By Darlene Superville
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The White House late Saturday confirmed plans to withdraw the nomination of a climate change skeptic with ties to the fossil fuel industry to serve as President Donald Trump’s top environmental adviser.
Kathleen Hartnett White was announced last October as Trump’s choice to chair the Council on Environmental Quality. She had served under former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now Trump’s energy secretary, for six years on a commission overseeing the state environmental agency.
But White’s nomination languished in the Senate, and was among a batch of nominations the Senate sent back to the White House at the end of 2017 when Congress closed up for the year. Trump resubmitted White’s nomination in January.
White, who is not a scientist, has compared the work of mainstream climate scientists to “the dogmatic claims of ideologues and clerics.” In a contentious Senate hearing last November, she defended past statements that particulate pollution released by burning fuels is not harmful unless one were to suck on a car’s tailpipe.
Critics of White’s nomination to head the council pointed to her praise of fossil fuels as having improved living conditions around the world and helping to end slavery. She has called carbon dioxide not a pollutant but “a necessary nutrient for plant life.”
During Perry’s tenure as governor of Texas, White often was critical of what she called the Obama administration’s “imperial EPA,” the Environmental Protection Agency, and she opposed stricter limits on air and water pollution.
White was a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank that received funding from Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Chevron and other fossil-fuels companies. White could not immediately be reached late Saturday for comment.
The Washington Post first reported late Saturday on plans by the White House to pull White’s nomination, citing two administration officials who had been briefed on the matter but spoke on condition of anonymity because the White House has not formally announced its decision.
A White House official later confirmed the Post report. The official was not authorized to discuss personnel decisions by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump himself has called climate change a hoax and has laid the groundwork for withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accords.
Other top Trump administration officials who question the scientific consensus that carbon released in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is the primary driver of global warming include Perry, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
U.S. Senator Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said it was “abundantly clear very early on” that heading the Council on Environmental Quality wasn’t the right job for White. Carper called withdrawing White’s nomination “the right thing to do” and urged the Trump administration to nominate a “thoughtful environmental and public health champion to lead this critical office in the federal government.”