Energy & Environment

EPA fails to provide scientific evidence backing claim climate change damage was ’50 to 75 years out’

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request did not provide any scientific evidence to back Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s claims that the consequences of climate change were still “50 to 75 years out.”
Wheeler’s comments came in an interview with CBS in March, when he told the network’s Major Garrett that he would be focused on pressing issues like access to clean water since “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”

The controversial comments spurred a FOIA request from the environmental group Sierra Club and then in October a lawsuit, forcing the EPA to turn over records Wheeler relied on in making that statement, as well as any research from the EPA that supported his claim. 

Wheeler’s interview preparation, obtained by the Sierra Club and shared with The Hill, never mentions the words climate change nor does it offer any insight into what scientific evidence might back his claim.

“Trump’s EPA just admitted what everyone already knew: Andrew Wheeler invented these false claims out of thin air as part of his ongoing work to protect the fossil fuel industry from accountability for driving and exacerbating the climate crisis,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. 

“Wheeler and Trump have a responsibility to protect our nation from the climate crisis, but instead they are doing everything they can to try and stop our progress by giving corporations free rein to pollute, and they are lying about it all the while.”

A wide range of climate science research suggests the effects of climate change are already being felt through extreme weather and natural disasters. Several recent reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have stressed the need for urgent and ambitious action in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 50 percent by 2030. 

In the interview, Wheeler called climate change “an important change we have to be addressing and we are addressing” but said its most drastic effects are decades away compared to unsafe drinking water, which is killing people now.

“We have 1,000 children die everyday worldwide because they don’t have safe drinking water,” Wheeler told Garrett. “That’s a crisis that I think we can solve. We know what goes into solving a crisis like that. It takes resources, it takes infrastructure, and the United States is working on that.”

Wheeler’s interview prep shows the administrator was ready to talk about a number of clean water initiatives, primarily overseas, focusing both on drinking water quality as well as removing debris from oceans.

“EPA responded to a narrow request for agency records under the FOIA, not to a request to prove or disprove a scientific statement,” the EPA said when asked for comment.

“It is misleading to portray the agency’s response to a narrow portion of a document request as the full extent of the Agency’s or the Administrator’s scientific knowledge on a subject. In fact, it is inaccurate to state that the documents do not demonstrate any backing for the statement.”

The Sierra Club’s FOIA request not only asked for all records Wheeler relied on in making his claim but also “all records produced, commissioned, or otherwise obtained by EPA that support the conclusion that ‘most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.’” 

The documents also show Wheeler was prepared to discuss the Green New Deal, a resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Bullet notes list reasons why the U.S. should not pull away from fossil fuels, saying that connecting the electric grid to renewable resources like solar and wind “would be dangerous for public health” as “a stable and reliable electric grid is arguably the greatest public health achievement of all time.” 

This story was updated at 12:36 p.m.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Andrew Wheeler Climate change Ed Markey EPA

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