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EPA Career Staffers Freaked When Pruitt Tried to Stage Climate Debate – Would ‘set back the cause of combating global warming by legitimizing politically motivated skeptics’

By Sam Stein, Tanya Basu

Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency were privately aghast in early 2017 as their boss, former EPA chief Scott Pruitt, embraced hosting a public debate over the scientific premise of human-caused climate change.

In private emails, top scientists and officials at EPA expressed serious concern that Pruitt’s gambit could set back the cause of combating global warming by legitimizing politically motivated skeptics. Mostly, however, they thought the idea of a red team-blue team debate was a gargantuan waste of time with potential to embarrass the agency.

“I liken it to a bar discussion of the best football team of all time – after 4-5 beers,” Dan Costa, who formerly was the national program director for air, climate and energy at the EPA, wrote on July 25, 2017.

“And one of the more argumentative participants only watches Australian rules football…” Andy Miller, the associate director for climate at the EPA, replied, according to documents uncovered from a FOIA lawsuit by the Government Accountability Project and provided to The Daily Beast.

Ultimately, Pruitt’s climate debate proposition was killed off before it could be launched, nixed by Chief of Staff John Kelly out of concern about blowback. But internal EPA emails from the time period when the idea was being considered illustrate the degree to which the Trump administration left officials within the EPA deeply shaken and fearful of politics overtaking scientific consensus.

Pruitt, at one point, was accused by career officials of having an “agenda” over his decision to try and prevent recipients of EPA grants from serving on the EPA’s Air Science Advisory Committee. When it was reported that the EPA’s internal investigative arm was going to look at the department’s fellowship program, one top official sarcastically emailed: “What a great use of Agency resources—investigate a program with zero funding!”

But nothing ruffled feathers quite as much as the idea of hosting a red team-blue team debate at the EPA to argue the scientific consensus around climate change.