President-elect Donald J. Trump
This is the second week of U.S. Senate hearings on President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees to his Cabinet. Most, if not all, of the nominees are expected to win confirmation, which requires just 51 votes. ScienceInsider is keeping a watch to see whether scientific issues—such as climate change—get much discussion, and what kind of reaction any comments draw.
Today, senators are hearing from former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Energy (DOE).
Senators have previously heard from: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Representative Tom Price (R–GA), the nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services (parent agency of the National Institutes of Health [NIH]); investor Wilbur Ross, the nominee to lead the Department of Commerce, home of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Representative Ryan Zinke (R–MT), Trump’s nominee to head the Department of the Interior (DOI); Betsy DeVos, his nominee for education secretary. Last week, they questioned Representative Mike Pompeo (R–KS), Trump’s nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); retired Marine General James Mattis, nominated for secretary of defense; and former Exonn CEO Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state.
We’ll be updating periodically as new hearings occur, with the most recent news at the top, so come back to see what’s happening.
Perry “regret” over vow to eliminate DOE
On eliminating the Department of Energy:
My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.
On climate change:
I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by manmade activity. The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy, or American jobs.
I am a major proponent of maintaining American leadership in the area of scientific inquiry. I support the academic and government mission of basic research, even when it will not yield benefits for a generation. Our scientists and labs are the envy of the world. I look forward to visiting our national labs this year, if confirmed, and learning more about the unique work they are doing. I have a long record of aggressively courting leading scientific minds to bring innovation and job creation to my home state.
Groups react predicably to Pruitt hearing
Sam Adams, the U.S. director of the World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental think tank, issued this statement:
“At the hearing, Pruitt, who has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, failed to definitively demonstrate he would be committed to controlling climate change and protecting public health. While Pruitt did acknowledge that EPA has a ‘role to play’ in regulating carbon dioxide emissions, he fell short in making it clear that he intends to fulfill the agency’s mandate to reduce emissions. On the positive side, he did indicate that he will stand up for the ‘endangerment finding,’ which is the legal foundation for EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, established by the Supreme Court in 2007. Senators should continue to press Pruitt to ensure he would continue EPA’s leading role in addressing climate change. It’s noteworthy that Pruitt was grilled on his views on climate at the same time that NASA confirmed 2016 was the hottest year on record. We cannot afford to have an EPA administrator who fails to grasp the urgency of addressing climate change.”
Adam Brandon, the CEO of Freedom Works, a conservative group based in Washington, D.C., issued this statement:
“Attorney General Pruitt demonstrated today why he is the right pick to lead the EPA. He knows the agency must work within its statutory limitations. It cannot simply go around Congress, consume authority it doesn’t have to target particular industries of our economy on which many states depend and, through its actions, destroy jobs. In the past ten years, according to a recent report, the EPA has mandated $1 trillion in rules, three-quarters of which have occurred on President Obama’s watch. This heavy-handed approach to regulation only harms our nation’s prosperity and consolidates power in the regulatory state. Attorney General Pruitt’s federalist approach to regulation presents the states as partners in the effort to ensure that our air and water are clean. We urge the Senate to quickly confirm Attorney General Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA.”
Pruitt: Climate change no more important than any other issue
Senator Jeff Merkley (D–OR) asked Pruitt about the urgency of combating climate change. “I think it’s very difficult to prioritize,” said Pruitt. He said climate change, which he called the “C02 issue” wasn’t any more important than any other issue. Instead, Pruitt suggested he only intends to do what the law required, and nothing more.
Whitehouse asks Pruitt about languishing about email request
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Pruitt about the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office lack of response to an open records request, made under state law, for emails between his office and fossil fuel companies it regulated. The office acknowledged that it had identified 3,000 documents that were covered by that request, but apparently hadn’t provided any of them for more than 740 days. Whitehouse asked how Pruitt could be trusted to handle conflict of interest properly when he hadn’t release those documents. Pruitt responded that he wasn’t personally involved with open records requests.
