Trump: My ‘Natural Instinct for Science’ Tells Me Climate Science Is Wrong

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which encompasses the consensus finding of climate scientists worldwide, issued a report warning that the effects of climate change may become irreversible by 2040. But since this conclusion implies the need for government action of some kind, and thus threatens a core tenet of conservative movement theology, Republicans ignore or dismiss the findings. Asked by Lesley Stahl about the report, Trump accordingly dismissed it, “You’d have to show me the scientists because they have a very big political agenda.”

But you know who doesn’t have a big political agenda, according to Donald Trump? Donald Trump. The president of the United States styles himself as a man of science, willing to follow the facts wherever they go. In yet another of his current spate of lunatic ramblings he has decided to share with various media, this time the Associated Press, Trump was asked about the report again, and gave an even crazier response.

Trump asserted that, contrary to the scientific conclusion that pumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere has caused an upward ratcheting of temperatures, he sees it as random unexplainable variation: “I agree the climate changes, but it goes back and forth, back and forth.” When the interviewer noted that scientists have concluded otherwise, Trump asserted his own scientific credentials.

“My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump,” he said. “And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”

So Trump’s claim to scientific competence rests on his belief that science is a matter of instinct, and this instinct is passed on genetically, as evidenced by his uncle. Those lucky few possessed of this gift can look at two competing hypotheses and know which one is correct, without needing to study the evidence, or even having a clear understanding of what “evidence” means. Trump has luckily inherited this instinct, along with some $400 million in untaxed gifts from his father.

Now, a scientist might reply that science is not a matter of instinct at all but a body of knowledge amassed through experimentation and study. They could even design studies testing the hypothesis that individuals possess a scientific “instinct” that renders actual knowledge of scientific conclusions unnecessary. But Trump would surely just respond that those scientists have a political agenda, and his instinct, acquired via his uncle, concludes those studies are fake.

[New York Magazine]

Trump No Longer Thinks Climate Change is a Hoax, Still Not Sure It’s Manmade

During an interview with CBS’s Lesley Stahl on Sunday that aired on 60 Minutes, President Donald Trump backed off his claim that climate change is a hoax but made it clear he was not ready to say it was indeed manmade.

“I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again,” Trump said. “I don’t think it’s a hoax. I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade. I will say this: I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs.”

At one point Stahl noted it would be remarkable if all the recent weather emergencies may change his mind.

“You know, I– I was thinking what if he said, ‘No, I’ve seen the hurricane situations, I’ve changed my mind. There really is climate change.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, what an impact,’” Stahl said.

Trump replied: I’m not denying climate change. But it could very well go back. You know, we’re talkin’ about over millions of years. They say that we had hurricanes that were far worse than what we just had with Michael.”

Stahl, who suggested Trump really was denying it, then asked him to pin down when he says, “they say.”

“People say,” Trump replied, before casting doubt on scientists’ agendas.

“You’d have to show me the scientists because they have a very big political agenda, Lesley,” the president said.

[Mediaite]

Trump Administration Wants to Make It Easier to Release Methane Into Air

The Trump administration, taking its third major step this year to roll back federal efforts to fight climate change, is preparing to make it significantly easier for energy companies to release methane into the atmosphere.

Methane, which is among the most powerful greenhouse gases, routinely leaks from oil and gas wells, and energy companies have long said that the rules requiring them to test for emissions were costly and burdensome.

The Environmental Protection Agency, perhaps as soon as this week, plans to make public a proposal to weaken an Obama-era requirementthat companies monitor and repair methane leaks, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times. In a related move, the Interior Department is also expected in coming days to release its final version of a draft rule, proposed in February, that essentially repeals a restriction on the intentional venting and “flaring,” or burning, of methane from drilling operations.

The new rules follow two regulatory rollbacks this year that, taken together, represent the foundation of the United States’ effort to rein in global warming. In July, the E.P.A. proposed weakening a rule on carbon dioxide pollution from vehicle tailpipes. And in August, the agency proposed replacing the rule on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants with a weaker one that would allow far more global-warming emissions to flow unchecked from the nation’s smokestacks.

“They’re taking them down, one by one,” said Janet McCabe, the E.P.A.’s top climate and clean-air regulator in the Obama administration.

Officials from the E.P.A., the Interior Department and the White House did not respond to emails and telephone calls seeking comment.

