A lawsuit filed in March by the Southern Environmental Law Center and Environmental Defense Fund has revealed new levels of coordination between Scott Pruitt‘s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the climate science-denying think tank the Heartland Institute.
The EPA had repeatedly failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests by the two groups, which resulted in the lawsuit and subsequent release of the email communications.
However, both the EPA and the Heartland Institute have strongly defended their actions revealed by the newly released emails. EPA spokesperson Lincoln Ferguson told the Associated Press that communications with the Heartland Institute helped “to ensure the public is informed” and that this relationship “… demonstrates the agency’s dedication to advancing President Trump’s agenda of environmental stewardship and regulatory certainty.”
The current head of the Heartland Institute is former Congressman Tim Huelskamp who also was quick to defend the relationship.
“Of course The Heartland Institute has been working with EPA on policy and personnel decisions,” Tim Huelskamp said in a statement to AP. “They recognized us as the pre-eminent organization opposing the radical climate alarmism agenda and instead promoting sound science and policy.”
In March Huelskamp wrote a piece in The Hill titled “Scott Pruitt is leading the EPA toward greatness,” in which he made it quite clear that the reason for this greatness was that “Trump and Pruitt share an understanding that climate change is not a significant threat to the prosperity and health of Americans.”
While in Congress, Huelskamp’s top donor was Koch Industries, the massive petrochemical empire owned by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David.
However, this latest revelation is unlikely to derail Pruitt’s career at the EPA. Pruitt is currently the subject of at least ten investigations. At a scathing hearing in April, he was told by one Congressman that “you are unfit to hold public office and undeserving of the public trust.”
Still, Pruitt remains the emabattled chief of the nation’s top environmental agency under Trump, and, perhaps not surprisingly, President Donald Trump has been supportive of Pruitt.
Trump doubles down in support of Pruitt: He’s ‘doing a great job!’ https://t.co/45kZZgXDk7 pic.twitter.com/pbFRb3I3yu
— POLITICO (@politico) April 8, 2018
Like his boss, Pruitt is quick to blame the media for his problems.
“Much of what has been targeted towards me and my team, has been half-truths, or at best stories that have been so twisted they do not resemble reality,” Pruitt said in his opening remarks to Congress during the April hearing. “I’m here and I welcome the chance to be here to set the record straight in these areas. But let’s have no illusions about what’s really going on here.”
So what is really going on here?
Heartland Institute: Pushing Disinformation on the Public
The Heartland Institute is a notorious climate denial organization which has mailed tens of thousands of books that attacked climate science to public school science teachers. The group held a press conference to attack Pope Francis when he spoke about climate change in 2015. And in 2012 Heartland put up a billboard comparing those who believe that global warming is real to the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
Supported by funding from the Koch network, Heartland has been actively spreading disinformation about climate science for years.
What the latest EPA emails reveal is the extent which these Koch-funded climate deniers are now in direct communication with the EPA and helping influence policy. One email from John Konkus, EPA’s deputy associate administrator for public affairs, assures Heartland’s then-president Joseph Bast that “If you send a list, we will make sure an invitation is sent.”
The list refers to Heartland’s recommendations for economists and scientists that the EPA would invite to a public hearing on science standards. Under Trump and Pruitt, climate science deniers are now hand-picking who advises the EPA on climate change science.
The emails also show EPA officials communicating with the Heartland Institute to try to rally “activists” to support the repeal of the Obama administration’s signature, if moderate, climate change program, the now under siege Clean Power Plan, which would regulate greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Kym Hunter, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, explained the rationale for the lawsuit seeking the email communications with Heartland.
“EPA’s efforts to promote climate change deniers and undermine peer-reviewed science behind closed doors is not only a failure of its mission, it is illegal,” Hunter said. “The public has a clear and protected right to know what the EPA is doing and with whom they are communicating, including those pushing a climate-denier agenda.”
Main image: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaking at CPAC 2018. Credit: Zach Roberts for DeSmog