A committee of climate change deniers may soon influence how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses science in decisionmaking. The agency is currently restaffing its Science Advisory Board, a panel of experts that peer reviews the science that the EPA uses to inform rules like clean air regulations.
Its candidates are already public—the names of 132 nominees were posted last week. At least a dozen of these "experts" in their fields are vocal climate change deniers. Five candidates, according to The Washington Post, opposed the EPA in court over scientific evidence—such as the "social cost of carbon," which relies on peer-reviewed literature to estimate the monetary damages of carbon emissions—used to support the Clean Power Plan.
One of these nominees, astrophysicist Gordon Fulks, has been an especially outspoken critic of mainstream climate science. A policy advisor to the Heartland Institute, a conservative think-tank that mailed anti-climate science propaganda to 25,000 teachers earlier this year, Fulks is perhaps best known for fiery opinion pieces like "Global Warming: Climate Orthodoxy Perpetuates a Hoax."
Fulks, according to his published works, detests the influence of this mainstream climate science at the EPA. He once once compared the sudden firing of an Oregon State University professor, who was also a climate change denier, to the suppression of political dissent in the Soviet Union. "I am concerned that many who promote the idea of catastrophic global warming reduce science to a political and economic game," he wrote in The Oregonian in 2010. "Scare tactics and junk science are used to secure lucrative government contracts."
I emailed Fulks last week about his pending nomination to the committee.
"I am sure that many scientists who have lived off of the Global Warming scam are concerned about their future," he told me. "Climate science was a sleepy little subject, until James Hansen and Al Gore turned it into a TRILLION dollar per year industry. Climate hysteria will disappear quickly if the vast cash underpinning it disappears."
When I told him the Trump administration has been actively muzzling federal scientists, specifically those working at the EPA, Fulks replied:
"I suspect that President Trump understands this and will cut budgets at the EPA, GISS [NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies], and other places where the taxpayer has not received real value for his tax dollars. But cutting budgets is a far cry from firing scientists who dare to speak up or putting them in front of a firing squad as Joseph Stalin did. The mistreatment of scientists during the Obama era was far worse than anything that has came before or after." (Fulks did not offer an example of President Obama allegedly mistreating scientists, and I could not independently find evidence of this claim.)
While the EPA's Science Advisory Board is voluntary, its members have three-year term limits, some of which are ending now. Nominees may submit their own names for consideration, or be nominated by the public. Although the agency's nominations are listed for public input, members are ultimately appointed by the EPA Administrator. This means Administrator Scott Pruitt, who does not accept anthropogenic climate change, can populate the board however he chooses.
Pruitt, in his effort to dismantle existing EPA structures, recently suggested a "red team-blue team" debate meant to give the impression there are two sides to the climate "debate," when, in fact, scientists have overwhelmingly reached a consensus.
"I think that the red/blue team approach advocated by Pruitt could be useful in breaking the monopoly that alarmists enjoyed during the Obama era," Fulks wrote in the email. "They may finally have to face a measure of accountability. But the crucial issue that needs to be addressed is the Endangerment Finding on CO2 [which classifies greenhouse gases as pollutants and a risk to human health]. I hope that Pruitt goes after that."
I asked Fulks if he believes Pruitt's hostility toward EPA climate science stems from his intimate relationship with the fossil fuel industry.
"As to conflicts of interest," he added, "Pruitt was cozy with the fossil fuel industry when in Oklahoma [as the state's attorney general]. But I am not aware of any conflicts of interest that he may have with his new job in Washington…" (Pruitt is the subject of several inquiries and a lawsuit regarding his conflicts of interest at the EPA.)
Read more: The Climate Change Deniers in Congress
Fulks relies on a common argument to "disprove" conventional climate science—something he has written about extensively. Warming global temperatures, he claims, are simply the result of natural forcings. Fulks also rejects the notion that human activity since the Industrial Revolution has significantly contributed to the degree of warming we see today.
"The official US Government argument for Global Warming centers around the premise of unusual warming since the end of WW2…That is impressively poor correlation," he told me.
But climate scientists have repeatedly debunked this theory, which largely relies on cherry-picked global temperature projections. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, comprised of 1,300 independent climate experts, agreed with 95 percent certainty that human activities are responsible for increased warming over the last 50 years.
Pruitt once said America should exit the Paris Agreement. Had the nation opted to remain part of the treaty, the EPA would have played a large role in enforcing its goals to limit global temperature rise.
"As to carbon dioxide, I and many other scientists view it as completely beneficial," Fulks said in response to my question about the Paris Agreement, referring to the philosophy that any amount of atmospheric CO2 is good because it contributes to localized "greening" in areas. Scientists, however, say that there is a threshold, and that this theory is based on a fatal misunderstanding of plant and ecosystem diversity.
"As to keeping the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius this century, that is pure political nonsense," he added. "The real issue may be keeping the temperature from falling one degree Celsius…"
It's easy to dismiss someone like Fulks—and perhaps under a different administration, he might be harmless. But on the topic of climate change, Fulks espouses the same fringe, extremist anti-science ideas as President Trump. The same person who said global warming "was created by and for the Chinese" is now deciding the fate of monumental climate legislation.
I wanted to understand how Fulks, who is seemingly at odds with everything the EPA stands for, intends to advise it. And here's how he signed-off to me:
"That brings me to the moral of my story: 'Politicians should not lose their heads over climate change!'"