Industry groups praised the expected changes. “It’s a neat pair” of proposals on methane, said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an association of independent oil and gas companies that is based in Denver. The Obama-era E.P.A. methane rule, she said, “was the definition of red tape. It was a record-keeping nightmare that was technically impossible to execute in the field.”

Ms. Sgamma praised the Trump administration for turning the oil companies’ requests into policy, noting that the Obama administration frequently turned proposals from environmental groups into policy. “It all depends on who you trust,” she said. “That administration trusted environmentalists. This one trusts industry.”

The regulation of methane, while not as widely discussed as emissions from cars and coal plants, was nonetheless a major component of Mr. Obama’s efforts to combat climate change. Methane makes up only about nine percent of greenhouse gases, but it is around 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere. About one-third of methane pollution is estimated to come from oil and gas operations.

The forthcoming proposals from the E.P.A. and Interior Department would allow far more methane to leak from oil and gas drilling operations, environmentalists say. “These leaks can pop up any time, anywhere, up and down the oil and gas supply chain,” said Matt Watson, a specialist in methane pollution with the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group. “The longer you go in between inspections, the longer leaks will go undetected and unrepaired.”

The proposals exemplify President Trump’s policy quest to roll back regulations on businesses, particularly oil, gas and coal companies. While significant aspects of the president’s broader agenda — including immigration and trade policy, and the proposed border wall with Mexico — remain mired in confusion, and as the administration struggles under the investigation into the presidential campaign’s ties with Russia, the E.P.A. and Interior Department have steadily pressed forward with rollbacks of environmental regulations.

“In other areas of policymaking, like immigration and health care, they appear to have brought into the administration ideologues who don’t know a lot about policymaking,” said Cecilia Muñoz, who directed the White House Domestic Policy Council in the Obama administration. “But in climate change and energy, they appear to have brought in people who know exactly what they’re doing, and know exactly where the levers are.”

The pace of the proposals has not been slowed by the resignation in July of Scott Pruitt, who left the top job at the E.P.A. under a cloud of ethics scandals. Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who worked in the E.P.A. under the first President George Bush, is now the agency’s acting chief.

The E.P.A.’s new methane proposal, according to the draft seen by The Times, would loosen a 2016 rule that required oil and gas drillers to perform leak inspections as frequently as every six months on their drilling equipment, and to repair leaks within 30 days. The proposed amendment would lengthen that to once a year in most cases, and to as infrequently as once every two years for low-producing wells. It would also double the amount of time a company could wait before repairing a methane leak from 30 to 60 days.

It would also double the amount of time required between inspections of the equipment that traps and compresses the natural gas, from once every three months to once every six months. On the Alaskan North Slope, where oil and gas companies contend that harsh weather makes it difficult to conduct inspections, such equipment would only have to be monitored annually.

In addition, the E.P.A. proposal would let energy companies operating in states that have their own state-level methane standards follow those standards instead of the federal ones. That would include states such as Texas, where the pollution standards have been more lax than federal standards.

If implemented, the proposal would recoup nearly all the costs to the oil and gas industry that would have been imposed by the Obama-era regulation. The E.P.A. estimated that rule would have cost companies about $530 million by 2025. The E.P.A. estimates that the proposed changes would save the oil and gas industry $484 million by the same year.

[The New York Times]

Trump wrongly blames California’s worsening wildfires on water diversions

As wildfires continued to scorch California, President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a tweet that befuddled experts, wrongly blaming the state’s water diversions for making the blazes worse.

California’s environmental laws, he claimed, “aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”

While decades-old state and federal forest management strategies have been cited as exacerbating California’s wildfires in recent years, experts Sunday were quick to refute Trump’s claim that water policy was to blame.

While California’s river water is tightly managed to account for drinking, agriculture and environmental needs, it is not being diverted into the ocean. And the problem is not that the state lacks the water to fight fires, but that years of drought have made forests and brush more flammable.

