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Lackluster Confirmation Hearing for Climate-Change Skeptic

The former head of the TCEQ did not impress senators in Washington on Wednesday with her grasp of science.

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Kathleen Hartnett White during her confirmation hearing to be a member of the Council on Environmental Quality before the United States Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works on November 8, 2017.
Alex Edelman/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Kathleen Hartnett White, the Texan nominated by President Donald Trump to head up the White House Council on Environmental Quality, frequently tripped over her tongue Wednesday during her Senate confirmation hearing.

Hartnett White, a past chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has unorthodox beliefs on climate change that have more in common with conspiracy theorists than scientists. Last fall, in an appearance on a streaming right-wing radio show called “The Right Perspective,” Hartnett White dubbed global warming as “the secular elites’ religion,” calling it a form of paganism with “a real dark side,” according to audio obtained by CNN. On the show, she also expressed the view that climate change is merely a communist conspiracy, a path to a “one-world state ruled by planetary managers that kind of allocate our little portion of grub and energy.”

Her performance in front of senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday did nothing to allay concerns about her qualifications or competency. Senator Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, was distinctly unimpressed. “Your positions are so far out of the mainstream, they are not just outliers, they are outrageous,” he said, mincing no words. “You have a fringe voice that denies science, economics and reality.”

At multiple points during the hearing, Hartnett White struggled to articulate basic scientific points, including during a line of questioning by Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic senator from Rhode Island, about how much the oceans have warmed due to climate change. “Of the additional heat that has been captured in the atmosphere as the result of greenhouse gas emissions, do you know how much of that excess heat has been absorbed by the ocean? Is it more or less than 50 percent, do you even know that?” Whitehouse asked.”No, but I believe that there are differences of opinions on that, that there’s not one right answer,” Harnett White replied. (In fact, the earth’s oceans have “absorbed more than 90 percent of the Earth’s extra heat since 1955,” according to the EPA.)

Whitehouse followed up with a question about what happens to water when it warms. “Do you think that if the ocean warms, it expands? Does the law of thermal expansion apply to sea water?” he asked, resting his head on his fist incredulously as he spoke. “Again, I do not have any kind of expertise or even much layman’s study of the ocean dynamics and the climate change issues,” she replied.

Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, told her “It seems to me that you don’t believe that climate change is real,” he said. She replied quickly, “I am uncertain,” she started, before correcting herself. “No, no, I’m not, I jumped ahead of myself. Climate change is of course real,” going on to clarify that she merely was “very uncertain” about how much of a role human activities play in contributing to warming.

However, the Climate Science Special Report that the Trump administration released last Friday found that “based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.” But when asked about the report, Hartnett White derided it as a product of the previous administration.

In a story on NPR previewing the hearing, KUT’s Mose Buchele found footage on YouTube where Hartnett White touted the benefits of extra CO2 in the atmosphere. “Fossil fuels are the remains of life—plant and animal life,” she told a Oregon-based Christian TV station in 2016. “They come back, through burning them, to amplify our lives—to do work that we otherwise would have to do ourself.”

Hartnett White has undergraduate and masters degrees from Stanford in humanities and religion. She is now a fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where she heads up the conservative think tank’s Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment. Hartnett White co-wrote a 2016 book titled Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy, in which she argues that “if fossil fuel energy is supplanted by ‘green’ alternatives for political reasons, humanity will take a giant step backwards and the planet will be less safe, less clean, and less free.”

She has a home outside Bastrop and a 118,567-acre ranch in Presidio County in West Texas where they raise Hereford cattle and champion Jack Russell terriers, though she has vowed to distance herself from the latter business if confirmed to the post.

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  • Roger Head

    I thought I had seen all the crazies from Texas that have been unleashed on our country but it seems that you guys just keep producing crazier ones.

    • borgerboy

      roger head…what part of Texas you from??

      • Roger Head

        Been a while since I lived there (West Texas 1985-91). Have two sisters who live in Dallas and Greenville and I visit it on a regular basis. Spent a lot of time visiting relatives as I was growing up.
        Very familiar with the state as such.

        And trust me, we produce a few in Arkansas (cue the jokes) of our own.

    • Tejasguitarman

      I think it’s the heat & religion that produces ’em. Both are brain fryers. Kudos to the Mass. & RI senators for showing New England’s zero tolerance for BS. Honorable mention to the MD senator too. She should stay in the Jack Russell business & let ’em loose on the senate floor & hall of congress. They’re bred for rat eradication & may clean out the vermin in those places.

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  • Jorge Jaramillo

    Oh joy another under qualified hyphenated friend of Dump donor brownnosing for a job without a f’n clue.

  • Graham Dempster

    If by “lackluster” you mean “cringe comedy”, I agree with your headline. That was embarrassing, and she should go back to her right wing think tank where she feels smart.

    • Tanya

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  • friendlier

    “LACKLUSTER”? This is tragedy. This administration is trying to push through a nominee that admits to knowing diddly squat about the subject she’s supposed to be an expert on. They might as well have simply grabbed someone off the street. Come on, Texas Monthly. You can’t see what a farce this hearing was?