Just hours after Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election was called for Donald Trump, a Breitbart News commentator declared, “The liberal Left just lost the ‘battle’ against climate change.” The Republican president-elect has called climate change a hoax, and now it’s reported that he may tap a man who’s proud to have placed third on Business Insider’s list of the “10 most respected global warming skeptics” to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pushing back against an almost unanimous chorus of scientists, Myron Ebell has provided journalists, politicians, and business with the opposing voice on global warming for years. In September, E&E News reported Ebell was Trump’s top choice to lead the EPA transition team that chooses the agency’s next chief administrator.
“… [A]ll I am allowed to say regarding the Trump transition … is, you’ll have to ask the Trump campaign about that,” Ebell told VICE News at the time.
Neither Ebell nor the Trump team responded to requests for comments for this story. Sources told Politico that Ebell could become the EPA chief administrator himself.
The potential pick outraged environmentalists. “It’s hard to say anything polite about Myron Ebell,” said Jamie Henn, communications director at 350.org, a grassroots climate organization active in more than 188 countries. “If you look up ‘climate denier’ in the dictionary, his photo is right there next to it.”
Ebell currently serves as the director of the Center for Energy and the Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a D.C.-based libertarian think tank, and chair of the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group that says it’s “focused on dispelling the myths of global warming.” Both groups warn against environmental regulation.
Ebell grew up on a cattle ranch and studied philosophy, political theory, and history in college — not climate science — though he regularly passes judgement on climate scientists’ work.
Like many climate skeptics, Ebell has been inconsistent on the issue, sometimes denying its existence, other times downplaying its importance in relation to industry’s needs. In 2004, he told BBC’s Today Programme that climate change was a European Union-led hoax, designed to weaken the U.S. economy. In 2007, he told Vanity Fair that “everyone knows CO2 is a greenhouse gas, [and] all things being equal, if you add CO2 to the atmosphere, you’ll get a little warming.” He has also urged the public to “love global warming” and embrace milder winters, implying that though climate change may be happening, people shouldn’t be too worried.
Perhaps because of his cavalier acknowledgement, Ebell has managed to stay away from the outer fringes of politics despite perpetuating one of the most disproven ideas of our time — that climate change is no big deal. He also has deep ties with anti-science lobbyism and the fossil fuel industry. Ebell’s organization, The Competitive Enterprise Institute, has drawn millions of dollars in funding over the years from industry, including ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers, billionaires who make donations to climate-skeptical lobbyists and recently helped pay for a full-page ad in the New York Times defending ExxonMobil against current legal action. The CEI itself was subpoenaed in the case.
While Ebell might excel at TV appearances and writing reports for his think tank, he lacks government experience. Trump has already pledged to repeal key pieces of regulation that reduce carbon emissions and protect waterways and air quality, and implementing these changes in an agency with more than 17,000 employees will be a challenging task.
On the other hand, Donald van der Vaart, secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, thinks Ebell is “perfectly suited” for the role and hopes states will be left alone to protect the environment based on local priorities.
Other conservatives aren’t so sure. Bob Inglis, from environmental group republicEn, told National Geographic that “[Ebell] is going to have his 15 minutes, and then he’s going to be laughed off the stage as foolish.”
With Trump promising to scrap the Clean Power Plan that would regulate emissions from power plants, reducing greenhouse gas emissions will likely be off the agenda for the next four years. But with clear signals from the Trump campaign that the new administration plans to respect state and local decision-making, many areas could push ahead and implement their own climate schemes.
During the Bush administration, which famously refused to participate in the Kyoto agreement, California did just that: Assembly Bill 32, passed in 2006, directed the state to slash its carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a target the state is easily on track to meet.
Even if Myron Ebell stops the EPA from providing climate change solutions, legislators and environmentalists aren’t out of options yet.