“On the water side, it boggles the mind,” UC Merced professor and wildfire specialist LeRoy Westerling told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We do manage all of our rivers in California, and all the water is allocated many times over. So I’m not sure what he was recommending. . . . Even if we eliminated all habitat for riparian species and fish, and allowed saltwater intrusion into the delta and set up a sprinkler system over the state, that wouldn’t compensate for greater moisture loss from climate change.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration on Sunday approved a federal disaster declaration for the state. Nine people have been killed by the 18 wildfires currently burning across the state. The Mendocino Complex fire north of San Francisco has grown to the fifth-largest in state history, burning almost 400 square miles by Sunday. and threatening 15,000 homes. Meanwhile, the Ferguson fire entered Yosemite National Park, which remained largely closed to visitors, and the Carr fire near Redding claimed its seventh life, when a PG&E lineman crashed his vehicle while working with crews to fight the blaze. Overall, more than 470,000 acres have burned in the state, with more than 14,000 firefighters on the front lines.

Trump policy shop filters facts to fit his message

President Donald Trump’s appointees in the health department have deleted positive references to Obamacare, altered a report that undermined the administration’s positions on refugees and added anti-abortion language to the strategic plan — part of an ideological overhaul of the agency’s research office.

While every administration puts its imprint on the executive branch and promotes ideas that advance its own agenda, this one has ventured several steps further — from scrubbing links to climate change studies from an Environmental Protection Agency website to canceling an Interior Department study on coal mining risks and suppressing reports on water contaminationand the dangers of formaldehyde.

Inside the Health and Human Services policy research shop, staffers say the political pressures to tailor facts to fit Trump’s message have been unprecedented.

Several pointed to embarrassments such as PolitiFact grading a lawmaker’s statement, based on the agency’s May 2017 report on Obamacare premium hikes, as “false,” and concluding the study had serious methodological problems.

Another report suggesting that millions more people would get health coverage if Obamacare were rolled back — a finding at odds with nearly every independent analysis — was widely mocked and produced over the objections of career staff at the office of the assistant secretary for planning and evaluation, known as ASPE, say several sources.

“The heartbreaking part is that ASPE is the source of the evidence and the science for how decisions are made,” said a former senior official, who worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations. “It’s just another example of how we’re moving to a post-fact era.”

The office has been especially vulnerable to political pressure because its leadership remains in flux. The University of Minnesota health economist tapped to lead the office by Trump has been dogged by questions about his financial entanglements, leaving his nomination in limbo for more than a year. The acting head of ASPE was recently reassigned to a regional office, and the top deputy altered McKinsey-produced data to make it more favorable to the Trump administration, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the changes.

“I find the attack on the integrity and the culture of the office to be disturbing,” said Richard Frank, a Harvard health economist who ran ASPE as an Obama administration political appointee. “This is really a departure to an office that has a 50-year history to it.”

HHS officials vigorously disputed portrayals of the office as ideologically driven.

“I reject the premise of your question and allegation,” said spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley. “Secretary [Alex] Azar has made very clear that HHS is a science- and evidence-based organization and it will operate accordingly.”

Oakley said the 120-person office has been refocused to work on Trump administration priorities like drug pricing and the opioid epidemic. Two staffers say those topics are regarded as safer ground because they are not part of the health care culture wars. Under Azar, who assumed leadership of the agency about six months ago — after most of these incidents occurred — the office has produced a six-page research brief on drug pricing, which published this week, and two studies on the opioid epidemic. Oakley said more reports are coming.

But the group’s morale and role remain diminished, as key staff and teams have dwindled; there are just three staffers working on analyzing health coverage, down from about a dozen at the end of the Obama administration, said a staffer.

Republican health policy analyst Lanhee Chen, who served as an HHS senior counselor in the George W. Bush administration, scoffed at the notion that this policy shop is more partisan than the one that preceded it.

“I don’t believe the Trump administration ASPE has put out reports that are any less analytically or methodologically rigorous than those of the Obama administration ASPE,” Chen said. “Those who express concerns regarding the quality of reports ‘falling off’ are probably using that argument as a cover for the fact that they disagree with the findings of the reports.”

Chen said he regards the policy shop as a vehicle to advance administration policy, “so in that sense, methodological rigor has not necessarily been a metric I have used to evaluate their reports. That’s why we have studies from academics and analysts outside of government.”

This story is drawn from interviews with nine individuals with knowledge of ASPE operations, most of whom asked for confidentiality to speak freely, as well as with outside observers.

