The Environmental Protection Agency press shop was an abomination under Scott Pruitt. And it’s not much better under Andrew Wheeler.
On Wednesday, the EPA put out a press release attempting to smear the National Climate Assessment, the landmark federal report that clearly lays out the choices the U.S. faces when it comes to climate change. It all started in the morning, when Wheeler trotted out a lie that’s become now standard in the Trump administration’s inept assault on the report. Speaking with the Washington Post Live, here’s what he had to say:
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Obama administration told the report’s authors to take a look at the worst-case scenario for this report.”
This is statement falls in line with talking points from the administration that have attempted to cast the report as only considering one scenario, something that is demonstrably false. Wheeler’s remark was widely covered (as was his inability to name three environmental accomplishments under Trump). In an effort to back up the off-base claim, the EPA blasted out a press release “fact checking” the acting administrator’s statement, using not scientific literature or planning documents to back up its claim. It went to an article by the Daily Caller News Foundation, a right-wing news site founded by Tucker Carlson and foundation largely funded by the Koch brothers. It’s a well Trump’s EPA has visited before.
If you read the Daily Caller report, you would find it cites a 2015 memo that says the National Climate Assessment “will focus on RCP 8.5 as a high-end scenario and RCP 4.5 as a low-end scenario.” So yes, technically it is accurate to say the Obama administration asked the authors to look at the worst case scenario, just as it is also accurate to say it suggested they explore a scenario where emissions begin to decline by mid-century. But wait! There’s more! The memo continues, emphasis ours:
“Other scenarios (e.g., RCP 2.6) may be used in addition where instructive, such as in analyses of mitigation issues. The use of RCPs 8.5 and RCP 4.5 as core scenarios is generally consistent with the range of emission scenarios used in the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA3). In addition, using a low-end and a high-end scenario will facilitate communications of assessment findings...
The use of a range of future scenarios has become common in studies of the long-term implications of climate outcomes that result from different emission pathways.
The insinuation that the Obama administration only cared about a scenario where carbon emissions proceed unchecked is false. The report includes a range of scenarios that are possible to show what our choices are (and they’re pretty stark).
“The Obama administration didn’t push for any particular scenario, as far as I am aware,” Robert Kopp, a Rutgers climate scientist who was an author on the first volume of the fourth National Climate Assessment, told Earther. “The choice of RCP 8.5 as a high-end scenario follows standard practice in the climate science community.”
The EPA is choosing to ignore this information—easily available if it talked to any of the climate scientists it employed—and instead is operating like an upside-down world version of Politifact. It would laughable if the stakes weren’t so high.
Update: This article’s headline has been updated to clarify that ‘lie’ refers to what was said by the EPA, not the Daily Caller.