Pruitt: Mostly dry streams should be covered by stream regulations
Senator Ben Cardin asked Pruitt how he defined the “waters of the United States.” Law gives the U.S. government the power to control and regulate all navigable waters, but is vague on what other waterways the EPA is empowered to regulate. The issue has become a major point of tension between some members of Congress and the Obama administration, which has issued new rules attempting to improve protection of small wetlands and intermittent waterways (the new rules have been blocked by federal judges).
Pruitt didn’t provide specifics about what he believed should be regulated except for saying that the U.S. government shouldn’t be regulating creeks that stay dry most of the year.
In response to further questions by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Pruitt said he would not regulate “ordinary farming practices” under regulations designed to protect the waters of the United States.
Inhofe uses hearing to repeat climate hoax claims
Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) used the hearing to repeatedly criticize climate scientists and climate change research, accusing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of “fraud” and of perpetrating an “outrageous lie.” Inhofe also accused the Obama administration of prematurely issuing vehicle fuel economy standards for political reasons, and asked Pruitt if he would review them. Pruitt agreed the regulation “merits review.”
Price Bullish on NIH Budget
Boosters of NIH may take heart from Price’s comments on the agency’s budget. Price had spent 2 hours testifying before the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee when Senator Susan Collins (R–ME) declared herself a passionate partisan for biomedical research, and noted her founding roles in the Senate’s Alzheimer’s disease task force and its Diabetes Caucus. She then asked Price, an orthopedic surgeon who represents the affluent suburbs north of Atlanta in the House of Representatives:
“Do you support the increases for NIH that we have passed in the last year and are on track to pass this year?”
A lunch break was imminent and Price’s response was brief:
“NIH is a treasure for our country,” he said, and one of the avenues through which medical innovation happens. “I supported the increase.”
This past July, a House panel proposed increasing NIH’s budget by $1.25 billion, to $33.3 billion, in fiscal year 2017 (which began this past October). Senate funders proposed an even heftier $2 billion boost, equal to the increase the agency received in 2016. So far, Congress hasn’t settled on a final 2017 budget for NIH; like much of the government, the agency is operating under a continuing resolution that has essentially frozen its spending. Final action is expected this spring.
The HELP Committee doesn’t actually have power of approval over the Price nomination. That vote falls to the Senate Finance Committee, before which Price is scheduled to appear next Tuesday.
Sanders challenges Pruitt on climate, oil-related quakes
Senator Bernie Sanders (I–VT) asked Pruitt why the climate was changing. Pruitt, who repeatedly referred to climate change as “the CO2 [carbon dioxide] issue,” refused to say humans were the main reason the climate was changing, allowing only that humans had “impacted” the climate.
Sanders also asked about what actions Pruitt had taken to punish oil companies whose wastewater disposal activities had contributed to causing earthquakes in Oklahoma. Sanders announced he would not vote for Pruitt after he refused to say more than the earthquakes “concerned” him.
Won’t commit to protecting California’s tougher fuel standards, Pruitt says
California has a special waiver to enforce fuel standards that go beyond federal standards. Senator Kamala Harris (D–CA) asked whether Pruitt would commit to upholding that waiver. Pruitt declined, saying he would “review” the issue.
Pruitt: I’ll make EPA regulatory data available to all
In response to a question by Senator John Boozman (R–AR), Pruitt agrees to release the scientific data behind EPA rulemaking. (Editor’s note: The exchange appears to reference longstanding complaints by Republicans in Congress that EPA does not fully share the data that underpin some regulations. Environmental groups have argued that the complaints are part of an effort to paralyze EPA’s regulatory efforts by enabling endless challenges to technical information.)
Won’t necessarily recuse myself from lawsuits I helped file, Pruitt says
There are still eight lawsuits against EPA that were filed by Pruitt. Senator Ed Markey (D–MA) asked whether he would recuse himself from those cases. Pruitt refused to preemptively recuse himself unless directed by the EPA ethics council.
