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White House plans to put ‘denier’ in charge of climate program

By Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter

The Trump administration is focused on promoting climate denial even as it counts down the president’s final days.

The Trump team is preparing to appoint a climate denier to head development of the National Climate Assessment for the next two months, a key step that involves contracting scientists to write it, according to advisers close to the White House. Those contracts could be structured to keep researchers who reject climate science in place after President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

On Friday, the administration quietly removed Michael Kuperberg from his job as executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (GCRP), according to two sources with knowledge of the move. The program comprises the 13 federal agencies that conduct or use climate research.

Meanwhile, planning has been underway for weeks to appoint NOAA’s David Legates, a climate change denier recently named as deputy assistant Commerce secretary for observation and prediction, to replace Kuperberg, said Myron Ebell, the head of President Trump’s EPA transition team and director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Legates is a geologist from the University of Delaware and an affiliate of the Heartland Institute, which exists to muddy the public’s understanding of climate change. He has said burning more fossil fuels would benefit humanity and that policy to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is a regulatory scheme that runs counter to market principles.

“They’re still in office for two months, so they’re going to plow ahead,” Ebell said. “Every administration tries to get as many things out the door before the next administration takes over as possible, so maybe there are things you can at GCRP that you can get out the door and it will be hard to take them back.”

The appointment of Legates would come right as the climate assessment is recruiting scientists to work on the report. The recruitment of authors was delayed for months but has proceeded in recent weeks. Legates could bring in researchers who criticize consensus climate science and get contracts to perform work on the project even after Biden takes office in January. Ebell said a plan had been discussed to put Legates in place this week.

The National Climate Assessment has been a target for the Trump administration ever since the latest version was released in November 2018.

A total overhaul of the National Climate Assessment to highlight doubt and downplay certainty was planned for Trump’s second term, Ebell said. It could have been used to go after the endangerment finding, which is the body of science that undergirds federal climate regulations.

The late appointments are happening even if there are only two months left in the administration because the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, led by John McEntee, is still focused on rooting out federal employees who have been insufficiently loyal to Trump, Ebell said.

“They’ve been going through things and getting better people in — not better in terms of, you know, higher educational qualifications or intelligence or experience, but people who are qualified and support the Trump agenda — and of course David is a great choice, but he’s highly qualified,” Ebell said.