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For about a week, some environmentalists maintained hope that President-elect Donald Trump might moderate his views on climate change.
The man who formerly called climate change a “Chinese hoax” acknowledged to The New York Times earlier this month that “there is some connectivity” between human activity and climate change. He took two separate meetings with high-profile environmental activists Leonardo DiCaprio and former Vice President Al Gore. And his daughter Ivanka Trump has taken a reported interest in the issue of climate change.
But any potential hope within the environmental community that Trump’s meetings inspired were quickly scuttled Wednesday, when the president-elect picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pruitt seemed to be a selection much more in line with Trump’s previously outlined environmental policy prescriptions. On the campaign trail, Trump suggested abolishing the EPA, and he pledged to roll back environmental regulations. Pruitt has close ties to the fossil-fuel industry, and he created a state unit dedicated to opposing President Barack Obama’s EPA regulations. Republicans largely praised the Pruitt pick as one that would roll back what they perceive as regulatory overreach by the Obama administration.
Top environmental activists like Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said Pruitt’s record showed that while Trump may be deft at nodding to environmentalists, he would leave crafting actual policy up to climate-change skeptics.
“I don’t think there are any mixed signals,” Brune told Business Insider in an interview Thursday. “Trump has been very consistent throughout the last year and a half saying that he doesn’t think that climate change is real, that he doesn’t intend to do anything about it.”
He added: “One little head fake with The New York Times or a meeting or two doesn’t negate the fact that he has taken just about every opportunity to appoint people to his transition team and now to nominate an EPA head – these are folks who don’t believe that climate change is real, don’t think that the US government should continue its role in public health, and side with the fossil-fuel industry over the American public.”
Other climate activists were equally as blunt.
“Pruitt’s appointment reveals Trump’s climate flip-flopping and meetings with Gore as nothing more than a smokescreen,” May Boeve, the executive director of the group 350.org, said in a statement.
Many vowed to make noise about Pruitt’s nomination.
Tom Steyer, the billionaire investor who founded the NextGen Climate advocacy group, called on Senate Democrats to reject Pruitt.
“Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt represents a serious attack on American values,” Steyer said in a statement. “It’s now up to the Senate to stand on the right side of history and fight for our families by defeating this nomination.”
Brune – who characterized Pruitt’s appointment as “putting an arsonist in charge of a fire” – said environmental activists had the upper hand, pointing to public-opinion surveys showing that most Americans believe that climate change is a serious problem.
“We’ll work with everybody in the Senate who believes that climate change is real, that the EPA’s job is to protect public health, and we think that there will be a majority of senators who will oppose this nomination,” he said. “Pruitt has a very clear and consistent track record of resisting efforts to limit pollution. And since regulating pollution would be his job as head of the EPA, he is unusually unqualified to assume this position.”