Obradovich: Pruitt downplays EPA’s role in reducing carbon emissions

Source: By Kathie Obradovich, Des Moines Register • Posted: Friday, August 11, 2017

Iowa is a national leader in wind power, ranking in the top 3 nationally for capacity, power produced and number of turbines. Kelsey Kremer/The Register

EPA administrator says progress comes from technology, not regulation

The country’s top environmental regulator said Tuesday in Iowa that he had not read the draft report on climate that has been under review by the White House.

The draft of the Climate Science Special Report, which includes work by scientists at 13 federal agencies, finds that human activity was responsible for more than half of the temperature increase over the past 40 years. The Trump administration has questioned the contribution of carbon dioxide (CO2) and human activity toward climate change.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has also been on record as questioning the extent of human contribution and carbon dioxide toward climate change. But on Tuesday, he said the impact was “clear.”

“CO2’s contribution and impact on the climate is something that’s clear and human activity contributes to warming as well. I’ve said that consistently. I said it during my confirmation process,” he said. “But again, the question that has to be asked and answered is what can be done about it.”

It’s a stretch to say Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, has been consistent on the role of carbon dioxide in global climate change. He caused a furor in March, just after his confirmation, when he disagreed that carbon dioxide was a “primary” contributor to global warming:

“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,” he said during a March 9 interview on CNBC. “But we don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

The question Pruitt is raising now is not what causes climate change but what can be done about it. He’s also questioning how much it really matters: “And moreover, is this the existential threat that some say that it is? Do we know what the ideal average global temperature should be in the year 2100?”

Pruitt’s answer to “what can be done” seems to be leaning toward “not much more than we’re doing already.”

“All the activity of the previous administration, I think people forget this, with every rule that the Obama administration passed, with respect to CO2, by the year 2100, two-tenths of one degree it’s going to impact temperature. For a cost that was astronomical and a contraction of our economy,” he said.

Carbon emissions are down 18 percent from 2000 to 2014, he said. “We’ve done that largely through innovation technology and not government mandate.”

Pruitt, like Trump, tends to focus on negative economic effects of trying to reduce emissions. When I pointed out that Iowa leaders see economic opportunity in renewable fuel, he was dismissive.

“I come from a state where 18 percent of our electricity is generated from renewables. I get that. But to think that we’re going to fuel a power grid through a majority or exclusively through renewables, that’s just simply not going to take place,” he said.

But it may very well take place, at least in this state. Iowa gets nearly 40 percent of its electricity from wind energy. MidAmerican Energy has set a goal to reach 100 percent of its electricity generation from renewables. Pruitt is from Oklahoma, where there is more than enough wind to generate much of the state’s electricity but where the fossil fuel industries are central to the economy.

Trump, on his trip to Iowa in June, made derisive comments about wind energy. “I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes and your factories — as the birds fall to the ground,” he said.

Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, said Tuesday that she works to promote the economic potential of green energy.

“That’s what I focus on, really, is promoting what we’re doing right and encouraging others to follow suit. MidAmerican is expanding their wind fields and if we can continue to do that, export that energy into other states, they would be less reliant on those fossil fuel resources,” she said.

Pruitt held no public meetings in Iowa during his visit. He attended an invitation-only event at the Iowa Farm Bureau office with Iowa elected officials and farmers on water regulation.

I hope he comes back again to see for himself the jobs being generated by Iowa’s wind and biofuels industries. He could learn a lot. In the meantime, he might want to pick up that climate science report.

Disclosure: My husband is a lobbyist and his clients include two wind energy associations. He doesn’t lobby the federal government. I didn’t discuss this issue with him and my opinions are always my own.