Anti-Science Nominee Kathleen Hartnett-White Faces Renewed Scrutiny for Top Environmental Post

January 4, 2018 | 11:34 am
Kathleen Rest
Former Executive Director

Update (January 8, 2018):  President Trump has re-nominated Kathleen Hartnett-White as the head of the Council on Environmental Quality. We can stop her confirmation. Call your senators today and ask them to oppose the confirmation of Hartnett-White:  866-580-8532.

Kathleen Hartnett-White was an ill-advised nomination to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) from the get-go.

Perhaps the Trump administration assumed her nomination would fly under the radar. CEQ is not exactly a high-profile entity; you don’t hear or read much about it. Nor is there much public discussion about the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that the CEQ oversees, even though NEPA is considered the Magna Carta of Environmental Law—so admired it has been replicated by nations around the world. (For more, here’s some quick background on CEQ and NEPA).

Serving industry interests over the public interest

Be assured, however, that regulated industries (especially the petrochemical industry) are well aware of NEPA. Some may be counting on Hartnett-White to weaken its environmental and public health protections. One commenter even noted that Hartnett-White’s nomination is a “game changer” in terms of CEQ ensuring agency enforcement and implementation of NEPA; the commenter mused that “It seems Trump has a very different role in mind, and CEQ is being lined up as a streamlining agency to make sure permitting is happening more quickly…. Maybe the idea is that CEQ will be pushing agencies to get things done quicker and not get bogged down in broader NEPA reviews.”

Along with other Trump appointees—like EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry—Harnett-White, if confirmed, seems destined to serve industry interests over the public interest. That should worry all of us.

Facing intense scrutiny

White’s nomination hasn’t escape scrutiny in either mainstream or social media. It got a lot of press (here, here, here, here). More than 300 scientists sent a letter to the Senate opposing her nomination “because one thing more dangerous than climate change is lying.” (More here.) And she did herself no favors at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee where her extreme views and lack of understanding of basic scientific issues were embarrassing and on full display (see for yourself).

Her written responses to EPW Committee questions for the record also reiterated some of her anti-science views on climate change, particulate air pollution, mercury and air toxics, and the Clean Air Act. And then of course there is the fact that she actually plagiarized some responses from the answers submitted by other Cabinet nominees.

Despite her embarrassingly poor performance at the hearing and her historically extreme views, Hartnett-White was narrowly voted out of the EPW Committee on a strict party-line basis on November 29, 2017. But her nomination did not make it to the Senate floor in 2017.

Dangerous, outside the mainstream, and unfit to lead CEQ

Although CEQ is relatively small and unknown, it plays a critical role in our nation’s public health and environmental protection, especially through NEPA. And Hartnett-White’s views on climate science, air pollution and health, clean and renewable energy, and the role of science in public policy are dangerous and outside the mainstream. Our country needs and deserves a more qualified candidate to lead CEQ.

Kathleen Hartnett-White vs. Science

These few snippets of her views and prior statements make their own case—and you can see more here.

Hartnett-White: “Ambient PM [particulate matter, a.k.a. soot] levels in the United States today are low and I do not believe that PM at these levels pose a health hazard. There is considerable uncertainty in the scientific literature about whether exposure to PM actually causes adverse health outcomes and, if it does, at what concentration effects may occur.” (Written submission to EPW questions for the record, 2017: Question 34, page 13.)

Science: Numerous scientific studies document adverse health effects of particulate matter (e.g., here and here). A 2017 Harvard study could find no evidence of a safe level of exposure to smog or particulate matter.

Hartnett-White: “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, and carbon is certainly not a poison. Carbon is the chemical basis of all life on earth. Our bones and blood are made out of carbon. A natural, trace gas in the Earth’s atmosphere, invisible and odorless, carbon dioxide does not contaminate the air as genuine pollutants can do. Ambient CO2 has zero health impacts. This falsely maligned natural gas is better known as the “gas of life” because it is a necessary nutrient for plant growth — the food base of life on the planet earth.” (Op-Ed in Austin American-Statesman, 2016)

Science: Credible scientists and institutions recognize CO2 as the most important and dangerous driver of climate change; it remains in the atmosphere for decades and, as a climate pollutant, is associated with a host of health impacts. See here, here, here, and here.

