the national interest

National Review Shows Why Conservatives Outsourced Environmental Policy to Lobbyists and Kooks

EPA director Scott Pruitt, the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being Kevin Williamson has ever known in his life. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Other than the handful of hard-core climate-science skeptics who have invested their professional reputations in the cause of denying the theory of anthropogenic global warming, and will never admit defeat, the subject of climate change tends to embarrass professional conservatives. Climate-science denial is a form of true kookery rejected by every major conservative political party outside the United States, and a clear indication of the unique anti-government fanaticism of the GOP.

Kevin Williamson’s laudatory National Review cover story on Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt takes a unique approach to the awkward problem. Williamson lavishes Pruitt with extensive, fulsome praise, while steering clear of the elephant in the room. Williamson depicts Pruitt as almost saintlike: “a deeply intelligent man … He’s the last thing the Left expects to see in a Trump appointee: principled … He is genuinely excited about the possibilities we have for improving the environment.”

Williamson’s portrait of Pruitt, told entirely from Pruitt’s perspective and unburdened by even rudimentary efforts at independent verification, is so flattering, it would be disturbing if Pruitt actually believes it. According to Pruitt/Williamson, opponents of his policies believe “we exist to serve creation” — that is, humans should subordinate themselves to the physical Earth.

While some marginal environmentalists believe this, it is not, in fact, the position of the Democratic Party, nor of the Republicans who have criticized Pruitt. Their position is that unregulated emission of harmful pollutants harms human beings.

The most dramatic point of difference between Pruitt and his critics is that the latter believe, along with the scientific community, that greenhouse gases are among those pollutants. Pruitt has denied the conclusions of the scientific community. “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,” he told CNBC last year. “So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

This is the single greatest change that Pruitt has brought about. The previous EPA believed that the emission of greenhouse-gas emissions posed an environmental problem, and Pruitt does not. You might think a story that runs well over 3,000 words would defend Pruitt’s position, which is quite central to his agenda. After all, if greenhouse gases are harmless, as Pruitt maintains, then his policy of allowing companies to dump them into the atmospheric commons for free is perfectly sensible. If, on the other hand, heat-trapping gases trap heat in the atmosphere, as climate scientists maintain, then Pruitt’s policy has very serious downsides.

It would be a service for readers to learn more about Pruitt’s belief that scientists across the world have made a ghastly error about greenhouse-gas emissions. Instead, Williamson literally makes no mention at all of Pruitt’s skepticism of the theory of anthropogenic global warming. Pruitt’s critics are just a bunch of meanies who hate him for no apparent reason other than their weird hippie Earth Mother disdain for humanity.

Throughout the story, Williamson transmits a series of obviously false claims by Pruitt. “He is unsparing in his assessment of the Obama administration, which he views as having been so strangled by its ideological commitments that it not only deformed the EPA but also failed to achieve any number of realistic, near-term environmental goals.”

Failed to achieve any realistic near-term goals? Environmentalists have tabulated many achievements by the last administration. On climate change alone, the price of solar and wind energy plummeted, and U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions declined 20 percent after having risen almost continuously since the Industrial Revolution. One could argue from the left that Obama did not do enough, or from the right that his gains came at too high a cost. The notion that Obama accomplished nothing on the environment is a silly one that Williamson does not bother to substantiate because he couldn’t.

Williamson repeats Pruitt’s contention that he has strengthened regulation of non-greenhouse-gas pollutants:

Contrary to the cartoon version of him generally offered up in the press, Pruitt in many ways desires to lead the EPA to take stronger positions on some environmental problems, especially air quality. “We still have a lot of work to do on clean air,” he says. “The problem is that for the past decade we’ve been so focused on CO2 that we’ve let a lot of other things slide.” Regulating the greenhouse gas as “air pollution” was a cherished and ultimately failed priority for the Obama administration, and, in Pruitt’s view, this took attention away from more ordinary concerns, such as industrial emissions and smog.

What “stronger positions” has Pruitt taken on air quality? Williamson does not name any. In fact, Pruitt has also weakened regulation of smog and non-greenhouse-gas industrial pollution, along with regulations on pesticides, water pollution, and other environmental hazards. Yes, President Trump has promised cleaner air and water, even as he dismisses climate change as a hoax, and Pruitt is telling Williamson he is carrying out this promise. But a casual skimming of news stories reveals this as a lie.

Does Williamson actually believe that stronger regulation of non-greenhouse-gas pollution is desirable? If so, he will probably be troubled to learn that Pruitt is pursuing the opposite of what Williamson portrays as sensible public policy. More likely, Williamson’s actual belief is that whatever Pruitt does is ipso facto good.

Environmental reporters in general, and the New York Times in particular, have produced extensive reporting detailing Pruitt’s close ties to the fossil-fuel industry, which run so deep and wide it is frequently impossible to disentangle the industry’s beliefs from Pruitt’s. Unsurprisingly, this does not feature at all in Williamson’s profile, except in part of one sentence, in which Williamson dismisses the entire notion: “His critics may dismiss him as a creature of oil and gas, as an ogre who is willing to see the water and air despoiled in the service of his corporate allies, but he is in fact a true believer.”

Note the phrase “in fact.” It is obviously possible that Pruitt has entirely public-minded reasons for approving a suite of changes demanded by the fossil-fuel industry, which has underwritten his political career and will surely continue to finance his future ambitions. Human motivation is complex and mysterious. It is not, however, the kind of conclusion that can be stated as a “fact.”

The willingness of a prestigious conservative magazine to accept on faith an official’s protestations of purity, and to assume his factual claims need no verification, shows how the Republican Party has slid into environmental extremism. Anti-science kooks and business lobbyists make all the decisions, and their fellow conservatives pay no attention to the details but trust they are doing the right thing.

Conservatives Outsourced Climate to Lobbyists and Kooks