Agency chiefs tackle Harvey but dispute climate’s role

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, September 1, 2017

The heads of President Trump’s energy and environment agencies have taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to tackling Hurricane Harvey, bouncing from cable network interviews to meetings with local officials in Texas.

They’ve also been unified in pushing back on any link to climate change.

“People will say this is a clear indication that man-made climate change is the reason these storms are occurring. Scientists on the other side of the desk will say, ‘Well maybe not,'” Energy Secretary Rick Perry toldThe Dallas Morning News yesterday. “I don’t buy into the deal that the science is settled on it.”

He added: “The point is the climate is changing. We’ve never argued that the climate’s not changing. Are we going to make massive changes in the U.S. policies on that information? This administration says no, we’re not.”

Perry’s comments came shortly after U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt dismissed talk of climate change in Harvey’s wake as “misplaced” and an attempt to “politicize an ongoing tragedy” during an interview with Breitbart (Greenwire, Aug. 30).

And when a spokeswoman for the Interior Department was asked whether Secretary Ryan Zinke believes Hurricane Harvey is attributable to climate change, she said Zinke “remains laser-focused” on responding to the unfolding crisis along the Gulf Coast.

“Regarding the storm, the secretary believes that Hurricane Harvey, along with other hurricanes that have formed throughout history, was created as a result of warm, moist air from tropical waters rising and evaporating, thus causing a circulating pressure system,” said Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift.

The heads of those agencies weren’t alone among the administration.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway during an interview with CNN today bristled after Chris Cuomo asked about connections between the massive hurricane’s record rainfall and emissions causing rising global temperatures. “Chris, we’re trying to help the people whose lives are literally underwater, and you want to have a conversation about climate change?” Conway said.

The Trump administration’s response has drawn criticism in a string of editorials that argue now is the time to highlight the dangers and multiplier effects of climate change. “Harvey should be a warning to Trump that climate change is a global threat,” wrote the Los Angeles Times editorial board.

Other groups attacked the administration’s proposed budget cuts to critical science agencies and its deregulatory agenda as possibly worsening the effects of such storms.

“Trump’s climate policy legacy will be making disasters like Harvey worse,” Silvio Marcacci, the communications director of Energy Innovation, a California-based think tank, wrote in The Hill.

While researchers have urged caution in drawing a causal relationship between one extreme weather event and the plant’s shifting climate, scientists say there’s growing evidence of humanity’s impact on increasingly severe storms. Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann wrote in a recent Facebook post, for example, wrote about “certain climate change-related factors that we can, with great confidence, say worsened the flooding,” including sea-level rise tied to storm surge, rising sea surface temperatures and more.

To be sure, the agency heads swiftly responded to Harvey. Shortly after canceling a planned trip to Kazakhstan, Perry, Texas’ longest-serving governor, appeared on cable networks applauding local officials and emphasizing collaboration with the federal government.

This afternoon, the secretary’s Twitter showed him landing in his home state of Texas alongside Vice President Mike Pence. “#WheelsDown in TX w/ @VP & other officials. Crowd waiting broke out in song. Extraordinary people coming together to help one another! #USA,” Perry tweeted.

Images of Pruitt meeting local officials yesterday in the hard-hit Texas town of Corpus Christi later were postedon Twitter, while Zinke mobilized his agency’s staff in Louisiana, currently ground zero for the tropical storm’s wrath, and huddled with federal workers in Washington, D.C., monitoring the area’s dams.

But the secretaries also took time out of disaster response to focus on politics, including Trump’s opening pitch on tax reform yesterday. “Public lands, @NatlParkService and gateway communities will benefit from #TaxReform,” Zinke tweeted.

“.@POTUS is keeping his promise to America by supporting real tax reform that will help families & bring investment & jobs BACK to America,” Perry added.

Perry also stepped aside from disaster response to squelch rumors he’s being considered to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Perry told The Dallas Morning News that GOP Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who leads the House Homeland Security Committee, is the “ideal” candidate.

Addressing speculation that he may be moved from one agency to another, Perry responded, “I’m not under consideration and not thinking about it.”