Coral Davenport – The Independent US
US president regularly questions science of human-caused global warming and is working to encourage burning of coal
The Trump administration is widely expected to discount or ignore the findings from its own climate change report as it continues to cut environmental regulations, according to environmental experts.
It is also thought that opponents will use it to mount legal attacks against the administration that issued the report.
Richard L Revesz, an expert in environmental law at New York University, said: “I can imagine a lawyer for the Trump administration being asked by a federal judge – ‘How can the federal government acknowledge the seriousness of the problem, and then set aside the rules that protect the American people from the problem?’
“And they might squirm around coming up with an answer.”
US to face devastating health and economic impacts from climate change
The 1,656-page National Climate Assessment, which is required by Congress, is the most comprehensive scientific study to date detailing the effects of global warming on the US economy, public health, coastlines and infrastructure.
It describes in precise detail how the warming planet will wreak hundreds of billions of dollars of damage in coming decades.
Donald Trump has often questioned or mocked the basic science of human-caused climate change, and is now working aggressively to encourage the burning of coal and the increase of greenhouse gas pollution.
Historians and veterans of public service said that it was notable that policymakers didn’t try to soften the report’s conclusions, because that indicated the strength of the administration’s belief that it could ignore the findings in favour of policies driven by political ideology.
“This is a new frontier of disavowance of science, of disdain for facts,” said William K Reilly, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W Bush.
A White House statement said the report, started under the Obama administration, was “largely based on the most extreme scenario” of global warming and that the next assessment would provide an opportunity for greater balance.
Under a 1990 law, the federal government is required to issue the climate assessment every four years.
The latest version introduces new complexity in the political fight over regulations designed to fight climate change. That’s because, until the administration of President Barack Obama, no such regulations existed to be fought over.
Trump confuses climate change with weather, prompting despair
Mr Trump has made it a centrepiece of his administration’s policy to undo these rules.
He has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to sharply weaken the nation’s two major policies for curbing planet-warming pollution: one rule that would restrict greenhouse emissions from vehicle tailpipes, and another that would limit them from power plant smokestacks.
The rules are grounded in a 2009 legal finding, which has been upheld by federal courts, that planet-warming pollution harms human health and well-being, and therefore government policies are needed to reduce it.
In publishing the assessment, White House officials made a calculation that Mr Trump’s core base of supporters most likely would not care that its findings are so at odds with the president’s statements and policies.
That view is supported by Steven J Milloy, a member of Mr Trump’s EPA transition team who runs the website junkscience.com, which is aimed at casting doubt on the established science of human-caused climate change.
“We don’t care,” he said. “In our view, this is made-up hysteria anyway.”
The decision not to alter or suppress the report’s findings – despite its scientific conclusions so much at odds with the president’s policies – reflected a clear political calculus, according to three people familiar with the White House’s thinking.
Since the report is mandated by Congress, not issuing it would have been a violation of the law. While some political appointees within one of the agencies that contributed scientific work to the report did suggest editing the summary of its conclusions to play down the findings, that idea was also seen as too risky politically and legally, these people said.
Instead, these people said, administration officials hoped to minimise the impact by making the assessment public on the afternoon of Black Friday, the big shopping day after the Thanksgiving holiday, thinking that Americans might be unlikely to be paying attention.
People familiar with the decision to publish said White House officials sought to avoid the political blowback that hit the George W Bush administration when it was revealed in 2005 that a White House official and former oil lobbyist, Philip A Cooney, altered the language of government climate science reports to weaken the link between fossil fuel pollution and the warming of the planet.
“This moment tells you that there is a difference between the White House, and the president,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University.
He added that the White House has “lawyers and policy experts that don’t want to go down in history as falsifying data.”
In light of Friday’s report, Mr Brinkley drew a parallel between Mr Trump’s statements on climate science and President Lyndon B Johnson’s false statements to the American public a half-century ago about the Vietnam War.
“Johnson used to tell people everything was going well in Vietnam, and then you’d turn on the news and see the mayhem,” he said. “It was this giant disconnect.”
In interviews with about a dozen authors of the climate assessment, all said that White House officials had not sought to soften or weaken its language.
“I will give credit where it’s due: No one at the political level did any monkeying around with this,” said Andrew Light, a co-author of the report and a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, a Washington research organisation.
“For all the criticism of the Trump administration quashing climate science, this is one case where they did not do that.” New York Times.