Hartnett-White: “IPCC science claims of 95 percent certainty that human activity is causing climate calamity are more like the dogmatic claims of ideologues and clerics than scientific conclusions.” (June 2014 TPPF policy document, titled “Fossil Fuels: The Moral Case”).

“There’s a real dark side in the kind of paganism, the secular elites of religion now being evidently global warming.” (From 2016 interview on the TRP Show, The Right Perspective)

Science: IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report (AR5) is the result of the collaboration of over 800 scientists from 80 countries and the assessment of over 30,000 scientific papers.

Hartnett-White: “I am not at all persuaded by the IPCC science that we are standing on some precipice…. “We’re not standing on a cliff from which we are about to fall off.” She also called the scientific conclusions from United Nations panels “not validated and politically corrupt.” (Washington Post, 2017)

Science: IPCC, 5th Assessment Report (AR5), Summary for Policy Makers (SPM), pages 8-16:  “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

Public health experts also sound the alarm. The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change…”exposes the urgency for a response as environmental changes cause damaging effects on health worldwide now.”

Hartnett-White: “[The IPCC] never really takes on an explanation of how the other variables in climate affect climate. […] It never takes on the Sun.” (Speaking at Ars Technica, 2016)

Science: IPCC SPM, Page 8.  Shows the negligible contribution of “natural forcings” and “anthropogenic forcings.” See also NASA data, Figures 1 and 2 and National Academy of Sciences, page 9

Hartnett-White: “Most green energy policies undermine human progress.” (from her book Fueling Freedom, co-authored with Heritage Foundation fellow Stephen Moore).

Science: See, for example: Renewable Resources: The Impact of Green Energy on the Economy; The Economics of Renewable Energy: Falling Costs and Rising Employment; more here and here.

Hartnett-White: “Government by popularly elected representatives on the one hand and the government by federal administrators swearing by the authority of science, on the other hand, are contradictory notions. I would call the latter, moreover, an acutely dangerous notion. Regrettably, in the modern United States these two incompatible policy-making models clash often, and with dire results. Elected officials trying to carry out their public duties—e.g., maximizing access to clean, affordable energy—meet stubborn opposition from federal mandarins brandishing their scientific credentials.”  (Texas Public Policy Foundation, 5/18/2012)

Science: To the benefit of public health, federal scientists have “brandished their scientific credentials” on a host of toxic substances (e.g., lead, arsenic, silica), not to mention on HIV, bird flu, food safety, etc. (Add your favorite to the list here.) This recent op-ed by former EPA Administrator Ruckleshaus is also worth a read.

A second bite at the apple?

There may be hope yet. Senate rules require all unconfirmed nominations still pending at the end of its first session be sent back to the White House—unless there is unanimous consent that it be held over without re-nomination. If a nomination is sent back, the confirmation process begins all over again. And, thanks to Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the Hartnett-White nomination has gone back to the White House. This means President Trump would need to re-nominate her—or someone else—and there may be another EPW hearing and vote before any nominee goes before the full Senate for confirmation. (Read about this here.)

This provides several opportunities for a re-think. Hartnett-White could avoid herself further embarrassment and withdraw her nomination or the administration could decide to do the same and instead nominate a more qualified candidate for this important post.

If Hartnett-White is re-nominated, EPW Committee members who previously voted for her could put party politics aside and NOT send her nomination to the Senate floor. And, if all else fails, the full Senate could look honestly at her record, her anti-science and unscientific views, her coterie of ardent benefactors among polluting industries, and her own deep conflicts of interest, along with her questionable support of and at times outright hostility for our fundamental environmental laws. And then the Senate itself could do the right thing and reject her nomination.

Time to speak up. Again.

We’ve seen how our collective voices can make a difference. Public pressure and scrutiny has already forced other unqualified candidates to withdraw, including Sam Clovis, who was nominated to be chief scientist at the US Department of Agriculture; and Michael Dourson, who was nominated to be Assistant Administrator for Toxic Substances of the EPA.

We need to exercise our voices (and writing skills) yet again to oppose this egregious nomination.

Call your senators today at 866-580-8532 and urge them to oppose the nomination of Kathleen Hartnett-White. You can prepare with more information and talking points to help you have as effective a call as possible.

If the White House does nominate her once again, call your Senators and ask them to oppose her confirmation. You can also help fight this nomination by penning a letter to the editor or an op-ed for your local paper (some helpful hints here), and speaking out on social media.

We’ve done it before, and we can do it again. But time is of the essence; the time to act is now.