Pruitt: Booker jabs on childhood asthma
Senator Cory Booker (D–NJ) made a connection between air pollution and asthma. Pruitt has joined with oil companies in suing EPA, Booker noted. The senator then asked Pruitt how many suits he’d brought on behalf of children with asthma (who often suffer in polluted air). Pruitt said he only brought lawsuits that he had legal “standing” to bring.
Merkley focuses on Pruitt’s oil industry ties
Senator Jeff Merkley (D–OR) repeatedly questioned Pruitt about his connections to fossil fuel industries. He brought up a letter that Pruitt had sent to EPA questioning the cost-benefit analyses of methane regulations. The letter was mostly written by Devon Energy, a fossil fuel company, reporters revealed. Merkley repeatedly asked whether Pruitt was using his office as a direct extension of an oil company. Pruitt said he was “representing the interest of an industry in Oklahoma.” Pruitt said he was concerned about methane as a greenhouse gas, but not “deeply concerned.”
Pruitt declines to disclose advocacy group funding sources
Pruitt was questioned about his role in the Rule of Law Defense Fund, an organization of Republican attorneys general. He recently resigned as chairman of the group. Merkley asked how much money he had solicited for the group from companies owned by the Koch family and Devon Energy. Pruitt refused to answer. That funding didn’t have to be disclosed publicly, he said.
Cardin plumbs Pruitt’s views on lead
Senator Ben Cardin (D–MD) asked whether there were any safe levels of lead that could be taken into the human body and what role Pruitt believed the Clean Air and Water Act played in regulating lead. Pruitt said he hadn’t “looked at the scientific research on that,” but lead in water concerned him. He also said that, despite lawsuits he’d filed to prevent EPA from enforcing lead pollution rules, he believed EPA had a role in regulating air and water quality, especially across state lines.
Pruitt: Regulators too unpredictable
Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R–WV) asked whether Pruitt would work harder to make economic evaluations of regulations, mentioning the coal industry downturn in her state. Pruitt suggested there was too much regulation. “Often times those that are regulated don’t know what’s expected of them,” he said, saying he supported the rule of law.
EPA should regulate mercury emissions, Pruitt says, but questions EPA’s cost-benefit studies
Pruitt has repeatedly sued EPA over its efforts to regulate mercury pollution from coal fired power plants. Senator Tom Carper (D–DE) asked whether, in light of those lawsuits, he supported EPA’s regulation of mercury emissions. Pruitt said mercury should be regulated under existing law, but questioned the cost-benefit analyses EPA did to justify regulations.
Pruitt: Climate change occuring, but human role hard to measure
Climate change is happening, and humans play a role, Pruitt said in his opening statement, but there is “continued debate and dialogue” about the human role, climate change impacts, and what to do about them. He also cited climate change as an area where disagreements should be debated in a civil manner.
Highlights from Zinke’s testimony:
Senator Joe Manchin (D–WV) suggested that it was hypocritical for environmentalists to oppose burning coal, while allowing dead trees in forests to rot. Manchin asked Zinke about forest management and the management of dead trees. Zinke said he believed most management was done through forest fires; earlier, he said he believed fires are a major contributor to climate change. Manchin reiterated his belief that rotting dead lumber was a major contributor to climate change. “Lots of CO2 here,” Manchin said, referencing his wooden desk.
Asked by Manchin whether he could work with environmentalists, Zinke said “there’s extremists on both sides.”
No one size fits all stream rules
Stream protection policies should be different in different parts of the country, because not all environments are the same, Zinke said. (Editor’s note: Some Republicans have complained that Obama administration stream protection policies are too rigid and not responsive to geographic differences and the needs of different kinds of land uses. Environmentalists have argued such arguments are aimed at weakening regulatory protections.)
A spotlight on access to water
“Clean water is a right not a privilege,” Zinke said. He highlighted investments in infrastructure as a way to preserve access to water, especially in Western states and isolated areas.
