EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Disputes Carbon Dioxide’s Role in Global Warming, Contradicting His Own Agency's Research

Scott Pruitt

Today Scott Pruitt, the recently appointed head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, stated in a CNBC interview that he does not believe that carbon dioxide is one of the primary contributors to global warming.

According to a partial excerpt of Pruitt’s interview posted on The Hill, Pruitt stated the following:

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see … But we don’t know that yet … we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

The Hill also points out that Pruitt gave the interview outside of a fossil fuel industry conference that he will be speaking at this week.

Pruitt’s statement runs contradictory to his own agency’s research. The EPA has already concluded that carbon dioxide is the primary driver of human-caused climate change since the Industrial Revolution and especially since the mid-20th century. According to the EPA website:

Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change. CO2 is absorbed and emitted naturally as part of the carbon cycle, through plant and animal respiration, volcanic eruptions, and ocean-atmosphere exchange. Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use, release large amounts of CO2, causing concentrations in the atmosphere to rise.

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased by more than 40% since pre-industrial times, from approximately 280 parts per million by volume (ppmv) in the 18th century to over 400 ppmv in 2015. The monthly average concentration at Mauna Loa now exceeds 400 ppmv for the first time in human history. The current CO2 level is higher than it has been in at least 800,000 years.

While Pruitt claims to accept that climate change is real, he said during his confirmation hearings and again on CNBC that there is still plenty of “debate” about the extent to which human beings are contributing to it and how rapidly and intensely climate change is happening.

What Pruitt is effectively doing is acting as a “non-denying denier.” He is casting doubt over the scientific consensus — which scientists have used science to confirm, again and again — while still claiming that he accepts the science.

Unfortunately, those two points of view cannot coexist because they directly contradict each other. You cannot claim to accept the science of climate change while at the same time spreading doubt about the scientific consensus. Yet this common approach among climate science deniers is exactly what Pruitt is doing with his new role as the head of the EPA.

As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the agency he now leads at least 14 times, and all but one of them involved campaign contributors and were filed on behalf of a polluting industry. Since 2002, he has received at least $345,246 from the oil and gas industry for his political campaigns, according to Followthemoney.org. As DeSmog has reported, thousands of emails obtained via public records requests from Pruitt's office during his time as attorney general have revealed a cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry. 

Environmental groups are already expressing outrage in response to Pruitt's comments on CNBC

“This is like your doctor telling you that cigarettes don't cause cancer,” Jamie Henn, strategic communications director for 350.org, said in a statement. “Pruitt’s statement isn’t just inaccurate, it’s a lie. He knows CO2 is the leading cause of climate change, but is misleading the public in order to protect the fossil fuel industry.”

Head over to Climate Nexus to read reactions to Pruitt's climate denial from leading climate scientists.

Main image: Scott Pruitt at the Conservative Political Action Conference 2015, February 2015. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons