Five Climate Science Deniers to Know in Trump's Administration

Read time: 8 mins
Trump, Perry, Zinke, Pence, and Pruitt

There are five folks spearheading the United States government who think that when it comes to climate change, they know better than all of the world’s main scientific institutions.

There’s Donald Trump himself, of course, who famously tweeted that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese, and said that a cold snap in the weather overturns a century or more of scientific inquiry.

Then there’s energy secretary Rick Perry, whose fuzzy logic on the science sees him unconvinced that CO2 is the key driver of climate change.

Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, is similarly confused and non-committal about the impacts of burning fossil fuels, as is former coal-lobbyist-turned-EPA head Andrew Wheeler. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson said in 2015 that climate change was “irrelevant,” that temperatures were driven by natural cycles and, since then, has avoided questions about the role of human activity in climate change.

OK, so there are more than five (with Mike PenceMike Pompeo, and Jeff Sessions among those who have denied the science in the past), but these five are well positioned to influence the energy and climate policies of the nation.

Wheeler, for example, is driving through cuts to national efficiency standards for motor vehicles and is relaxing pollution rules on coal power plants. Zinke and Perry are aggresively promoting fossil fuel growth with Trump as the climate-wrecker-in-chief. Carson heads an agency that has a role in promoting (or not) climate change adaptation and resilience for homes and properties, particularly after natural disasters.

Remembering not only do these five reject the advice of the world’s major science academies, but also the expertise of the scientists working in their own government agencies.

But while these five might be relative household names with their views well reported, DeSmog presents five lesser-known climate science deniers inside the administration who are also in positions to gut federal action on climate and promote fossil fuel-friendly policies, backed by their own convictions that climate change just isn't much of a problem.

Will Happer

Will Happer, emeritus professor from Princeton University, was once in the running as Trump’s science advisor but has now been appointed to the National Security Council, specializing in emerging technologies.

After news of Happer’s appointment became public, Science, republishing E&E News, characterized the 79-year-old physicist as a “vocal critic of mainstream climate science.”

But Happer is more than a mere critic — he has acted as an enabler and activist against action on climate change for well over a decade.

For years, Happer was chairman at the George Marshall Institute and then, when that was shuttered, he founded the CO2 Coalition with former Exxon director, the late Roger Cohen. Both groups took fringe positions on the science of climate change, with Happer claiming that adding more fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere will be good for humans.

In 2015, Happer was caught in a sting by Greenpeace when he offered to write a report on the “benefits” of CO2 for a fake oil client and then hide the funding, which would be directed to the CO2 Coalition. Since then, that group has received funding from the foundation of Trump backer and hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer.

In December 2016, Happer attended a conference organized by conspiracy theorist G. Edward Griffin. Now he’s on the National Security Council.

Late in 2017, the Trump administration nixed climate change from a list of global threats to the U.S. in the National Security Strategy. 

It's safe to say Happer won't be leading any pushes to add it back in.

Bill Wehrum

Bill Wehrum is the U.S. government’s most senior official on air pollution, as the assistant administrator in the Office of Air and Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Wehrum is a long-serving lawyer for the coal industry, as well as petrochemical and petroleum industry groups (such as Koch Industries).

Wehrum’s office is also tasked with looking at regulations to tackle power plant pollution and climate change and recently proposed the Affordable Clean Energy rule as a replacement for Obama's Clean Power Plan. 

But as the New York Times reported, Wehrum has been delivering big time for his former fossil fuel industry clients by proposing the new rule, which EPA's own analysis shows would increase premature deaths from pollution.

One former EPA director, Bruce Buckheit, told the New York Times: “They basically found the most aggressive and knowledgeable fox and said, ‘Here are the keys to the hen-house.'”

Over a decade earlier, Wehrum was in the same position at EPA as he is now and back then argued against granting California a Clean Air Act waiver to set more stringent pollution standards for vehicles. 

Back in power at the EPA, he ran the agency's midterm review of auto emissions standards, which this year recommended rolling back the stricter standards proposed by the Obama administration.

Under question during his confirmation hearings, Wehrum claimed that CO2 emissions as a main driver of climate change, which the government’s own scientists confirm, was to him an “open question.”

Brooke Rollins

Rollins was an aide to Texas Governor Rick Perry before spending 15 years leading the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), which she left in early 2018 to become assistant to the president in the Office of American Innovation (OIA), based in the White House (some wonder what the OIA actually does).

During her time at TPPF, Rollins promoted the work of the organization’s Kathleen Hartnett White, a climate science denier and fossil fuel evangelist whose controversial nomination to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality was ultimately withdrawn.

In August 2018, Rollins appeared at the Heartland Institute’s energy conference alongside that think tank’s new president Tim Huelskamp.

At the conference, Rollins nodded as Huelskamp suggested American schoolchildren’s heads were being “filled with mush” about the dangers of CO2.

When asked if the inner-workings of the White House were as chaotic as some media had claimed, Rollins replied: “Is there chaos? Yes. But I would say it’s like the chaos of my home — having four children in five years.”

Home life was like a “goat rodeo,” she said, and working in the White House wasn’t “much different.”

While at TPPF, Rollins wrote that Trump should exit the Paris climate agreement

What she's actually doing in her role with OIA remains unclear, but the fact that she appeared at the America First Energy Conference, hosted by a climate science denying think tank, indicates she isn't likely straying from her previous positions on climate and energy.

Todd Wynn

Todd Wynn is director of the Interior Department’s Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs after spending years in pro-fossil fuel industry think tanks, many with Koch network connections.

On Wynn’s CV is his time working at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate bill mill where he led that group’s energy task force.

In that position, he fought against state renewable energy mandates and federal regulation of fracking fluids.

Lisa Graves, co-director of DocumentedInvestigations.org, has described Wynn as an “aggressive fossil fuel insider.”

In his new position with the Department of the Interior, Wynn is responsible for “strengthen[ing] relationships between state and local partners and external stakeholders” with Secretary Zinke's office, which, by the looks of it, has already been quite cozy with fossil fuel stakeholders.

An investigation by HuffPost alleged Wynn may have violated an ethics pledge by continuing to liaise with former associates while in his new job.

Wynn has been a rising star in the influential network of fossil fuel-funded think tanks that push policies and produce pseudoscientific research to muddle the debate on climate change,” the HuffPost report detailed.

Wynn has himself questioned the role that fossil fuel emissions have on warming the planet, suggesting in 2010 that it was “absolutely ridiculous” to claim CO2 was driving climate change.

Daniel Simmons

Who better to lead the Trump administration's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy than a man who once asked for that same office to be closed while barracking for fossil fuels? Daniel Simmons is just that guy.

As reported by DeSmog and others, Simmons spent years working for so-called “free market think tanks,” including the Institute for Energy Research, before joining the Trump transition team and then securing the nomination for the role, located in the Department of Energy.

Simmons has a history of working at organizations that attack programs aimed at encouraging the development of clean energy industries like solar and wind power. But in 2015, the American Energy Alliance (AEA), where he was working, attacked the office Simmons now heads, writing disapprovingly that its role was to “promote and subsidize 'clean energy' as determined by government bureaucrats.”

The office, AEA wrote, “aims to control multiple sectors of the economy, from energy production and transmission to manufacturing and construction.” Cutting the office entirely could “save” the administration more than $9 billion. Simmons himself has claimed that the costs of the Paris climate agreement target of keeping global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius would be greater than any benefits.

Perfect man for the job? In the Trump administration, the answer is yes.

Main image: President Trump, flanked by Ryan Zinke, Mike Pence, Rick Perry, and former EPA director Scott Pruitt. Credit: White House, public domain

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