Shift in office’s focus

ASPE historically has been used to investigate the impact of HHS policies and help shape future strategy, and under the Obama administration, it focused closely on the expansion of health insurance coverage and the Affordable Care Act — issues on which Barack Obama had campaigned heavily and made central to his presidency. The office published 43 reports on the ACA’s effects on rural hospitals, women’s health and other discrete corners of health care between January 2015 and January 2017 alone, generally extolling the effects and sometimes overlooking the drawbacks.

For instance, one 2016 study on choosing health plans in the ACA market was criticized for slanting its findings.

[Politico]

Trump admin tightens media access for federal scientists

The Trump administration is directing federal scientists in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to get approval from the Department of the Interior, its parent agency, before speaking to reporters, according to the Los Angeles Times.

USGS employees interviewed by the L.A. Times said the policy is a departure from decades of past media practices that allowed scientists to quickly respond to media requests. The employees said that the new policy will significantly undermine this.

A spokesperson for Interior disputed this description of the policy to the L.A. Times, saying that “the characterization that there is any new policy or that it for some reason targets scientists is completely false.”

Deputy press secretary for the Department of the Interior, Faith Vander Voort, told the outlet that Interior had only asked the USGS public affairs office to follow 2012 media guidelines established under former President Obama.

The guidelines say Interior’s communications office must be notified ahead of some types of interviews but does not say that scientists must get approval before speaking with reporters as an internal email obtained by the L.A. Times indicates.

The employees said that they believe the new policies were established to control the voices of Interior employees. They believe the move is a part of larger efforts to quell discourse about climate change, which the agency has produced research on.

[The Hill]

NASA program to track greenhouse gas is canceled

A NASA program that cost $10 million per year to track carbon and methane, key greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, has been cancelled, a US space agency spokesman said Thursday.

The end of the program — called the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) — which tracked sources and sinks for carbon and made high-resolution models of the planet’s flows of carbon — was first reported by the journal Science.

“Now, President Donald Trump’s administration has quietly killed the CMS,” the report said, describing the move as the latest in a “broad attack on climate science” mounted by the White House.

The journal said NASA “declined to provide a reason for the cancellation beyond ‘budget constraints and higher priorities within the science budget.'”

It also quoted US space agency spokesman Steve Cole as saying there was no mention of the CMS in a budget deal signed in March, which “allowed the administration’s move to take effect.”

Cole, responding to a request for comment from AFP, said Trump proposed cutting the CMS project and four Earth science missions last year.

After much deliberation, Congress decided they wanted those four space missions to be funded, writing them into the budget bill they passed in March 2018, he said.

But since CMS was not among them, it was cut as proposed, Cole said, describing the entire process as a joint effort by lawmakers and the executive branch.

Existing grants would be allowed to finish but no new research would be supported, he said.

Trump has already announced the US pullout from the 2015 Paris climate accord, a deal signed by more than 190 nations to slash polluting emissions from fossil fuels.

Cole told AFP that Trump has proposed cancelling another Earth science mission, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3), for next year, though it did receive funding for fiscal year 2018.

According to Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy in Medford, Massachusetts, the CMS cuts jeopardize efforts to verify the emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate deal.

“If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement,” she told the journal Science.

Canceling the CMS “is a grave mistake.”

Cole, however, said in an email that the “winding down of this specific research program does not curb NASA’s ability or commitment to monitoring carbon and its effects on our changing planet.”

He said a new ecosystem carbon-monitoring instrument, called GEDI, is set to launch to the International Space Station later this year.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/white-house-cancels-nasa-program-greenhouse-gas-report-221244337.html?soc_src=hl-viewer&soc_trk=fb

Senate Confirms Climate Change Denier To Lead NASA

The Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a former Navy pilot with no scientific credentials and who doesn’t believe humans are primarily to blame for the global climate crisis, to lead NASA.

Bridenstine will become the first elected official to hold the NASA administrator job. He joins a Cabinet already loaded with people who question the near-universal scientific consensus that climate change is real and that human activity is the primary cause.

The final vote ― which was 50-49 along party lines ― came one day after the Senate narrowly advanced Bridenstine’s nomination, thanks to an about-face from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and a key vote from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Rubio, who in September told Politico that he worried about Bridenstine’s nomination “could be devastating for the space program,” said in a statement Wednesday that he decided to support the nominee in order to avoid “a gaping leadership void” at NASA.

Much like the procedural vote on Wednesday, which was temporarily deadlocked at 49-49, Thursday’s confirmation ultimately hinged on Flake, who voted in favor only after a bit of drama that included a long discussion with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and stepping out for a phone call, as CNN’s Manu Raju reports.

