Human role in climate change ‘subject to continuing debate’

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Wednesday that climate change is real, but he is skeptical of the degree to which humans contribute.

The position outlined by Scott Pruitt, the current Republican attorney general of Oklahoma, goes farther than Trump’s previously stated position that climate change is a “hoax.”

But it also falls short of the scientific consensus that human activity, through greenhouse gases mainly produced by burning fossil fuels, is the main driver of recent global warming.

“Science tells us that the climate is changing, and that human activity, in some manner, impacts that change,” Pruitt told the Environment and Public Works Committee in the opening statement of his confirmation hearing Wednesday.

“The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be,” Pruitt said.

The nominee further clarified his position in response to Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), saying, “I do not believe climate change is a hoax.”

Pruitt’s position on climate science has been at the top of debate over his nomination. He has previously said that the human role in global warming is up for debate, although environmental groups have labeled him a “denier” for his refusal to endorse the scientific consensus.

Pruitt’s position closely follows the one outlined Tuesday by Ryan Zinke, Trump’s nominee to lead the Interior Department.

Zinke told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that climate change is “not a hoax,” but there is debate as to “what that influence is [and] what we can do about it.”

As EPA administrator, Pruitt would be in charge of the chief agency that President Obama has used to crack down on greenhouse gases and fight climate change.

Trump has pledged to repeal all of Obama’s climate agenda, including the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on the power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions.

As Oklahoma’s top attorney, Pruitt has taken a leading role in suing Obama to overturn the Clean Power Plan and numerous other EPA regulations, like limits on mercury pollution from power plants and a rule asserting federal jurisdiction, for pollution control purposes, over small waterways like streams and wetlands.

© Provided by The Hill. Dems prepare to face off with Trump's pick to lead EPA

Bernie Sanders to Scott Pruitt: ‘Why is the climate changing?’

One of President-elect Trump’s most controversial nominees is Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency — an agency he has sued repeatedly. Pruitt is also on record asserting that there is a “debate” about climate change — meaning it was virtually certain that one or more senators would challenge him on the matter.

Still, the exchange between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Pruitt from earlier Wednesday was pretty intense, with Pruitt seeking to defend the view that humans may contribute to climate change “in some manner,” and Sanders insisting that the science says a great deal more than that.

At one point in the exchange, Sanders simply asked Pruitt, “Why is the climate changing?” “I’m asking you a personal opinion,” he continued.

“My personal opinion is immaterial to the job of the…” Pruitt began.

“Really? You are going to be the head of the agency to protect the environment, and your personal feelings about whether climate change is caused by human activity and carbon emissions is immaterial?” Sanders retorted.

You can watch it in the video below, or read it in the transcript pasted after that.

Here’s the full exchange between Sanders and Pruitt:

Sanders: My office has received a great deal of comments from people in the state of Vermont, which takes environmental protection very seriously, as well as from all over the country. And the fear is that the nomination of Mr. Pruitt is a nomination designed to protect the fossil fuel industry and not the environment. I would like to ask Mr. Pruitt a question. As I understand it, earlier in this hearing, you said that Mr. Trump was wrong in suggesting, in stating over and over again, that climate change was a quote unquote “hoax.” Is that in fact the case?

Pruitt: That is correct Senator.

Sanders: Okay. Let me ask you this. As you may know, some 97 percent of scientists who have written articles for peer reviewed journals have concluded that climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and it is already causing devastating problems in our country and around the world. Do you believe that climate change is caused by the emission, by carbon emissions? By human activity?

Pruitt: Senator, as I indicated, you weren’t here during my opening statement, but as I indicated in my opening statement, the climate is changing, and human activity contributes to that in some manner.

Sanders: In some manner?

Pruitt: Yes, sir.

Sanders: 97 percent of the scientists who wrote articles in peer reviewed journals believe that human activity is the fundamental reason we are seeing climate change. You disagree with that?

Pruitt: I believe the ability to measure, with precision, the degree of human activity’s impact on the climate is subject to more debate than whether the climate is changing or whether human activity contributes to it.