Logging could help with climate change by curbing fires
Zinke suggested harvesting more timber will help with climate change, saying that forest fires contributed more to climate change than coal. “The statistics I have from a single summer of forest fires in Rosebud County [in Montana] … [they] emitted more particulate in the air in that single season than 3000 years of coal strip,” Zinke said.
Declines to stand by letter he signed suggesting climate change a threat to national security
Senator Al Franken (D–MN) asked Zinke about a letter he had signed as a Montana state legislator in 2010. In it, Zinke called climate change a “threat multiplier” in respect to the United States’s national security. Zinke declined to state whether he still agreed with his stance in the letter. He said he wasn’t an “expert” and that there was “no model today that can predict tomorrow … we need objective science to figure a model out.”
“The war on coal is real”
“The war on coal is real,” Zinke said, in response to a question by Senator John Barrasso (R–WY). He called for more research and development into “clean coal,” saying that coal was part of his all-of-the-above approach to energy.
A vow to advocate for science funding and information sharing
In response to a question from Senator Debbie Stabenow (D–MI), Zinke committed to advocating for maintaining funding levels for science and scientists within DOI, without respect to ideology. “Management decisions should be based on objective science,” he said. He also said there should be more research sharing between different public agencies and private institutions.
Still “debate over human role in climate change,” and nod to “all-of-the-above” energy strategy
Sanders asked Zinke whether President-elect Donald Trump was correct in calling climate change a “hoax.”
Zinke acknowledged climate is changing and humans have had an influence, but claimed there is a lot of “debate” over how much of a role humans have played and what can or should be done to combat climate change. He also said he would listen to scientists from the United States Geological Survey, which is a part of DOI, on climate issues.
In response to another question from Sanders, Zinke said he supported extracting fossil fuel from public lands along with supporting wind and solar power, calling for an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy production.
Highlights from Pompeo’s testimony:
Pompeo ducks on climate
“Frankly, as the director of CIA, I would prefer today not to get into the details of climate debate,” he said in response to a question from Senator Kamala Harris (D–CA) about whether he accepted climate science. (She referred specifically to findings by NASA’s Earth Science division.) As head of CIA, Pompeo said his role would be “different.”
Previously, Pompeo has said that scientists think “lots of different things” about climate change and called President Barack Obama’s climate policies “radical.”
(In a speech last November, John Brennan, the outgoing CIA director, called climate change one of the “deeper causes of this rising instability” in places like Libya, Syria, and Ukraine.)
Mattis on Department of Defense research and the “active” Arctic
Mattis was not asked directly about climate change, but his answer to a question about competition with Russia in the Arctic suggests he believes climate change is having an impact on national security. Noting that melting sea ice is opening new shipping lanes, Mattis said the Arctic is now an “active area” where the United States will need to assert its sovereignty.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D–MA) asked Mattis about how the Department of Defense (DOD) should dole out its research funding, noting that her state hosts one of the nation’s top research universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mattis agreed with Warren’s assertion that DOD should “assess the intellectual resources” of an area when deciding which organizations the military partners with for scientific research.
Highlights from Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing to be secretary of state:
Climate change not “imminent national security threat”
“I don’t see [climate change] as the imminent national security threat as others do,” former Exxon chief Rex Tillerson said. He also declined to make any direct links between an increase in natural disasters and climate change, calling the scientific literature “inconclusive.”
When asked by Merkley whether the United States should step up in combatting climate change, to match major efforts in countries including India and China, Tillerson said, “I think we have stepped up.”
Breaks with Trump on nuclear proliferation
Tillerson “does not agree” with Trump’s statements suggesting that countries like Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia should get nuclear weapons.
Ebola outbreak exposed “deficiency” at World Health Organization
In response to questions by Senator Johnny Isakson (R–GA) about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tillerson praised the U.S. response to disease outbreaks, but suggested the ebola outbreak “exposed deficiency in the World Health Organization and how they responded.”
United States would be “better served” by staying in Paris pact
Senator Tom Udall (D–NM) asked Tillerson directly whether he supports the Paris climate agreement.