Bridenstine will replace Robert Lightfoot Jr., who has been serving as acting administrator since previous NASA administrator, Charles Bolden Jr., resigned from his post in January.

In a statement following Thursday’s vote, Bridenstine said he is humbled by the opportunity. “I look forward to working with the outstanding team at NASA to achieve the President’s vision for American leadership in space,” he said.

[Huffington Post]

Trump nominee to lead migrant agency shared Clinton, DNC conspiracies

President Trump’s pick to lead a United Nations migrant relief organization made hundreds of comments pushing conspiracy theories about Islam and Democrats, according to a CNN investigation published Thursday.

Ken Isaacs, the Trump administration’s choice to lead the UN’s International Organization for Migration, has faced additional scrutiny after CNN uncovered old social media posts where he appeared to equate all Muslims with terrorists.

On Thursday, CNN published a new trove of past comments.

CNN found that Isaacs also shared conspiracy theories about the Clintons and about the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

In the summer of 2016, Isaacs tweeted that Switzerland should consider building a wall in the Alps to keep refugees from crossing the border, and responded to a terrorist attack in Nice, France, by saying Islam “is not peaceful.”

Last August, he retweeted a user who claimed climate change is a “big hoax,” and wrote that scientists “can’t predict path of a visible storm yet but certain of manmade climate change.”

Isaacs previously apologized after CNN uncovered his initial comments about Muslims, saying his social media use was “careless.”

He declined to comment on Thursday’s story, and the State Department pointed to a past statement of support for his nomination.

If confirmed, Isaacs will lead the International Organization for Migration, which oversees the use of roughly $1 billion in migrant aid across the world.

[The Hill]

Trump administration ends EPA clean air policy opposed by fossil fuel companies

The Trump administration announced Thursday it is doing away with a decades-old air emissions policy opposed by fossil fuel companies, a move that environmental groups say will result in more pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it was withdrawing the “once-in always-in” policy under the Clean Air Act, which dictated how major sources of hazardous air pollutants are regulated.

Under the EPA’s new interpretation, such “major sources” as coal-fired power plants can be reclassified as “area sources” when their emissions fall below mandated limits, subjecting them to differing standards.

Though formal notice of the reversal has not yet been filed, EPA said the policy it has followed since 1995 relied on an incorrect interpretation of the landmark anti-pollution law.

“This guidance is based on a plain language reading of the statute that is in line with EPA’s guidance for other provisions of the Clean Air Act,” said Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “It will reduce regulatory burden for industries and the states, while continuing to ensure stringent and effective controls on hazardous air pollutants.”

Prior to his confirmation by the GOP-dominated Senate in November, Wehrum worked as a lawyer representing fossil fuel and chemical companies. The American Petroleum Institute was among the industry groups that had called for the longstanding policy to be scraped.

The Clean Air Act defines a “major source” as one that has the potential to emit 10 tons or more per year of any hazardous air pollutant, or 25 tons per year of any combination of hazardous air pollutants. For more than 20 years, EPA’s “once-in always-in” required major sources to remain subject to stricter control standards, even if they took steps to reduce their pollution below the threshold.

Republicans quickly cheered the move by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, especially those from states that produce oil, gas and coal.

“The EPA’s decision today is consistent with President Trump’s agenda to keep America’s air clean and our economy growing,” said Senate Environment Committee Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming. “Withdrawal of this policy means manufacturers, oil and gas operations, and other types of industrial facilities will have greater incentive to reduce emissions.”

Environmentalists predicted the change would drastically weaken limits on toxic heavy metals emitted from power-plant smokestacks.

“This is among the most dangerous actions that the Trump EPA has taken yet against public health,” said John Walke, the director for clean air issues at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Rolling back longstanding protections to allow the greatest increase in hazardous air pollutants in our nation’s history is unconscionable.”

John Coequyt, who leads climate policy initiatives for the Sierra Club, said the move will lead directly to dirtier air and more deaths.

“Trump and Pruitt are essentially creating a massive loophole that will result in huge amounts of toxic mercury, arsenic, and lead being poured into the air we breathe, meaning this change is a threat to anyone who breathes and a benefit only to dangerous corporate polluters,” Coequyt said.

[CBS News]

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