Sanders: While you are not certain, the vast majority of scientists are telling us that if we do not get our act together and transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, there is a real question as to the quality of the planet that we are going to be leaving our children and our grandchildren. So you are applying for a job as administrator for the EPA, to protect our environment, overwhelming majority of scientists say we have got to act boldly, and you’re telling me that there needs to be more debate on this issue and that we should not be acting boldly?

Pruitt: No, Senator, as I’ve indicated, the climate is changing, and human activity impacts that…

Sanders: But you haven’t told me why you think the climate is changing.

Pruitt: Well Senator, the job of the administrator is to carry out the statutes as passed by this body…

Sanders: Why is the climate changing?

Pruitt: Senator, in response to the CO2 issue, the EPA administration is constrained by statutes…

Sanders: I’m asking you a personal opinion.

Pruitt: My personal opinion is immaterial to the job of the…

Sanders: Really? You are going to be the head of the agency to protect the environment, and your personal feelings about whether climate change is caused by human activity and carbon emissions is immaterial?

Pruitt: Senator, I’ve acknowledged to you that human activity impacts…

Sanders: Impacts. The scientific community doesn’t tell us it impacts, they say it is the cause of climate change. We have to transform our energy system. Do you believe we have to transform our energy system in order to protect the planet for future generations?

Pruitt: I believe the EPA has a very important role at regulating the emission of CO2.

Sanders: You didn’t answer my question. Do you believe we have to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to do what the scientific community is telling us in order to make sure that this planet is healthy for our children and grandchildren?

Pruitt: Senator, I believe that the administrator has a very important role to perform in regulating CO2.

Sanders: Can you tell me, as I think all of us know, Oklahoma has been subjected to a record breaking number of earthquakes. Scientists in Oklahoma, scientists say that Oklahoma is almost certain to have more earthquakes with heightened risk of a large quake, probable to endure for a decade, and that the cause of this is fracking. Can you point me, picking up on Senator Harris’s discussion with you, can you point me to any opinion that you wrote, any enforcement actions that you took against the companies that were injecting waste fracking water?

Pruitt: Senator, let me say I’m very concerned about the connection between activity in Oklahoma…

Sanders: And therefore you must have taken action. I guess, can you tell me who you fined for doing this?  

Pruitt: The corporation commission in Oklahoma is vested with the jurisdiction and they have actually acted on that…

Sanders: And you have made public statements expressing your deep concern about this?

Pruitt: We have worked with…

Sanders: You have made public statements? You’re in a state which is seeing a record breaking number of earthquakes, you’re the attorney general. Obviously you have stood up and said you will do everything you can to stop future earthquakes as a result of fracking?

Pruitt: Senator, I’ve acknowledged that I’m concern…

Sanders: You’ve acknowledged you’re concerned. Your state is having a record number of, well if that’s the kind of administrator for the EPA, your state’s having a record breaking number of earthquakes, you have not acknowledged your concern. If that’s the kind of EPA administrator you will be, you’re not going to get my vote.


Scott Pruitt’s Answer on Lead in Water Wasn’t As Egregious As Critics Claim

Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, is getting a lot of flak for his answer to a question from Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, at Wednesday’s confirmation hearing:

Cardin: I want to continue on clean water for one moment. We've had significant problems with safe drinking water and clean water. Let me ask you a preliminary question. Do you believe there is any safe level of lead that can be taken into the human body, particularly a young person?

Pruitt: Senator, that’s something I have not reviewed nor know about. I would be very concerned about any level of lead going into the drinking water or obviously human consumption, but I've not looked at a scientific research on that.

Critics are slamming him for not being informed on the research (here's Rep. Keith Ellison). Mother Jones is reporting that “the science on this issue is clear” and quotes both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the EPA, which both state that there is no known safe blood level for lead in children.

But Cardin wasn’t asking about safe levels of lead in human blood. The way his question was phrased, it sounds more like he’s asking if there’s any safe level of lead that can be taken into the human body, which I believe should be interpreted as questioning whether there’s any safe level of lead in drinking water. That’s a very different question than asking about levels in blood.

I’m a science editor, and I wasn’t sure of the answer, so I checked to see what the EPA says. And it turns out that the EPA defines lead-free piping as piping that has a weighted average of less than 0.25 percent lead. That’s not zero, though it’s very close.

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