In another major setback for President Donald Trump, the White House has been forced to withdraw the nomination of a leading climate skeptic to become the chair of the influential Council on Environmental Quality.
The nomination of the skeptic, Kathleen Hartnett White, had been mired in controversy due to her comments on climate change and other environmental issues, and she was struggling to win support even amongst Republicans in the Senate. Her nomination process had dragged on for over a year.
Like many in Trump nominees, she was ideologically opposed to environmentalism, and is a fellow at the conservative, free-market think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation.
But over the weekend, she asked for her nomination to be withdrawn, according to the Washington Post.
She said in a statement: “I want to thank President Trump for his confidence in me and I will continue to champion his policies and leadership on environmental and energy issues of critical importance to making our nation great, prosperous and secure again.”
She added but her name should be withdrawn “in the best interest of facilitating confirmation of the President’s nominees throughout his administration, as well the needs of my family and work.”
She has long said controversial statements: Back in 2011, she said: “there is no environmental crisis — in fact, there’s almost no major environmental problems” in the U.S.
She also was on record saying renewable energy is “a false hope that simply won’t work” and called scientists’ climate findings “the dogmatic claims of ideologues and clerics.”
In September last year, Hartnett White had described believing in “global warming” as a “kind of paganism” for “secular elites.”
Her extreme views were also on show in November at her nomination hearing at the Senate committee on environment and public works, where she struggled to answer basic questions about carbon dioxide and climate:
“CO2 in the atmosphere has none of the characteristics of a pollutant that contaminates and fouls and that and can have a direct impact on human health,” she replied when asked if she was worried by rising CO2 levels. “As an atmospheric gas it’s a plant nutrient”, she added.
When asked whether she was aware of any problems in the oceans relating to fossil fuel emissions, she replied: “there are probably a number of them”. When probed to name a few, she said she had a “very superficial understanding” of the issues.
She could not answer the question by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) about how much of excessive heat from rising CO2 emissions had been captured in the oceans.
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) November 9, 2017
She was also taken to task by Senators for writing an article that said that “signing the Paris agreement was the worst way to celebrate Earth Day”.
Another senator criticised her: “It seems to me that you don’t believe that climate change is real”. She replied to start with saying “I am uncertain”, before clarifying her remarks, saying:
“Climate change is of course real,” but added the extent to which human activity was causing global warming as “very uncertain”.
When asked whether she would rely on scientists to give her that answer she replied: “No, I have had that question for a very long time”.
It is not surprising that to coincide with the hearing, over than 300 scientists had signed a letter urging the Senate to reject her nomination, arguing. “This is not a partisan issue; it is a matter of defending scientific integrity.”
Confirming Harnett White, the group said, “would have serious consequences for people and the ecosystems of the only planet that can support us.”
The news of her withdrawal was welcomed by scientists: Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Post: “A while ago, I wrote that many Trump appointees to science-based positions could be considered to either have deep conflicts of interest, to be fundamentally opposed to the mission of the agency they were to lead or totally unqualified. Hartnett-White was all three — a trifecta,” he said.
The news was also welcomed by Democrats: Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, added in statement that “Withdrawing Kathleen Hartnett White’s nomination is the right thing to do, and I believe it is past time for this administration to nominate a thoughtful environmental and public health champion to lead this critical office in the federal government.”