The EPA chief said climate change was “50 to 75 years out.” He was clearly off.
At this point, most people don't expect the Trump administration to listen to research on climate change. That doesn't make it any less shocking when officials invent facts for themselves. Recently, the EPA failed to provide scientific evidence to back up claims that climate change damage was decades away. To environmental advocates, it's proof that the Trump administration is playing the same old climate-denying games.
Last March, the Environmental Protection Agency's Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, was interviewed by CBS News's Major Garrett. There, Wheeler told Garrett that he believed drinking water is the "biggest environmental threat" because "most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out."
Wheeler's remarks quickly drew attention from climate change activists. In response, the environmental organization Sierra Club filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) demanding that the EPA produce records to support Wheeler's assertion. That simple request turned into a lawsuit in October after the EPA refused to turn over documents.
Even with a lawsuit, the EPA failed to produce any scientific evidence to back up Wheeler's claims. The agency did share Wheeler's interview preparation, but The Hill reported it never mentions climate change nor does it offer insight into what scientific evidence he used to make his claim.
“Trump’s EPA just admitted what everyone already knew: Andrew Wheeler invented these false claims out of thin air as part of his ongoing work to protect the fossil fuel industry from accountability for driving and exacerbating the climate crisis,” Michael Brune, Sierra Club's executive director, said according to The Hill.
The idea that the impacts of climate change are at least 50 years away doesn't hold up with any amount of scientific research. For example, the National Climate Assessment found that each successive decade in the last 30 years has been the warmest since recording began. The year 2019 alone broke well over 100,000 U.S. records.
You can look at events within the United States itself to see climate changes unfolding. Take, for example, California's massive wildfires which are driven by warmer temperatures, droughts, and extreme winds. But, it's important to also recognize that the impacts of climate change have long been felt in the Global South, and ignored by the Western countries responsible for it.
Since coming into office, President Donald Trump has made his hostility towards science clear, like with his introduction of an EPA "transparency" proposal that would undermine research. In October, a bipartisan report even found that the administration's climate change denial is causing a "crisis."
The EPA tried to defend itself by claiming that the Sierra Club made a "narrow request." According to The Hill, the EPA said, “It is misleading to portray the agency’s response to a narrow portion of a document request as the full extent of the Agency’s or the Administrator’s scientific knowledge on a subject. In fact, it is inaccurate to state that the documents do not demonstrate any backing for the statement.”
However, the Sierra Club's FOIA specifically asked for "all records produced, commissioned, or otherwise obtained by EPA that support the conclusion that ‘most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.’” It's unclear what exactly is narrow about that.