The United States would be “better served by being at that table,” Tillerson replied.
For context: Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and said during the campaign that he would “cancel” the Paris Agreement. More recently, Trump has suggested he would have an “open mind” about the accord.
Paris Agreement “looks like a treaty”
Senator Ron Johnson (R–WI) asked Tillerson about the executive branch making treaties without proper legislative input citing the Paris climate accord (which is not technically a treaty, so did not need Senate ratification), among other treaties.
Tillerson said he “respects the proper roles of both branches of government. He also said the Paris climate accord “looks like a treaty.”
It’s still unclear exactly where Tillerson stands on withdrawing, or not withdrawing from the agreement.
Ducks question about oil lobbying group
Booker asks Tillerson whether Exxon was part of USA*Engage, an oil lobbying group who has lobbied against government sanctions in the past.
Tillerson refused to answer and referred the question to Exxon.
Exxon appears to have been part of USA*Engage. A press release from USA*Engage suggests that Exxon’s Robert W. Haines, the manager of international relations for the company, was chairman of the lobbying organization in 2003. He served until 2007.
Green think tank: Tillerson’s comments don’t go far enough
“It’s encouraging that Tillerson recognizes that climate change requires a global response and that the U.S. must be at the table. But he must go further,” David Waskow, director of International Climate Initiatives at the World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, said in a statement responding to some of Tillerson’s comments. “As the country’s potential top diplomat, Tillerson should understand that the U.S. needs to be a leader on climate change and honor its international commitments. The Paris Agreement is one of the singular achievements in international diplomacy in recent years, and the U.S. must continue to cooperate with the rest of the world in driving forward strong action on this urgent challenge. The vast majority of Americans want the U.S. to support the Paris Agreement and the international community expects the country to be a productive participant. This leadership is critical to U.S. diplomatic, economic, and security interests. Senators should continue to press Tillerson to ensure the U.S. maintains its key role in tackling this issue.”
United States will review funding for United Nations climate fund
Senator John Barrasso (R–WY) asked: “Will you commit that no funding will go to the U.N. Green Climate Fund?”
The new administration will “look at things from the bottom up,” Tillerson responded.
Barrasso also advocated for more coal energy, especially in developing countries. Tillerson said he supported delivering electricity to developing areas in whatever way was the most efficient use of U.S. dollars.
Paris climate deal could put United States at a “disadvantage”
The nominee refused to commit to honoring the Paris climate agreement, when asked by Senator Ed Markey (D–MA). Tillerson suggested that although he would share his opinion about the reality of climate change with senators, the president-elect’s “priority in campaigning was America first,” and the Paris Agreement could put us at a “disadvantage.”
No plan to recuse himself from decisions involving Exxon after 1 year
Tillerson refused to commit to recusing himself from decisions about Exxon as secretary of state, outside of an initial 1-year period required by law. Instead, he suggested that it would be enough to solicit and follow the advice of the Office of Government Ethics when it came to potential conflicts of interests.
United States should keep seat at climate negotiation table
Asked by Cardin, the ranking member of Senate foreign relations committee, whether the United States should “continue in international leadership on climate change,” Tillerson suggested he wanted the United States to continue to have a seat at the table.
No retaliation against State Department climate experts
Senator Tom Udall (D–NM) asked Tillerson about reports that President-elect Trump’s transition team had asked the Department of Energy for names of staffers who had worked on climate change. Tillerson said he wouldn’t retaliate against Department of State staffers who had worked on climate issues, calling it “unhelpful.”
Declines to answer questions about Exxon’s role in climate science
Tillerson refused to answer questions from Senator Tim Kaine (D–VA) about Exxon’s past and current relationship with climate change science. Citing reporting by the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate News, Kaine asked about documents that showed Exxon concluded in the 1970s that carbon dioxide affected climate, then for years after publicly cast doubt on the science. Kaine also asked about Exxon’s past funding of climate denial groups and current lesser funding of these groups.
