outlet KHOU, based out of Houston, in 2011. “However, the TCEQ would consistently subtract off each test’s margin of error from those results, making the actual testing results appear lower than they actually were.”
In her interview with KHOU, Hartnett-White defended TCEQ‘s actions on this issue during her tenure there.
“As memory serves me, that made incredibly good sense,” said Hartnett-White. “We did not believe the science of health effects justified EPA setting the standard where they did. I have far more trust in the vigor of the science that TCEQ assess, than I do EPA.”
As mandated by the U.S. Constitution’s “advise and consent” clause, Hartnett-White will go through a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing process, during which she will likely face questions about her past record of denying climate change and promoting fossil fuels. The Environmental Working Group says it is dismayed by the choice.
“At least Butch and Sundance had to put some effort into robbing banks and trains,” Ken Cook, EWG‘s president, said in a press statement. “If Hartnett-White joins Administrator Pruitt, polluters will stroll through the front doors of both the EPA and the White House, no questions asked, as the rampant looting of environmental and public health protection policies continues.”