Acting on climate in the age of Pruitt­

Nearly 55 years ago, NASA astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, marking a wondrous scientific achievement. This week, we paid tribute to Glenn’s life and were reminded of the remarkable role the United States government can and should play in advancing scientific research. 

It is disconcerting that in the same week, President-elect Trump cemented his disdain for science by nominating Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.


Pruitt, who was elected Attorney General of Oklahoma in 2010, has spent his tenure acting as a de facto lobbyist for the oil and gas industry.  

He sows doubt about the undeniable reality of climate change.  He relishes fighting environmental protections put forth by the EPA. He is currently waging a campaign against the Attorneys General investigating ExxonMobil for climate fraud.  This is giving a fox the keys to the hen house.

In appointing Pruitt, Trump has doubled down on his commitment to serving the fossil fuel industry, instead of hardworking American families. Pruitt, who has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from oil companies, will not be shy about putting the needs of the fossil fuel industry ahead of the security of the environment and the health of each American. Physics and chemistry do not compromise. Americans will be forced to contend with a rising tide of extreme weather events, increasingly poisoned oceans and unbreathable air – environmental catastrophes caused by the carbon dioxide released by the unchecked burning of fossil fuels.

Pruitt’s insistence that environmental protection is at odds with economic growth and job creation is false. He suggests that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is responsible for the declining coal industry but ignores the main fact that coal is hurting primarily because of the falling price of gas. Pruitt’s dishonesty does nothing to create jobs or confront the devastating effects of climate change.

It would be wiser to accept the science of climate change and use it to advance the economy. Look no further than California. In 2006, as a state legislator, I co-authored the Global Warming Solutions Act, which mandated greenhouse gas reductions to protect the state, our nation and our planet. This bipartisan legislation was signed by a Republican governor. Much to climate skeptics’ chagrin, since 2006, California has surged from the eighth to the sixth greatest economy on Earth.

Acting to combat climate change presents an opportunity to ensure that innovation in clean and sustainable energy technologies begins in the United States. Investing in solar and wind power will usher in good jobs for Americans (jobs that can’t be shipped overseas), while creating a safer, healthier environment. Our government, particularly the EPA, should ensure that we are doing everything we can to address climate change.

I worry, though, that as Trump pads his Cabinet with Pruitt and other members of ‘team fossil fuel’, America will cede its opportunity to lead the world’s green energy revolution, and other countries (such as China) will fill that void.  If the Kennedy Administration and NASA in the 1960s had the same attitude about science that Trump and Pruitt have today, John Glenn would have never had the chance to orbit the Earth; American astronauts would have never stepped foot on the Moon. Russian astronauts would have beat us to it.

As a Pruitt-led EPA strives to make America less again on the environment by eviscerating landmark environmental laws, enterprising states and their Attorneys General must take an outsized role in fighting harmful actions and creating sustainable policies.  American cities must become centers of innovation for clean energy technologies and infrastructure that promote economic growth and protect the health of their citizens.

In the face of a Pruitt-led EPA, the role that citizens play may prove to be the most important. We’ll need to take steps in our own lives to combat climate change, and demand that our government does the same. Congress should enact policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and spur innovation, but this will not occur until climate change-denying electeds pay a political price for their inaction.

Today’s world is much different than the one that John Glenn returned to after he orbited the majestic planet Earth. Yet, America’s innovative spirit remains and we have a duty to harness that inspiration to create a greener planet for future generations. The sobering fact – a fact I fear Mr. Pruitt does not understand – is that history books will one day say that America led the way in addressing climate change and saving our planet, or there will be no history books.

Rep. Lieu represents California's 33rd District.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Follow The Hill's Transition Tracker for the latest on nominations and appointments to the Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Romney: 'Unthinkable and unacceptable' to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE administration.