Tillerson refused to answer the questions because he no longer worked for Exxon and didn’t want to speak for them.
“Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question or are you refusing to answer my question?” Kaine asked.
“A little of both,” Tillerson said.
Kaine said he didn’t believe Tillerson didn’t have the knowledge to answer after nearly 40 years working for Exxon.
Later, Kaine tweeted: “It’s shameful Tillerson refused to answer my questions on his company’s role in funding phony climate science. Bottom line: #ExxonKnew”
No climate questions early
In his own opening statement, Tillerson, Trump’s nominee to be the nation’s chief diplomat and run the Department of State, didn’t mention climate change, instead focusing more on issues including relations with China and fighting the Islamic State group.
The first mention of science and climate change came nearly 40 minutes into the hearing. In an opening statement, Cardin pointed out that climate change was causing irreparable harm to our world and also that business and government interests were different. “Having a view from the C-Suite at Exxon is not at all the same as the view from the seventh floor of the Department of State,” Cardin said.
Tuesday’s hearing on Senator Jeff Sessions to be attorney general: Climate and Krispy Kreme
On Tuesday, climate change made a momentary appearance during the confirmation hearing of Senator Jeff Sessions (R–AL) to be attorney general. In the past, Sessions has acknowledged that human activity may be warming the planet but has fiercely fought government efforts to curb emissions of warming gases including carbon dioxide and methane. During the hearing, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D–RI) asked Sessions how he would approach “making a decision about the facts of climate change” if a case before the Department of Justice required it.
In response, Sessions said:
“I don’t deny that we have global warming. In fact, the theory of it always struck me as plausible, and it’s the question of how much is happening and what the reaction would be to it. So, that’s what I would hope we could see occur.”
Here is the whole exchange, according to an unofficial transcript published by CNN.
WHITEHOUSE: You may be in a position as attorney general to either enforce laws or bring actions that relate to the problem of carbon emissions and the changes that are taking place both physically and chemically in our atmosphere and oceans as a result of the flood of carbon emissions that we’ve had.
It is the political position of the Republican Party in the Senate, as I have seen it, that this is not a problem, that we don’t need to do anything about it, that the facts aren’t real, and that we should all do nothing whatsoever. That’s the Senate.
You as attorney general of the United States may be asked to make decisions for our nation that require a factual predicate that you determine as the basis for making your decision. In making a decision about the facts of climate change, to whom will you turn? Will you, for instance, trust the military, all of whose branches agree that climate change is a serious problem of real import for them?
Will you trust our national laboratories, all of whom say the same? Will you trust our national science agencies—by the way, NASA is driving a rover around on the surface of mars right now. So, they’re [sic] scientists, I think, are pretty good.
I don’t think there is a single scientific society, I don’t think there is a single credited university, I don’t think there is a single nation that denies this basic set of facts.
And, so, if that situation is presented to you and you have to make a decision based on the facts, what can give us any assurance that you will make those facts based on real facts and real science?
SESSIONS: That’s a good and fair question, and honesty and integrity in that process is required. And if the facts justify a position on one side or the other on a case, I would try to utilize those facts in an honest and appropriate way.
I’ve not—I don’t deny that we have global warming. In fact, the theory of it always struck me as plausible, and it’s the question of how much is happening and what the reaction would be to it. So, that’s what I would hope we could see occur.
WHITEHOUSE: Indeed, I’ll bet you dollars against those lovely Krispy Kreme donuts we have out back that if you went down to the University of Alabama and if you talked to the people who fish out of mobile, they had already seen the changes in the ocean. They’d be able to measure the PH changes and they’d know the acidification is happening, and there’s no actual dispute about that except in the politics of Washington, D.C.
SESSIONS: I recognize the great interest in time and you’ve committed to the issue and I value your opinion.
WHITEHOUSE: I do come from an ocean state, and we do measure the rise in the sea level and we measure the warming of Narragansett Bay and we measure the change in PH. It’s serious for us, Senator. Thank you. My time has expired.
Source: Science Mag