Last week, Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indicated that he does not think carbon dioxide is a significant contributor to global warming. In an interview with CNBC, Pruitt suggested that we do not know yet whether carbon dioxide caused by human activity is a primary contributor to global warming. Pruitt’s suggestion contradicts the scientific consensus on climate change, which is backed by decades of research and analysis conducted by many reputable institutions and agencies, including the EPA.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2013 that it is “extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by” human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration echoed the same sentiments in January: “The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.” Even executives at some of the nation’s largest fossil fuels were surprised by Pruitt’s out-of-touch comments.
Pruitt’s comments come as the Trump Administration strives to undermine the Obama Administrations’ fight against climate change, including a pair of regulations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles and power plant smokestacks. But Pruitt’s comments, in addition to contradicting the scientific consensus, could put the Trump Administration in violation of the federal law. In 2009, the EPA ruled that carbon dioxide met the Clean Air Act’s definition of a pollutant that harms human health. As a result, the EPA is required to regulate carbon dioxide. Pruitt said in his Senate hearing that he would not challenge the ruling, but some think that the Trump Administration will mount a legal attack on it.