When the court rules against you.
Photo: AP

Area scandal lover Scott Pruitt is a man known for saying many dumb things about climate change. Now he’s being compelled to say where he gets his information from, and it could be very revealing.

A judge ruled earlier this week that the Environmental Protection Agency must respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) last year asking for “agency records that Administrator Pruitt relied upon to support his statements in his CNBC interview.”

Advertisement

That’s a reference to the infamous CNBC interview that aired on “Squawk Box” on March 9, 2017, during which Pruitt was asked about his views on climate change. Here was his response:

“Measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

There is not “tremendous disagreement” about the degree to which humans are influencing the climate. In fact, our greenhouse gas pollution is the primary driver of “the global warming that we see.” Pruitt’s statements are completely at odds with reality, including science published by the agency he runs.

Advertisement

“If the head of the EPA goes on a TV show in his role as the top administrator for the nation’s environmental agency and says that human activity does not contribute to global warming, the public has a right to see what agency records he relied on to reach his conclusion,” Sarah Lamdan, a FOIA expert at CUNY, told Earther.

Thus was the thinking of PEER, which filed a FOIA asking exactly where Pruitt got that information from. The EPA has stonewalled them (as it has stonewalled many public records requests under Pruitt), claiming some of the information was unknowable and not in the public interest. So, PEER took them to court.

“Forcing FOIA requestors to resort to court battles like this one wastes government time and money, and creates an uneven playing field where only people with the means and expertise to tangle in the courts over FOIA requests will ever get the records that the law is meant to ensure access to,” Lamdan said.

Advertisement

In PEER’s case, though, the records may be forthcoming. U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell disagreed with the EPA, and has given it a deadline of July 2 to provide a response to the request. If it can’t meet the deadline, the EPA will have to explain why by July 11. Here’s part of her decision reprimanding the agency:

“EPA’s strained attempt to raise an epistemological smokescreen will not work here to evade its obligations under the FOIA...The public statements of an agency head about the causes of climate change, even if those statements do not reflect an ‘Agency decision,’ but merely ‘personal opinion,’ may nonetheless guide the agency’s regulatory efforts and, to the extent any agency records provide the basis for such public statements, those agency records are a perfectly proper focus of a FOIA request.”

Of course we already know there is no evidence to back up Pruitt’s statements. We do know, however, that the EPA landing team was stocked with climate deniers from conservative think tanks and that the ranks of political appointees are full of lobbyists and lawyers who have worked with the fossil fuel industry. Getting records of their climate conversations with Pruitt be damning. On the other hand, the EPA coming back empty handed would further illustrate how science is being sidelined for ideology at the agency.

Advertisement

“EPA no doubt rejected this request because a full response—production of the documents supporting Pruitt’s doubts about climate change—would probably unearth little or no legitimate scientific literature, and just some coal industry talking points,” Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia, told Earther in an email. “That should be embarrassing to Pruitt, except that he had shown himself immune to embarrassment.”

Which, true.